The obligations & dangers of censoring free speech

For several years, Grantland was my favorite place for great content. The unique mix of reporting, lifestyle and sports that Bill Simmons cultivated there introduced me to some great new writers (Rembert!), and kept old favorites (Klosterman, Gladwell, Morris, Simmons) in front of me in new ways. I was excited when The Ringer launched post-Grantland, and hoped it would recapture my affinity. After an uneven start, two pieces on the roles and responsibilities of Internet publishers has me optimistic it might be there (whether it’s because Simmons no longer needs to focus on his awful HBO show, I’m not sure…).

Are Backpage.com’s owners anything more than pimps?
Who is responsible for the content posted on a forum? The poster of the content, the publisher that hosts it, or the technological backbone that supports it? Up until now, I think the sense in American law was that individuals and organizations were responsible for the content they produce. The crusade by several state Attorney Generals (most notable newly-minted Senator Kamala Harris) against Backpage.com has troubling implications for free speech. Some of the things on Backpage.com are certainly reprehensible. But, if the site attempts to moderate content and responds to requests for removal by law enforcement, it becomes a slippery slope to determine they’re not doing “enough.” It’s terrifying to think of a world where publishers are at risk of prosecution under an arbitrary standard of not doing enough to censor content on their platforms. While I come away from this article not enamored of Backpage.com’s business model, it’s clear that the actions by California represent the worst protective notions of liberal government and ought to be stopped.

Twitter should ban Donald Trump
I don’t buy the argument that Twitter ought to ban Donald Trump for his tweets (although I suspect most Americans would be grateful for his and our own good) because they contain misinformation. But it’s interesting to consider: for our entire history, the government relied on an independent press as its mouthpiece, and that press could poke holes in or criticize government perspectives. With a platform like Twitter allowing direct access to the public, what does it mean when Trump publishes content that is verifiably false? It’s a slippery slope to start banning anyone because they post false information, but at the same time, there needs to be a thoughtful debate about how the citizenry educates each other in the face of a President who has abandoned factual norms in a way that should make everyone uncomfortable.

Reddit is tearing itself apart
Thanks to the mysteries of Westworld, I’ve spent an unusually large amount of time on Reddit the past few months. It’s been a hugely enjoyable experience sharing theories and unraveling developments in what has been a positive community. While initially jarring, it wasn’t surprising to read about the trouble the site is having controlling other, more controversial communities on the site. Gizmodo has an in-depth look at how Reddit struggles with a variation of the same problem mentioned in the articles above: what is a site owner’s role and obligation in moderating content or preventing abuse? And, in this case, how do you apply policies and walk the right line to keep your business viable?

The working class isn't poor — and that's why they're forgotten
I have not read anything that better clarified the difference between working class and poor, and why Democratic policies for the latter don’t resonate with the former, than this article from HBR. Democrats speak powerfully to educated elites, and offer programs of great value to the truly poor. But it’s the “just not quite poor” that always seem to be overlooked (to be fair, not just by them). Obamacare is the perfect example of this: it has minimal impact on those with employer-provided healthcare, and is a huge boon for healthcare access among the destitute. But it completely destroys the family who isn’t quite poor enough to get free care, but doesn’t have enough money to afford higher premiums. As a small business owner, I alternatively fall in and out of this group depending on the year, and understand how frustrating it is. The difference is while I have some measure of control: I can cut expenses, grow the business, or do other things to improve my lot, there are many (of all skin tones) who aren’t so lucky, and remain without the poverty to warrant care or the money to buy a voice in politics. Despite what Trump’s rhetoric may be, I don’t think that’s changed, either.

Buzzfeed: the worst of liberal media
When the Washington Post is calling out your hit pieces, you’ve probably gone too far. I always hear about how Buzzfeed is looking to make this pivot from listicles to serious journalism, and then read about items like their articles on the Gaines family (of HGTV fame). The crux of the article is that it speculates around the beliefs of the Gaines’ based solely on the views of their pastor — as if my being a member of the Catholic Church in Boston under Cardinal Law indicates I condone child abuse. It’s the exact kind of shaming that ostracizes many liberals from the majority of America: they have a worldview as puritan as the Puritans, and resort to tactics every bit as gross as the Christian right to enforce it.