On today's BradCast: A longtime investigative journalist who has documented the rise of the radical right has been suspended from Twitter for a ridiculous reason. Should that be cause for alarm for some of those on the left who applauded the recent removals of right-wingers from that and other social media platforms? [Audio link to show follows below]
But, first up today: Don't fall for it. The Trump Administration is making all sorts of evidence free allegations that Iran is attacking shipping tankers in the Persian Gulf. The Japanese owner of one of those tankers offers evidence that directly contradicts the U.S. claims and, so far, no other country is backing up Sec. of State Mike Pompeo's litany of evidence-free charges that Iran is behind a number of recent attacks. Of course, that didn't keep Donald Trump from telling Fox "News" on Friday: "Iran did do it and you know they did it, because you saw the boat." He was referring to a grainy, black and white video released Thursday night by U.S. Central Command purporting to show an Iranian vessel removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers. Funny how easily Trump is convinced by remarkably thin evidence about something he wants to believe, versus mountains of evidence, gathered over years by independent sources, on things like climate change and his own obstruction of justice. Don't fall for it. Not again.
Then, we're joined by award-winning investigative journalist DAVID NEIWERT who, since Tuesday, has been "temporarily suspended" from Twitter due to a profile graphic he's used for two years on his account there, without incident, as taken from the cover of his 2017 book Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump. Neiwert, who has been a contributing writer for the non-profit Southern Poverty Law Center's "HateWatch" blog, as well as for MSNBC where his 2000 reporting on domestic terrorism earned him the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism, was informed by the popular social media platform that the profile graphic from his book --- a cleverly designed image of KKK hoods atop each of the white stars on the American flag --- violates Twitter's "sensitive media policy" rules barring "symbols historically associated with hate groups" in profile or header images.
Obviously, his use of the graphic is meant as commentary on those symbols, rather than in support of them. Still, his "temporary suspension" has resulted in all of his tweets being unavailable and a restriction on posting any new ones until he removes the graphic in question. He is refusing to do so, though he is still in contact with Twitter and hopes to negotiate a solution to what he describes at Daily Kos today as an ill-conceived policy that fails "to distinguish hate speech from the efforts to oppose it".
"Literally, they can set any standards that they want, because they are private platforms," he tells me, correctly noting that the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment free speech clause applies only to the Government, not private businesses. "Twitter has announced that it wants as its standard to remove hate speech. But it isn't distinguishing between hate speech and actual efforts to fight hate speech. It's not making that distinction. And it's supposed to be doing this on behalf of the effort to fight hate speech, because this is its standard."
"The problem is they're basically trying to replace human judgment with an algorithm. And algorithms are stupid. They can't figure this stuff out. They lack the human judgment." Nonetheless, as we discuss, even after his graphic may have been pinged by an algorithm --- likely set off by folks on the alt-right who dislike him --- human intervention has yet to result in his account being unlocked again.
With some 500 million tweets a day, he recognizes, the platform must "use algorithms to flag these things, that's just the nature of the beast. But how many suspensions for hate speech do they make? Probably not very many. Probably in the hundreds. That's something that's manageable on a human level, and it's something that requires human judgment to make those calls. And they just need to bite the bullet and recognize that they need to employ smart, well-trained humans to do that job. That they can't rely on an algorithm to do it."
Neiwert has supported the recent deplatforming across a number of the most popular social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones of InfoWars, right-wingers like Milo Yiannopoulos and White Nationalists like Richard Spencer, though he notes that others, such as former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke have not been removed. Nonetheless, while the removal of far right figures has been met with cheers from many on the Left, should Neiwert's case give pause to some of those cheering progressives? Isn't fascist speech still free speech after all? And what happens if a right-winger were to take over ownership of outlets like Twitter? We discuss that and much more, including Neiwert's very early and astonishingly prescient warning about Donald Trump way back in late 2015.
Also today, the DNC announces the results of its random drawing to determine which ten 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates will appear together on each of the two nights of the first Presidential debates set for June 26 and 27 in Miami. And then we close with an excerpt from candidate Bernie Sanders' recent policy address at George Washington University in which he calls for a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights modeled on one sought by FDR to guarantee a living wage, affordable housing, health care and a complete education for all, as he makes the case that democratic socialism is the only way to offer "true freedom" from corporate oligarchy and rising authoritarianism...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)