Social Media’s Electoral Power: More Hype Than Reality?

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from the destroying-all-your-priors dept

It’s been almost an article of faith among many (especially since 2016) that social media has been a leading cause of our collective dumbening and the resulting situation in which a bunch of fascist-adjacent wannabe dictators getting elected all over the place.
But, we’ve always found that argument to feel massively, if not totally overblown. And, the data we’ve seen has highlighted how little impact social media has actually had on elections (cable news might be a bit different).
Now there’s a new study out of NYU’s Center for Social Media & Politics, which has been working through a ton of fascinating social media data over the past few years. This latest study suggests that the impact of social media on the 2020 election appears to have been minimal.
This is based on looking at the behavior of people who deactivated their Facebook and Instagram accounts in the runup to the election, and how that changed (or didn’t change) their behavior.
There were a few interesting findings, though I’m not sure any are particularly surprising. They found that users without social media lessened their knowledge of news events, but increased their ability to recognize disinformation.
The study also found that the deactivation had effectively no impact on “issue polarization.” This result is different than when a similar study was done in 2018, which the authors chalk up, potentially, to the differences between a mid-term election and a general election.
They also found no change in the “perceived legitimacy of the election” which is interesting given how prevalent that issue has been (especially among the Trumpist contingent). If you thought people only falsely believed the election was stolen because of Facebook, the data just doesn’t support that:
There’s more in the study as well, but it’s good to see more actual data and research along these lines. As a first pass, it again looks like the rush to blame social media for all the ills in the world might just be a bit overblown.
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from the a-real-superhero dept

It should come as no shock to anyone when I say that DC Comics and Marvel both behave in a very aggressive manner when it comes to all things intellectual property. These two companies have engaged in all kinds of draconian behavior when it comes to everything from copyright to trademark. But one thing that somehow escaped my attention all the years I’ve been writing for Techdirt is that those two companies also jointly hold a trademark, granted by the USPTO, for the term “Super Hero,” as well as several variants. You can visit that Wikipedia link to get some of the backstory as to how this all came to be, but, suffice it to say, that the term “super hero,” at this point in history, is obviously generic. Hell, it refers to an entire genre of movies, if nothing else.
Well, one comic artist in London is attempting to challenge that trademark with the USPTO, seeking to have it and its variants canceled entirely.
Now, this is all coming about because DC Comics accused Superbabies Ltd. of trademark infringement when it caught whiff of the company’s own attempt to trademark its comic book name. But the idea that the term “Superbabies” or “Super Hero” could be monopolized for any market at all via trademark law is, at this point, absurd. And yet both DC and Marvel have wielded their trademarks many times in the past.
I would argue that the term wasn’t particularly unique as an identifier back when it was first granted over 100 years ago and certainly isn’t now. When you hear the term, you might think of certain super heroes from either Marvel or DC. Or you might think about the many, many super hero characters out there that are not owned by those companies. The point is that the term is ubiquitous at this point.
Will the USPTO give serious consideration to canceling DC and Marvel’s joint trademark? I’m not sure, but it certainly should.
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from the just-sit-on-it-until-people-give-up dept

The Supreme Court has recognized there’s something definitely wrong with asset forfeiture. But, so far, it has yet to attempt to put a full stop to it.
A recent case dealt with criminal asset forfeiture. In that case, the nation’s top court ruled it was unconstitutional for the government to seize assets worth far more than the maximum fine it could levy for the criminal charges accompanying the seizure. In that case, cops took a $42,000 Range Rover in exchange for a sale of $260 worth of heroin to an undercover officer. Given that this crime had a max fine of $10,000, the Supreme Court said taking the Range Rover was an “excessive fine” — something that violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
But the justices said this also applied to civil asset forfeiture. And in civil cases, criminal charges usually aren’t filed, which means any forfeiture would be an “excessive fine” because the applicable fine in cases with no criminal charges is always going to be… $0.
Unfortunately, the 2019 ruling changed little about forfeiture programs. Most still operate the way they always have and will likely continue to do so until another legal challenge reaches the upper levels of the court system.
This case did manage to make it to the top court in the land. But there’s no win to be had here for people whose property is taken by opportunistic cops who operate in locales with permissive forfeiture laws. Here are the facts of the case, as reported by Adam Liptak for the New York Times.
And so has the Supreme Court. As the decision [PDF] notes (with some apparent regret), due process rights do not include forcing law enforcement to engage in timely adjudication of forfeiture cases, which means agencies and officers can continue to hang back and hope attrition (for lack of a better word) will allow them to retain control of property seized for seriously specious reasons.
In other words, the government is under no obligation to provide forfeiture victims with a preliminary hearing to see whether or not the government can retain control of the property until the forfeiture is adjudicated. People whose property has been seized will just have to wait until the government makes its move and respond to them.
This might seem fair, but it really isn’t. In cases like these — where people’s cars have been seized because of crimes committed by people who don’t own the cars — the owners are still obligated to make payments on these cars or round up the funds to secure other transportation while the government goes through the civil forfeiture motions. This could take weeks, months, or years. At no point is the government required to accelerate the process or allow property owners an opportunity to make things move faster.
So, the ruling was no help to these women or to anyone else subjected to the same tactics. Some justices did have some good stuff to say about the general shittiness of civil asset forfeiture programs, but those were relegated to the dissent, where they similarly won’t do much for people victimized by legalized theft.
But even the concurrence (this one written by Justices Gorsuch and Thomas) has things to say about civil asset forfeiture, most of it critical of the practice.
That’s from the concurrence. That’s from two justices who agree the Constitution provides no remedy but still spend most of their concurrence criticizing civil forfeiture.
The dissent, written by Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson, is even more harsh in its assessment of civil forfeiture. And they say this decision — while ultimately critical of the practice — gives opportunistic law enforcement agencies all the permission they need to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them while making it clear members of the public are welcome to go fuck themselves if they have a problem with this.
Not a great result. Hamstringing lower courts is the least favorable outcome, especially now that lower courts seem to finally be waking up to the harms created by civil forfeiture programs — nearly all of which contain multiple layers of perverted incentives. With this decision, the Supreme Court has taken a pass on establishing a right to a speedy trial (of sorts) for those who’ve just seen their possessions taken by law enforcement because of the actions of others. This decision says things are fine the way they are, even when five justices (even those concurring!) agree the system is completely fucked.