Impotents Ignored

This comes as a follow-up to this post:

MPs have threatened to issue Mark Zuckerberg with a formal summons to appear in front of parliament when he next enters the UK, unless he voluntarily agrees to answer questions about the activities of his social network and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Damian Collins, the chair of the parliamentary committee that is investigating online disinformation, said he was unhappy with the information the company had provided and wanted to hear evidence from the Facebook chief executive before parliament went into recess on 24 May.

This would be the Damian Collins who was elected by 32,000 people in the constituency of Folkestone and Hythe. Commenter Ottokring had this to say about him:

D Collins is my local MP and is an utter c*nt.

Right.

“It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK parliament, he will do so the next time he enters the country,” Collins wrote in a public letter to Facebook. “We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but, if not, the committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK.”

What are they going to do, wait for him at Heathrow arrivals? Could they come across as any more impotent if they tried?

The digital, culture, media, and sport committee has repeatedly invited Zuckerberg to give evidence but Facebook has sent more junior executives to answer questions from MPs.

Which is what this is all about: MPs believe they are important enough that none other than the CEO should appear before them to answer questions.

Facebook declined to comment on the possibility of a formal summons. In theory, Zuckerberg could be found in contempt of parliament if he refuses one.

When Rupert Murdoch and his son James resisted appearing in front of a select committee in 2011, it was speculated that potential punishments could include “fines and imprisonment”.

In reality it is likely that, at worst, the punishment for ignoring such a summons would include an arcane process resulting in little more than a formal warning from the House of Commons.

At which point Zuckerberg starts sharing MPs’ Facebook Messenger histories.

MPs have debated making it a criminal offence for potential witnesses to ignore formal summons to select committees, following attempts by Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley to avoid answering questions.

I expect this debate ended rapidly when someone asked: “Can Iraqi MPs summon Tony Blair?”

“It’s a hard job for parliament to make a foreign national come,” said White. “What’s the Serjeant at Arms going to do? Patrol all the ports and airports to see if he’s coming in?”

Precisely. This is empty posturing, but that’s what the government does best these days, isn’t it?

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Zuckerberg says no? Good.

At some point when I was living in Nigeria they had one of their frequent “petrol crises” where for some reason there is a shortage of petrol in the filling stations. These are usually caused by strikes, sabotage, or plain old incompetence (see the third item in this post, for example). This particular crisis got bad enough that the government started getting concerned and commissioned some functionary to look into it. Rather than tackling the root causes, which would have been absolutely impossible, the functionaries started hauling in the foreign directors of western oil companies and subjecting them to lengthy harangues which were televised. I caught a few minutes of a European I knew being asked the most stupid of questions by a Nigerian lawmaker who looked about fifteen years old. It was an exercise in grandstanding on the part of the Nigerians and humiliation on the part of the directors. Of course, it didn’t help the petrol crisis one whit, but it was good politics. Many Africans like seeing one of their own ritually humiliate a white man, even if they’ll be substantially poorer the next day as a result. See Zimbabwe, or where South Africa is heading, for example.

I was reminded of this exercise in political posturing a few years later when the Labour MP Margaret Hodge headed up the kangaroo court known as the Public Accounts Committee. This awful woman would drag hapless executives before her and denounce the tax avoidance measures their companies had employed, even though they had broken no laws and were in most cases acting well within the spirit of the law. Her ignorance of the subject she was presiding over was on full display, and she was also a staggering hypocrite: the family firm Stemcor, from which she draws her fortune, uses much the same tax avoidance measures as those she was denouncing. The whole thing was a circus designed to whip up anger from the left against “big business” while covering up the many failings of British politicians, primarily getting spending under control. I was not only disappointed that Britain should have fallen so far as to adopt the practice of political bullying I saw in Nigeria, but also that none of the executives had the balls to stand up, denounce the whole thing as a show-trial, and call out Hodge on her hypocrisy.

This is why I was happy to read this story a couple of days ago:

Mark Zuckerberg has come under intense criticism from the UK parliamentary committee investigating fake news after the head of Facebook refused an invitation to testify in front of MPs for a third time.

Was he obliged by law to do so? No, he wasn’t.

Zuckerberg has been invited three times to speak to the committee, which is investigating the effects of fake news on UK democracy, but has always sent deputies to testify in his stead.

Which is sensible. If Facebook must answer specific technical questions to a committee of MPs, it may well be that the CEO is not the best person to attend. Note what’s being complained about here: it’s not that Facebook ignored the invitation, just that Zuckerberg didn’t come in person. In other words, this gaggle of MPs from a country which can’t even secure its borders (unless a “far right” Canadian shows up at Stansted) and prosecutes people for internet jokes thought they were so important that one of the world’s most prominent billionaires and an American citizen should drop everything and come to participate in what is likely to be a kangaroo court.

The chair, Damian Collins, said it had become more urgent the Facebook founder give evidence in person after oral evidence provided by the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie.

The MP said: “I think, given the extraordinary evidence we’ve heard so far today, it is absolutely astonishing that Mark Zuckerberg is not prepared to submit himself to questioning in front of a parliamentary or congressional hearing, given these are questions of fundamental importance and concern to his users, as well as to this inquiry.

Who the hell is Damian Collins? Has anyone ever heard of him? The most noteworthy thing on his Wikipedia article is this:

It was revealed Collins claimed £4,440.90 over three months in rent for a house in London, despite declaring that he already owned a home in the capital. In his defence, he claimed the property belonged to his wife and was “too small to provide accommodation for my young family, and even if that was not the case, as a new Member of Parliament I wouldn’t be able to claim any accommodation allowance against the mortgage on the property.”

So this small-time grifter who was elected by 32k people in the constituency of Folkestone and Hythe is astonished that Mark Zuckerberg, who presides over a multi-billion dollar international business enterprise providing a service with literally billions of users, won’t come in person to answer his questions? Do British MPs start out with this over-inflated idea of their own importance, or does it build up over time?

“I would certainly urge him to think again if he has any care for people that use his company’s services.”

So if an American CEO of a giant corporation doesn’t come and grovel before a parliamentary select committee, and instead sends (possibly more suitable) deputies, some obscure backbencher will issue veiled threats in a national paper? Let me tell you something, Mr Collins: given the choice of keeping Facebook or keeping you, 100% of British people would keep Facebook. Nobody would give one solitary fuck if you were cleaning the insides of wheelie-bins by this time tomorrow.

MPs are likely to take a still dimmer view of his decision after he ultimately agreed to testify before Congress in the US.

Note to British MPs sitting on a select committee: you are not the US Congress. I wonder, do other countries get to do this? Can an MP from rural Uzbekistan demand the CEO of Glaxosmithkline attend a grilling over public concern surrounding Sensodyne toothpaste? Probably not, no. So why do British MPs think they can order foreign CEOs to appear before them?

The company’s head of public policy, Rebecca Stimson, said in a letter to Collins: “Facebook fully recognises the level of public and parliamentary interest in these issues and support your belief that these issues must be addressed at the most senior levels of the company by those in an authoritative position to answer your questions. As such, Mr Zuckerberg has personally asked one of his deputies to make themselves available.”

Both men, Stimson wrote, “report directly to Mr Zuckerberg and are among the longest-serving senior representatives in Facebook’s 15-year history. Both of them have extensive expertise in these issues and are well placed to answer the committee’s questions on these complex subjects.”

Exactly. Collins and his mob have absolutely no right either legal or moral to demand the appearance of Zuckerberg in person. This is pure vanity on his part, driven by delusional levels of self-importance. He should resign immediately, not just for making highly inappropriate comments which make Britain look like a banana republic, but for making me defend Mark Zuckerberg.

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Cambridge Analytica

I was wondering what all the fuss was about this Cambridge Analytica story, until I came across this detail:

The London-based company is accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential election in 2016.

“Russia hacked the election” hasn’t worked, so the ruling classes need to come up with another excuse to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s election and explain why Hillary lost. As people are pointing out:

[W]hat’s odd is that people don’t seem to mind data being plundered if the beneficiaries are the perceived good guys.

Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, for instance, used one of Facebook’s APIs (application programming interfaces) and data to target voters. It’s clever and complicated, but what it boils down to is that Obama’s data scientists were able to persuade about a million Facebook users to connect their profile to the Obama campaign website. They were then able to access the profiles of these people, which also showed who their friends were. From this they were able to construct real life social networks, which enabled them to target many, many more potential Obama voters. “If you log in with Facebook, now the campaign has connected you to all your relationships,’ boasted a digital campaign organiser.

What Cambridge Analytica did, in essence, was the same as the Obama campaign in 2012 – though they had a smaller sample group of 250,000 to model from.

[W]hen Obama did it, such practices were written up in glowing terms. His campaign’s social media tactics were widely lauded for harvesting ‘the power of friendship’. But when Trump or Brexit do it, apparently, it’s evil.

This certainly explains why the BBC is running it as front-page news, and probably will for the rest of the week.

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Why doesn’t Jordan Peterson have his own server?

Reader William of Ockham makes this remark in correspondence he probably thought was private:

You do know they are going to get [Jordan] Peterson, right? There will be a moment where they provoke him to give an awful soundbite or find a past failure that is enough to discredit him. He hints at this when people ask what keeps him up at night.

I agree that it’s only a matter of time before Peterson is hounded off YouTube, and probably Twitter and other social media platforms too. The question I have is why the hell is he still on there.

I’m reasonably certain oil companies, for example, own the servers they host their websites on. If not, they’ll certainly have an agreement with a hosting company that won’t be torn up in the event some green lunatics decide to spam them with ten thousand emails demanding they cease to host the oil major’s site. An oil company’s IT infrastructure is probably expensive to maintain, but would be less for smaller companies. At some point, it would make sense to just outsource the lot rather than own the equipment. But I assume owning your own server and maintenance/protection systems is possible even for individuals.

So why doesn’t somebody like Peterson, who has 850k subscribers to his YouTube channel and 500k followers on Twitter, not set up a small company and buy the necessary IT equipment so he no longer stands the risk of being kicked off the internet? Okay, it might be possible for SJWs to hound the telecoms company or even the landlord of the premises into dropping Peterson, but that will only work in a few countries. If it comes down to it, why could Peterson not set up a small company in Russia and host his server from there? The Russians wouldn’t care what he’s saying, provided he sticks to attacking deranged feminists in the west and not Vladimir Putin.

It might be Peterson doesn’t have the money, but he’s the No.1 seller on Amazon so he can’t be flat broke. How much would it cost to be independent? $10k? More? He could sell his books from his site, post his videos, and do whatever he wants and not have to lie awake at night waiting for the day when YouTube suddenly block his account. It doesn’t make sense for everyone to take such precautions of course, but for someone like Peterson? It seems sensible, yet he doesn’t do it. Anyone know why?

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Ve have vays of making you not talk!

I’ve written before about governments outsourcing political censorship to social media companies, and also about Germany’s suppression of free speech. Today I read this:

A German satirical magazine’s Twitter account was blocked after it parodied anti-Muslim comments, the publication said on Wednesday, in what the national journalists association said showed the downside of a new law against online hate speech.

Titanic magazine was mocking Beatrix von Storch, a member of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who accused police of trying “to appease the barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men” by putting out a tweet in Arabic.

Twitter briefly suspended her account and prosecutors are examining if her comments amount to incitement to hatred.

So not only is the German government forcing social media companies to block their political opponents under the guise of counteracting online “hate speech”, the people doing the blocking are too dim to spot a parody account. How the Germans can’t see that such a law, in the hands of the wrong party, could be devastating is a mystery. I can only conclude such occurrences have no precedent in their country from which they could draw obvious lessons.

Titanic said on Wednesday its Twitter account had been blocked over the message, which it assumed was a result of a law that came into full force on Jan. 1 that can impose fines of up to 50 million euros ($60 million) on social media sites that fail to remove hate speech promptly.

A lot of people will rightly ask who defines hate speech. What they should be asking is how easy is it to change that definition.

Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms are scrambling to adapt to the law, and its implementation is being closely watched after warnings that the threat of fines could prompt websites to block more content than necessary.

This is a feature, not a bug. The German government and those who would emulate them want the social media companies to self-censor everything that doesn’t explicitly conform to progressive standards of right-think. That way they can hold their hands up, adopt an innocent face, and say “We never told them to censor X, Y, Z”.

Merkel’s conservatives accused the AfD of undermining the post-war democratic consensus in Germany.

By winning so much support at the ballot box that she stands to lose her job?

“The racism that AfD lawmakers have been tweeting for days is intentionally violating, with criminal intent, the basic consensus which democrats have built up since 1949 despite all disagreements,” Armin Laschet, party deputy of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, tweeted.

There ought to be a law against it! Well, there is now. It’s ironic that a German politician coming out with this believes citing war-era precedents is an argument in his favour.

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More on Damian Green and the bent ex-copper

Giolla Decair makes a good point regarding the porn supposedly found on Damian Green’s laptop:

As they were thumbnails that’s almost certainly in the browser cache ( who the hell deliberately saves thumbnails). So based on thumbnails no evidence that any porn was actually watched just that some porn sites were browsed and the thumbnails cached, given modern browsers sometimes pre-fetch pages it might not even have been that many pages/sites browsed. Again given it’s thumbnails a typical page could easily have 100 thumbnail images so if there’s pre-fetching going on you could be talking about having browsed just a handful of pages without having fetched a single thing.

This is worth keeping in mind when listening to the arguments from some people that surfing porn while at work is a sackable offence and because this guy is an MP and works for us, it’s in the public interest and he should be fired. Leaving aside the fact that it is not the job of ex-policemen to act as any employer’s HR department particularly ten years after the event and having retired, it’s not clear-cut this will be a sackable offence.

Firstly, having evidence of visiting porn sites on your company laptop does not mean you were surfing porn at work. I suspect most people in this situation were away on business without a personal laptop and used their work machine to visit dodgy sites back at the hotel at night. Unless the timestamp on the files can be matched to Green’s working hours, the offence is more one of using a company laptop for visiting prohibited websites. This already puts us in a grey area insofar as HR is concerned.

What websites are prohibited? Anything not work related? Okay, so how many people have been fired for visiting Amazon on a work laptop? Visiting anything deemed to be pornographic or with “adult content”? How is that defined, exactly? I suspect these matters are decided on a case-by-case basis and if HR get wind of anything untoward they haul the employee in and ask them for an explanation before telling them to pack it in. If they’re going to be fired, the number of sites visited, the visit duration, the regularity of the visits, and the content of the pictures will all form part of HR’s decision over what action to take. If there are a dozen thumbnails that the browser cache stored when the user inadvertently opened a site he probably shouldn’t have, he’s probably going to be sent on an IT awareness course rather than being fired. Even if he’s looked at porn, they’ll have to show it happened during work hours if they want to fire him for anything other than a breach of the IT protocols.

The fact is we know nothing about the files Damian Green allegedly had on his laptop, and it is simply untrue to say that any such pictures would immediately result in dismissal from a regular job. This is a hatchet-job, and Theresa May needs to make it her personal mission to destroy the life of this ex-copper who is attempting to bring down senior members of her government. If she doesn’t, this sort of thing is going to become the norm; I’d rather see a bent ex-policeman doing a fifteen year stretch than have the entire political system further undermined. However they go about it, they need to make an example of him.

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Germany’s Suppression of Free Speech Online

I don’t know how accurate this article on Angela Merkel’s clamping down on digital free speech is – perhaps Bloke in Germany could comment? – but it’s an interesting follow-up to my earlier post:

Absent of an easy route to get at the netizens themselves, what the government really needed was a quick way to force social media firms to make their platforms inhospitable environments for critical, dissident expression; But taking action against social media networks did not turn out to be all that easy.

But coercively targetting social media companies remained an attractive option for the German government. Outsourcing censorship to privately-owned social media firms presents a neat way to circumvene the high bar of constitutional scrutiny that would apply to the state if it tried to enact such censorship directly.

As Germany has economically boomed under Merkel‘s leadership, social compassion and honesty in the public sphere has reached a record low. Corrupt property developers, ruthless drug dealers, and organised crime are being allowed to take over economically deprived parts of Berlin, Frankfurt, Bremen and Colonoge with impunity, while police simply watch. As Berlin‘s political-corporate elite shops in an ever-growing number of luxury all-organic supermarkets, they cheer on the financial rape of Greece and other Southern European countries by the German-led EU‘s austerity programs; Brutal regimes of cuts and privatisations have left some ordinary, hard-working people in those countries unable to afford even basic essentials such as food and medical care. The supposedly anti-racist, pro-equality mainstream media in Germany outdoes itself day-on-day in finding new, politically-useful ways to implicitly suggest to their readers that ‘lazy‘, ‘heat-dazed‘ Greeks deserve all the degrading austerity they get.

Unsurpringly, Vladimir Putin‘s authoritarian United Russia party has already moved to replicate the Network Enforcement Act. In July, it presented an extremely similar draft social media bill in the Russian parliament, the Duma, that even goes as far as explicitly referring to the German law as its inspiration. Proving that imitation is the sincerest flattery, Russian legislators even copied the exact, expedited content deletion timeframe of 24 hours directly from the German government‘s law.

They’re all at it, aren’t they?

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Outsourcing Censorship

There’s been some noise on social media over the last few days about Gab, the alternative to Twitter where anything goes, having its domain name rescinded:

This letter came a few days after Gab announced it was going to sue Google for some reason, and skeptics are saying it may well all be a publicity stunt by the Gab founder, who I understand is notorious for attention-seeking.

Whatever the case may be, the letter supports something The ZMan has been banging on about for a while now. He argues that in order to get around laws guaranteeing free speech, governments have taken to leaning on social network providers – Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. – to enforce “community guidelines” which purport to outlaw hate speech to protect people, but in practice are used to silence any subscriber who is saying things they don’t like. The government can then hold their hands up in all innocence and say “nothing to do with us, these are the decisions of private companies”. On the evidence I’ve seen, I find ZMan’s argument convincing.

When Twitter started banning people for having unwelcome opinions, the founders of Gab saw a gap in the market and started their own version. Both Apple and Google have refused to approve a Gab app until they can ensure nothing which constitutes discriminatory language will be posted, which defeats the whole purpose. Now it appears someone has gone after Gab’s domain registration, probably having seen other right-wing sites get their registrations pulled in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

So far it’s an effective tactic. If the tech giants and domain registrars are the gateway to 99% of communication, denying somebody access is the equivalent of banning them from speaking. I don’t buy the argument that this is purely a private matter between companies and their customers: corporations which enjoy monopoly positions and dominant market share are forever being hauled into courts on anti-trust charges, all in the name of consumer protection (and filling the coffers of cash-strapped governments). And I’d be more convinced governments were concerned about the situation were they not rubbing their hands with glee, Theresa May being the main culprit:

Technology companies must go “further and faster” in removing extremist content, Theresa May is to tell the United Nations general assembly.

The prime minister will also host a meeting with other world leaders and Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter.

She will challenge social networks and search engines to find fixes to take down terrorist material in two hours.

This meddling, useless former head-girl never passes up an opportunity to push for restrictions to the internet or powers to snoop on people’s electronic communications. She’s obsessed with it, and the sooner she’s booted from office the better. Of course, the effect of May’s lecturing is that tech companies will double-up what they’re already doing: pulling down posts and articles willy-nilly if they contain a single word which might upset this year’s designated victim class, yet the stuff calling for shooting cops, punching Nazis, and the destruction of Israel and the west stays up. And if a load of right-wing writers, bloggers, and commentators get caught up in the sweep? Well, that’s a feature, not a bug.

My guess is people will slowly start shifting their domain registrations to countries where companies can’t be leaned on so easily, namely Russia. Not that Russia is a bastion of free speech but they have the advantage of being beyond the west’s reach and quite happy to see people bashing them from its territory. They also couldn’t care less about discrimination on the basis of race, religion, etc. I don’t know what it takes to set up a .ru domain, but I’m sure enterprising Russians will spot a gap in the market if dozens of popular sites are being thrown off the internet by their domain registrars.

If you drive people away, they’ll seek shelter wherever they can find it. They will then start defending those who provide it, and refrain from criticism. Anyone who has seen their website disappear from the internet after receiving a weaselly-worded letter like the one above and sets up in Russia isn’t going to spend much time complaining about the Russian government. I know I wouldn’t. Frankly, if I got booted off here and a Russian outfit was able to host me solely because Russia was beyond the reach of what is effectively western government censorship, I wouldn’t give two hoots who they were flogging advanced weaponry to, or whose elections they supposedly rigged. If you’re silenced in your own country, you’re not going to be too fussy who you make friends with. Freedom of expression is something people take very, very personally.

Of course, should unapproved opinions start popping up on websites hosted in countries like Russia, the next step for western governments would be to force ISPs to restrict access to them. You can imagine authoritarian harridans like May rubbing her hands with glee at the prospect of that. I expect we’d then see calls to regulate ISPs like utilities, but the way we’re going we’re more likely to see people having their gas and electricity cut off for having the wrong opinions than the government allowing them to say what they like on the internet.

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