Photo ID is yet another hit taken by democracy



EVERY year, democracy in the UK seems to take another hit, and opportunities to redress identified failures go amiss. Devolved governments ignored at best, and attempts to marginalise increased. The House of Lords expands; a haven for friends, donors – all unelected! Constituency boundaries to be altered to increase the number in London at the expense of Wales and Scotland.

And now another nail in the UK’s coffin: the introduction of an unnecessary ID system that will needlessly damage political equality within the UK. Demanding ID at the doors of polling stations will prevent millions of ordinary people the right to vote – a move which is in total contrast to what happened at the recent Holyrood elections, when 16-year-olds, refugees and foreign nationals with leave to remain had the right to vote, many for the first time.

The Queen’s Speech announced legislation to “strengthen and renew democracy”. To me and many others, it seems the very opposite!

Robin Maclean

Fort Augustus



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Fears of Diversity, White Displacement Is a ‘Principal Threat to Our Very Democracy’


Former Obama Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Wednesday’s broadcast of MSNBC’s “The ReidOut” that white Americans with “fear over the increasing diversity of our nation” were a “principal threat to our very democracy.”

When asked about “violent white extremism,” Johnson said, “In my judgment, the long-term principal threat to national security is climate change. In the short-term, COVID-19. In the mid-term, it is what we saw vividly on January 6. There is a study out from the University of Chicago by Professor Robert Pape that does a study of the demographics of those who launched the attack on our Capitol on January 6, and it’s frightening. They tend to be college-educated.”

“They came from blue states as well as red states,” he continued. “They are all afraid of displacement. The baseless fear over the increasing diversity of our nation. What the study points out that was the tip of the iceberg. That iceberg did not evaporate on January 20. In my judgment, that’s a principal threat to our very democracy and represents a national security threat.”

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN



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Prime Minister Scott Morrison under fire on Q+A for comments relating to women’s march and democracy



Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under fire on Q+A from youth influencer Yasmin Poole for refusing to attend the women’s March4Justice in Canberra this week and for his labelling of the event as a “triumph” for democracy.

Mr Morrison made the comments on Monday in Parliament, and also drew a comparison between the demonstrations in Australia and those in Myanmar, where hundreds of people have now been killed by the junta, by saying it was a triumph that the Australian protesters could march without being “met by bullets”.

Ms Poole said she was “furious” at the comments and that the PM lacked “backbone” for not attending the march.

“I think it’s a fundamental flaw in our democracy if young women can’t go to Parliament and not be raped,” Ms Poole said, alluding to an allegation made by Brittany Higgins.

“I am angry that any young woman that desires or aspires to go into politics now will have to think twice.

“That is appalling and that is a shame on our democracy.

“So to think that the Prime Minister couldn’t have the backbone to even get out there and speak to all the protesters, dozens of women wearing black in mourning, to think he could hide away in his office and make those kind of statements, is something that sits so wrong with me because my work, the majority of my work, has been encouraging young women to put their hands up and run [for office], and I had to think will they be safe.”

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Ms Poole attended the rally in Canberra and said it was laying down a marker against “violent misogyny” in Australia.

“Mourning the stories of Brittany [Higgins], the stories of the women that stepped forward, some that even are not around to tell their story now,” she said.

She then questioned why no parliamentarian had been removed from their job over Ms Higgins’s rape allegation. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has apologised for calling Ms Higgins a “lying cow”, saying she “she did not mean it in the sense it may have been understood”.

“The one person that no longer works in parliament is Brittany Higgins,” Ms Poole said.

“Why on earth has no politician that was involved in this been fired or had to leave?

“That’s an example of one brave woman stepping forward and you see how those in power close ranks

“The lying cow comment, the looking to the background of her partner, even the comment of trial by media.

“These are all putting the onus back on survivors and punishing survivors.”

Former NRL player turned mental health advocate Joe Williams said he was not surprised that this was an issue, and also called for change.

He cited historical abuse of Indigenous women as his reasoning.

“We need to start to listen and collectively as a country do better.

“We need to stop men raping women.”

Legal process leaves sexual assault victims broken

While Mr Morrison’s comments drew ire, the episode was dedicated to the issue of consent and sexual assault.

Saxon Mullins opened the show by speaking about the issue of consent.

Her own five-year case against defendant Luke Lazarus saw a jury and a series of judges find that Ms Mullins did not consent to sex, but the legal sticking point was whether Mr Lazarus knew she was not consenting.

She featured during the show in a segment also involving Vince Hurley, a police officer with 30 years’ experience.

Mr Hurley spoke of how difficult the criminal justice system could be for those who make complaints of sexual assault.

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“It’s a brutal process,” Mr Hurley said, adding that he felt during his years of service that several victims were “failed”.

“People might not agree, but there are excellent police officers,” he said.

“But the reality is, as Saxon well knows, you’re sitting in that witness box alone and your reputation is being carved up and I hate to say it, there’s only two types of justice, those that can afford it and those that can’t.

“The victim will have to get in the witness box and give them evidence and you can prepare that victim, take them into the court beforehand, explain the process and explain the legal jargon, once they’re in their witness box they’re on their own and there’s nothing you can do sitting back at the court going, ‘This poor individual is being carved up’.”

Asked if she felt reporting sexual assault to the police was worthwhile, Ms Mullins said it was tough to do so and a personal decision.

“It’s really personal to every survivor what they see as justice,” she said.

“Some people might not even consider going to the police or going through the court system.

“It’s about judging what each survivor feels is justice. But if someone asks me is it worth going through the police in process, the court process, I don’t know that I can be a massive advocate for it because like you said it’s a brutal system.”

NSW Police Commissioner’s app a ‘terrible’ idea

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The panel also turned its attention to the consent app suggested on Thursday by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.

School principal Briony Scott said the app might have the opposite effect to the one desired, and could see offenders coerce victims to give consent via a swipe.

“My fear is it might protect men,” she said.

“Can you imagine the barriers that are already facing young women in establishing sexual assault and rape, let alone if you were coerced into agreeing with the app? It might produce the counter effect.”

Broadcaster Yumi Stynes said the Commissioner’s idea “stinks”.

“It’s a terrible idea. Anybody who has ever been assaulted or even been sort of edged and pushed into something knows it’s a bad idea,” she said.

“If you can be coerced into sex, you can easily be coerced into ticking a box or swiping on an app.

“By kind of intimating you can swipe and then that’s solved and you can go ahead and it’s a free for all, that’s a pretty dangerous idea.”

Watch the full episode of Q+A on iview.

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India downgraded from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ in 2020 – US-based research institute voices fear the world’s largest democracy is descending into authoritarianism under Modi



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Germany to start spying on far-right party under suspicion of posing a threat to democracy


Germany’s domestic security agency has placed the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party under surveillance for posing a threat to democracy, media reported and parliamentary sources said Wednesday, dealing a blow to the anti-immigration party in a big election year.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has classified the AfD as a “suspected case” of having ties to right-wing extremism, sources told AFP.

The decision, made late last week according to a report in Der Spiegel weekly, will allow intelligence agents to shadow the party, tap its communications and possibly use undercover informants.

It follows a two-year investigation and a report containing some 1,000 pages of evidence, including several hundred speeches and statements by AfD members at all party levels, Der Spiegel said.

However, politicians as well as candidates standing in September’s general election will be excluded from the monitoring, said the parliamentary sources, noting that such surveillance would require even more stringent justifications.

The BfV said it was unable to comment on the case in view of pre-emptive urgent proceedings filed by the AfD against the agency’s bid to class it as a “suspected case”.

One of the heads of the party, Alexander Gauland, accused the BfV of playing politics and trying to bring about the “destruction” of the AfD.

The party would not be “pandering” to the agency, he told reporters, drawing comparisons to state security in the former East Germany.

Fellow co-leader Alice Weidel told the DPA news agency the AfD would take legal action against the decision, which she called “particularly remarkable in view of the upcoming state and federal elections this year”.

The anti-Islam, hard-right AfD has often courted controversy by calling for Germany to stop atoning for its World War II crimes. Mr Gauland once described the Nazi era as just “a speck of bird poo” on German history.

Starting out at as an anti-euro outfit in 2013, the AfD capitalised on public anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The AfD took nearly 13 percent of the vote in the 2017 general election, allowing it to make its debut in the German Bundestag where it is also the biggest opposition party.

But with the migrant influx waning and with the coronavirus pandemic roiling Germany, the AfD has seen its popularity fall while Ms Merkel’s handling of the health crisis has won her plaudits.

The AfD faces six regional elections this year and a general election on 26 September, the first in over 15 years that will not feature Merkel, who is retiring from politics.

Latest surveys show the party’s popularity at between 9 and 11 per cent.

The BfV had already placed a radical fringe of the party known as The Wing under surveillance last year over associations with known neo-Nazis and suspicions of violating the constitution.

The faction, led by firebrand Bjoern Hoecke, dissolved itself last March but many of its 7,000 members remain active in the AfD.

The Wing’s continued influence in the party was one of the reasons for the BfV decision, according to Der Spiegel, along with links to various other right-wing extremist organisations.

The AfD’s regional branches in Thuringia, Brandenburg, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt have also been designated as “suspected cases” of right-wing extremism.

Members of the AfD arrive for a press statement in Berlin, Germany, after the announcement that their political party will be under surveillance.

AAP

The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, welcomed the classification as a “right and necessary step”.

“With its destructive politics, the AfD contributes to undermining our democratic structures and to discrediting democracy,” he said.

But the decision to place the party under surveillance could in fact boost the AfD’s chances in upcoming elections, according to the RND broadcaster.

The classification could serve as “a distinction in the fight against the ‘Merkel system'”, it said, suggesting the BfV could be playing “a very dangerous game”.

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Myanmar coup: Military warns protesters not to destroy democracy as protests grow


In a statement on the government-run MRTV channel, the military warned that “democracy can be destroyed” without discipline, and that people who “harm the state’s stability, public safety and the rule of law” could face legal action.

The warning came as two people were seriously injured in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday after police officers allegedly shot at protesters, according to the political party of deposed leader Aung San Su Kyi.

“A young man sustained a gunshot wound to the chest and another woman… was hit in the head by a bullet that pierced a motorcycle helmet,” National League for Democracy (NLD) Party spokesperson Kyi Toe said in a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon.

Kyi Toe said that a doctor had confirmed the female victim would was currently in critical condition and would need to be placed on a ventilator.

“The doctor said the wound was from a real bullet, not a rubber bullet,” Kyi Toe added.

The police and military in Myanmar have not issued any statements regarding the protests in the country.

On Tuesday, the government imposed new restrictions on public gatherings and instituted a curfew for major towns and cities across the country, including the capital, Naypyidaw, and largest city, Yangon, where large protests are ongoing.

According to a notice published by state-owned newspaper The Global New Light of Myanmar, people are prohibited from gathering in groups of more than five, restricted from joining protest marches on foot or by car, and are not allowed to make political speeches in public areas.

A curfew will be in place from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. in most major towns and cities. While the notice said it came into force on February 8, it did not say when restrictions would lift.

At least 27 people were arrested during protests in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, Reuters reported Tuesday. The report said that two local media organizations confirmed the arrests, which included a journalist for the Democratic Voice of Burma, who said they were detained after filming police violence against protesters.

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in protests against the February 1 coup, despite a long history of brutal crackdowns by the military and threats to use live ammunition against demonstrators.

Those arrested could face prosecution under Section 144 of the Criminal Code for “unlawful assembly.” Section 144 has been used in the past as a way to stop lawful protests and to justify violent crackdowns on mass demonstrations.

For a fourth straight day Tuesday, thousands of people gathered in Naypyidaw against the military takeover and called for the release of detained civilian leader Suu Kyi and other elected lawmakers.

Riot police used water cannon against protesters who had assembled near a barricade on a main road in the capital. The demonstrators could be heard chanting “people’s police.” Police warned on loudspeakers that force could be used if the protesters did not leave the area. Police later fired warning shots into the air to disperse the crowd, according to Reuters.

It was the second day that police had used water cannon against protesters in Naypyidaw. On Monday, protesters chanted anti-coup slogans and demanded power be handed back to elected leaders. Demonstrators dispersed after police told them they would fire live ammunition if they crossed a police line on one of the city’s main roads.

A police vehicle fires water cannon in an attempt to disperse protesters during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw on February 8, 2021
In Yangon earlier this week, protesters marched toward Sule Pagoda in the former capital’s downtown chanting and holding up the anti-government three-finger salute from the “Hunger Games” movie franchise that became a popular protest sign during the 2014 coup in neighboring Thailand. Sule Pagoda was at the center of anti-government demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the military in 1988 and 2007.

On live feeds posted on social media, protesters could be heard shouting “the people stand together against the dictator’s government” and held banners with portraits of Suu Kyi’s face.

Members of the Student Union led the first wave of protesters, with teachers and engineers joining the Yangon crowd. Saffron-clad monks could be seen supporting the crowd standing outside temples, raising the three-finger salute, and waving.

“We are not going to allow this military dictatorship to pass on to our next generation. We will continue our protest until this dictatorship fails,” Yangon resident Soe Maung Maung said.

The US State Department said that it was “very concerned” about military-imposed restrictions on public gatherings and offered support for the country’s peaceful protests.

“We stand with the people who support their right to assemble peacefully, including to protest peacefully in support of the democratically elected governments, and the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek to receive to impart information both online and offline,” said spokesman Ned Price.

Protesters march through a street on February 8, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar.
United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that measures imposed by Myanmar’s military rulers, such as rolling internet blackouts, are “concerning” and limit abilities of citizens to speak up. The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Myanmar on Friday.
Protesters have been contending with widespread internet and communications restrictions since last week’s coup with mobile data networks and social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram intermittently blocked.

In his first public televised address since seizing power, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on Monday told citizens to prioritize “facts” not “feelings,” pledged to hold “free and fair” elections and hand over power to the winner.

Min Aung Hlaing justified his army’s seizure of power by claiming Myanmar’s electoral commission used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to not allow fair campaigning, and said “no organization is above national interest.”

He did not say when elections would be held but repeated claims the November 2020 poll — in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD) won an overwhelming victory — was fraudulent. The state of emergency, imposed when Min Aung Hlaing seized power, is in place for one year.

The election commission has denied the claims, saying any irregularities would not have been enough to change the overall result.

In his address, Min Aung Hlaing said that a new election commission had been formed and it is inspecting the voting lists.

Protesters gather in Yangon to demonstrate against the February 1 military coup.

Analysts have said the military’s justification of its takeover does not stand up because the seizure of power was illegal, and in doing so the military violated its own constitution that it drafted in 2008.

“The military claims that its actions are according to the constitution. But this is a coup and the military have bent the rules to suit their interests. It is hard now for anyone to take the military-drafted 2008 constitution seriously,” said Melissa Crouch, law professor at University of New South Wales, Australia and author of “The Constitution of Myanmar.”

Civilian leader Suu Kyi has been held incommunicado since she was detained hours before the military took control. She is under house arrest, charged with breaching the import-export law, while ousted President Win Myint is accused of violating the natural disaster management law — charges that have been described as “trumped up.”

Myanmar human rights organization, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has documented at least 133 government officials and legislators, and 14 activists detained since the coup.

“There is reasonable concern that the military junta will transform these peaceful demonstrations into a riot and take advantage of the instability,” AAPP joint-secretary Bo Kyo said.

“Whenever state institutions are unstable it is the most marginalized sections of society who suffer, the military has form in finding blame in someone or other group. This must not be allowed to happen. The peaceful march towards democracy must succeed.”

CNN’s Pauline Lockwood, Radina Gigova and Richard Roth contributed reporting.

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Myanmar military coup is ‘assault on nation’s transition to democracy’, says US President Joe Biden | World News


Joe Biden has criticised the military coup in Myanmar, calling it a “direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law”.

The US president hit out after troops seized power, detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi along with other senior officials, and declared a one-year national state of emergency, following her party’s landslide election win last year.

Mr Biden has threatened to impose fresh sanctions – after they were removed during the past decade because of progress that had been made towards democracy.

In a statement, he said: “In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election.”

Britain has summoned Myanmar’s ambassador in London after Boris Johnson also condemned the coup.

The prime minister said: “The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.”

The UK’s Foreign Office told the ambassador Kyaw Zwar Minn that “the UK would work with like-minded partners and pursue all necessary diplomatic levers to ensure a peaceful return to democracy”.

More from Aung San Suu Kyi

It has warned about possible disruption to ATMs and advised British nationals in the country to “stay home and stay safe”.

The new military rulers, who said they had responded to what they called election fraud, claim they will be in charge for 12 months before free and fair elections when they would hand power to the winners.

In an election on 8 November 2020, Ms Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party won 83% of votes while the military-backed party did badly.

She has been popular in the country for standing against decades of junta rule and became its de facto leader after the NLD won elections in 2015.

Monday was supposed to be the first day of a new session of parliament.

The military claimed widespread irregularities on voter lists could have led to fraud in November, though the election commission said there was no evidence to support those allegations.

Image:
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is now in charge of the country

Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who had faced imminent retirement after Ms Suu Kyi’s landslide result, is now in full charge of the country.

The NLD said Ms Suu Kyi had called on people to protest against the military takeover.

Mr Biden said: “For almost a decade, the people of Burma have been steadily working to establish elections, civilian governance, and the peaceful transfer of power. That progress should be respected.”

He called on the international community to “press the military to immediately relinquish the power they have seized, release the activists and officials they have detained, lift all telecommunications restrictions, and refrain from violence against civilians”.

Pic: AP
Image:
US President Biden has hit out at Myanmar’s military. Pic: AP

He said: “The United States is taking note of those who stand with the people of Burma (Myanmar) in this difficult hour.

“We will work with our partners throughout the region and the world to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, as well as to hold accountable those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic transition.”

He added: “The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack.”

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Myanmar coup: Army takes control

The United Nations fears the coup will worsen the situation for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims still in the country’s Rakhine state after the military carried out a violent crackdown in 2016.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “There are about 600,000 Rohingya those that remain in Rakhine State, including 120,000 people who are effectively confined to camps, they cannot move freely and have extremely limited access to basic health and education services.

“So our fear is that the events may make the situation worse for them.”

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How to Hold Social Media Accountable for Undermining Democracy


The problem with social media isn’t just what users post — it’s what the platforms decide to do with that content. Far from being neutral, social media companies are constantly making decisions about which content to amplify, elevate, and suggest to other users. Given their business model, which promotes scale above all, they’ve often actively amplified extreme, divisive content — including dangerous conspiracy theories and misinformation. It’s time for regulators to step in. A good place to start would be clarifying who should benefit from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has been vastly over-interpreted to provide blanket immunity to all internet companies — or “internet intermediaries” — for any third-party content they host. Specifically, it’s time to redefine what an “internet intermediary” means and create a more accurate category to reflect what these companies truly are, such as “digital curators” whose algorithms decide what content to boost, what to amplify, how to curate our content.

The storming of the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday by a mob of pro-Trump insurrectionists was shocking, but it was not surprising to anyone who has followed the growing prominence of conspiracy theorists, hate groups, and purveyors of disinformation online.

While the blame for President Trump’s incitement to insurrection lies squarely with him, the biggest social media companies — most prominently my former employer, Facebook — are absolutely complicit. They have not only allowed Trump to lie and sow division for years, their business models have exploited our biases and weaknesses and abetted the growth of conspiracy-touting hate groups and outrage machines. They have done this without bearing any responsibility for how their products and business decisions effect our democracy; in this case, including allowing an insurrection to be planned and promoted on their platforms.

This isn’t new information. I, for one, have written and spoken about how Facebook profits by amplifying lies, providing dangerous targeting tools to political operatives seeking to sow division and distrust, and polarizing and even radicalizing users. As we neared the 2020 election, a chorus of civil rights leaders, activists, journalists, and academics wrote recommendations, publicly condemned Facebook, and privately back channeled content policy proposals; employees resigned in protest; advertisers boycotted; legislators held hearings.

The events of last week, however, cast these facts in a new light — and demand an immediate response. In the absence of any U.S. laws to address social media’s responsibility to protect our democracy, we have ceded the decision-making about which rules to write, what to enforce, and how to steer our public square to CEOs of for-profit internet companies. Facebook intentionally and relentlessly scaled to dominate the global public square, yet it does not bear any of the responsibilities of traditional stewards of public goods, including the traditional media.

It is time to define responsibility and hold these companies accountable for how they aid and abet criminal activity. And it is time to listen to those who have shouted from the rooftops about these issues for years, as opposed to allowing Silicon Valley leaders to dictate the terms.

We need to change our approach not only because of the role these platforms have played in crises like last week’s, but also because of how CEOs have responded — or failed to respond. The reactionary decisions on which content to take down, which voices to downgrade, and which political ads to allow have amounted to tinkering around the margins of the bigger issue: a business model that rewards the loudest, most extreme voices.

Yet there does not seem to be the will to reckon with that problem. Mark Zuckerberg did not choose to block Trump’s account until after the U.S. Congress certified Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Given that timing, this decision looks more like an attempt to cozy up to power than a pivot towards a more responsible stewardship of our democracy. And while the decision by many platforms to silence Trump is an obvious response to this moment, it’s one that fails to address how millions of Americans have been drawn into conspiracy theories online and led to believe this election was stolen — an issue that has never been truly addressed by the social media leaders.

A look through the Twitter feed of Ashli Babbit, the woman who was killed while storming the Capitol, is eye-opening. A 14-year Air Force veteran, she spent the last months of her life retweeting conspiracy theorists such as Lin Wood — who was finally suspended from Twitter the day after the attack (and therefore has disappeared from her feed) — QAnon followers, and others calling for the overthrow of the government. A New York Times profile paints her as a vet who struggled to keep her business afloat and who was increasingly disillusioned with the political system. The likelihood that social media played a significant part in steering her down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories is high, but we will never truly know how her content was curated, what groups were recommended to her, who the algorithms steered her towards.

If the public, or even a restricted oversight body, had access to the Twitter and Facebook data to answer those questions, it would be harder for the companies to claim they are neutral platforms who merely show people what they want to see. Guardian journalist Julia Carrie Wong wrote in June of this year about how Facebook algorithms kept recommending QAnon groups to her. Wong was one of a chorus of journalists, academics, and activists who relentlessly warned Facebook about how these conspiracy theorists and hate groups were not only thriving on the platforms, but how their own algorithms were both amplifying their content and recommending their groups to their users. The key point is this: This is not about free speech and what individuals post on these platforms. It is about what the platforms choose to do with that content, which voices they decide to amplify, which groups are allowed to thrive and even grow at the hand of the platforms’ own algorithmic help.

So where do we go from here?

I have long advocated that governments must define responsibility for the real-world harms caused by these business models, and impose real costs for the damaging effects they are having on our public health, our public square, and our democracy. As it stands, there are no laws governing how social media companies treat political ads, hate speech, conspiracy theories, or incitement to violence. This issue is unduly complicated by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has been vastly over-interpreted to provide blanket immunity to all internet companies — or “internet intermediaries” — for any third-party content they host. Many argue that to solve some of these issues, Section 230, which dates back to 1996, must at least be updated. But how, and whether it alone will solve the myriad issues we now face with social media, is hotly debated.

One solution I continue to push is clarifying who should benefit from Section 230 to begin with, which often breaks down into the publisher vs. platform debate. To still categorize social media companies — who curate content, whose algorithms decide what speech to amplify, who nudge users towards the content that will keep them engaged, who connect users to hate groups, who recommend conspiracy theorists — as “internet intermediaries” who should enjoy immunity from the consequences of all this is beyond absurd. The notion that the few tech companies who steer how more than 2 billion people communicate, find information, and consume media enjoy the same blanket immunity as a truly neutral internet company makes it clear that it is time for an upgrade to the rules. They are not just a neutral intermediary.

However, that doesn’t mean that we need to completely re-write or kill Section 230. Instead, why not start with a narrower step by redefining what an “internet intermediary” means? Then we could create a more accurate category to reflect what these companies truly are, such as “digital curators” whose algorithms decide what content to boost, what to amplify, how to curate our content. And we can discuss how to regulate in an appropriate manner, focusing on requiring transparency and regulatory oversight of the tools such as recommendation engines, targeting tools, and algorithmic amplification rather than the non-starter of regulating actual speech.

By insisting on real transparency around what these recommendation engines are doing, how the curation, amplification, and targeting are happening, we could separate the idea that Facebook shouldn’t be responsible for what a user posts from their responsibility for how their own tools treat that content. I want us to hold the companies accountable not for the fact that someone posts misinformation or extreme rhetoric, but for how their recommendation engines spread it, how their algorithms steer people towards it, and how their tools are used to target people with it.

To be clear: Creating the rules for how to govern online speech and define platforms’ responsibility is not a magic wand to fix the myriad harms emanating from the internet. This is one piece of a larger puzzle of things that will need to change if we want to foster a healthier information ecosystem. But if Facebook were obligated to be more transparent about how they are amplifying content, about how their targeting tools work, about how they use the data they collect on us, I believe that would change the game for the better.

As long as we continue to leave it to the platforms to self-regulate, they will continue to merely tinker around the margins of content policies and moderation. We’ve seen that the time for that is long past — what we need now is to reconsider how the entire machine is designed and monetized. Until that happens, we will never truly address how platforms are aiding and abetting those intent on harming our democracy.



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The U.S. Must Now Stand Up for Democracy at Home and Abroad


Repairing democracy at home is not incompatible with standing up for democracy abroad; they are mutually reinforcing. The threats to democracy are not unique to the United States. Trumpism is part of a global nationalist-populist movement that benefits from international networks of kleptocracy, disinformation, and corruption. As Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren noted during the Democratic presidential primary, taking down these networks is a necessary prerequisite for restoring democracy and the rule of law at home.

Many of the long-term threats to democracy—disinformation and the lack of an objective truth, political interference by China and Russia, inequities in the global economy, and fears about interdependence and globalization—can only be addressed collectively. And American allies still want the country’s help. Allied officials have told me in recent days that although they are worried about what’s happening in the United States, they would regard it as a “disaster” if the U.S. abandoned its leadership role in strengthening liberal democracy globally.

This week, Twitter was awash with people arguing that the United States has no moral authority to lecture others about human rights given what happened in Washington. This sentiment was also prevalent over the summer, following the murder of George Floyd. Then, Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former Obama-administration official, wisely observed, in an article on the Brookings Institution website:

To insist that we must first “get our house in order” before speaking to others’ oppression, to be so ashamed by our own shortcomings that we refrain from calling out abuses abroad, and thus to withhold our solidarity from the abused, would itself be an act of moral abdication.

After four years of Donald Trump and rising authoritarianism around the world, we now live in what former U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband has labeled the “age of impunity,” when governments believe that they can get away with anything, largely because they can. If the United States does not push back against this, it will only get worse.

In the days after the insurrection, the Chinese embassy in Washington tweeted a horribly offensive statement about the forced sterilization of Uighur women in Xinjiang, China, that was later taken down by Twitter. The post could be interpreted as a deliberate provocation to show that, as the United States fell into crisis, China could push the boundaries of acceptable discourse. Earlier in the week, China arrested scores of prodemocracy activists in Hong Kong in its efforts to slowly strangle the last remnants of freedom in the city.

Perhaps denunciation of these actions and a renewed focus in Congress on how to respond would sound hollow because of America’s domestic problems, but that does not make them any less necessary. Beijing may argue that the United States lacks credibility, but its victims certainly would not.



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Business Can’t Take Democracy for Granted


The fact that millions of Americans see nothing wrong with attempting to overturn the results of an election by force is a threat not only to democracy, but to the long-term health of the economy and to the strength of American business. And while few businesspeople are fans of government, a strong one is necessary for an innovative and entrepreneurial society. That’s why businesses need to finally step up and support democracy, in three key ways: speaking out, with both their voices and their wallets; acting collectively, particularly at the local and state levels; and addressing the roots of the problem, including widespread anger at “the system” and “the elites.”

For years, American business has taken American institutions for granted. It has assumed that someone else would ensure that democracy, the rule of law, and the kind of robust, respectful discourse that keeps societies healthy would simply survive — and that the role of business was to keep its head down and maximize profits in the meantime.

But this week’s events have demonstrated that we cannot take our democracy for granted. Early polls suggest that as many as 45% of Republicans approve of the assault on the U.S. Capitol. If this result holds up, it would imply that millions of Americans see nothing wrong with attempting to overturn the results of an election by force.

Let’s be clear: This belief is a fundamental threat to the long-term health of our economy and to the strength of American business. As I’ve argued in the past, American business needs American democracy. Free markets cannot survive without the support of the kind of capable, accountable government that can set the rules of the game that keep markets genuinely free and fair. And only democracy can ensure that governments are held accountable, that they are viewed as legitimate, and that they don’t devolve into the rule of the many by the few and the kind of crony capitalism that we see emerging in so many parts of the world.

No businessperson I know is a huge fan of government. I don’t care much for paying taxes myself. But as the pandemic has made clear, strong government — democratically accountable government, balanced by a free media and a thriving private sector — is the price we pay for strong societies. Without them, there’s far too little investment in public goods like public health, clean air and sensible anti-trust rules. Without them, the rich and the powerful end up in control of both the economy and the state, throttling the entrepreneurial energy and the innovation and experimentation that has made the American economy the envy of the world. We must not become Russia.

Strengthening democracy is the only way to ensure the widespread survival of free-market capitalism, and with it the prosperity and opportunity that has changed the lives of billions of people. It’s also the only way to tackle the world’s biggest threats, from global warming to increasing inequality. And business has to play a leading role — now.

There are (at least) three things that business leaders should do.

Speak Out in Support of Democracy

In this moment of crisis, leaders can support democracy by what they say and what they do. The key here is to focus on civics, not politics — to stress that it’s about the process, not the outcome. Business leaders could, for example, speak out in defense of the validity of the 2020 election, stressing that more than 50 courts, countless state officials of both parties, and the (Republican) federal attorney general have failed to find any evidence of widespread fraud. They could emphatically and publicly state that they will not donate to candidates that continue to deny the results of the election and and/or perpetuate allegations of voter fraud without evidence.

CEOs are widely trusted by the American public, and such a message could help to solidify the majority of the country that still believes in democracy, helping to rebuild the unwritten norms of mutual toleration and forbearance that, as government scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write, “serve as the ‘soft guardrails’ of democracy. They are what prevent healthy political competition from spiraling into the kind of partisan fight to the death that wrecked democracies in Europe in the 1930s and South America in the 1960s and 1970s.”

This is not an outlandish idea. According to an article in the Financial Times, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale School of Management professor who convened a call of 33 top executives on Tuesday to discuss how business should respond to the crisis, said there was “universal outrage” among a group that spanned the political spectrum. According to the piece:

In a straw poll taken during the call, 88% said officials supporting Mr. Trump’s stance were “aiding and abetting sedition”; just over half said they would consider cutting investment in the senators’ states; and 100% said companies should warn lobbyists that they would no longer fund politicians denying the election results.

Act Collectively to Support Democracy

Firms could act together as a united voice speaking out in favor of democratic norms, democratic processes, and sensible policies. For example, business must work to pass federal and state-level legislation to significantly strengthen our democracy — focusing on widely supported measures like reducing the role of money in politics and introducing automatic universal voter registration; nonpartisan, independent redistricting commissions; and ranked-choice voting.

Too many business leaders feel they have no mechanism through which they could work together to support better governance and fairer government, however. In many regions and states, local business associations have atrophied and represent only a small fraction of local businesses. Nationally, groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the Business Roundtable are too often viewed as simply representing business’ short term self-interest. But this can change.

We need to build new institutions — or strengthen those that already exist — so that these associations can put real money and real effort on the line in support of the public good, and so that legislators come to view business as partners in strengthening the democracy. Newer groups like the Leadership Now Project on the national level (I am on their board of advisors), or the Greater Houston Partnership at the state level, may be promising places to start.

Address the Roots of the Problem

Rebuilding our democracy requires addressing the underlying problems that have created our current difficulties. It is not enough to simply assert that the election was legitimate and the results must be respected. There’s a reason that so many of our fellow citizens are willing to give up on democracy. For far too many people, “the system” is not working for them. Even before the pandemic hit and intensified suffering, accelerating inequality and declining social mobility was stoking a deep anger that has too often translated into populist rage and awakened the racist demons that have been part of America from the start.

We must work to understand why so many people are so angry and so willing to believe that the system is corrupt and rigged against them. Unless and until they come to believe that “the elites” care about them and are willing to do something about it, they will continue to support dangerous demagogues — because they see no other solution.

Business must act. Individual firms can make a difference by doing all they can to be racially and ethnically inclusive and by adopting “high-road employment” systems — treating their employees with dignity and respect and redesigning work to create better-paying jobs. Firms can work together to support racial equity and empowerment. They can work with local colleges and universities to rebuild regional educational systems. And they can act collectively to support the kind of policies that years of research have confirmed support the wellbeing of those at the bottom of the income distribution: raising the minimum wage, mandating basic benefits, investing heavily in community colleges and education, and ensuring that everyone has access to decent health care.

Business must step up. Our democracy needs us.

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