Facebook, Twitter, YouTube: Where the Rules May or May Not Apply

YouTube hasn’t removed Steven Crowder’s content despite his repeated violations of its terms of service prohibiting abusive behavior and hate speech. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In a recent piece for The Intercept, Sam Biddle outlines how Project Veritas, a conservative group known for using deception and subterfuge in its attempts to expose the alleged misdeeds of leftists and left-leaning outlets like The Washington Post, has openly violated Facebook’s guidelines about the use of fake profiles in the service of “coordinated authentic behavior.”

The article, which includes deposition from members of the group admitting to how manufactured Facebook profiles factor into their work as well as context about the group’s backing, has this to say about Facebook’s oversight of the content it hosts alongside the company’s stated goal of stemming disinformation and propaganda:

The real issue is uneven, arbitrary enforcement of “the rules.” Max Read, writing in New York magazine on another social network’s enforcement blunders, argued that “the problem for YouTube is that for rules to be taken seriously by the people they govern, they need to be applied consistently and clearly.” YouTube is about as terrible at this exercise as Facebook is, and there’s a good chance that if Facebook treated malicious right-wing American exploitation of its network the same way it treats malicious foreign exploitation of its network, it would probably botch the whole thing and end up burning people who actually do use phony Facebook profiles for work toward the public good.

That a company like Facebook is even in a position to create “rules” like the coordinated inauthentic behavior policy that apply to a large chunk of the Earth’s population is itself a serious problem, one made considerably worse by completely erratic enforcement. It’s bad enough having a couple guys in California take up the banner of defending “Democracy” around the world through the exclusive control of one of the most powerful information organs in human history; if nothing else, we should hope their decisions are predictable and consistent.

While Biddle acknowledges that Facebook would probably screw up its attempts to officiate its policies against domestic political manipulation anyway, that it gives the practice a half-hearted, inconsistent effort doesn’t make matters better.

As the allusion to YouTube in Biddle’s closing additionally suggests, this phenomenon of tech giants being inadequate gatekeepers of authentic information free from hate speech is a pattern of frustrating behavior for observers across the political spectrum. Recently, YouTube caught a lot of heat from the journalist community when Carlos Maza, producer, writer, and host of the “Strikethrough” video series at Vox, made a public plea to the video-sharing website in a series of tweets pointing to homophobic and racist abuse by Steven Crowder, a conservative talk show host and self-professed comedian who has near four million subscribers to his name.

Crowder’s hollow defense against Maza’s compilation of all the times he referred to him as a “queer,” a “Mexican,” or demeaned his “lispy” delivery while caricaturing gay men has been that his is a comedy show and that his comments amount to nothing more than “playful ribbing.” This, however, to most objective observers, is unmitigated bullshit. Crowder’s repeated jabs at Maza for his criticisms of right-wing talking heads like Tucker Carlson are much stronger than the barbs you’d reserve for one of your friends—and even then they’re probably not all that appropriate and definitely not funny.

Crowder’s protestations of YouTube’s responses during this whole affair also miss the mark. Predictably, YouTube first addressed Maza’s plight by doing, well, nothing, claiming Crowder hadn’t violated its terms of service. This, like Crowder’s claims of innocence, is bogus. YouTube’s rules explicitly outlaw “content or behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten, or bully others” and furthermore view hate speech as a violation. Representatives from the company explained that it opted not to take action against Crowder because he didn’t direct his viewers to harass Maza, which is immaterial to the above concerns and, at any rate, irrelevant in consideration of the notion he himself (Crowder) was the one doing the bullying.

Eventually, however, enough people raised objections whereby YouTube moved to demonetize Crowder, itself a token gesture given the conservative provocateur gets the bulk of his revenue from merchandise sales (including his ever-tasteful “Socialism Is for Fags” T-shirt depicting Che Guevara). Crowder’s reaction? This was YouTube caving to the demands of a corporation throwing its weight around to “censor” a conservative voice in accordance with the demands of a leftist who had targeted him, one of the “little guys,” because he didn’t like his viewpoints. Never mind that Maza is a gay Latino who regular receives abuse on both Crowder’s channel and Vox each time he makes a post. Right, Mr. Crowder, you’re the marginalized one here.

This isn’t censorship, though. This is a private company enforcing its rules by which Crowder did not abide. What’s more, it’s not even doing that right. For violations of its terms, YouTube should be removing this content, not simply demonetizing it. Instead, the offending remarks remain and Crowder gets to use this episode to rally his troops and paint Maza as the aggressor. Show your outrage by signing up for the Mug Club! What better way than to proudly exhibit your freedom!

At a minimum, this is an episode that makes YouTube look very bad. That its decision-making appears so wishy-washy lends credence to the criticism that the company is trying merely to avoid accusations of bias rather than doing the right thing. It doesn’t help either that these events are unfolding during Pride Month, an occasion for which YouTube has touted its commitment to the LGBTQ community. If it were really interested in upholding the civil rights of a vulnerable subset of the population beyond mere window-dressing, maybe YouTube would actually stand in solidarity with its LGBTQ creators rather than banning them too in the interest of purported “fairness.”


I mentioned Twitter in the headline for this article. Emil Protalinski, news editor for VentureBeat, while trashing YouTube for, alongside perpetuating the Maza-Crowder fiasco, allowing its automated recommendation system to show random people’s videos to pedophiles and providing platforms for content creators to capitalize on the anger of impressionable young male viewers, likewise takes Facebook and Twitter to task for their uneven commitment to rules they aver are clearly posted and stated.

In both cases, Protalinski views failure to consistently uphold a set of guidelines as occurring so often that there are simply “too many examples to list.” The instances he does highlight, meanwhile, are salient and illustrative. Re Facebook, its refusal to remove a video headily edited to make Nancy Pelosi look drunk, senile, or some combination thereof was highly criticized at the time for irresponsibility in allowing false/misleading content to exist contrary to the company’s stated goals.

As for Twitter, Protalinski cites the social media behemoth’s dilatory response to other apps and sites banning conspiracy theory promulgator Alex Jones from its service. If nothing else, Twitter is woefully behind the curve when it comes to properly marshaling the content it hosts. And, not for nothing, but why are there so many Nazis hanging around? Like, why is banning them evidently so controversial?

Lather, rinse, repeat. We’ve sadly seen this before and we’ll see it again. Protalinski writes:

There are two whack-a-mole cycles happening on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. First, these companies fail to write clear rules. Disgusting content on their platform is brought to light. It isn’t removed. Users protest. The companies point to their rules. More outrage follows. Finally, if there is enough of a blowback, apologies are issued, the rules are “clarified,” and the example content is taken down.

The second cycle is happening at the same time. A given rule is already clear and specific. Disgusting content is brought to light. It isn’t removed. Users protest. The companies fail to explain why it wasn’t removed immediately or make up excuses. More outrage follows. Finally, if there is enough of a blowback, apologies are issued, the rules are “clarified,” and the example content is taken down.

In these cycles, only blatant and high-profile cases are removed. And that process can take anywhere from weeks to months from when the original content was published. By then it has done the damage and generated the revenue.

In either scenario, the sticking point is not necessarily the specificity of rules (although lacking clear standards of conduct is in it of itself a problem), but rather the inability or unwillingness to consistently enforce them independent of political affiliation or other identifying characteristic. Without the requisite amount of outrage or clout of the individuals expressing that outrage, nothing moves forward. Even then, actions taken are liable to be too little, too late, and backed by an inauthentic, insufficient rationale. In other words, and to echo Protalinski, the damage is done.

To be fair, this business of moderating the wealth of content that appears on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is no easy task given its sheer volume and the rapidity with which it is created. At the same time, this is the responsibility these companies bear as providers. If your priorities involve retaining your share of the content creation/streaming market and growing your business, you’re going to have invest in a modicum of safeguards to ensure that users and creators alike feel comfortable using your platform.

So spare us the half-assed excuses and non-apology apologies. If people like Steven Crowder don’t want to play by the rules, invite them to abide by your code of conduct or find somewhere else to peddle their hate and disinformation. I, for one, could do without the moral quandary I face by using your services—and I know I’m not alone.

It’s 2018, and CEOs Are Still Saying Very Dumb Things

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For the love of God, Mark Zuckerberg, don’t try to defend the intent of Holocaust deniers. (Photo Credit: JD Lasica/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

In an era in which companies and their executives are under more scrutiny than ever, and when a climate of political correctness beckons accountability for every faux pas uttered—deservedly so, I might add—it is yet astonishing that corporate leaders continue to make very public statements that espouse very dumb viewpoints. As tends to be the case, these officers are public faces for their organizations, if not namesakes. In the name of protecting their brand and avoiding bad optics, one would think these influential figures would make it a priority not to do or say anything that could generate negative publicity.

Of course, it may simply be that these individuals can’t help themselves. While not a chief executive, Roseanne Barr ran into this situation recently when, not long after a successful reboot of her eponymous ABC show got underway, she went and blew up her opportunity by tweeting disparaging comments of a racist and Islamophobic nature about Valerie Jarrett, businesswoman and former Obama White House official. Essentially, all Barr had to do was not make disgusting remarks like the one that got her show canned. And yet, she felt compelled. The real downside of this, as some might argue, is that a show with working-class appeal that could have helped further a discussion about race and politics in this era was cut short. For Roseanne’s sake, few but her staunchest defenders were sympathetic.

To be fair, and while not to in any way excuse likening a black person to an ape, it’s often in a comedian’s job description to say things that are off-color or to behave in somewhat of a subversive way. With CEOs, however, it is not, and this what makes their lapses particularly alarming. Granted, they might not be particularly well-versed in the intricacies of HR guidelines and PR campaigns. Still, given their prominence within their organizations—frequently accompanied by a salary and benefits that more than compensates them for their time, effort, and expertise—one would think they would use the resources at their disposal to better guard themselves against negative outcomes. Or better yet, rely on their business savvy and common sense.

Instead, we get John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s Pizza, dropping an N-bomb during a company conference call. Schnatter did own up to using the epithet following reports of this incident, if we are to give him any semblance of credit, and there was a context to his utterance of the slur—though even with this in mind, he probably could’ve done without it.

The problem with this context is that it doesn’t make Schnatter seem any less reprehensible. His employ of the term occurred when trying to make an analogy about his criticism of the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell in failing to adequately address player protests of the National Anthem (specifically, as a problem to be “nipped in the bud”) and hurting the company’s bottom line versus Col. Sanders, iconic founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, using the epithet in his own right. As Schnatter seemed to suggest, there was a measure of unfairness about him being singled out for his criticisms of the NFL while Sanders didn’t catch the same flak.

This comparison is a problematic one for multiple reasons. For one, while any deep-seated prejudices held by Harland Sanders’s can only be guessed, and while he may have been slow to adopt less offensive terminology for African-Americans or even contributed to the likes of pro-segregation presidential candidate George Wallace, his use of that word appears largely based on conjecture. Besides, trying to exonerate yourself by contrasting your actions with those of a man who dressed like a plantation owner through the Jim Crow era isn’t exactly a terribly high bar to clear. More than a quarter-century after Sanders’s death and in an age in which corporations are more cognizant than ever about their public image, this much should be more or less an afterthought.

It should be stressed that John Schnatter stepped down as CEO back in December after the backlash he and Papa John’s received following his comments about the NFL and player protests, so technically he is no longer serving in that function. In the wake of his more recent admission of using the N-word, Schnatter has also resigned as chairman. Although now he considers resigning a mistake. And the remaining board members have adopted a “poison pill” provision to try to avoid attempts by Schnatter to make a power play and reclaim his position atop the board. Simply put, it’s a mess, one that may have predated these controversies, but one which was magnified by them.

You may or may not have high regard for the Papa John’s product. I live in an area in which there is no shortage of local pizzerias, let alone Domino’s and Pizza Hut, so I personally could take or leave it. Regardless of one’s judgment of Papa John’s taste and overall quality, with over 4,500 locations worldwide, it’s not as if one can easily dismiss the restaurant chain. With other companies related to technological advances, there is perhaps a greater sense of demand or interest based on the novelty of their goods or services. This not withstanding, they too are subject to their founder/CEO going rogue in an era and in industries where public perception arguably should dictate more responsible behavior.

Mark Zuckerberg, fresh off a very public scandal involving the possible exposure of up to 87 million Facebook users and their data to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, recently was interviewed by Kara Swisher of Recode fame, and while the interview touched on a number of different topics, on the subject of whether or not conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones should have a platform, Zuckerberg said something rather befuddling about Holocaust deniers and whether they deserve to be banned. The relevant segment of the interview, as copied from the transcript:

Okay. “Sandy Hook didn’t happen” is not a debate. It is false. You can’t just take that down?

I agree that it is false.

I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, “Hey, no, you’re a liar” — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let’s take this whole closer to home…

I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.

I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong, but I think-

In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.

It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I’m sure you do. I’m sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, “We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.” What we will do is we’ll say, “Okay, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive.” But that doesn’t mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed.

Swisher makes an all-too-valid point, as the majority of us would agree. Sandy Hook was not a hoax. There is no debating the merits of whether it happened or not. The same goes for the Holocaust. There simply is no place in regular discourse for litigating its legitimacy. Unless you are, say, a child who is just becoming able to comprehend what the Holocaust was and the devastation it wrought, any meditations on the intent of deniers is ridiculous. They intend to deny these events as a function of their anti-Semitism. There’s no leeway here.

Zuckerberg would soon after E-mail a clarification to Swisher about how “deeply” offensive he finds Holocaust denial and that he “absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.” But, Mr. Zuckerberg, Mark, if I may—you pretty much just defended it by saying it’s hard to “impugn intent.” It’s like President Donald Trump saying there was room for blame “on both sides” related to the unrest and violence in Charlottesville after a group of white nationalists rallied. When there are Nazis holding freaking torches, you disavow them. This is basic stuff.

In Zuckerberg’s case, he made comments that, at best, signify he is out of touch with the impact Facebook has and how it can be used to influence people to join in destructive causes. At worst, they signify that he understands this impact full well, but he and his company are actively choosing not to censor dangerous content because it affects the company’s bottom line.

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only high-profile tech-oriented CEO to meet with criticism, only to take his foot and jam it squarely into his mouth. For the longest time, Elon Musk and Tesla Motors have seemingly gotten a free pass from news media because their product is not only sleek and sexy (and hella expensive), but lends itself to optimism about a future in which electric cars have greatly reduced our consumption of fossil fuels and autonomous driving can reduce costs and fatalities in vehicle crashes.

More recently, however, as Tesla has tried to produce its vehicles on a larger scale, it has met with production delays and quality issues, not to mention a well-publicized death involving the use of autonomous vehicle technology and concerns about injuries at company facilities being underreported. Understandably, the organization has received a fair amount of negative press in this regard, and Musk has taken it upon himself to criticize the media and even suggest creating a service by which users can assess the “core truth” and “credibility” of editors, journalists, and publications.

Musk isn’t entirely out of bounds with his defensiveness in the face of criticism at the hands of major media outlets. This is to say that, when the demand to generate clicks or potentially to satisfy corporate donors within the fossil fuels industry is ever-present, coverage of Tesla Motors’s doings can easily be skewed. Going after Reveal, a publication by the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting, meanwhile, for a story about the aforementioned workplace safety concerns at Tesla and labelling them an “extremist organization” carries less weight, and connotes a sort of thin-skinned petulance, if not signaling a rising desire among corporate and political leaders to intimidate or invite violence against journalists who don’t play nice for the sake of playing nice.

Musk caught flak again when he volunteered a child-sized submersible in the midst of the rescue of the Thai soccer team cave rescue that drew a worldwide audience. Right then and there, the Tesla CEO merited criticism for offering a solution based on an incomplete understanding of the logistics of the rescue, an act many saw as a PR maneuver designed to distract from his company’s failings of late. When Vern Unsworth, a British diver involved in the rescue, was asked about Musk’s “contribution,” he panned it, saying that it had “no chance” of working and that Musk could kindly “stick it where it hurts.”

Musk, because he is a CEO of a major corporation and highly attuned to the workings of social media, took this comment in stride. Kidding! He promptly tweeted and called Unsworth a pedophile, and then apologized for calling him a pedophile—while at the same time justifying his defensive snipe based on Unsworth’s “several untruths” and because the diver told him his idea was terrible.

That’s the kind of thing you shouldn’t say even if you’re not the face of Tesla Motors—and if you are, all the worse. Musk should know better than to throw a hissy-fit over Twitter. And yet, he doesn’t, or at least didn’t. If his apology is any indication, he’s sorry only because it brought him and Tesla more bad press, not because he’s genuinely contrite about making callous, unjustifiable accusations about a man trying to rescue young children.

What’s so unsettling about the awful words of Elon Musk and the above-named individuals is that they are accompanied by a lack of true remorse and/or excuses for their questionable choices. Roseanne Barr claims she didn’t even know Valerie Jarrett was black when she made her infamous comment, and that it was her vote for Donald Trump which doomed her show. John Schnatter, already in the habit of making excuses by blaming the NFL for lower earnings, has tried to justify his use of the N-word on the basis that he didn’t use it as a slur. Mark Zuckerberg professes he never meant to defend the intent of Holocaust deniers—except he totally did. These explanations ring hollow, and arguably exacerbate the controversy in each case. Don’t try to hedge. Just admit you messed up, say you’re sorry, and hope that people will forgive you.

Likewise disconcerting is the idea that these antics either have or continue to run the risk of overshadowing a great product. What’s more, if there is a lesson to be gleaned from the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, it’s that no one should be considered impervious to consequences for their actions. Whether the damage people like Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. have done to their careers is truly long-term remains to be seen, but either way, theirs is not the kind of potential damage to one’s brand and career that one wishes to invite. In a day and age when corporate social responsibility is more than a passing concern and when privacy seems to be on a continuous decline, the same can be said for the likes of Musk, Schnatter, and Zuckerberg.

The Non-Apology Apology Is Alive and Well at Wells Fargo and Facebook

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Wells Fargo claims it wants to “earn back your trust,” but their actions and slick advertising campaigns suggest they are being duplicitous. (Photo Credit: Taber Andrew Bain/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Wells Fargo not long ago released a commercial titled “Earning Back Your Trust” that starts with a man on horseback riding in slow motion. The voiceover begins, “We know the value of trust. We were built on it.” The narrator then precedes to burnish the company’s credentials by talking about its history of transporting gold from the West, and that it built on the trust it engendered until it, well, lost its way.

Now, however, Wells Fargo is completely re-committed to its customers, and devoted to “fixing what went wrong.” It’s ending product sales goals for branch bankers. It’s holding itself accountable. “It’s a new day for Wells Fargo,” explains the narrator. “But it’s a lot like our first day.” Meanwhile, The Black Keys’ “Howlin’ for You” plays over the slickly-produced minute-long spot.

Ahem, pardon me if I seem unconvinced. Not only is the song choice a curious one—to me, it seems more befitting of a Budweiser commercial with some ruggedly handsome guy chatting up an equally telegenic twenty-something in a bar—but the ad’s tone also seems off. That is, it seems less of contrition, and more of self-congratulation, as if the company’s storied history more than makes up for any momentary ethical lapses.

But, oh, what an ethical lapse it was. Wells Fargo’s promotion of an aggressive sales-oriented culture was highlighted amid a yet-ongoing scandal involving fraudulent sales to unsuspecting customers, one that saw over 5,000 employees fired, the resignation/retirement of CEO John Stumpf, and over $100 million in fines assessed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other agencies.

Moreover, if recent events are any indication, the banking giant hasn’t learned its lesson when it comes to responsible selling practices. Reportedly, more than 550,000 Wells Fargo customers are believed to have been pressured into buying car insurance they didn’t need last year, 20,000 of whom are believed by the company to have defaulted on their car loans and had their vehicles repossessed as a function of the additional costs. This latest turn in Wells Fargo’s saga had the company potentially on the hook for an additional $1 billion in fines as of the time of this CNN report by Donna Borak and Danielle Bronner-Wiener. Noting the earlier allusion to the bar scene in reference to the “Earning Back Your Trust” commercial’s soundtrack, should we, um, just this put this on the company’s tab?

Two things are particularly striking about Wells Fargo’s ad. The first is that the company professes to be primarily interested in the consumer’s satisfaction, and seems content to hold itself accountable, but asking consumers to trust it to do so when it has violated this trust on a large scale is absurd. It’s like asking the fox to watch the proverbial henhouse, and it’s all but a slap in the face to those who were done financial harm or otherwise were put at risk by Wells Fargo’s sanctioning of a manipulative, underhanded sales culture. It’s why there is a Federal Reserve cap in place on the bank’s growth. Wells Fargo hasn’t proven it can hold itself accountable yet, so why should we take them at their word now?

The second is what’s not in the ad: anything resembling the phrase “we’re sorry.” By the end of the ad, Wells Fargo is pivoting to the future. It’s a new day. Cue images of a horse-drawn carriage surging ahead. Another slap in the face. We haven’t even begun to have the kind of conversation we should be having about your company’s malfeasance, but you’re ready to move on with bluesy rock anthems and images designed to sell even more of your products? Clearly, you don’t get it, and that comments are disabled for the YouTube version of this spot only further convey your tone-deafness. At the very least, you should want to hear what the average consumer thinks about your brand to know how far you need to go to repair your image. Evidently, you don’t want to know. You just want those earnings to hold.

Facebook, facing its own scandal involving the breach of the public’s privacy and trust, issued its commercial “Here Together.” The idea is the same. Once again, it’s about a minute in length, and is designed to remind you about what you loved about the company in the first place—to make friends, connect, and feel “a little less alone” (and maybe, er, stalk that cutie you met in your section of Expository Writing)—briefly acknowledge problems with clickbait, data misuse, fake news, and spam, swear the people running the company will do better, and pivot to the future. A future in which you presumably will continue to use Facebook, invest in it financially, and casually ignore that you have little to no idea about how it uses or sells your information. Again, no mention of being sorry. This whole breach of faith was just a hiccup, a bump in the road. And once again, comments are disabled. Facebook, you get a Dislike from me.

These responses to public outcries from Wells Fargo and Facebook are examples of the non-apology apology, an exercise in linguistics that offers the appearance of sympathy without any underlying genuine remorse, and perhaps even masking irritation at having to acknowledge the other party’s concerns. Both companies seem to indicate “mistakes were made,” but using the passive voice, so as not to implicate anyone specific. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we? Besides, isn’t the Wells Fargo mobile app great? Aren’t you excited that Facebook is planning to create a dating service? GET EXCITED, PEOPLE!

By this token, there is no real admission of guilt among the higher-ups at these companies. Any sense of regret, therefore, is in relation to getting caught, not with respect to betraying the trust of its users. What’s more, their sense of indignation likely reflects an understanding of their prominence. Wells Fargo is one of those financial institutions that easily falls under the heading “too big to fail.” Facebook is one of the preeminent social media apps/sites on the Internet and mobile devices, surpassed only by Google and YouTube in terms of popularity.

If the people scrutinizing their decision-making are lucky enough to fully comprehend what these businesses do—with Facebook, in particular, observers argued that senators charged with questioning CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not—there’s still the matter of how to truly hold executives accountable for failures within their organizations. John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo when news of the scandal facing his company broke, retired and walked away with $134 million. And that’s without a golden parachute! His payout could’ve been that much higher had he been fired and given a severance package!

What’s upsetting about all of this is that Facebook and Wells Fargo, while particularly large and notable examples of it, are not the only perpetrators of public relations disingenuousness, a condition that transcends the corporate realm. Politicians and other public figures, for instance, are renowned for their proficiency with the non-apology apology. How many times have we heard the phrase “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by my remarks, but…”?

Implicit in this kind of statement is the notion that the problem may be on the part of the intended audience and not the accused offender, i.e. “you’re being too sensitive” or “you’re upset for some other reason.” You’re right, Mr. Senator, sir. Upon further inspection, I’m the asshole. Sorry for insinuating that the onus should be on the person making public comments in the first place and wasting your time.

If not making some half-hearted attempt to express regret for their actions and/or sympathy for victims and their families, public figures can claim to be transparent while throwing out false or otherwise misleading information. David Fleshler, reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, outlined in a recent piece how Broward County Public Schools, the school district under whose purview Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School falls, has repeatedly insisted that Nikolas Cruz, the shooter behind this tragedy, was never involved with what is known as the PROMISE program—but that this information is patently false.

Even if the PROMISE program, designed to keep at-risk youths from traveling along the school-to-prison pipeline, is somewhat of a red herring being pointed to largely by opponents of gun control, that the school district would knowingly obfuscate this element of Cruz’s history sends the wrong message about the administration’s reliability as a source of information for concerned family members and members of the Parkland community.

Other elements of the district’s interactions with the public of late have been similarly disturbing in their lack of transparency. Superintendent Robert Runcie has claimed that all of Cruz’s school records have been passed along to authorities, but a Broward County detective at a school safety meeting contradicted this assertion. The district has also refused to release any documentation related to these records, citing exemptions under Florida state law that do not apply to school boards, and understated how long Nikolas Cruz had been a student at Stoneman Douglas prior to his expulsion.

Runcie has additionally blocked his critics on social media and has dismissed reports that disagreed with internal accounts as “fake news.” These responses to public inquiries smack of a school district administration that is more concerned with its image than of allaying the doubts of interested parties, and even if its aims are more meritorious, its opacity creates its own set of problems.

Certainly, in financial/economic terms and in terms of the geographical spread of their influence, Wells Fargo’s and Facebook’s lack of transparency are more significant than that of Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. We’re talking millions of users/customers and potentially billions of dollars. That not withstanding, the handling of relevant information by the powers-that-be governing the latter is significant in its own right, owing to a similar perceived lack of empathy and trustworthiness at a place and time where gun violence cost 17 lives—on which you can’t put a price—and when the push for meaningful change on gun policy is so strong.

To be sure, the situation facing the school district is a difficult one. Robert Runcie and others don’t want the point about the need for gun control to get lost in the demand to know details about Nikolas Cruz’s life. To this end, that Cruz was able to buy a weapon legally is not to be diminished. At the same time, offering conflicting reports to families and the media, and restricting the flow of information altogether, exposes the district to all kinds of speculation about its culpability.

David Fleshler notes how the PROMISE program is “controversial” in that its critics argue that the program is too lenient with students, that the system can be “gamed” so that youths can commit offenses so as long as they don’t violate its principles and can time it to earn a clean slate the following year, and that it creates an unsafe environment for the other students in the classroom. Add to this the idea the school district did a poor job of implementing this program and/or tracking Cruz’s interaction with it (Cruz was referred to the program but never completed it), and the narrative of the shooting being primarily fueled by Runcie and Co.’s incompetence as well as the school’s preoccupation with its image becomes that much more compelling—fairly or unfairly.

Superintendent Runcie’s public comments haven’t done much to assuage these concerns either. In a version of the non-apology apology, when asked about why the school district had to backtrack on the assertion that Cruz was never a part of PROMISE, Runcie appeared to accept responsibility (“I’ll take the blame for that”), only to say that he was “conveying what information [he] had received from staff internally, and that’s where we were at that moment in time.” So, wait, it’s the staff’s fault?

As for why he would release incomplete research into Cruz’s history, Runcie replied that he couldn’t tell the media and the public to “wait ’til June when we get our complete investigation done, because there’s a level of impatience out there.” So, wait, it’s the fault of the media and the public for being impatient? Sorry all those kids inconveniently got shot and made you have to do your job, Mr. Runcie.

At the end of the day, the failure of Broward County Public Schools to respond adequately to requests for more information, and to acknowledge more plainly that it failed Nikolas Cruz and his victims, may be, as it is with Facebook and Wells Fargo, about numbers more than people. The PROMISE program, for its good intentions, can have the effect of discouraging communication between schools, law enforcement, and public health agencies, such that touted statistics on lower incarceration rates belie the real danger communities still face of children like Cruz falling through the cracks, so to speak.

And then, of course, there’s the matter of funding. Supt. Runcie has been very vocal about the lack of funding for his school district, the sixth-largest in the nation, as a subset of Florida’s already-low funding compared to the national average (according to Runcie, the Sunshine State ranks 44th nationally in this regard), and recently, the Broward County school board approved a proposal for a homeowner tax increase designed to generate another $93 million to this cause to be voted on later this year.

As legitimate as these needs may be, though, it’s admittedly a tough sell for voting taxpayers when the district’s administration appears less than forthcoming and there are serious questions about how key programs at its schools are being implemented. Plus, from everything I’ve read, there’s no mention at being “sorry” about all the misdirection—not that you’d expect different at this point.


When it comes down to brass tacks, if you’re dealing with any of the aforementioned parties, you’re submitting to some sort of a trade-off. With Wells Fargo, you’re getting the convenience and relative safety (at least compared to smaller financial institutions) of a big bank. You’re also subjecting yourself to the risk that one of more its employees will try to sell you something you don’t need—perhaps without your knowledge, no less. With Facebook, you’re getting the ability to connect with people, share content, and even market a business. You’re also likely giving the social media platform wide latitude to share your information with third parties and to target you based on your identifying characteristics.

As for Broward County Public Schools, reportedly, some of its high schools rank among the best in the nation, including two in the top 500 (Pompano Beach H.S. and Cypress Bay H.S.) and six in the top 1,000 (such as Stoneman Douglas). Whether they are among the safest, however, is obviously a point of contention, and two parents of students slain in the shooting, Lori Alhadeff and Ryan Petty, are running for school board seats in part because of their dissatisfaction with the school district’s perceived lack of accountability, safety, and transparency.

While certainly, criticism of Supt. Robert Runcie and of the PROMISE program on a national front has been particularly strong from conservative publications, Alhadeff is a registered Democrat, and Petty is a Republican. There is room for concern on both sides of the political aisle, especially for those close to the victims of tragedies like the one in Parkland, Florida. Not that it should be welcomed, but death can affect one’s perspective on matters such as these.

Then again, if we’re viewing things in a simplistic and pragmatic manner, what doesn’t possess some form of trade-off? Besides, even if their public responses are lacking, the reactions of entities like Facebook and Wells Fargo are still better than that of, say, lawmakers who regularly avoid their constituents or otherwise confront them in a less-than-conciliatory manner.

Speaking of Florida and gun violence, Sen. Marco Rubio, who has received upwards of $3 million from the NRA and has been a notorious no-show at scheduled town halls before his constituents dating back to last year, received the “Three Billboards” treatment from activist group Avaaz after his insistence that stronger gun laws would not have presented the Parkland school shooting, with the message “SLAUGHTERED IN SCHOOL/AND STILL NO GUN CONTROL/HOW COME, MARCO RUBIO?”

As with the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, these billboards are a reaction to an act of brutality involving a child (in Florida’s case, more than one child) and the subsequent perceived indifference or faulty prioritizing from those figures sworn to protecting and serving the most vulnerable people under their jurisdiction. Even if you don’t agree with Avaaz’s methods, the allusion seems all too appropriate.

In short, yes, lack of accountability and transparency in public companies and governmental organizations is not a novel concept. Following a near-catastrophic financial crisis brought on by reckless behavior by the very people who were supposed to help safeguard against this eventuality, however, and in an era in which Americans, fed up with politics as usual, are rejecting “traditional” norms alongside a president who flouts accountability and transparency as a raison d’être, bad behavior yet matters.

Banks that fund pipelines like the Dakota Access Pipeline at the expense of the environment and Native American land now increasingly run the risk of seeing customers take their money elsewhere. Social media companies that fail to protect their users and their users’ information risk people abandoning their service. Politicians who ignore their constituents invite primary challenges from activism-minded candidates. As prominent as some of these icons of their respective fields are, this is not to say they can’t experience palpable losses.

Mark Harmon’s character Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the show NCIS memorably is quoted as saying, “Never say you’re sorry. It’s a sign of weakness.” Not only does Gibbs break this rule at several points during the series, though, but his numerous failed marriages suggest a pattern of toxic masculinity to which the viewer should not necessarily ascribe. For organizations like Wells Fargo and Facebook, and even down to more regional entities like Broward County Public Schools, the non-apology apology as a means of saving face rings hollow. Do you want to earn back our trust or preach togetherness? Ditch the commercials and interviews, say you’re sorry, and do what you claim you’re going to do. At the end of the day, it’s not a hard concept.

To view this post as it appears on Citizen Truth, click here. Citizen Truth is an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm, and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations. For more on CT, please visit citizentruth.org.

“Hard-Working” President Trump? Hard to Believe

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What a doofus. (Photo Credit: Mark Lyons/Getty Images)

The funny thing about saying someone is “hard-working” is that, while giving him or her a sincere compliment, you are nevertheless saying nothing of that person’s effectiveness in producing positive results for a given task. This idea is central to the phrase “giving an A for effort.” Sure, one may expend a fair bit of physical or mental energy trying to achieve a particular goal, but unless that goal is specifically and expressly reached, the merits of the process merit their own scrutiny. I’d like for you to keep this theme in mind as we read a statement from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, regarding President Donald Trump’s schedule:

The time in the morning is a mix of residence time and Oval Office time but he always has calls with staff, Hill members, cabinet members and foreign leaders during this time. The President is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen and puts in long hours and long days nearly every day of the week all year long. It has been noted by reporters many times that they wish he would slow down because they sometimes have trouble keeping up with him.

OK, first things first, we have to remember that this may be complete and unmitigated bullshit coming from Sanders. Ever since Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway set the tone of this administration by trying to argue the “alternative fact” that Trump’s Inauguration crowd was bigger than either of Obama’s two crowds, one was made to understand that the White House’s relationship with the truth is decidedly shaky. Going back to the idea of the President being so hard-working that reporters can barely keep up with him, though—and we get it, Trump supporters: the liberal media sucks and it’s no wonder they can’t keep up with him—that his schedule is so inscrutable and that it may be loosely constructed to begin with is not necessarily a virtue.

Sarah Sanders’s comments quoted above are actually a direct response to a “scoop” from Jonathan Swan, a national political reporter covering the Trump presidency and GOP Capitol Hill leadership. In his recent piece on AXIOS, Swan details how Donald Trump’s daily schedule seems to be shrinking and how much of it seems to be devoted to “Executive Time”, a function that appears to be intentionally amorphous. From the article:

President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us. The schedules shown to me are different than the sanitized ones released to the media and public.

  • The schedule says Trump has “Executive Time” in the Oval Office every day from 8am to 11am, but the reality is he spends that time in his residence, watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting.
  • Trump comes down for his first meeting of the day, which is often an intelligence briefing, at 11am.
  • That’s far later than George W. Bush, who typically arrived in the Oval by 6:45am.
  • Obama worked out first thing in the morning and usually got into the Oval between 9 and 10am, according to a former senior aide.

Trump’s days in the Oval Office are relatively short – from around 11am to 6pm, then he’s back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he’s back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV.

Some of you may be thinking, “Nice schedule if you can get it,” but the grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. Besides, being the President of the United States of America is a stressful job, and you probably wouldn’t want it anyway. (I mean, just think what it would do to grey your hair!) Also, the comparisons to Dubya and Barack Obama ultimately don’t mean much. At 6:45 in the morning, I’m pretty sure I would be a complete disaster as POTUS, and would be lucky to get my breakfast in my sleepy mouth. Still, it’s not unreasonable to question Trump’s work ethic here, as well as to suggest that his balance of looking at screens vs. not looking at screens may well be unhealthily off. Plus, while we would expect most political figures to deviate from their campaign pledges, Trump has in no way, shape, or form tried to uphold his boast that he would be more committed to his work than, say, President Obama, and that he would avoid vacationing and golf because he would be too busy running the country. At this point, Trump is looking like he will exceed Obama’s number of rounds of golf over his eight-year tenure by the 2018 mid-terms. Granted, hypocrisy is nothing new in Washington, D.C., but for someone who billed himself as the anti-politician, “the Donald” is playing the part every bit.

As Swan characterizes Donald Trump’s schedule of late, the President’s time in the White House is usually spent between 11 and 6, with various periods of “Executive Time” punctuating that span. This day has gotten shorter since Trump began, and from Swan’s examples from the written schedule, the official day doesn’t even seem to last that long, with the last items for particular days being listed at 4 or 4:15, and doubtful to extend past the 6:00 mark. That’s a seven-hour day, including lunch and whatever “Executive Time” is supposed to be. Again, the job of President is a tough one, and everyone is entitled to a break. Still, the amount of time spent on the phone, Tweeting, and watching television doesn’t exactly communicate an image of Trump as the blue-collar, roll-your-sleeves-up kind of worker. It instead makes him seem like a typical executive who makes his own hours and is “in touch” with the issues that concern him only because he has been specifically briefed on them. What’s more, if insider reports of Trump’s media consumption are true, then it means his access to actionable, credible intelligence is likely limited, given his predilection for FOX News, not to mention his child-like attention span and suspected substandard reading comprehension. For someone who brags to opposing world leaders about the size of his “nuclear button,” this doesn’t appear to be a positive development for Donald Trump—or for our country, for that matter.

Viewed alongside doubts about President Trump’s mental fitness, the tone Jonathan Swan takes strikes the reader as vaguely deprecating, but not without genuine concern about Trump’s health. Swan ends his piece thusly:

Aides say Trump is always doing something — he’s a whirl of activity and some aides wish he would sleep more — but his time in the residence is unstructured and undisciplined. He’s calling people, watching TV, tweeting, and generally taking the same loose, improvisational approach to being president that he took to running the Trump Organization for so many years. Old habits die hard.

“Loose, improvisational approach.” While we’re invoking insider accounts of the Trump White House, we would arguably be remiss if we did not consider Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House in our assessment of the state of Trump’s White House, and perhaps most pertinently, the suggestion that Trump didn’t really want or expect to win the 2016 election. As others have theorized, this may be well why Donald Trump and his transition team seemed so unprepared to set forth an agenda or even fill needed vacancies at the federal level. About a year into Trump’s tenure as POTUS, though, if what Jonathan Swan reports is similarly true, then concerns about his health may well be valid if he is a TV junkie with an erratic schedule and poor sleep habits. Bear in mind this shouldn’t automatically start proceedings pursuant to the 25th Amendment—these discussions tend to be overwrought anyway. At the same time, however, it reveals the kind of details of the life of a man you might be hesitant to have running a company. Or one of the most powerful countries in the world.


Questions about President Donald Trump’s mental fitness for the presidency have dogged the White House lately. Speaking of the 25th Amendment and whether or not Trump can be removed from office because he is certifiably insane, I am of the belief that he may be “crazy” in the commonplace usage of the word, but diagnosing him with anything other than a narcissistic personality disorder seems like a bit of a stretch—and even then, this doesn’t mean he can’t run the nation. Of course, it could mean he’d be running the nation like an asshole—which he is, because he is one—but such does not preclude one from leadership roles. (In fact, in numerous contexts, it actually seems to be encouraged.) Taking an unstructured approach to leadership while watching too much television, spending too much time on Twitter, and not sleeping enough, meanwhile? Though not disqualifying factors, these habits can be destructive to the person who practices them, and in the case of someone like Trump, whose actions and words can impact entire countries and regions, there is ample room for collateral damage.

BBC News, referencing Jonathan Swan’s scoop on AXIOS, also delved into presidential schedules in recent history. As the BBC report insists up front, Trump wouldn’t be the first President to eschew a normal 9-to-5 schedule, nor would he be the first to make phone calls or do other things in the early morning (after midnight). He also wouldn’t be the first to be obsessed with his public image, according to Matthew Dallek, George Washington University professor, cited in the piece; LBJ grew very concerned about defending himself during the Vietnam War and would voice his concerns to his aides in the middle of the night. As we have been asking in this post, however, and as the BBC article explores, this does not, by any means, mean this behavior is healthy or productive. A key insight from Prof. Dallek comes when prompted about Trump’s late-night/early-morning Tweets:

The problem, Professor Dallek said, is that for the president, “unstructured time can be destructive and debilitating”, citing his tweets.

“In terms of leading the country, presidents run into dangers when they freelance,” he said. “Words can be taken as policy and create a lot of chaos.”

Chaos, eh? Sure sounds like the Trump White House, an administration marked by near-constant controversy and upheaval within its ranks, and one with an average approval rating of 38% over the President’s term, per Gallup and as of this writing. Dallek’s meditations on presidential “freelancing” would seem stand to reason. When I found out Greg Gianforte, the political candidate who physically attacked reporter Ben Jacobs shortly before the special election to replace Ryan Zinke, had won in Montana after waking up in the middle of the night, I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations, and rather diplomatically suggested those who voted for Gianforte could “eat a dick.” What I received were taunts from conservative trolls who either made fun of my last name, reveled in my anger, or sarcastically applauded me for being another “classy” Democrat/liberal. Not my finest moment, and I regretted it afterwards.

Just imagine if I were the President, though, and I told half the electorate they could ingest a phallus. It imaginably wouldn’t go over well. The same can be said for other countries reading Tweets about things that would dramatically impact their livelihood. Like, for instance, when Trump posts about building a wall and have Mexico pay for it. It necessitates a response from some current or former Mexican official who says something to the effect of, “No, President Trump, we are not paying for that f**king wall!” Use of social media in this way breeds contempt, and in a matter of minutes, diplomatic relations between two countries can become strained. All because one man has an itchy Twitter finger and a base to appeal to. Not to mention that, for such a brave new world with a world leader being able to regularly Tweet, strongman Trump comes off as a coward for saying something he probably wouldn’t say to President Nieto in person. The power of social media is one that can embolden us—often further than we perhaps should be emboldened.

All this makes for a strange case study in how or for what someone like Donald Trump should be held accountable for what he says versus what he Tweets, and whether or not there should be an appreciable difference. Other celebrities are regularly dragged across the Internet for errant Tweets, and Trump is no different. “Covfefe,” anyone? Still, when LaVar Ball complains about how the Los Angeles Lakers are being coached, this does not carry the weight of a nation’s government or military might. With Pres. Trump, though, it does, and this is where concerns about heads of state being able to use personal social media accounts come into play. Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic, points specifically to Trump’s “nuclear button” boast as “the most irresponsible Tweet in history,” and meditates on whether or where Twitter or any other sites are willing to draw the line on speech that can be considered hateful or threatening depending on the source. Friedersdorf writes:

For most of us, the consequences of an ill-considered tweet are relatively small. The benefits of the communicative mode arguably outweighs its costs. The philosophy, “We believe that everyone should have the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers,” seems eminently defensible.

But heads of state should not share “instantly.” The weightiness of their pronouncements should be a barrier that causes them to pause before every pronouncement, for their words can carry immediate consequences, and can conceivably affect billions. Some leaders have triggered genocides and pogroms with their words. The wrong words about nuclear war could literally end human civilization.

Having global leaders tweeting gives humanity nothing commensurate with the risks we bear so that the powerful can communicate this way.

In making this assertion, Friedersdorf makes a distinction between what is ostensibly acceptable for you or I to post, and what should be within the locus of power for presidents, prime ministers, and the like to post outside of official channels. Thus, while my “eat a dick” Tweet is not exactly to be encouraged, based on the fairly insubstantial consequences and my decidedly short list of followers, it is not likely to cause a major uproar or put others in danger. Trump potentially inviting a nuclear holocaust? That’s a little more of a bugaboo.

Indeed, the risks of allowing political leaders to use Twitter in this way would seem to outweigh the benefits. Conor Friedersdorf also makes these observations in spelling out his rationale for banning certain high-profile individuals from being Twitter users:

  • Despite Trump’s claim that he needs Twitter to reach voters, most of Trump’s supporters are not on Twitter, and there are any number of alternative ways to get his message across, including television, radio, and holding rallies. Hell, FOX News does a lot of his dirty work for him.
  • In large part because Twitter encourages posting without a significant amount of prior thought, this is where Trump “is most erratic, juvenile, unpredictable, and unstable, by a wide margin.”
  • Trump is bad, but potentially worse users with a similarly high profile (and of similar political influence) could follow in his footsteps.
  • Other Twitter users have gotten banned from Twitter for less than mutually assured destruction.

Though this isn’t Trump’s problem, such has been a long-standing gripe about Twitter and other social media platforms: that specific rules, where they exist, are applied inconsistently or not at all. For users concerned about avoiding hate and harassment where it may lurk online—and as you probably know, it doesn’t as much lurk as it does exist in plain sight, unabashed—this is problematic when just random other rank-and-file users are the perpetrators. One of my tormentors following my venting about Greg Gianforte winning reacted to another user commenting about how they couldn’t believe Gianforte could emerge victorious after punching a liberal Jew reporter, even if it was Montana (whatever that means), by saying something to the effect of, “Just wait until the concentration camps are opened up.”

As doubtful as the likelihood of Nazi concentration camps springing up in the United States in the near future is, that language is not appropriate for any context. I don’t remember which user uttered this remark, or whether or not he or she was reported. Frankly, I don’t care; I’m simply trying to illustrate a point. If this is the kind of speech that already would alienate prospective Twitter users, a bigot like Donald Trump with his platform is bound to be upsetting. In fact, Friedersdorf cites an Economist/YouGov poll that found just 26% of respondents believe Trump’s Twitter use is appropriate. That’s worse than his overall approval rating, and much worse than his approval rating with respect to his handling of the economy. The above concerns lead the writer to issue this final thought, which sounds like a warning as much as anything:

Twitter should give the people what they want, and ban the most elite of the political elites once and for all. Or if it won’t, it must at least tell the public, in advance of future catastrophe: Would it let a president tweet literally anything? If not, where is the line?

“Where is the line?” It’s an apparently pertinent question in today’s political discourse. Much as many Americans are undoubtedly wondering what it will take for Republicans to want to bring impeachment proceedings against President Trump—even though this won’t solve all of the country’s problems—or what it will take for the GOP to lose serious credibility from an electoral standpoint—though the Democrats seriously could do more on their part—myself and others have to be wondering if and when Trump, the hard-working man of the people that he isn’t, can either lose his voice in relation to his base of support, or can at least have his voice muted in part by having social media outlets like Twitter refuse to give him a virtual soapbox. Then again, shutting down Trump could just make him into something of a martyr or amplify the voices of other like-minded personalities on the right and the far right. At this point, though, for the future of the planet, it seems like the better bet. Besides, if nothing else, we could probably use a breather from the craziness for a while.

Do Social Media Companies Care about Curbing Hate Speech and Abuse?

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Abuse, harassment, hate speech, and threats of violence are all too common online and through social media. It’s not as if tech companies are unaware of this, either, and this makes their inaction all the more frustrating. (Image retrieved from kdvr.com.)

Social media has the power to bring people together in ways we could have only dreamt of centuries or even decades ago. It allows users to share intimate moments and milestones with their family and friends. It affords people a way to re-connect with those with whom they’ve lost touch, or simply to connect with loved ones in times of crisis. It permits you to, um, Poke people and send game requests to individuals you met some five years ago in an Eastern Religions course in college. OK, so not all uses of social media are as worthwhile as others, but for everything from breaking news stories to umpteen baby pictures, social media services help foster connections between people across cable lines and potentially across great distances as well as across demographic lines. In the ability of these apps/sites to bring people together, however, we realize this connectivity has the potential to be a blessing and a curse. While we would presume most users use sites like Facebook and Google and Twitter with the intention of spreading goodwill and cheer—or at least seeking sympathy when they are not so full of cheer—there are those who seem to use social media for no other purpose than spreading hate, harassing and intimidating others, and deliberately picking fights. I’m sure you have encountered your fair share of Internet trolls, from the moderately pesky ones to those who challenge you to come find them at their house and see if you still feel like making your same arguments. In this respect, social media tends to feel like a minefield across which you are advised to tread lightly for fear of igniting an explosive situation.

Keeping with the theme of confrontational discourse between individuals of disparate personal stories and viewpoints, another byproduct of the interconnectedness of our world, alongside users’ relative anonymity, is that people will readily advocate and say things online they wouldn’t imagine saying out loud in everyday life given the apparent lack of impunity for their actions. Here is where the epithets, insults, mockery, and threats really start flying. Given the cloak of limited visibility the Internet provides, individual users can set forth all sorts of body-shaming, homo- and trans-phobic, politically bigoted, racist, sexist, vulgar, xenophobic, and otherwise discriminatory or unsavory language. And when they band together to form a unified front of nastiness, the collective hate they spew can be a destructive, alienating force. Numerous high-profile users in recent memory have announced their departure from social media (at least temporarily), citing abuse or threats against them and their family as motivating factors. The likes of Leslie Jones and Ed Sheeran are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, at that. We all know the fabled notion sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us. These are different times, however, and depending on the mental make-up of the recipient of these proverbial sticks and stones, the brunt may be hard to bear indeed, if not impossible. Suicides among teens and preteens have become all too prevalent outcomes from prolonged, targeted cyberbullying. In some cases, the abuse continues on social media even after the individual has taken his or her own life.

As with the sale and use of guns in mass shootings, the issue of liability for the manufacturer/provider in online interactions via social media is a sticky one. In a society as litigious as ours and otherwise accustomed to scapegoating, the impetus is frequently on assigning culpability on someone or something. With respect to the former, and depending on one’s point of view, it’s the fault of the maker of the gun for creating a dangerous weapon that could be bought and handled by a general public ill-equipped to operate it safely; it’s the fault of the parents of the child for not taking better care to safeguard the firearm; it’s the fault of the gun lobby for preventing sensible gun reform; it’s the fault of the anti-gun activists that we don’t have more guns in schools to prevent such a tragedy. Round and round we go in the Blame Game—where we stop, nobody knows. With social media and cyberbullying, on one hand, there is the idea that today’s young people and celebrities are too pampered and thin-skinned. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps. Besides, no one forced these kids to keep using social media in the face of the abuse. Shouldn’t their parents have been watching what their kids were doing anyway?

On the other hand, meanwhile, whereas mass shootings may have a rather short preamble in terms of shooters making their intentions known to friends or family, with targeted harassment on social media, the patterns of abuse can take place over a protracted period of time. Granted, when minors are the subject of cyberbullying, from the user perspective, their parent(s) or guardian(s) may not comprehend the scope of the torment their child faces, especially when he or she is less than forthcoming about the nature of the problem. From across the screen, however, the purveyors of various popular social media services can witness what is going on, and this tension between creating an environment where users can feel safe in their online interactions and maximizing traffic to associated apps and sites is at the crux of the matter. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter find themselves performing a balancing act between safeguarding their audiences and maintaining the appearance of being unbiased and hospitable to all users. This wouldn’t seem like such a tough tug-of-war but for a rejection of diversity, multiculturalism and political correctness on the far right, as well as an apparent growing tendency toward hostility in discussions where personalities and viewpoints clash regardless of political affiliation.

In talking about the tightrope that social media companies walk with respect to fair play vs. revenue—a dilemma that quite generally seems to be faced by corporate entities, of which the primary goal is profit/expansion, and of which social responsibility is a more recent derivation (and hopefully not an afterthought)—this implies that the big names in the industry are capable and willing enough to err on the side of caution for the sake of their most vulnerable users. But are they really? This is where there is room for debate in online circles, for many would allege these content providers are not doing enough to thwart cyberbullying and the dissemination of questionable content. Brianna Provenzano, staff writer at Mic, would tend to agree, a subject of angry, hate-filled messages herself. Recently, Provenzano had dared to ask Milo Yiannopoulos, conservative provocateur and all-around dickhead, if he got an invite to the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards—because MTV says they sure as hell didn’t ask for him to be there. Whereupon Yiannopoulos kindly told Provenzano to “F**k off,” posted their E-mail exchange on his Facebook page, and let his followers do the work for him. Provenzano describes the situation thusly:

Milo hadn’t called for blood outright, but the angry mob showed up anyway. The sound you hear when you kick the hornet’s nest in Milo-land is an angry crescendo of bees in Fred Perry polos, crawling out of their social media honeycombs to sling insults about how your full name sounds like two cheeses alongside more venomous darts about your intellect, your body and your career.

Yiannopoulos has 2.3 million followers on Facebook, and after he posted my email, the swarm infiltrated my Twitter and my Facebook inbox too. A few stragglers found their way into my Instagram comments. A phone call with Facebook representatives yielded no action. They told me they’re aware Yiannopoulos has figured out a way to game the system, pulling certain levers to summon his goons without running afoul of their harassment policies. But Facebook’s guidelines, as they currently exist, are cut-and-dry: Milo might be indirectly inciting harassment, but as long as he doesn’t call for it explicitly, his speech is protected. The post is still up.

The bad news, though, is that his followers seem to be taking his lead. Beneath the screengrab of our email exchange, one commenter wrote, “His minions are emailing her at this very moment, detailing how they’re going to rape her.” Is alluding to my rape the same thing as calling for it outright? Free-speech guidelines are tricky like that. The bottom line: Though internet trolls are evolving, Facebook’s harassment protections are not.

Talk about walking a fine line. Whereas sites like Facebook are concerned with walking on eggshells so as not to alienate potential drivers of traffic, someone like Milo Yiannopoulos is walking the line on Facebook’s harassment policy by not telling his supporters to avenge him for some perceived slight, but nonetheless achieving the desire effect by letting them know how he was so aggrieved, posting Brianna Provenzano’s contact information in doing so, and letting the chips fall where they may. This hearkens back to our central discussion of accountability, and the ensuing dialog is a tricky one, indeed. True, Milo isn’t pulling the trigger. All the same, he’s effectively giving his followers the loaded gun and telling them where to shoot. As for Facebook, if it’s supposed to be the police, it’s hiding behind a rationale of insufficient evidence of a crime. Very clearly, though, the intent to cause ill will is there. What’s more, Facebook itself seems to indicate that it understands that’s what Yiannopoulous is doing, but that its hands are tied. Where the analogy ends, however, is in the notion that Facebook not only enforces the rules, but writes them too. As such, it is within its power to either adopt stricter policies against harassment and abuse within its platform, or to interpret their guidelines more broadly and consider that inaction under the guise of neutrality carries risk in its own right.

The unfortunate pattern for social media apps/sites given evidence of abuse seems to be this: 1) individual becomes target for verbal attacks and threats of bodily harm; 2) social media providers stand idly by while “evidence” accumulates; 3) public outcry forces attention to the harassment; 4) by drawing attention to the issue, abuse increases; 5) content provider is forced to intervene by suspending accounts or some other method of remediation. What makes this cycle especially unfortunate is that aspects of it are by no means guaranteed. For one, public outcry is obviously more likely for public figures and people of relative renown. As for social media sites swooping in and coming to the rescue, so to speak, this decision may come too late—if it comes at all. In Brianna Provenzano’s case, without writing about her situation, it is unlikely anyone beyond close friends and family and loyal Mic readers would know she has been met with all kinds of invectives at the hands of rabid alt-righters. In addition, as of this writing and her writing, it appears she will see no meaningful resolution from Facebook. Indeed, to have that happen would the best-case scenario, and even then, it necessitates some sort of wrongdoing on the part of another party—potentially over a considerable span and from many quasi-anonymous sources.

As Provenzano is keen to observe, female reporters are frequent targets of abuse merely for reporting on the kind of misogynistic abuse faced by other women, thereby creating an awful circle by which the writer becomes the subject. As she also observes, women of color and members of the LGBT community tend to be hit particularly hard by harassment over social media, and in some cases, it is the content providers themselves who discriminate against members of minority groups or fail to properly moderate content in a way that projects fairness for all users. In an illustration of how seemingly broken Facebook’s system of content moderation is, black activist Ijeoma Oluo posted a tongue-in-cheek comment about going to a Cracker Barrel for the first time, seeing a bunch of white people in cowboy hats, and wondering if they’d “let [her] black ass walk out of there.”

Apparently, a number of people who read her entry didn’t take kindly to her commentary on race relations, for before long, she began to receive a torrent of hate-filled messages. Days’ worth of abuse ensued, with Oluo taking screenshots of the kinds of epithets hurled her way and reporting the harassment to Facebook. At long last, though, the company and its content moderators intervened. There was only one small problem: it was Oluo who had her account suspended for posting the evidence of her abuse. Facebook representatives later apologized for what they characterized as a mistake, but by then, the damage was done. Besides, Ijeoma Oluo’s experience is not an isolated incident, and is evocative of a running theme: that of social media companies being slow or otherwise inadequate to respond to reports of abuse at the hands of other users. It would appear, at least in this instance, that Facebook was unable to handle the magnitude and truth of what was happening any more than Oluo’s tormentors could accept the reality and scope of racism in America.


In the closing of her piece, Brianna Provenzano notes that sites like Facebook have acted when members of the alt-right, neo-Nazis, and their ilk have led campaigns encouraging targeted abuse against specific users or otherwise have promoted a racist agenda. Twitter, for example, suspended Milo Yiannopoulos’ account after he directed his followers to attack Leslie Jones with racist images and words. Both GoDaddy and Google Domains dropped The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi online publication, after the violence at Charlottesville. These actions took place only after days or longer of offenders spewing their hate, however, and only with the requisite amount of public backlash demanding these service providers do something. From the companies’ perspective, what truly warranted intervention were the negative reputation they stood to receive from all the bad publicity and the consequential loss of revenue associated with their loss of standing. As Provenzano puts it re Facebook:

As long as capitalism is in charge, the historically marginalized groups hurt most by Facebook’s slipshod harassment protections should expect to continue to bear the burden of a failing system.

In other words, the bottom is line is just that: about the companies’ bottom lines. Concerning another recent iteration of the social commentary vs. corporate interests at the intersection of race relations, ESPN personality Jemele Hill made news for a series of Tweets she authored related to President Donald Trump, in which she unequivocally labeled Trump a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with other white supremacists and whose rise can be attributed to white supremacy. Predictably, a backlash occurred from Trump supporters and from the man himself, with many calling for her suspension or outright firing, and with POTUS desiring an apology from the network in addition to whatever Hill might have offered. In the end, it was Hill alone who issued an apology for “crossing the line” with her political opinions.

For many of us discerning individuals, however, Hill’s statements weren’t particularly controversial. This is to say that calling Donald Trump a white supremacist surrounded by white supremacists and supported by them isn’t really that much of a stretch. Lord knows what Trump feels and believes deep down, but after a point, it doesn’t matter when he’s ginning up racists and white nationalists. Jemele Hill is ostensibly right on these points, and thus it would appear her most grievous sin is working for a corporation—recall ESPN exists under the Disney Corp. banner—that squelches opinions when they fear they could alienate a certain segment of their viewership/readership. And just imagine what kind of abuse Hill will be subject to now that she is in the spotlight and in the crosshairs of Internet trolls. When the angry mob threatens to pull its dollars away, corporate America has signaled, by and large, that it will kowtow to its wishes.

With advances in computer and mobile phone technology, use of social media platforms has exploded over the last half-decade, and for the most part, the benefits of these media in terms of professional networking and socialization are to be celebrated. For many companies who provide social media interfaces, however, their ability and willingness to curb cyberbullying and online harassment has lagged behind the industry’s apparent growth, and this reality detracts from the user experience for the general public, regardless of gender, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, or other identifying factor(s). To ask potential targets for abuse to “grin and bear it” or to “just log off” is as impractical as it is an abdication of duty for the companies who are supposed to provide a safe space for their subscribers as a function of their conduct policies. Simply put, if social media giants like Facebook and Twitter wish to show they truly care about cracking down against hate speech and other forms of abuse, they need to do better—or risk losing more than just individual celebrities from their ranks.

Net Neutrality: It’s Kind of a Big Deal

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Testifies Before Senate Committee On Oversight Of Agency
Net neutrality is kind of a big deal, and new FCC chair Ajit Pai is kind of a dick. (Photo Credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images)

It’s rare when people of seemingly disparate political ideologies can agree on issues. During a health care debate hosted by CNN some months ago, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz remarked about their mutual support for a piece of legislation that, if passed, would have allowed Americans to import prescription drugs from Canada and pay less than they otherwise would. (New Jersey residents, if you’re wondering how your senators voted on this measure, they both voted against it—among only a handful of Democrats to do so—and yes, they should be duly admonished.) On a related note, and as evidenced by recent doings in Congress and angry constituents showing up to town halls, Americans—call them crazy—don’t like when you f**k with their health care. I know it seems strange, but generally speaking, people choose to, um, not die. Accordingly, while Republicans in the House may have narrowly squeaked through the latest iteration of the American Health Care Act, a demonstrably shitty replacement for the Affordable Care Act, and though nothing has been decided yet, GOP senators, assuming they are for the AHCA in the first place, will be hard-pressed to secure the necessary support for this piece of legislation.

Another issue that unites both liberals on the left and trolls on the far-right is net neutrality, something which seems to be relatively low on the list of priorities for people either for, against, or ambivalent to the Trump administration’s agenda, but concerns all of us who use the Internet, and therefore concerns pretty much all of us. Net neutrality relates to the speed of delivery of content across Internet service providers (ISPs) and the conduits of that content (Amazon, Google, Netflix, etc.). Though it’s more complex than this alone, one way of thinking about this concept is considering the notion of whether or not big cable companies like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and other ISPs should be able to speed up or slow down service to companies based on whether or not these companies pay more to be able to deliver content to you. In essence, without rules that promote a “free and open Internet,” cable providers can play favorites with who gets superior service and at what cost. Of course, representatives from the ISPs would insist that they would never take advantage of reduced restrictions on their ability to modulate rates. Cable, Internet, and phone companies—paragons of virtue, they are.

Between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the telecom giants, and prominent Web companies, there has been much debate and litigation with respect to how to legally classify the services that ISPs offer under the laws of these United States. Though, as most on both sides of the net neutrality debate would argue is not ideal, the extent of the control the FCC has over broadband service providers is governed by the Communications Act of 1934. Seriously. Under this statute and as modified by the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order, broadband Internet falls under Title II of the Communications Act, and any provider of broadband connections is thereby is considered a “common carrier” and subject to the same kinds of constraints that telephone service is.

As far as we end users are concerned, this is a good thing. Yosef Getachew, writing on behalf of Public Knowledge, an organization devoted to access to affordable communications tools and creative works, freedom of expression, and an open Internet, working to shape policy on behalf of the public interest, outlines the major benefits of the Title II classification for broadband. Alongside clearly establishing rules against blocking websites and discriminating service, Getachew identifies two advantages to the consumer for listing broadband as Title II. The first is universal service. Section 224 of the Communications Act ensures that broadband service providers, including wireless carriers, have access to utility poles, the existing infrastructure essential to available broadband access. In addition, Section 254 of the Act establishes subsidies both for companies that adopt and deploy telecommunications services—specifically to promote this universality of access. With Title II classification for broadband established, the FCC expanded what is known as the Lifeline program, which provides subsidies for low-income Americans using telephone and broadband, as well as those service providers who offer such services to low-income families and individuals. Thus, without Title II classification, access to those subsidies could be curtailed. But whatever, right? Poor people are used to not having stuff.

The other major advantage of Title II classification is privacy. Privacy of information—what is this nonsense? Section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934, meanwhile, pertains to the requirement of telecommunications providers to safeguard customer proprietary network data, a provision which was, as is the running theme, extended to broadband providers. Specifically, providers were barred from tracking customers online without their permission. That’s right—they were until Donald Trump got sworn in and signed into law a dismantling of these protections pursuant to a resolution passed by Congress. Thanks, President Trump! Thanks, GOP! I didn’t like my privacy anyway! What makes things worse is that the Broadband Privacy Order makes it so that the FCC can’t enact similar privacy protections in the future. In other words, Trump and his fellow Republicans are proverbially salting the earth when it comes to the sanctity of your online habits and your personal information. All your data are belong to us.

Despite this blatant screwing with Obama-era regulations, as Yosef Getachew explains, the Title II classification for broadband still furnishes the FCC and end users with a framework to enforce privacy. Going back to Section 222, consumers can file grievances with the FCC in accordance with “egregious” behavior on the part of ISPs with respect to their data, and the FCC can bring enforcement actions in line with this language of the law. Section 222 also allows the FCC to issue guidelines to service providers to protect consumer information, as well as empowering the Commission to create new privacy rules in the future—though, as discussed, they can’t be “substantially similar” to the regulations just rolled back by Pres. Trump. Getachew even goes into the protections of Section 201 (requires providers to disclose data caps, service charges, and other allowances, charges, and fees) and Section 255 (ensures equitable access for people with disabilities). As it would therefore appear, all hope is not lost.

As is evident from Getachew’s observations, however, much is dependent upon distinguishing ISPs as “common carriers” under Title II, and he acknowledges this in no uncertain terms:

Title II classification is critical for protecting an open internet, but it is also just as important for preserving our values of service to all Americans, including universal service and consumer protection. Broadband has the power to transform people’s everyday lives. Title II classification of broadband must remain in place to continue protecting the fundamental values of our communications systems.

“Broadband has the power to transform people’s everyday lives.” That’s a profound statement, and one I believe very much to be true. How much have our lives changed since the advent of smartphones, tablets, and computer connections that don’t require a 56K dial-up connection and an AOL starter disc? Before I sound like too much of an elitist prick, it’s worth noting that upwards of 2 million Americans still use dial-up technology to access the Internet. More advanced methods require the investment in broadband infrastructure, but in rural areas, that simply hasn’t happened yet, and for yet other consumers, the price of a broadband connection is simply too high. So, if you’re my age and discussion of dial-up conjures images of AIM conversations with screen names that reference Linkin Park and Papa Roach, or completing homework assignments with the assistance of Encarta Encyclopedia, consider that for a small but significant portion of the United States, what may be fond if slightly embarrassing memories for some may be a present reality for others.

So, now that we’ve set the scene, let’s get down to brass tacks. Anything that might stand in the way of a free and open Internet—and an affordable, available, and safe Internet, at that—could be seen as a drain on people’s quality of life, and put them at a serious disadvantage compared to those who can afford to pay more for better service. It’s sort of like, for instance, drug prices, which spike to obscene levels at the seeming whim of pharmaceutical companies, or perhaps health care, which is being assailed at all angles by GOP lawmakers all for the sake of giving the very rich tax cuts. As the gap in our country widens between the poor and rich and threatens to swallow the middle class whole, coverage—whether in terms of health insurance or access to a reliable broadband network—is also threatened for more and more Americans should the playing field become not so level.

Enter Ajit Varadaraj Pai, Donald Trump’s recently appointed chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Like many of Trump’s appointees for positions of import, Pai’s nomination seems to be a direct slap in the face to those who voted against him and are not, well, an unfeeling corporation. Essentially, Ajit Pai is to the FCC what Betsy DeVos is to education reform and what Scott Pruitt is to not strangling baby condors to death with one’s bare hands. First things first, Pai used to be a lawyer for Verizon, an aforementioned member of Big Cable and probably the foremost anti-neutrality corporate entity among them. If you are concerned that he might therefore be biased toward the telecommunications giant and its ilk, don’t worry—he is exactly as biased as you would imagine.

Ajit Pai fits in well with the “no regulation is a good regulation” outlook of the Trump administration at large. As a member of the FCC prior to becoming agency chair, he voted against the Open Internet Order, and remarked as recently as December of 2016 that he believed net neutrality’s “days are numbered.” He defends the free speech of Internet service providers, and by association, regards attempts to minimize their rights in this regard as part of a “dangerous” effort to derail the “culture of the First Amendment.” Since becoming chair, moreover, Pai has resisted efforts to cap prices on phone calls for inmates in prisons and jails, which can exceed $50 a call depending on length, closed an investigation into AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon regarding the fairness of zero-rating services, and has prevented nine carriers from offering discounted rates to low-income families. When asked about Ajit Pai within his new function, Matt Wood, policy director for the consumer group Free Press, pulled no punches: “With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes. The public wants an FCC that helps people. Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

Essentially, everything Ajit Pai has done so far has been to help the bottom line of big telecom companies/ISPs at the expense of the consumer. Noting Matt Wood’s comments, and speaking specifically to the core concept of net neutrality, Pai’s actions make sense because A) he is a Republican, and Republicans love catering to big businesses, and B) because Big Cable, comprised of big monopolistic businesses, thinks this way. Though outdated to the extent it does not reflect the changes set forth by the 2015 Open Internet Order, Mike Masnick, writing for Techdirt, penned an excellent primer for understanding net neutrality and the sides of the debate. In explaining the prevailing position of Big Cable, Masnick highlights the vague surreality of their argument, which, at best, is faulty logic, and at worst, blatantly greedy. Here’s an excerpt from the article, which takes the form of a mock Q&A:

[responding to “What is net neutrality?”] The internet access providers claim that service providers, like Netflix and Google, are getting a “free ride” on their network, since those services are popular with their users, and they’d like to get those (very successful) companies to pay.

Wait, so internet companies don’t pay for bandwidth?

They absolutely do pay for their bandwidth. And here’s the tricky part of this whole thing. Everyone already pays for their own bandwidth. You pay your access provider, and the big internet companies pay for their bandwidth as well. And what you pay for is your ability to reach all those sites on the internet. What the internet access providers are trying to do is to get everyone to pay twice. That is, you pay for your bandwidth, and then they want, say, Netflix, to pay again for the bandwidth you already paid for, so that Netflix can reach you. This is under the false belief that when you buy internet service from your internet access provider, you haven’t bought with it the ability to reach sites on the internet.

The big telcos and cable companies want to pretend you’ve only bought access to the edge of their network, and then internet sites should have to pay extra to become available to you. In fact, they’ve been rather explicit about this. Back in 2006, AT&T’s Ed Whitacre stated it clearly: “I think the content providers should be paying for the use of the network – obviously not the piece for the customer to the network, which has already been paid for by the customer in internet access fees, but for accessing the so-called internet cloud.” In short, the broadband players would like to believe that when you pay your bandwidth, you’re only paying from your access point to their router. It’s a ridiculous view of the world, somewhat akin to pretending the earth is still flat and at the center of the universe, but in this case, the broadband players pretend that they’re at the center of the universe.

Or, for the sake of another metaphor, the ISPs want to have their cake and eat it, too. Just in case you’re not convinced by the musings of Josef Getachew and Mike Masnick, or the general douchebaggery of Ajit Pai, consider what the absence of an open and free Internet might entail relative to how cumbersome dealing with our telecommunications overlords is with respect other similar utilities. With cable TV, there are all sorts of premium packages that providers try to get you to sign up for, replete with tons of channels you don’t really want to watch. Mobile phones and dealing with the companies that furnish them also can be a minefield of hidden fees, data caps, overages, and the like, and this assumes you understand how the underlying technology works and what exactly you’re getting when you sign your name on the dotted line. The end of net neutrality means ISPs can devise new ways of charging more for basic access and additional services, and can all but force you to use programs and services that they create or those authored by companies with which they have specific ties. And talk about free speech—for all the worry expressed by Mr. Pai about the First Amendment protections offered to big corporations, dismantling net neutrality rules would swing the pendulum in the other direction. In all, not only could Internet use become that much more problematic and agonizing for end users, it likely would prove more costly and restrictive on top of that.

So, will the Trump administration and FCC chair Ajit Pai act to back broadband services out of Title II of the Communications Act and more or less eviscerate net neutrality? Almost certainly. Does that mean, consequently, that we are powerless in this regard? Well, let me put it this way: if we’re going to go down, we might as well go down swinging, or more accurately, making a ruckus about it. First of all, while I have given you a rudimentary synopsis of the battle for net neutrality, it behooves you to get that much more informed. Fight for the Future has put together a really good collection of links to informational resources at battleforthenet.com. Also, consider donating to Fight for the Future, Free Press, and other organizations specifically oriented to preserving net neutrality. Lastly, and most importantly, make your voice heard. In addition to the myriad petitions in circulation across the Internet, John Oliver has publicized the URL gofccyourself.com, which links directly to the official FCC website and allows you to “Express” a public complaint on the matter of “Restoring Internet Freedom.” At this writing, over 735,000 filings had been made on behalf of Americans who support net neutrality and don’t want the Internet to become another utility by which corporations can decide winners and losers. If that happens, we all lose.

Net neutrality—it’s kind of a big deal. And it’s something about which you should be decidedly un-neutral. Don’t let Big Cable destroy the free and open Internet—certainly not without a fight. As it bears repeating, if people on the left and right can agree on the value of net neutrality, you know it must be worth something.