Michigan Republicans Want to Legally Protect Their ‘Right to Be Wrong Without Being Told So’

Trump supporters protest the 2020 election results on Nov. 7, 2020, outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.

Trump supporters protest the 2020 election results on Nov. 7, 2020, outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.
Photo: Seth Herald/AFP (Getty Images)

Republicans! They just love their live-action role-playing, don’t they folks. They’re still questing to find the magic law that will stop the nefarious Silicon Valley leftists and antifa journalists from censoring the land of Real America. The latest proposal? Forcing fact-checkers to register with the state.

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The Detroit News reports that Michigan state Representative Matt Maddock (R-Milford) has introduced the “Fact Checker Registration Act,” a bill that requires all individuals who publish in print or online in Michigan, is paid by a fact-checking organization and is a member of the International Fact Check Network to file a $1 million fidelity bond with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. (Importantly, the IFCN certifies Facebook’s fact-checkers.) Any “affected person” could then file a claim for “any wrongful conduct that is a violation of the laws of this state” in county district court and the bond could be forfeited if a judge ruled the fact checker’s work had resulted in “demonstrable harm.” Thus the bill, as written, tries to fulfill a conservative fantasy of any aggrieved conservative being able to sue fact-checkers for six figures for practically any reason agreed upon by a judge (hopefully a loyal Republican).

In a post on Facebook, Maddock wrote, “My legislation will put Fact Checkers on notice: don’t be wrong, don’t be sloppy, and you better be right.”

The bill would also fine fact-checkers $1,000 a day if they failed to register. Eight other GOP representatives, Pat Outman, John Roth, Gary Eisen, David Martin, Robert Bezotte, Beth Griffin, John Damoose, and Steve Carra, are co-sponsors on the bill.

Maddock has a history of anti-democratic stunts and obvious personal antipathy for fact-checkers in general. According to the Detroit News, he’s proposed burning voting machines belonging to a voting tech manufacturer that right-wingers baselessly accused of electoral fraud “so we don’t use them in future elections,” he was involved in a failed federal lawsuit demanding presidential election results be certified by GOP-controlled state legislatures in five swing states, and he signed onto another failed federal suit before the Supreme Court trying to invalidate Joe Biden’s victory in Michigan. All of these efforts relied on what might be euphemistically deemed “alternative facts.”

According to the Detroit Metro Times, Maddock rallied a crowd to attempt to disrupt vote counting at TCF Center on Nov. 6, 2020, fabricating a claim that 35,000 votes for Biden “showed up out of nowhere.” He also urged former Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the 2020 election results under the mistaken argument that Pence could have somehow single-handedly kept Trump in office, one of the key motives of the crowd of Trump supporters that threw a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, ultimately resulting in several deaths.

Republicans have largely swallowed hook, line, and sinker conspiracy theories that social media companies are biased against conservatives. They have been especially enraged about piecemeal efforts by companies like Facebook and Twitter to fact-check some posts, as the companies attached fact-checking labels to posts by Donald Trump and other Republican politicians and otherwise imposed speedbumps on the virality of hoax news.

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Several states have seen pushes by GOP legislators to introduce laws that would clear the way for conservatives to bombard websites with “censorship” lawsuits, while Republicans in Florida are trying to pass a law that would fine sites that “knowingly de-platform” candidates. (In reality, the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube amplify the right-wing online noise machine that heavily influences the day-to-day priorities of GOP politicians and candidates, with Facebook, in particular, going out of its way to treat conservatives preferentially.)

The Washington Post noted other GOP-backed legislation has included a 2016 bill in South Carolina that would have the state only allow “responsible” journalists to publish, a 2017 bill in Indiana requiring licensing of journalists, and a 2019 proposal in Georgia to create a state “Journalism Ethics Board” that would control the way journalists did their work and impose punishments for non-compliance.

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Let’s just take a moment to really emphasize that libel and defamation laws already exist.

These and other related speech bills such as congressional Republicans’ threats to throw out Section 230, a law that protects websites against most liability for user-generated content or their moderation decisions, all have two things in common. While they’re couched as protecting First Amendment rights to free speech, they’re really designed so as to assist conservatives in suppressing any speech that challenges their own speech. And barring some truly extreme upsets to legal precedent—something that’s certainly possible with a Supreme Court packed with right-wingers and/or a Republican takeover of Congress and White House in 2024—the proposals largely amount to magical thinking about the way Republicans think the First Amendment ought to be, rather than how it actually works in practice. Virtually all of the aforementioned laws would be likely thrown out in court on constitutional grounds, as journalists and social media firms both have First Amendment rights of their own, to rule otherwise would invite disastrous secondary consequences.

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Case in point: In a statement to the Washington Post, Maddock suggested that the First Amendment actually means people have a right to be wrong without being told so.

“This isn’t about journalists or free speech,” he said. “It’s about the fact-checkers who have been injected into our First Amendment right to be wrong if we want to. If a fact check entity is bankrupting businesses and cancelling people with lies, they should be held accountable. If they have high standards and are doing good fact checking, they have nothing to worry about.”

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UK to Ban Big Tech Companies From ‘Discriminating’ Based on Political Views

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (2nd L) walk through the Central Lobby after listening to the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster on May 11, 2021 in London, England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (2nd L) walk through the Central Lobby after listening to the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster on May 11, 2021 in London, England.
Photo: Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool (Getty Images)

The UK’s conservative government will ban technology companies from “discriminating” against particular political viewpoints, according to a press release about the country’s new proposed Online Safety Bill. The anti-censorship clause is just a minor part of a much larger draft bill, but will likely get attention from conservatives around the globe who believe their viewpoints are being censored by large tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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“Ministers have added new and specific duties to the Bill for Category 1 services to protect content defined as ‘democratically important’,” the press release, published early Wednesday, said. “This will include content promoting or opposing government policy or a political party ahead of a vote in Parliament, election or referendum, or campaigning on a live political issue.”

“Companies will also be forbidden from discriminating against particular political viewpoints and will need to apply protections equally to a range of political opinions, no matter their affiliation,” the press release continued. “Policies to protect such content will need to be set out in clear and accessible terms and conditions and firms will need to stick to them or face enforcement action from Ofcom.”

“When moderating content, companies will need to take into account the political context around why the content is being shared and give it a high level of protection if it is democratically important.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conservative government seems to be the latest to take up the martyr pose with Facebook and Twitter, feeding into the idea that right-wing opinions are being censored unfairly on social media. But quite to the contrary, we’ve learned that Big Tech financially rewards extremist speech on the right. In fact, Twitter acknowledged internally that if it censored white nationalists on the platform, its robots would have to censor Republicans who spout identical rhetoric.

The UK’s new bill will bring in new reporting requirements for child abuse and other horrendous material, along with outlawing any racial abuse online that may already be illegal offline in the United Kingdom. The bill also has provisions to cut back on online fraud, something that many countries have grappled with in recent years.

“This is a landmark moment here in the UK. The problem of online abuse has escalated into a real epidemic which is affecting people physically as well as psychologically and it is time that something is done,” Dr. Alex George, The UK Government’s Youth Mental Health Ambassador said in a statement.

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“That’s why I welcome today’s announcement about the Online Safety Bill and the protection it will provide people. Social media companies must play their part in protecting those who consume and engage with their content.”

44 Attorneys General Beg Facebook to Leave the Kids Alone

Illustration for article titled 44 Attorneys General Beg Facebook to Leave the Kids Alone

Photo: Mark Lennihan (AP)

In an open letter, forty-four attorneys general have beseeched Mark Zuckerberg to mercifully stop the company’s planned version of Instagram for children. Buzzfeed News discovered in March that Facebook—a company famous for platforming murderous rage and dangerous misinformation without consequence—has been developing a platform for kids under age 13, the minimum age to create an Instagram account.

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Maybe the company wants to pipe dreams of sugar plum butts and monstrous trolls and freemium merriment to their sweet developing brains for…eating, presumably. Or maybe it’s staking a desperate bid to get kids on board with a company whose primary platform looks doomed to peter out with the Boomers and needs more eyeballs on Reels.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri explained to Buzzfeed that kids are breaking the rules and getting on Instagram anyway, so “part of the solution is to create a version of Instagram for young people or kids where parents have transparency or control.” Instagram-can’t-regulate-so-screw-it is also the gist of a Facebook company spokesperson’s statement shared with Gizmodo:

“As every parent knows, kids are already online,” they said, claiming that they are gathering input from “experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates.”

A little shade here: “We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.” Subtext: We will destroy you.

The attorneys general are not looking forward to working with Facebook and would like Facebook not to unleash the product specifically because of proven failures like keeping kids off the platform in the first place. They cite a report finding that in 2018, UK police documented more instances of sexual grooming on Instagram than on any other platform, followed by Facebook. They also point to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which claimed that in 2020, they received over 20 million reports of child sex abuse material across all of Facebook’s platforms.

The NCMEC reports that the data comes almost entirely from service providers themselves, so TikTok’s relatively sterling count of around 22,700 instances could indicate that Facebook was more communicative. Still, 20 million instances, plus Facebook’s policy of fixing mistakes after everything goes to hell, should preclude getting to run a playground.

In the letter, the attorneys general also point to a recent finding that Instagram had automatically suggested weight loss search terms like “appetite suppressants” for users based on their interests. A 2017 survey by an anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found 42% of young Instagram users had been cyberbullied on the platform, a higher percentage than on any other social media service. They add that users were able to circumvent a safety control in Messenger Kids which was supposed to limit contacts to parentally-approved friends. In fact, social media probably shouldn’t exist at all. They generally note that social media use leads to increased rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and body dysmorphia.

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There isn’t a name yet for Instagram’s child product yet, and a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo that it’s in the early stages of development. The spokesperson added that the company has committed today not to show any ads to people under 13.

Don’t gorge on the tempting morsels, children. You will be trapping yourself in a digital friend circle from which there is no escape. Bobby seems cool today but in 20 years he’ll be posting about adrenochrome and lizard people.

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Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Overrule Fake Facebook Court, Others Weigh In

Illustration for article titled Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Overrule Fake Facebook Court, Others Weigh In

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board, the pseudo-legalistic, questionably independent body that the company claims has the power to review and potentially overrule official moderation decisions, issued its not-so-final proclamations regarding the status of Donald Trump’s account.

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The now-former president has been suspended from Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram after inciting deadly riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an ill-fated bid to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 elections. In short, the board punted right back to Facebook, upholding the suspension itself but claiming Facebook arbitrarily made up rules regarding “indefinite” bans to handle the Trump situation. The Oversight Board told Facebook to make an actual decision to either permanently ban Trump or unlock his account within six months.

As with everything regarding this godawful company, the inevitable pile-on took a clear partisan split. Republicans and right-wingers viewed the decision not to allow Trump back on the site—which could potentially have ramifications for any attempt at a political resurgence—as an affront on their values and free speech. Democrats and civil rights groups, for their part, generally expressed relief that the Oversight Board spared the country yet more angry posts from the ex-president but also focused on the ludicrousness of the entire venture.

As it turns out, the only people to have swallowed Facebook’s attempts to brand the Oversight Board as a pseudo-governmental arm of a sovereign entity hook, line, and sinker are right-wingers. Suddenly confronted with a vision of corporate dystopia they didn’t like, some Republicans turned to a higher power for help— among them Charlie Kirk, head of the ebullient diaper lad campus Republican and Facebook-spamming organization Turning Point USA. No, we don’t mean God, just something else equally as unlikely to intervene: the Supreme Court.

Kirk tweeted:

The US Supreme Court should overturn the Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’s” ‘ruling’ which upholds the outlawing of the 45th President of the United States from social media.

This is a big tech, corporate oligarchy without standing and it’s gone too far. Enough is enough.

(The decision is not subject to review by SCOTUS, unless the type of lawsuit that has historically been laughed out of lower courts somehow makes it there, and the justices all decide to join Justice Clarence Thomas in throwing out decades of precedent and law to declare digital platforms as common carriers who can’t ban anyone.)

Kirk’s panicked viewpoint was mimicked by conservative pundit J.D. Vance, author of the loathsome Hillbilly Elegy and who has graduated from self-declared Trump supporter whisperer to prospective Ohio Senate candidate.

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Vance tweeted:

The Facebook oversight board has more power than the United Nations.

Conservatives were right to worry about giving our sovereignty away to a multinational institution. We just picked the wrong one.

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Will Chamberlain, co-publisher of right-wing magazine Human Events, tweeted, “A corporate committee has no more legitimacy to rule on censorship issues than a random anon on Twitter.” Random QAnon conspiracy theorist turned congresswoman Lauren Boebert, issued a vague threat: “Facebook will pay the price. Mark my words.”

More generally, Republicans used the Oversight Board ruling as an opportunity to continue harping on endlessly about alleged anti-conservative bias in Facebook algorithms (pure bullshit, as right-wing pundits and media consistently make up the bulk of the site’s top performers). According to CNN, the usual circus of right-wing sites including Fox, Breitbart, and Gateway Pundit all led with coverage declaring the decision as Orwellian censorship. Senator Tom Cotton said that the Oversight Board shouldn’t be weighing in on “issues of free speech,” while former White House chief of staff turned radio host Mark Meadows and guest Representative Jim Jordan both agreed it was time to “break them [Big Tech] up.”

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Trump issued a statement to several media outlets that we don’t give a shit about.

The reaction from Democrats and activist organizations focused less on the fate of Trump than the convoluted, corporate funhouse carnival process by which the decision was made, as well as whether it was meaningful at all.

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Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tweeted, “Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality.” He added that “real accountability will only come with legislative action.”

Evan Greer, director of digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, told Gizmodo in a statement, “The vast majority of people who are silenced by Big Tech platform censorship are not former Presidents or celebrities, they are marginalized people, particularly sex workers and politically active Muslims who live outside the U.S. We can go back and forth all day about where the lines should be drawn, but simply demanding more and faster removal of content will not address the very real harms we are seeing.”

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“It’s quite telling that Facebook refused to answer several of the Oversight Board’s questions about its algorithms and actual design decisions,” Greer added. “We need to strike at the root of the problem: break Big Tech giants, ban surveillance advertising and non-transparent algorithmic manipulation, and fight for policies that address this parasitic business model while preserving the transformative and democratizing power of the Internet as a powerful tool for social movements working for justice and liberation.”

David Segal, executive director of the Demand Progress Education Fund, a nonprofit that advocates enforcement of antitrust law, told Gizmodo in a statement that the Oversight Board is a smokescreen for Facebook’s business practices.

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“Facebook’s monopoly status means it does not compete in a free marketplace: not on privacy, not on algorithms, not in the online advertising market–which accelerates the spread of incendiary content,” Segal wrote. “To the extent anyone focuses on what the Facebook ‘Oversight’ Board says and not what they are—a mechanism to distract attention from and provide credibility to Facebook—we give Facebook a pass for its unfair and dangerous monopolistic practice.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights Under Law, a civil rights group, focused on the Oversight Board’s decision not to ban Trump outright.

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David Brody, the head of the group’s Digital Justice Initiative, wrote to Gizmodo that “Facebook must immediately and permanently ban former President Trump.” He added the Oversight Board’s decision “did not evaluate the full context of the case and it used legal technicalities to avoid answering hard questions. For example, it failed to address Trump’s repeated use of Facebook to inflame hate and racism, or his long history of spreading divisive lies and disinformation prior to the 2020 election. Over-reliance on formalist schools of legal analysis entrenches dominant power structures by turning a blind eye to the big picture.”

Greer told Gizmodo that while there is growing pressure to act against Facebook for its monopolistic business practices, lack of transparency, and monetization of hate speech and propaganda, ill-advised legislation seeking to rein in the company’s power could do more harm than good. For example, Republicans and Democrats alike have targeted Section 230, the law that shields websites from most liability for user-generated content, with legislation that could have unforeseen consequences or threaten the legal foundations of the internet economy.

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“The most dangerous thing that could happen right now is if the public accepts the idea that lawmakers should just do ‘something, anything’ about Big Tech,” Greer wrote. “We need thoughtful policies that actually address harms, not more partisan dunking and working of the refs.”

Future of American Democracy Hangs in Balance and/or Doesn’t

Illustration for article titled Future of American Democracy Hangs in Balance and/or Doesn't

Photo: Luis M. Alvarez (AP)

Facebook’s Oversight Board, the supposedly independent watchdog tasked with determining whether Donald Trump’s ban from Facebook after he incited a deadly neo-fascist riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 will be as permanent as his Twitter ban, has reached a decision. On Monday, it stated that it will be announcing its findings at Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. ET.

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At stake is Trump’s ability to once again communicate with his 32 million Facebook followers, which was “indefinitely” suspended on Jan. 7 after he posted a video telling the rioters, “We love you. You’re very special.” After Twitter made it clear that Trump will never again be allowed to return, this is the ex-president’s biggest remaining chunk of social media real estate. When Facebook originally banned Trump, CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that he had crossed the line with “use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government” and “the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”

After an outcry from conservatives, Facebook punted the issue to the Oversight Board, a group of academics, politicians, lawyers, tech activists, and others that the company says has the power to overrule its moderators on almost anything. Depending on who you ask, the board is either an independent check on Facebook’s wildly disproportionate influence on what views get aired online or a corporate facade designed to distance the company from the fallout of its decisions.

There is, of course, a preferable outcome: The Oversight Board recommends Facebook permanently ban Trump from posing ever again, no exceptions. But one could be hesitant to call this outcome “good,” rather than just richly deserved. Facebook has every right to allow or decline Trump further use of its services. That doesn’t somehow reverse or heal the damage the company was complicit in along the way, from years of tolerating vile hate speech and bending over backwards to justify Trump’s calls for the military to shoot protesters to serving as one of the primary organizing platforms for the Jan. 6 riots.

Facebook could have banned Trump at any time—but didn’t until he was both out of power and had played his desperate last hand at retaining it. This is illustrative of the incoherent, profit-driven judgment that makes social media companies terrible arbiters of internet speech in the first place. The company has long twisted itself into pretzels to avoid angering conservative politicians and pundits who have learned to wield accusations of liberal bias as an effective cudgel to earn favorable treatment, even as its newsfeed has been a godsend to right-wing content farms. If insurrection is Facebook’s breaking point, the bar couldn’t be lower.

The other outcome is indisputably worse: That Trump is allowed to remain on the site after all that hate speech and calls to violence despite Facebook’s proven utility in helping the far-right translate rhetoric into action. For all the focus on his Twitter account, his Facebook presence was also a major megaphone. Further, data from Socialbakers showed that while the majority of Trump-related content on Twitter was negative, he enjoyed a distinct advantage on Facebook, which was awash in pro-Trump commentary and headlines.

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If anything, the ex-president has become more unstable following his ouster from office—assuming such a thing is possible—with Trump issuing various bizarre proclamations from Mar-a-Lago in his continued attempts to prove he won the 2020 elections and his supporters trying to form a de facto white supremacist caucus in Congress. It’s hard to see an Oversight Board decision in favor of Trump that isn’t mostly vague, intellectually ponderous platitudes and blather about free speech divorced from what will actually happen if he’s allowed to return, and it’d set a bad precedent at a time the company has allowed other foreign leaders to act with near impunity to stir up far worse actions abroad. There will be real-life consequences if Trump is allowed to once again try to spread conspiracy theories and incite violence on Facebook.

It may be possible to overstate the impact of whatever the Oversight Board decides on Wednesday. Because it’s so heavily loaded with journalists and political elites, Twitter allowed Trump to far more easily influence the news cycle in just a few seconds, and his reach on other sites may just not be as effective. With or without Trump directly posting to Facebook, it still serves as the nerve center of the vast right-wing online ecosystem that will survive regardless of their figurehead. While a permanent ban would be a major inconvenience, it wouldn’t do much to hobble Trump proxies in the conservative mass media, who could simply amplify what he says elsewhere. It also will do little to rein in other far-right politicians aiming to emulate his success, especially if they manage to be slightly more discerning about what they post.

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There’s also the off chance that letting Trump off the Facebook leash again will backfire for both him and the rest of the GOP by helping him fuel its crazed spiral into even more niche, extreme positions, if you’re into four-dimensional Russian roulette or something.

According to the New York Times, Trump issued a statement on Monday giving a clear indication of what he’ll post if the Oversight Board takes his side: “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” Come on, guys, this isn’t hard.

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Weapons, Ivory, and Other Items Banned by Etsy Still Widely Available on Marketplace, Investigation Finds

Illustration for article titled Weapons, Ivory, and Other Items Banned by Etsy Still Widely Available on Marketplace, Investigation Finds

Photo: Paul Zimmerman (Getty Images)

The online marketplace Etsy has been flooded with activity since the pandemic’s onset as millions flocked to online shopping to stave off lockdown blues. However, that pandemic-fueled growth is also highlighting Etsy’s struggle to moderate what goes up for sale on its platform. A recent Insider investigation found roughly 800 listings that violate the company’s prohibited items policy, including pet remains, pornographic material, weapons, and a slew of mass-produced products being passed off as handmade items.

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Some of the examples the outlet found included mummified puppy remains, steel-spiked clubs, brass knuckles, preserved kitten fetuses, roach clips, poisonous plants, bogus remedies for covid-19, tumors and other ailments, and uranium ore, a radioactive substance. Insider said it identified dozens of listings of products made from elephant ivory, the trade of which is largely banned across the globe after poachers drove some species to the brink of extinction to harvest their highly valued tusks. Magical “spells” promising wealth, love, and good health were also widely available for sale, as were counterfeit products from designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, and Gucci.

While some of these products aren’t necessarily illegal, they clearly violate Etsy’s prohibited items policy, which bans the sale of drug paraphernalia, mature content, and dangerous items, just to name a few. The platform prohibits “items that are presented as weapons or to be used to inflict violence,” though it does make exceptions for “tools,” “an unusable decorative item,” and “foam, rubber, or plastic reproduction weapons for training or roleplay.” According to Etsy’s rules, everything sold on its site “must be handmade, vintage, or a craft supply,” but it seems many sellers routinely flout that rule, offering mass-produced products likely bought in bulk from third-party suppliers. In an interview with Insider, Etsy said that it uses a combination of automated and manual tools to detect illicit listings and also relies on user reporting.

When reached for comment, Insider reported that Etsy deleted the listings in question and committed to ramping up its systems for detecting illicit content. Etsy reiterated this pledge in a blog post on Thursday, in which the company announced plans to spend “at least” $40 million to bolster its policy enforcement systems. This investment will go toward expanding the coverage of its content-review teams “tenfold” by the end of the year and rolling out new auto-suppression tools that incorporate image recognition and geo-based targeting, among other initiatives, according to Etsy’s trust and safety team lead Corinne Pavlovic.

“Through these investments in human capital and proprietary technology, we are scaling our enforcement measures to prepare Etsy for its next chapter of growth, ensuring that sellers of unique and handcrafted items continue to find a welcoming home and buyers continue to have a delightful experience shopping from makers and curators,” she wrote.

However, noticeably missing from this announcement is an explanation for why these banned items seemed to have gone under Etsy’s radar for so long. This is especially concerning because Etsy’s business model hinges on transaction fees, so the company receives a cut of every sale on its platform, prohibited products included.

Even more troubling still, it looks like Etsy’s crackdown in response to the investigation was just a drop in the bucket. After Etsy deleted the listings the outlet identified, Insider reports that it was still able to find several others for ivory products, brass knuckles, mandrake roots, tools for using cannabis concentrates, mass-produced products, and other banned items. We poked around Etsy’s marketplace as well, and within a few minutes found a bunch of prohibited products, including a vintage ivory bracelet put up for sale as recently as March, several weapons that are plainly marketed as such, and a shop with more than 1,000 reviews selling all manner of spells for attracting love, wealth, and what have you. We’ve reached out to Etsy for comment and will update this blog once we hear back.

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As online shopping surged amid the pandemic, so too did Etsy’s platform. In its integrated annual report, the company said its yearly revenue more than doubled in 2020 to $1.7 billion, and the number of items for sale on its site grew to more than 90 million.

But that ballooning success can come with a slew of new headaches, as many online platforms have learned the hard way over the last year (looking at you, Zoom). In 2020, Etsy received 4 million reports of potentially non-compliant listings, a 400% increase compared to 2019, it said Thursday. According to Etsy, the bulk of these flags, roughly 80%, were generated by its automated systems.

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Etsy sure seems prepared to throw a lot of money at this problem, but let’s just hope it yields some concrete results. Because profiting off the sale of pet remains, illegal ivory products, and quasi-legal goods is definitely not a great look.

Read Facebook’s Internal Report on How Badly It Screwed Up Stopping ‘Stop the Steal’

Riot police clash with pro-Trump rioters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Riot police clash with pro-Trump rioters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP (Getty Images)

BuzzFeed has posted the entirety of internal Facebook documents outlining in detail the results of the company’s investigation into its role in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, during and after which at least five people died.

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The report, which was first reported in detail by BuzzFeed last week, found that Facebook played a key role in the explosive growth of the “Stop the Steal” movement, a group of diehard Donald Trump supporters that rallied around the ex-president’s conspiracy theories about his 2020 election loss. Members of the movement, alongside overlapping groups such as QAnon, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the vote.

The authors assessed that Facebook failed to recognize that groups such as Stop the Steal and the Patriot Party were part of an “adversarial harmful movement” and thus only moderated associated Groups and Pages in a “piecemeal” fashion. Facebook also conceded that its focus on fake and “inauthentic” activity blinded it to harm being organized on the site by people under their real identities. The lack of a coordinated, sitewide response came despite months of warnings from Facebook staff that Groups on the site were becoming vehicles for extremism.

According to BuzzFeed, the authors of the report uploaded it to Facebook’s internal message boards last month, where it was widely circulated among and read by staff. But after BuzzFeed’s report last week, Facebook yanked it from circulation with the official explanation the authors “never intended to publish this as a final document to the whole company” and had only “inadvertently” made it accessible to employees outside a working group on the issue.

So BuzzFeed posted the whole report on Monday. It describes confusion at the company whether the Stop the Steal circus “was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was protected free expression by users who were afraid and confused and deserved our empathy.” The first Stop the Steal group created on the night of the election contained “high levels of hate and violence and incitement (VNI) in the comments,” the authors wrote that it “wasn’t until later that it became clear just how much of a focal point the catchphrase would be, and that they would serve as a rallying point around which a movement of violent election delegitimization could coalesce.” By the time Facebook got around to deleting that first group on Nov. 5, BuzzFeed wrote, it had swollen to 300,000 members and spawned innumerable copycats.

The report noted evidence that white supremacists, hate groups, and militias were involved in coordinating the Stop the Steal effort both on and off Facebook. It also found that a relatively small number of people were clearly trying to supercharge the movement by flooding the site with invites to related Groups, a tactic known as growth hacking: “30% of invites came from just 0.3% of inviters,” according to the report, and many of these “super-inviters” were admins on other related Groups, clearly indicating coordination between them.

“We were not able to act on simple objects like posts and comments because they individually tended not to violate, even if they were surrounded by hate, violence, and misinformation,” the report added. “After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages, and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement.”

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Facebook implemented limits on the number of invites that individual users could send, but the report notes this was clearly ineffective and Groups were “regardless able to grow substantially.” Furthermore, there were high levels of interaction between the users engaging with Stop the Steal content the most, adding to the evidence. These amplifiers posted significantly more hate speech and threats of violence than even the rest of the Stop the Steal movement, driving it to more extremes.

The Facebook report also name-drops specific far-right activists that Facebook failed to rein in, such as Ali Alexander, one of the main organizers of the rally preceding the failed insurrection who has a long history of working with extremists such as the neo-fascist Proud Boys. It also mentioned the Kremer sisters, who run the event’s official host Women for America First and one of whose names appeared on the rally permits.

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“The terms Stop the Steal and Patriot Party were amplified both on platform and off,” the report states. “Ali Alexander and the Kremer sisters repeated slogans at rallies, and spread them through super Groups like Women4Trump and Latinos for Trump. The Kremer Sisters were admins of both Women4Trump, and the original Stop the Steal Group. After January 6th, Amy Kremer confirmed on platform that she was an organizer for the Stop the Steal rally that precipitated the Capitol Insurrection.”

“Ali Alexander worked on and off platform, using media appearances and celebrity endorsements,” it continued. “We also observed him formally organizing with others to spread the term, including with other users who had ties to militias. He was able to elude detection and enforcement with careful selection of words, and by relying on disappearing stories.”

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The authors wrote in their key findings that Facebook’s “early focus on individual violations made us miss the harm in the broader network,” messy moderation tools made it hard to count how many strikes each Group was racking up, and the company has “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”

Joan Donovan, the research director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, told BuzzFeed that Facebook appeared to have been caught off guard because it was more focused on the type of hoaxes, spam, and interference operations that it bungled during the 2016 elections.

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“In 2016, you had to engineer lots of fake engagement and stories because the networks were not mature enough,” Donovan said. “It’s only after you have four years of MAGA and the Trump caravan and the anti-vaxxers meeting up with the militia groups during the pandemic that you start to see these networks become agile, extensible, and adaptable to the moment.”

“…There is something about the way Facebook organizes groups that leads to massive public events,” Donovan added. “And when they’re organized on the basis of misinformation, hate, incitement, and harassment, we get very violent outcomes.”

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Read the whole report at BuzzFeed here.

Marjorie Taylor Greene Brags She Read All 14 Pages of the Green New Deal

Illustration for article titled Marjorie Taylor Greene Brags She Read All 14 Pages of the Green New Deal

Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—the QAnon-loving bigot who ranks as possibly the furthest-right member of Congress—is a very slow reader, apparently.

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Earlier this year, Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, which she characterized as actually fitting her very clever plan to spend most of her time in DC pulling publicity stunts and generally going around making a jackass of herself. Since then, Greene has busied herself with things like harassing another representative with a trans child, meeting with Donald Trump at his sad parallel court in Mar-a-Lago, trying (and failing) to found a white nationalist caucus, and throwing rallies where police are forced to provide extra security in case her supporters riot. She’s also repeatedly challenged New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to a debate on the Green New Deal, AOC’s sweeping package of proposed environmental reforms—a debate that AOC has expressed no intention whatsoever to engage in.

Greene has continued to pretend such a debate is forthcoming, and per the Daily Dot, claimed AOC had agreed to one. The only problem, of course, is that while touting the supposed victory, Greene admitted she hadn’t bothered to read the resolution and referred to its 14-page length as a protracted slog it would take her some time to catch up on.

“I’m glad I ran into you today @AOC to plan our debate about the Green New Deal,” Greene tweeted on Wednesday. “After I finish reading all 14 pages, like we agreed, I’ll schedule time for our debate.#MTGvsAOC”

By Thursday, Greene tweeted that she had managed to read all 14 pages in the preceding nine hours or so. Heroic.

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According to Business Insider, Greene said she intended the fictional debate with AOC to be a pay-per-view TV program. Because, you know, there’s nothing like a congressperson making a little dough on the side.

Anyhow, if the representative from Georgia needs a nice quiet place to power through a dozen pages of reading or so in the future, might we recommend this beautiful if tiny AirBNB?

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MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Told Us What He Would Do If Someone Said There Were Knives in His Pillows

Illustration for article titled MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Told Us What He Would Do If Someone Said There Were Knives in His Pillows

Screenshot: Ongoing Frankathon on Frankspeech dot com

Many weird and wild things are coming out of Mike Lindell’s 48-hour bananathon livestream today—Ted Nugent, a crank call from a “reporter,” another crank call from “Donald Trump”—and somehow, I, too, was there. After a press request this morning to MyPillow, which has ignored my emails on two previous occasions, my phone rang.

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“Are you okay with being live on the air?” Mike Lindell asked me. “Twenty-six million people?”

Gotta respect the game. For context, this broadcast is ongoing on the homepage of Lindell’s borked social media platform Frank, which was supposed to launch last week, and this weekend, and again today. After disgruntling followers with days of silence, Lindell struck back with a gripping tale of a foreign cybersecurity attack(!!!), the biggest of all time ever in the world. Somehow the livestream has been functioning smoothly, for tens of millions, so parts of it are theoretically working. While we still don’t know exactly what Frank will look like when it does come to fruition, the platform is supposed to be a “mix of YouTube and Twitter,” multi-billion dollar platforms that took over a decade to build and still don’t function as their overlords would like to claim.

Lindell regaled this morning’s captive audience of potential Frank users with the news that My Pillow is suing Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion—retaliation for Dominion’s $1.3 billion defamation suit against MyPillow and Lindell for the latter’s multitudinous unsubstantiated speculation about a wide-ranging Deep State conspiracy that involved Dominion’s voting machines robbing Donald Trump of the presidency.

Elected officials and cybersecurity experts have almost unilaterally rejected Lindell and Trump’s nonsense on the basis that it has no basis. The Washington Post found that, as of December 20th, at least 86 Democrat and Republican judges (including at least one open Trump supporter) had rejected Trump’s post-election lawsuits. The Supreme Court, which includes three Trump appointees, tossed aside a suit brought by the state of Texas asking to throw out election results in key states. As Dominion points out in its lawsuit, a wide swath of bipartisan officials have refuted Lindell’s conspiracy theories, including Trump appointees attorney general Bill Barr and Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity head Chris Krebs. Fifty-nine election security experts jointly condemned bunk fraud claims, agreeing that none had seen any credible evidence of a “technical compromise.” Numerous top government election overseers also rejected fraud claims, noting that voting equipment was tested and certified by state and federal bodies.

In numerous interviews, Lindell had confused who owned Dominion Voting Systems and said that Dominion’s “algorithms” had failed despite additional hand counts of paper ballots.

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Lindell didn’t shed further light on where he’s getting his intel or the nature of today’s supposed cybersecurity attack (just that it’s from “overseas”). He did repeatedly tell me that as a journalist I “should know” about this stuff and he used the opportunity to promote his forthcoming movie (a sequel to the “documentary” that he released in February). He did say what he would do if someone was going around making up unsubstantiated nonsense about his pillows. “You could put this in your article,” he said. “If everybody out there was saying MyPillow is full of rocks and knives, I wouldn’t sue them. I would go, hey, guys, look inside my pillow. It’s beautiful patented felt.”

It’s a line that he’s been repeating throughout the day, so I pressed the issue. How would Mike Lindell disprove un-dis-provable widespread fraudulent allegations about a single pillow, were someone to make them repeatedly on air?

Gizmodo: To compare this to Dominion, would you provide that person with every single pillow? Like, how can you disprove that one pillow did not arrive at someone’s house with rocks or knives inside?

Lindell: Are you for real?

Gizmodo: I’m curious. I mean, if you’re looking for—

Lindell: This is the common sense that has been lost in our country. I’ve sold over 50 million MyPillows. I’m just saying, if all of the sudden—actually [Alan Dershowitz, attorney retained by MyPillow] said, if all of the sudden people are out there saying there’s stuff in his pillows, I would show them in my factory and say, look at this. Or I would say, bring them in. You know what, bring in your pillow and show the news desk. Dominion won’t show one machine.

So, you know, I would say, okay, if you’ve got a rock and a knife in your pillow, show the world. They won’t even show this. So there’s the difference. I would not only show my manufacturer, I would say, I would want to show every pillow I could in the world. Everybody, open up your pillows. If Dominion didn’t have any corruptness to hide with the biggest cyber crime, part of it with China, in the history of the world—this is a crime against humanity. Dominion should say, hey, you know what? Smartmatic, all of them, they’re all tied together. We’re going to show that you open up every machine. Let’s go in there and show this to the world once and for all.

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So, he wouldn’t sue. Food for thought, I suppose.

Dominion legal counsel Stephen Shackelford told Gizmodo today, in a statement, that My Pillow’s “meritless retaliatory lawsuit” was filed with the goal of trying “to distract from the harm it caused to Dominion.”

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Anyways, Mike Lindell’s social media platform will allegedly be available to collect your personal data at some point in the future.

Man Who Swears He’s ‘Not a Dumbass’ Arrested for Attempting to Murder the Internet

Illustration for article titled Man Who Swears He's 'Not a Dumbass' Arrested for Attempting to Murder the Internet

Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP (Getty Images)

A Texas man who, according to court documents, recently stated that he is definitely “not a dumbass,” is now potentially facing decades in prison for plotting an alleged terrorist attack to “blow up” the internet.

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Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was taken into custody by the FBI on Thursday, after attempting to procure what he thought were explosives from an undercover agent in Fort Worth, Texas, a federal affidavit shows (the bombs were, in fact, fake). According to authorities, Pendley wanted to use C-4, a powerful plastic explosive, to target an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data center in Ashburn, Virginia.

Pendley’s target, Ashburn, is home to over 100 data centers and is the site where a majority of the so-called “Cloud” exists. The arrestee allegedly stated in online chats that he wanted to “kill off about 70% of the internet” and, thereby, annoy “the oligarchy” and, naturally, the deep state.

An apparent Trump supporter who claims he was in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 during the Capitol insurrection, Pendley recently implied in online chats that the ugly riot that killed five people hadn’t gone quite far enough. On MyMilitia.com, a rightwing website that ostensibly helps connect people to regional and local militias, Pendley used the screen name “Dionysus” to write a number of increasingly disturbing posts, the feds allege. In one, he wrote:

I feel like we all went into this with the intentions of getting very little done. How much did you expect to do when we all willingly go in unarmed. Let me tell you what I think (knowing going to touch some nerves.) For weeks I had prepared to show up at the capital [sic] as strapped as possible. The whole time I had high hopes that SOMEONE would understand.

In another post, he let it be known that he was not your run-of-the-mill terrorist:

I’m not a dumbass suicide bomber but even if I only have a handful of fellow patriots standing beside me I will happily die a young man knowing that I didn’t allow the evils in this world to continue unjustly treating my fellow Americans so disrespectfully.

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The posts aroused the suspicions of a “concerned citizen,” who later gave screenshots of his comments to the FBI.

Afterward, the feds ascertained Pendley’s email address and issued a search warrant for his Facebook while also subpoenaing the subscriber records connected to his Gmail account. From there, the government appears to have conducted surveillance of Pendley’s home in Wichita Falls, Texas, and also infiltrated his communications with an informant and, later, an undercover agent.

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During a conversation with both the informant and agent, Pendley laid out his masterful plans and nuanced political philosophy like so:

The main objective is to f*** up the Amazon servers. There’s 24 buildings that all this data runs through in America. Three of them are right next to each other, and those 24 run 70 percent of the Internet. And the government, especially the higher ups, CIA, FBI, special sh**, they have like an 8 billion dollar a year contract with Amazon to run through their servers. So we f*** those servers, and it’s gonna piss all the oligarchy off.

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In his apparent crusade to end the world wide web and thereby piss off the powers that be, Pendley has accrued a federal charge of maliciously attempting to destroy a building with an explosive. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.