At a glance.
- US Court limits Federal contact with social media companies.
- The rage-baiter who never was.
- Online news sites tied to the Wagner Group blocked in Russia.
- Moscow and Kyiv trade accusations of plans to sabotage Zaporizhzhia.
- Mr. Medvedev assures the world that the Russian Army is "modern and heroic."
US District Court rules to restrict some Federal contact with social media companies.
Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled that some government agencies cannot engage with social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” Specifically, the ruling said that specified government organizations (a long list, but it includes both the FBI and CISA) "ARE HEREBY ENJOINED AND RESTRAINED from taking the following actions as to social-media companies:
"(1) meeting with social-media companies for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion , suppression , or reduction of content
containing protected free speech posted on social-media platforms
"(2) specifically flagging content or posts on social-media platforms and/or forwarding such to social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for
removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech;
"(3) urging, encouraging , pressuring, or inducing in any manner social-media companies to change their guidelines for removing, deleting, suppressing , or reducing content containing protected free speech
"(4) emailing,calling,sending letters ,texting,or engaging in any communication of any kind with social-media companies urging, encouraging ,pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression ,or reduction of content containing protected free speech;
"(5) collaborating, coordinating, partnering, switchboarding, and/or jointly working with the Election Integrity Partnership,the Virality Project,the Stanford Internet Observatory, or any like project or group for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content posted with social-media companies containing protected free speech;
"(6) threatening , pressuring, or coercing social-media companies in any manner to remove,delete, suppress, or reduce posted content of postings containing protected free speech; Protected free speech means speech that is protected by the Free Speech Clause ofthe First Amendment to the United States Constitution in accordance with jurisprudence ofthe United States Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal and District Courts.
"(7) taking any action such as urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress , or reduce posted content protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution;
"(8) following up with social-media companies to determine whether the social-media companies removed, deleted, suppressed, or reduced previous social-media postings containing protected free speech;
"(9) requesting content reports from social-media companies detailing actions taken to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce content containing protected free speech; and
"(10) notifying social-media companies to Be on The Lookout ( BOLO ) for postings containing protected free speech."
The social media companies the government is enjoined from contacting include, but aren't limited to, Facebook/Meta, Twitter, YouTube/Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, Sina Weibo, QQ, Telegram , Snapchat, Kuaishou, Qzone, Pinterest, Reddit, LinkedIn, Quora, Discord, Twitch, Tumblr, and Mastodon.
The ruling will make existing and planned government efforts against disinformation more complex and more difficult, but the main lesson from the decision is that no one, yet, has any good approach to the top-down regulation of disinformation that can assure people that it preserves a proper regard for right to freedom of speech.
(Added, 8:45 PM ET, July 6th, 2023. Asaf Kochan, President & Co-Founder of Sentra, wrote to express reservations about the court's ruling:
"The Federal ruling prohibiting agencies like CISA from moderating social media posts paints a picture that government officials want to lay the groundwork for a systematic campaign to control speech on social media. Some fear that giving the federal government the ability to engage with social media will increase the likelihood that they try to silence the opposing political party, but preventing authorities from taking any form of action against the spread of misinformation also poses a great risk for American democracy.
"In my opinion, this ruling is a prize for U.S. adversaries, as radical nations try to manipulate public opinion and decrease citizens’ confidence in government. American citizens have the right to engage in free debate about the significant issues concerning the country; that said, the need to defend freedom of speech must be balanced with the need to defend national stability and democracy.
"My view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the impact their platforms have on the American people. This is especially important given the upcoming 2024 election and the possibility that foreign adversaries may tamper or manipulate with what’s factual; the unfortunate reality is that we live in a world where alternative facts spread like wildfire, so the federal government must try again to create a rule that better strikes the balance between the national interest of defending free speech and preventing disinformation.")
The rage-baiter who never was.
Still,she had a Twitter blue-check until last week. The Washington Post recounts the strange story of Erica March, a Twitter persona who expressed strongly progressive views (some of them almost parodically left-wing). Her tweets were sometimes cited by conservatives as an example of extreme left-wing positions. Twitter has removed Erica March's account after determining that her profile picture showed signs of manipulation, and that claims she made (having worked for the Biden and Obama campaigns, for example) couldn't be verified. She also had only a minimal presence apart from her Twitter account. The Twitter account's approach to growing followers was rage-baiting. Whether the account was motivated by political commitments or simply fraudulent follower-collection is unclear.
Online news sites tied to the Wagner Group blocked in Russia.
Last Friday the Russian Internet regulator Roskomnadzor blocked RIA FAN, Politics Today, Economy Today, Neva News, and People's News, all of which were tied closely to the Wagner Group. Working from the other side, Wagner Group boss Yevegny Prigozhin has dissolved the Patriot Media holding company, best known as the corporate parent of his troll farm, the Internet Research Agency (IRA). What effect this will have on IRA operations is as yet unclear; the troll farm may be acquired by another company. The Record reports that employees throughout Patriot Media were laid off with a bad severance package (that is, with no severance package). Should they return in some form, oligarch Yuri Kovalchuk, banker and owner of the National Media Group (NMG), is thought to be the most likely suitor for the IRA and Mr. Prigozhin's other now-blocked-and-shuttered properties.
Russia, Ukraine, trade accusations of plans to sabotage the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
Someone, probably Moscow, is lying with respect to intention to damage Europe's largest nuclear power facility. Moscow and Kyiv yesterday accused one another of planning to sabotage the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, thereby inducing a radiological incident comparable in scale to the late-Soviet disaster at Chernobyl. The plant is controlled by Russian occupation troops, but the Ukrainian staff remains on-site to look after its operation. As a safety precaution, the plant's six reactors have been shut down, but that doesn't remove the risk of contamination should the reactors be damaged in an explosion.
Ukrainian sources have warned that Russian troop withdrawals from the vicinity of Zaporizhzhia could be a precursor to a deliberately staged incident, the Guardian reports. Russian official media have downplayed the effects of an incident at the plant, saying that Russian troops were trained and equipped to operate without difficulty in a contaminated environment. (Few informed observers credit such claims.)
TASS quotes Leonid Slutsky, leader of the LDPR party and chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, on what Ukrainian action against Zaporizhzhia would look like: it would be a provocation, blamed on Russia. "Everything indicates that Zelensky intends to lay ‘his last card’ on the table ahead of the NATO summit and blow up the Zaporozhye NPP. The objective is monstrous - to use a nuclear terrorist attack in order to place the blame on Russia and force the collective West to get directly involved in the Ukraine conflict," Mr. Slutsky said. The Russian Foreign Ministry has also taken the line that Ukraine is preparing a provocation. Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pronounced the warning. "Russia will continue to ensure protection of the ZNPP and will respond extremely harshly to any Ukrainian attacks on this facility," she said. "Once again, we call on the UN and IAEA management not to turn a blind eye to the situation around the ZNPP and to say it clearly who is to blame for the ongoing events and who actually poses a threat for security and functioning of this civilian facility."
Both sides can be wrong, if nothing happens at the plant, but of course they can't both be right.
TASS is authorized to disclose that the Russian Army is "modern and heroic."
The state news outlet is quoting Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev. His main point in a Wednesday interview was the improbable assertion that the only reason the Special Military Operation continued was because the malign West ("the US and its vassals") continued to arm Ukraine. If only they stopped, a peaceful solution would be arrived at in days. But his point about the quality of the Russian Army is the real disinformation here. The Russian Army has been a tactically inept, logistically hopeless, poorly led atrocity machine--hardly heroic. And its having reequipped itself with 1960s-vintage T-62 and 1950s-vintage T-55 tanks pulled from storage argues against its modernity.