No, The Supreme Court Did Not Just Greenlight Government Censorship (Despite What The Media Says)

from the read-the-damn-case-people dept

In the wake of a Supreme Court case built on grifters peddling nonsense evidence, it’s only fitting that some media reporting is buying into the same fantasy-land narrative at the heart of the case. You would hope that professional journalists would do better, but apparently that’s too difficult.
Earlier this week, we covered the Murthy v. Missouri ruling, in which the Supreme Court saw through all the bullshit and nonsense from the people who filed the lawsuit claiming that the US government was working with social media companies to censor certain speech, and found that there was no standing to bring the case.
While the majority punted on the merits over exactly what the standard is for the important line between persuasion and coercion (though, they tried to address some of that in the earlier Vullo case — which oddly was not even mentioned in this ruling), it overturned the lower court solely on standing. The fact that the underlying facts of the case were basically a conspiracy fever dream bong hit of “trust me bro, the gov’t is, like, totally censoring shit,” basically destroyed the case.
But, of course, the reporting on this case from the start has been ridiculously bad because it’s a somewhat nuanced topic around the First Amendment, and no one’s got time for that. Indeed, many of the reports really seemed to view everything through partisan lenses. I mean, back in March I wrote about how the National Review wrote a whole article, ostensibly about the oral arguments in the case, which claimed, falsely, that the Biden administration defended its right to tell companies what content to delete. Which is not what happened at all. The entire argument was that the administration had not done so. And the only evidence presented was the “trust me, bro” shit discussed earlier.
Indeed, the administration directly admitted to the Supreme Court that if it had actually done what it was being accused of (telling companies what to delete), that would violate the First Amendment.
So, the only thing the Supreme Court was actually saying here was that if you are going to claim that the government is violating the First Amendment by compelling companies to delete your speech through coercion, you have to actually show at least some evidence that the government coerced the companies to delete that speech. And, the plaintiffs failed to do that here.
But, the narrative that this case was about clear, proven censorship is so deeply ingrained in people’s minds that some are interpreting this case as blessing such censorship. The worst offender is the Daily Mail, perhaps not surprisingly, given their journalistic chops. This title is junk: “Supreme Court rules Biden administration can continue censoring conservative social media posts in major free speech case.
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And while the Daily Mail bylines the piece as if it’s off the AP Wire, there’s no way the text of the article is from the AP. Because it’s just blatantly wrong in such a dumb way.
That’s not, at all, what the Supreme Court ruled. It was pretty explicit that actual censorship still violates the First Amendment. All the court said was that the plaintiffs here failed to show anything even remotely resembling censorship, and thus they had no standing to sue.
The article also quotes Missouri Senator Eric Schmitt, who had been Attorney General of Missouri when the case was brought under his watch. Schmitt also flat out lies:
It literally did not. Like, literally. The whole point of the Supreme Court ruling was that Missouri and the other plaintiffs failed to expose any damn thing, and that’s why the case got rejected.
And, you can argue that the Daily Mail is not exactly known for unbiased reporting or, you know, journalism skills, but others seemed to get stuff confused as well.
The Guardian, which one might normally think of as the political opposite of the Daily Mail, also got it wrong with this headline: “US supreme court allows government to request removal of misinformation on social media.
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I mean, it’s not quite as egregious as the Mail, but it’s still wrong. The court did not allow the government to request removal of misinformation. It simply said that those who brought that case failed to show any evidence of the government coercively making such demands.
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I guess maybe if your interpretation of “press” is “suggest to them content violates their rules” or that they should “consider if their rules are putting people at risk” then it’s sorta accurate? But “press” suggests an element of coercion, and that’s not at all what the Supreme Court allowed.
It stripped the old injunction simply because there was no evidence of such coercion. That doesn’t mean that the White House can coerce. And that’s the case no matter what Matt Taibbi, who pretty much bet what’s left of his reputation on misrepresenting nearly everything related to this case (to an embarrassing degree), falsely claimed this ruling allows “Big Brothering” to “now resume in earnest.”
Except, if that actually happened (or even if it had happened before), then there would be evidence, which could enable actual standing, as it had in the Vullo case.
I guess it’s no surprise that, even after the Supreme Court explained how much of the “evidence” presented in this case was full of bluster and nonsense, the response is to… spread more bluster and nonsense.
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from the setting-money-on-fire dept

Well, we’ll see how long ShotSpotter/SoundThinking will keep making that New York money. The outlook is not good. A lot of this will depend on how well the NYPD can defend the useless product it’s spending millions on, but at the end of the day, the city still holds the purse strings and it has the power to terminate contracts that simply aren’t worth paying for.
The NYC comptroller performed an audit of the NYPD and ShotSpotter not with the intent of burying them, but simply to determine whether or not the NYPD was paying its bills on time and whether or not ShotSpotter was fulfilling the obligations of its contract.
The answer to both questions is “No.”
First, the comptroller takes on ShotSpotter and its guarantees of certain amount of law enforcement success:
That’s pretty terrible, especially by the standards ShotSpotter claims to hold itself. When you’re wrong that often, you start costing cities real money while providing very little value in exchange.
More than 427 hours of wasted payroll in a single month. That’s pretty fucking terrible. But it could actually be much worse. There’s no way to know how much payroll is being blown by officers responding to ShotSpotter alerts because (surprise surprise!) the NYPD does not “track the amount of time — or associated staff costs — spent responding to such instances.”
I’ll try not to read too much into the NYPD’s disagreements with the comptroller’s conclusions, but they sound eerily like the new wave of PR emanating from SoundThinking HQ: the real value of ShotSpotter isn’t measured in arrests and prosecutions but rather lives saved. According to its new set of talking points, ShotSpotter brings EMS units to shooting victims faster, resulting in fewer lives lost to gun violence.
Maybe it would have a point if anyone was tracking this particular factor. But no one is, not even the NYPD which uses the same exact argument to excuse ShotSpotter’s underperformance:
Since the NYPD can’t or won’t do it, the comptroller’s office did what it could with available data. And that data contradicts the claims made by the NYPD (and, indeed, claims made by ShotSpotter itself).
So far, the NYPD has spent $45 million on ShotSpotter since 2014. Another $9 million will have to be spent before the contract expires in December of this year. That’s not much compared to the PD’s multi-billion dollar budget, but it’s still money that could be spent elsewhere on more useful things or, if legislators are trying to do a bit of budget balancing — not spent at all.
The comptroller has suggestions, most of which the NYPD disagrees with. The NYPD should track and publish data on ShotSpotter alerts, including the percentage of false or unconfirmed alerts. It already has the capacity to compile this data, but the comptroller wants the PD to pass that info on to the general public.
It also says the NYPD needs to start tracking how many officer hours are wasted responding to ShotSpotter alerts. And, if it really wants to use the argument that ShotSpotter is there to save shooting victims, rather than contribute to shooting investigations, the NYPD should start tracking this information too.
It also recommends the contract with ShotSpotter be allowed to expire at the end of the year. And, until that point, the NYPD should start paying its invoices within 30 days of receiving them as is mandated by the city’s procurement policy. (lol)
The NYPD has responded by saying pretty much everything asked of it is impossible or difficult or something it just doesn’t feel like doing, starting with the recommendation it allow its ShotSpotter contract expire:
First off, the data the comptroller compiled shows that, in most city boroughs, ShotSpotter is far better at wasting officers’ time than finding shooters or shooting victims. Second, the department should have been conducting “further analysis” ever since the inception of this contract a decade ago. It has no right to be asking for more time to conduct analysis, especially when it’s clear it’s just a stalling tactic meant to help the NYPD slide by the contract termination date and into another (potentially) long-term contract with the company.
Law enforcement agencies and ShotSpotter itself (although more often the latter) continue to defend this questionable tech with vague statements about safety and even more vague representations about its usefulness. But pretty much any city that’s actually dug into the data has come to the same conclusions: ShotSpotter may be an innovative use of acoustic detection tech, but it’s really not worth paying for.