Surprise: Wall Street Journal Editorial Board (Correctly) Explains Why Florida’s & Texas’ Social Media Laws Are Horrible And Unconstitutional

notion image

from the broken-clock-etc-etc dept

This morning, as you likely heard, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the NetChoice/CCIA cases regarding Texas’ and Florida’s social media laws. The outcomes of these cases will have a pretty major impact on the future of online speech. While a lot of people have suggested that the states’ arguments are supported by conservatives, and the platforms’ arguments are supported by liberals, that’s not really how the support has lined up at all.
Many traditionally conservative groups and individuals filed amicus briefs in support of the platforms, and a few liberal groups filed briefs in support of the states (though they seem very confused).
Still, it’s a bit surprising to see the WSJ editorial board come out in favor of the platforms and against the states. Yet, that’s exactly what it’s done. Over the past few years, the WSJ’s editorial board has been pretty reliably willing to support all sorts of populist Trumpist MAGA nonsense, which these laws are all about. Hilariously (but not surprisingly), Trump himself filed an amicus brief in support of the states which doesn’t (not once) mention that Trump owns Truth Social, a social media site that would violate these laws (if Truth Social ever got large enough to qualify).
But here, the WSJ editorial board gets it right: these laws are attempts by states to control speech online. And that’s never a good idea.
The editorial board also points out — as we did last year (despite people getting upset at us) — that last year’s ruling in 303 Creative shows why governments shouldn’t be involved in regulating what speech companies can and cannot assist.
As for the argument that websites are common carriers, the editorial board notes that’s a silly argument:
There’s more, but the piece also (correctly) points out why the Supreme Court’s mostly dead Pruneyard precedent is inapt here, and that Miami Herald v. Tornillo is the much “more relevant” precedent.
Indeed, the WSJ calls out that if conservatives are upset by moderation on some platforms, they have others to choose from instead, including Elon Musk’s ExTwitter, where he seems perfectly willing to silence “the woke mind virus” but freely allows plenty of conservative grifters to grift freely.
The conclusion of the editorial is exactly correct:
It’s rare that I agree with a WSJ editorial board opinion piece, but this one is correct.

from the ends-once-asked-to-justify-the-means dept

Law enforcement says laws are the rules that apply to everyone, but especially to people who aren’t in the law enforcement business. We have to follow the laws or face the consequences. But it often appears cops hold themselves to a lower standard. They only have to follow the laws that won’t get in the way of them doing cop stuff.
State laws can be ignored. The Constitution can be shunted off to the side. Any other impediment to “efficient” policing should be ignored in pursuit of this peculiar interpretation of “justice.”
In Massachusetts (which has been home to plenty of law enforcement scandals in recent years), more lawlessness by law enforcement has been uncovered, as Brad Petrishen reports for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
A local court has already referred to these revelations as “shocking,” which is a bit of an understatement but one you don’t often see being made by state district courts.
The illegality here works on two levels. The first involves the obligation to turn over evidence to criminal defendants. These secret recordings were withheld from defendants, even as the information gleaned from them was used against them.
The second involves state law. While most covert recordings in most states are allowed due to one-party consent laws (meaning only one person has to have knowledge the conversation is being recorded), law enforcement in Massachusetts isn’t extended the same privilege. In this state, covert recordings during criminal investigations are governed by the state’s wiretap law, which requires warrants before these recordings can be made.
Those weren’t obtained in these cases. But the troopers have an excuse and it’s one we’ve seen used to try to justify literally any form of police misconduct.
Once again, officers are elevating officer safety above all applicable laws, including the US Constitution. State law is supposed to prevent this sort of thing. The Constitution, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, adds obligations to turn over all evidence to people being prosecuted. Both were violated here.
Fortunately, the judge overseeing one case involving these illegal recordings isn’t buying the “officer safety” excuse. Judge LoConto asked why the recordings were used for investigative purposes when the stated goal was “officer safety.” He didn’t get any straight answers. Instead, he got a bunch of excuses by troopers and state police officials in which they all tried to make it look as though this was someone else’s fault.
The simplest answer is this: no one was in charge and no one was responsible because doing either of these things would create a paper trail for the illegal recordings and/or eliminate any form of plausible deniability.
And thanks to modern technology, it was easy to (almost) get away with it. No doubt the vendor contract contains boilerplate that says everyone involved will only use the tech lawfully. But the easier something can be abused, the greater the chance it will be abused.
To be sure, this isn’t on the vendor. But one would like to think a vendor that discovers a customer is using its product illegally would make sure that this customer no longer has access to their tech. And that it would start taking a long, hard look at the rest of its customers to ensure its name doesn’t get dragged down along with its misbehaving users.
The real villain here is the Massachusetts State Police. It gave troopers access to this tech and then spent years refusing to provide training, craft policies to control it, and — when asked about it in court — simply told the judge that this was all probably someone else’s fault. And everyone questioned made that same excuse, turning this testimony into an especially perverse circle jerk of responsibility abdication.
No one breaks the laws quite like law enforcement. And, unfortunately, no one gets away with it quite so frequently. This case may end up being tossed, but you can be for damn sure the State Troopers will waste more of the public’s money defending the other few hundred violations that have yet to make an appearance in court.

from the nothing-but-blue-skies dept

For semi-obvious reasons, I’ve been following developments at Bluesky closely, given that my Protocols, not Platforms paper was originally part of the reason Jack Dorsey decided to create Bluesky. I have no official association with the organization, though I did help Twitter review some of the early Bluesky proposals and spoke with a few of the candidates they looked at to lead the company (including Jay Graber, whom Jack eventually tabbed to run it).
While Dorsey has since soured on the approach that Bluesky is taking, preferring the nostr protocol’s approach (and deleting his Bluesky account entirely), I continue to believe that Bluesky is the most interesting and most promising of the various attempts at building a better social media system out there. I explained many of the reasons why a few weeks ago when Bluesky finally dropped its “private beta/invite-only” setup and opened to the public.
And yet, as many people pointed out to me, Bluesky still wasn’t really decentralized in any real way. It remained entirely centralized, as the company worked to build up both the new protocol for it, ATProtocol, and the Bluesky reference app on top of the protocol.
However, last week, Bluesky took that next step and opened up the ability to federate.
It’s currently limited to smaller situations, of people who basically want to self-host their own Personal Data Servers. While things get settled, there are rate limits and guardrails for these PDS’s (so, things like only 10 user accounts for the time being). If you want to understand this even more (even if you’re not technical), Bluesky’s more “technical” explanation is still highly readable.
I know that some people hear “federation” and immediately think of Mastodon. However, Bluesky’s entire setup is very different and designed to be much more user friendly in multiple ways (once again, this is one of the reasons that Bluesky chose to create the ATProtocol, rather than going with ActivityPub).
ActivityPub federation has both pros and cons. When you sign up for an instance, you’re basically wholly reliant on whoever runs that instance. Rather than being part of a big centralized network, like Facebook, you’re part of a small centralized server that interconnects with lots of others. But whoever runs your server has pretty much ultimate control. That can work out great if they’re committed to it. But it can also unleash some problems.
Mastodon and related ActivityPub systems have put a lot of effort into minimizing some of the downsides of this. For example, threats of “defederation” are a fascinating incentivizing structure to keep ActivityPub instance admins from going totally rogue, while still allowing for there to be experimentation and differences among servers.
But in the end, you’ve still gone from a big centralized system to a little one, where someone else is in control.
With the Bluesky approach, there are many more layers involved, and federation is less about putting your entire social experience in the hands of one instance admin. Rather, it’s just about where your data/account information gets stored. As Bluesky explains:
This is important, though there are still some details to be worked out, especially around the third-party moderation efforts. But, on the whole, having the ability to still interact with the wider Bluesky community while keeping your personal data server somewhere else that you control is a big step forward in realizing how a more decentralized social media could (and I’d argue, should) work. It brings us back towards the world of an open web, and away from locked-in silos.
Now, again, there are still some parts of the system that people are worried about, in particular how they could be open to centralized capture. The thing is, there is always going to be some risk of this on basically any system. To make things work properly, you tend to need certain parts of the stack to either work together seamlessly, or it just ends up that a very small number of giant players end up dominating the otherwise “open” system anyway.
This is a concern worth watching. However, it’s also been one that the Bluesky team has repeatedly and readily acknowledged, along with their ideas and thinking on how to guarantee that future Bluesky (or anyone else) is effectively incentivized against enshittification. That’s not to say it will all work out, but so far I’ve seen no reason not to believe that the team has been building with this in mind. Its last few major announcements have all shown continued movement in this direction.
At the end of this tunnel, there is a very powerful vision, one that is partially (though not entirely) laid out in the Protocols, Not Platforms paper. In this vision, people can either self-host their own data servers or find a trusted third party to do so, with the ability to move if the current host turns out to be a problem. It’s one where there are many different tools to allow people to craft their own experience (though composable moderation and algorithmic choice within the system) and the moderation layer is separate and extracted from the data server, the app, and the hosting company.
There will be services that combine them all (like Bluesky today), but also we’re increasingly moving towards the world in which people will be able to adjust things to their own liking. And that can be powerful in its own way. No, most users won’t want to get down into the weeds and tweak things themselves. But that’s where there’s an opportunity for organizations to step up and provide a comprehensive solution themselves, whether it’s Bluesky itself, or others.
But, just the fact that users can modify basically everything, and that third parties have free ability to build apps and services (and custom feeds) on top of this core, has an added advantage, even for those who don’t want to tweak the details and fiddle the knobs themselves. The very fact that it’s possible (or that it’s possible to jump to other providers) creates a strong anti-enshittification incentive structure.
One of the big reasons that enshittification occurs is because users are locked-in. There’s no easy way to leave, without a massive hassle. And part of that hassle is losing access to friends and family. The exciting part of Bluesky with federation is that there is no lock-in, which means there’s much less temptation for enshittification and rent extraction from users with nowhere else to go.
This move towards federation is a small move towards that larger vision, but it’s an important one.

from the getting-past-the-gatekeepers dept

Copyright is generally understood to be for the benefit of two groups of people: creators and their audience. Given that modern copyright often acts against the interests of the general public – forbidding even the most innocuous sharing of copyright material online – copyright intermediaries such as publishers, recording companies and film studios typically place great emphasis on how copyright helps artists. As Walled Culture the book spells out in detail (digital versions available free) the facts show otherwise. It is extremely hard for creators in any field to make a decent living from their profession. Mostly, artists are obliged to supplement their income in other ways. In fact, copyright doesn’t even work well for the top artists, particularly in the music world. That’s shown by the experience of one of the biggest stars in the world of music, Taylor Swift, reported here by The Guardian:
It seems incredible that an artist as successful as Swift should be forced to re-record some of her albums in order to regain full control over them – control she lost because of the way that copyright works, splitting copyright between the written song and its performance (the “master recording”). A Walled Culture post back in 2021 explained that record label contracts typically contain a clause in which the artist grants the label an exclusive and total license to the master.
Swift’s need to re-record her albums through a massive but ultimately rather pointless project is unfortunate. However, some good seems to be coming of Swift’s determination to control both aspects of her songs – the score and the performance – as other musicians, notably female artists, follow her example:
It’s a trend that has been gaining in importance in recent years, as more musicians realize that they have been exploited by recording companies through the use of copyright, and that they have the power to change that. The Guardian article points out an interesting reason why musicians have an option today that was not available to them in the past:
Pervasive use of the Internet means that artists’ fans are more aware of how the recording industry works, and thus better able to adjust their purchasing habits to punish the bad behavior, and reward the good. One factor driving this is that musicians can communicate directly to their fans through social media and other platforms. They no longer need the marketing departments of big recording companies to do that, which means that the messages to fans are no longer sanitized or censored.
This is another great example of how today’s digital world makes the old business models of the copyright industry redundant and vulnerable. That’s great news, because it is a step on the path to realizing that creators – whatever their field – don’t need copyright to thrive, despite today’s dogma that they do. What they require is precisely what innovative artists like Taylor Swift have achieved – full control over all aspects of their own creations – coupled with the Internet’s direct channels to their fans that let them turn that into fair recompense for their hard work.
Follow me @glynmoody on Mastodon and on Bluesky. Originally published on Walled Culture.