The Semi-Public Square

Commenting on the social media banning of Donald Trump, Adam Wagner describes Twitter as a “semi public square”

In reply, a few people assert that there is no such thing. Twitter is a private company with its own T&Cs that can be enforced as it sees fit. This allows them to dismiss the President’s suspensions as “not censorship” and “not about free speech.”

This might be true in a legal sense but it is certainly not in a moral or social sense, where the term ‘semi-public square’ is useful and instantly understandable.

Semi-public squares are places where there may be no formal right to expression, but where the particular historic, societal or cultural circumstances have created the expectation of that right. In the case of social media, that expectation is actually cultivated by the tech companies themselves.

Continue reading “The Semi-Public Square”

#BeanDad and Online Harms

Baked Beans

Its Twelfth Night! Christmas is officially over, and we can return to the normality of publically shaming people on social media.

The first furore of the year concerns ‘Bean Dad’ John Roderick, a musician and podcaster. A few days ago, he posted a lengthy thread on Twitter about ‘teaching’ his nine-year-old daughter to use a can opener. According to his Tweets, he did this by refusing to feed her anything else until she worked out, on her own, how a can opener works.

I confess that when I read (and shared) the account, I saw it as a story about human ingenuity and perseverance. There were points about how tools come to be designed, and I do not think we should ever lose our wonder that young human beings can work out (after a few false starts) how to use such tools.

That’s not how everyone read it. To other people, Roderick was exhibiting classic bullying and abusive behaviour. He was a ‘sicko.’ It was eye-opening to re-read the thread in that light. Continue reading “#BeanDad and Online Harms”

There’s Something Frustrating About The Assange Extradition Decision

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser today handed down her decision in the USA v Assange extradition case.

The Americans were attempting to have Julian Assange shipped to the USA to face espionage charges for his role in the release of the Wikileaks cables. Press freedom advocates argued that to prosecute Assange would be a violation of his free speech rights (Padraig Reidy wrote a good summary last year).

Today, district judge Baraitser ultimately denied the extradition application, and human rights advocates are celebrating the judgment.

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Human Rights and the Self Pwn of Jefferson and Churchill

Thomas Jefferson

This is another blog post that started life as a Twitter thread. I should have posted this yesterday when it was Human Rights Day.

A few days ago David Lammy MP posted an op-ed about Winston Churchill’s role in promoting human rights, and formalising their protections in international law.

The replies to this tweet and the linked op-ed are full of people reminding David Lammy about the shocking abuse of the Bengalis by Churchill, and reminding us of some of his greatest, racist quotes.

This prompts a quick thought: Perhaps we tolerate obvious rights-abusers like Winston Churchill in our national story because, regardless of the bad things they did, they set us on a trajectory that we nevertheless approve of (at least in the context that Lammy is talking about in the article). We celebrate Churchill’s promotion of human rights and overlook his violations because (done right) they lead inexorably towards a situation where Churchill’s own abuse of colonised people would be prevented or punished. Continue reading “Human Rights and the Self Pwn of Jefferson and Churchill”

The Difference Between Voter Fraud And Voter Suppression

Stacey Abrams

When dealing with propagandists, one trap that well-meaning campaigners often fall into is the adoption of the other side’s “framing” of an issue. Another is to repeat the claims of the liars as you attempt to debunk them. Both mistakes end up reinforcing the lie in the minds of many people.

Stacey Abrams had a fair claim that she was cheated. Her opponent was a secretary of state responsible for conduct of elections – and oversaw the purge from the rolls of tens of thousands of predominantly black voters. GOPers mocked her. But she had a case. Trump has noises. David Frum (@davidfrum) November 10, 2020

One lie that Republican misinformation merchants are currently peddling is that their noises about the election are no different to the complaints made by the Democrats in previous election cycles. The response is to say, “no that’s different because our claims are genuine.” That might be true, but it doesn’t persuade anyone.

Moreover, the crucial difference lies in the fact that vote fraud is not the same as vote suppression. Continue reading “The Difference Between Voter Fraud And Voter Suppression”

Joe Biden Should Reach Out To Republicans — Its the Christian Thing To Do, And The Only Path Away From Partisanship

Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden

Don’t worry, I have not given up on this blog. I’ve been quiet here recently because I’ve been busy with other writing projects and study.

One would think that the recent US Presidential Election might have aroused me from blogging slumber. But I was content to let the events take their course, finding solace in the knowledge that there was nothing that a random blogger in the UK could say that would affect the outcome. On the night of the election itself I was content to listen to a few podcast episodes, and then retire to bed. By the time I properly started paying attention, the initial ‘scare’ that Joe Biden might lose had passed, as it became clear that any early deficits in his vote-count tally would be made up when the ‘blue’ urban counties started reporting.

Its only in the aftermath of the election that I have fallen into the trap of ‘doomscrolling’ social media, and find I have some thoughts to share.

Continue reading “Joe Biden Should Reach Out To Republicans — Its the Christian Thing To Do, And The Only Path Away From Partisanship”

Rosencrantz, Guildernstern, Coronavirus Incubators and The Rule of Law Are All Dead

One of the awful things about COVID-19 is that the moment of infection passes unnoticed. It’s the asymptomatic period that drives up the exponential spread and makes it so difficult to stop. This point by Christina Paget is chilling:

Those who die, do so after about two weeks in hospital on average. This means that almost all the people who are going to die from covid over the next four weeks already have covid.

Christina Paget, ‘A circuit-break will save thousands of lives’ Politics.co.uk

There’s a marvellous line at the end of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently:

GUILDENSTERN: There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said — no. But somehow we missed it.

Continue reading “Rosencrantz, Guildernstern, Coronavirus Incubators and The Rule of Law Are All Dead”

The Undermining the Rule of Law Bill

Undermining the Rule of Law Bill

This comment by David Allen Green on Monday has stuck in my mind.

David also notes that the solution to this constitutional wrecking is political, and the challenge is to make the public care. Continue reading “The Undermining the Rule of Law Bill”

Vagueness, Overbreadth and Unbridled Discretion in Law-making

Covid Positive sign in window

This crazy story about a university claiming that posters in a window “break the law” is a good example of how chaotic and inconsistent law-making can lead to a denial of liberty. Quick thread. #

I’ve been doing some reading on the ‘chilling effect’ recently. It’s usually used with regards to freedom of expression, but it’s a term imported from US legal thought, and can be applied to any kind of liberty or lawful activity. #

Supreme Court Justice William Brennan warned of how a ‘chill’ can be “generated by vagueness, overbreadth and unbridled discretion” of laws/state powers used to curb speech. (Dissent in Walker v City of Birmingham, 388 US 307 in 1967) # Continue reading “Vagueness, Overbreadth and Unbridled Discretion in Law-making”