Limits of Speech: How Trump’s Nazis Forced the Internet to Grow Up

Political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli’s 16th century treatise “The Prince” is frequently dismissed as merely being a discussion of how to obtain and retain power — through any means necessary. But in actuality it’s far more, and addresses a much more complex question in which Machiavelli was intensely interested: Why throughout recorded history does evil so often triumph over good?

Or in terms of a contemporary maxim: Why do the good guys so often finish last?

Machiavelli recorded what he believed to be the uncomfortable truth that explains this seeming paradox.

Good so often fails to win out because it typically wishes to reach its goals through logic, fair process, and “good means” — while evil will lie, cheat, slash and burn in any and all ways necessary to reach its objectives, giving evil an enormous asymmetric advantage.

Machiavelli therefore postulated that if good really wants to succeed with its stated good goals, it must sometimes be willing to not play fair with evil, and be willing to suppress some of its natural instincts to always employ “honorable means” — for the sake of winning the war against evil.

Actor Cyril Cusack, in his role as a British spymaster in 1965’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” expressed this “the ends justify the means” philosophy quite succinctly in a famous monologue, where he noted that “Our policies are peaceful, but our methods can’t afford to be less ruthless than those of the opposition.”

Of course in reality none of this necessitates a 1:1 correspondence between the behaviors of good and evil — but it does suggest that giving evil an “even break” is the surest way to be streamrolled by that evil.

And so we come to the horrific recent events in Charlottesville, and the sea changes now shaking the Internet and broader American society to their very cores.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that none of us working on the early ARPANET (that evolved into the Internet), ever dreamed in our worst nightmares that decades later we’d need to leverage this technology to fight bigots, sexists, racists, antisemites, and other public purveyors of the worst kinds of uncivilized hate who are being gleefully encouraged by a vile, lying, sociopathic President of the United States.

For the sake of brevity I’m referring to all of these groups — neo-Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists, the KKK, the alt-right — all of them, as “Trump’s Nazis” — or simply Nazis for short. For they and Donald Trump are in a mutual embrace in the worst traditions of 1930s Germany, and represent an existential threat to the most intrinsic and important aspects of our wonderful country.

The sight of Trump’s Nazis marching openly in the streets of Charlottesville, torches proudly held high, screaming antisemitic, racist — even explicitly Hitler-era slogans at the tops of their lungs — was a plain enough signal that something had fundamentally changed in the USA, and that the rules we’ve been using up to now for dealing with such hate would need to be rapidly recalibrated.

The tragic death of Heather Heyer — murdered by one Trump’s Nazis — added an immediate urgency to reactions, even before Trump’s disgraceful attempts to draw a false equivalency between Nazis and those persons protesting Nazis — including his nauseating, repeated assertions that there were “many fine people” among the torch-bearing, Nazi-slogan screaming Charlottesville demonstrators. We’ve now heard that Heather’s brave mother is refusing to speak or meet with Trump, and that she’s receiving death threats as a result.

Since the beginnings of the Internet, we have all to a certain extent tended to treat it in some respects like a wonderful technological toy, where the real world implications of its impacts could generally be viewed rather lackadaisically much of the time.

Internet firms published Terms of Services — in many cases prohibiting hate speech — but these tended to be lightly and unevenly enforced. Trump’s Nazis quickly learned how to game associated Internet ad systems to generate income from all manners of racist, antisemitic, and other forms of video and written propagandistic hateful rhetoric.

In the wake of Trump’s election, some major Internet firms finally began to see the serious risks that their “hands off” attitude toward hate speech had exacerbated, and began taking early steps toward effectively dealing with these issues (please see: “No Donald Trump — We Will Not ‘Come Together’ with the Alt-Right Racists” — https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/08/13/no-donald-trump-we-will-not-come-together-with-the-alt-right-racists — and — “YouTube’s Excellent New Moves Against Hate Speech — But There’s More Work for Google to Do” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/06/18/youtubes-excellent-new-moves-against-hate-speech).

Then came Charlottesville, and what already had been heavy surf turned into a tidal wave of concern.

In the last week, we’ve seen Internet-related firms and others finally reacting with the kind of strong, ethical actions that many of us have long been urging in the context of dealing with hate groups on the Net.

Various of Trump’s Nazis and hate sites have finally been banned, and even the ACLU yesterday announced that it would no longer support the “speech rights” of groups that bring firearms to demonstrations — a change of staggering significance for the venerable organization.

There are naturally still some holdouts, “purists” who insist that Trump’s Nazis should be given a fair hearing, fair process, the benefit of the doubt.

DreamHost, an Internet service with whom I’ve been a satisfied customer for six years, announced that they would continue to host Nazi sites. In response, I immediately cancelled my account and told them in no uncertain terms why I was doing so.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), proclaimed that this week’s moves against Nazis were “dangerous” — and expressed concerns that such actions might snowball into the suppression of other sorts of groups in the future.

Somewhat similarly, there have been concerns in some quarters that the public identifications of publicly marching, hateful slogan-yelling Nazis are unfair in that they might “upset” some of their lives if they were exposed to friends, families, and employers — or that the risks of incorrect identifications are too high.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for the publicly marching Trump’s Nazis whose lives might be upended by being identified. That’s worlds away and completely different from, for example, the unjustifiable exposing of innocent Google employees being targeted after leaks of internal discussions. I do agree that misidentifications of public Nazis should be minimized and quickly corrected. And I agree with EFF that risks exist regarding future reactions and possible future bannings.

But these concerns pale in comparison to the immensely more critical risks that immediately face us, which are impossible to overstate in terms of importance.

Literal Nazis are marching and yelling hate slogans openly in our streets, and murdering our citizens. The President of the United States is for all practical purposes — at best — an explicit Nazi sympathizer.

The old rules simply can no longer apply. In recent weeks, and especially in the last week, a war for the ethical core of America has broken out along multiple fronts, and it is no longer acceptable for any corporations, other organizations, or individuals themselves to proclaim a “neutral” stance in the face of the evil that now openly claims our streets and accurately proclaims the support of our smugly smiling President.

At the very least, we must de-emphasize and derank these hate groups on our search and social media platforms, and ethical firms must refuse to host them in any manner. I do not call for government censorship in this context. But these companies have every right to rigorously enforce their own Term of Service against hate.

Some observers have expressed concerns that driving these hate groups and individuals “underground” will make it more difficult to “monitor” their despicable activities. Don’t worry, they’ll still be kept under watch, and being kicked back out of the mainstream — which our technology permitted them to infiltrate — will significantly limit their abilities to monetize their hate and attract new converts.

Beyond the horrific tragedy of Charlottesville, it is another tragedy that we find ourselves in the position of having to endorse the fundamental tenets of Machiavelli’s observations regarding the struggles between good and evil.

It would be joyous indeed if we could realistically fight the specter of Trump’s Nazis with kindness, fairness, with logical discussions, and with unlimited, unrestricted free speech. Yet in a battle against armed Nazis in the streets and a president who supports them with his rhetoric, that cheerfully optimistic paradigm has been rendered both impotent and impossible.

Together, we will beat back Trump’s hatemongers, and we will keep our great country great — even in the face of such shameless evil.

But there is no standing by the sidelines this time. All legal means — even ones that we would ordinarily consider to be painful or distasteful — must be employed toward winning this war — and it is a war — for the soul of our country and for the sake of our children and future generations of Americans.

–Lauren–

No Donald Trump — We Will Not “Come Together” with the Alt-Right Racists

In the wake of the deadly alt-right demonstrations in Charlottesville, replete with explicit racist, antisemitic, Nazi-era imagery and chants, it’s been widely noted that Donald Trump has refused to specifically condemn the alt-right, Neo-Nazi, white supremacist, white nationalist movement that triggered the violence, nor to explicitly note the apparently dedicated alt-right beliefs of the driver who murdered one and injured many by plowing his car into a crowd of persons protesting against these groups.

That Trump has been reluctant so far to condemn these hate groups and their members, who insist that they’re doing what Trump wants them to do, and who are such a major portion of his voting base, is not at all surprising.  Perhaps in coming days he’ll feel the political need to say something more direct — but we know he’ll only do so under extreme duress.

Part of his original insipid, blame everybody on “many sides” attempts at creating false equivalence between these genuine and wannabe Nazis — vis-a-vis the protesters against them — was the all too familiar call for us to “come together as one.” But what does that really mean?

We can apply Spock-like logic to this one.

Fundamentally, we have two sides in this conflict. One side is blatantly and proudly racist, sexist, and antisemitic, spouting the same hate that their forebearers have been spewing since before the Civil War.

The other side is opposed to these hateful paradigms. 

Despite what Trump seems to imply and fervently wish, there is no moral equivalency between these two diametrically opposed attitudes. Especially in the wake of WWII — largely fought against exactly these kinds of hateful ideologies under discussion here — we’ve worked very hard to keep the Neo-Nazis and their ilk compartmented and isolated, away from the mainstream of civilized society. And until fairly recently, we were pretty successful at this.

The rise of the Internet, social media, and the income streams flowing from Net-based advertising changed this dynamic, and the election of Donald Trump was seen by these groups as a green light to go mainstream again.

They have grossly miscalculated. Major Internet firms are now pushing back on their lying, hateful propaganda in a variety of ways — see: “Google Has the Alt-Right Running Scared” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/08/12/google-has-the-alt-right-running-scared).

And the “coming together” pleas are being widely recognized as the illogical and banal babblings that they are.

Because — let’s face it — exactly who is going to come together? And how?

Are the alt-right racists and antisemites going to give up generations of Confederacy-inspired dogma? Are the rest of us supposed to accept their hateful view of the world? Or are we urged to somehow “compromise” — perhaps we move 50% toward accepting their hate, while they move 50% away from their hateful ideologies?

Ridiculous.

They’re not going to join us. And we’re most certainly not going to join them — no compromise is possible with such evil.

The only practical and ethical path forward is to push that evil back into its corner where it used to be, by condemning attempts at false equivalence and cutting off their ability to leverage our technological platforms to finance and spread their wickedness.

To the extent that their speech is not inciting violence (though all too often it does exactly that) they have a First Amendment right to spout their filth free of government interference — but the rest of us are not required to countenance their malevolence in our social media or search ecosystems.

When vampires suggest to you that “we come together” it’s pretty clear where you’re going to end up if you accept their recommendation.

It’s the same with the alt-right, their cohorts, and anyone who supports or tolerates them.

Our job now isn’t to come together with such evil — it’s to drive a stake through the heart of their newfound mainstream acceptability, and to fully take back our great country from their spreading malignancy.

–Lauren–

Google Has the Alt-Right Running Scared

There’s an old saying that it’s often difficult to “see the forest for the trees” — meaning that the details can obscure our ability to understand the overall aspects of a situation. But this past week, we’ve had an unusual opportunity to get an “overhead” view of the racist, sexist, antisemitic alt-right in operation, and the patterns that have emerged are of significant interest.

In particular, fired Googler James Damore’s rapid embrace of the alt-right, and their reciprocal embrace of him as their “useful idiot” of the moment, are extremely telling, especially the latter’s public targeting of individual Google employees (please see: “Google Employees Are Being Targeted by Alt-Right Racists” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/08/10/google-employees-are-being-targeted-by-alt-right-racists). 

If you mainly frequent “mainstream” media, I don’t blame you if you’re not aware of this twisted new romance and its direct ties to the pro-Trump media machine, all well documented in this excellent article.

After all, exploring the sordid swamps of alt-right websites is not everyone’s cup of tea.

But if you take the time to do so (I recommend not doing this after a meal, by the way) it quickly becomes obvious why wannabe Nazis (and the genuine Nazis, for that matter) have so quickly elevated Damore to alt-right hero status, already weaving his interviews — that he gleefully provided to alt-right superstars — into their propaganda writings and videos, with a full-bore attack against Google.

It’s all about the money.

For most of their existence, the major search and social media firms have generally treated the vast majority of content as being pretty much equivalent in terms of their appropriateness, a laissez–faire approach as it were, with the exception of clearly illegal materials.

But especially in the wake of Trump’s election, it has become clear that the essentially egalitarian nature of related ad network systems in particular have provided a massive funding stream to the worst of the alt-right hate sites and their affiliated fake news and propaganda operations, which — under the influence of their Russian masters — played a major role in electing the vile, lying sociopath now (occasionally, when he’s not playing golf) in the Oval Office.

Recently, the major firms like Google, Facebook, and others have taken steps that many of us have long recommended, and have begun more rigorously enforcing their existing Terms of Service (TOS) to reign in hate speech content that has been suckling on their ad money teats for far too long. These firms are free to determine what is or is not suitable for their platforms. The First Amendment — frequently touted by the hate groups — only applies to government actions related to speech.

Fact-checking systems are being deployed by Google and Facebook. Google has taken steps to eliminate monetization of various hate-related materials, especially in the case of YouTube videos. Google’s YouTube is also taking actions to prevent many hate and associated videos from appearing in “suggested video” listings, further limiting the reach of this vile content.

While it could be argued (and in fact I have argued) that much of this material should be removed from these platforms entirely under TOS rules, the paradigms of preventing the monetization of hate speech, and limiting its ability to surface for unsuspecting users who never asked to see it, appear to be useful approaches.

And if you visit the alt-right swamp sites, you’ll quickly see the panic ensuing over the realization that their income flows from the mainstream ad systems and ad networks are at serious risk.

Which brings us back to James Damore, who seems (likely unknowingly) to be playing a 2017 version of the unenviable role “Fool King for a Day” from the classic 1973 film “The Wicker Man.”

The alt-right doesn’t actually care about Damore of course. They see him as an easily disposable figurehead. He’s someone that they can use to amplify their ranting displeasure with Google’s finally taking reasonable actions to reign in the monetization of alt-right hate, lies, and other bile. He’s someone to carry high on a paper mache throne as they march on Google offices in a desperate attempt to regain their previous ability to leverage these platforms for their hate, lies, and other evils.

Some in the alt-right have already accurately concluded that their efforts in these regards will very likely fail, so they’re calling for their hate-brethren to create their own search and social media ecosystems — all hate all the time, as it were. Some such systems are already operational. To assist with their site branding, I’ll note that a serviceable Swastika is available as Unicode character U+534D (you might want to flip it over to match Third Reich standards, but that’s up to you).

I approve of such “all the rotten apples in a few barrels” approaches. 

I do not call for government censorship of their evil rants. If they wish to use their own systems for their vile propaganda, and solicit funds from like-minded creatures of the night, I have no objection, so long as the flow of click income from unsuspecting, ethical folks visiting mainstream sites has been eliminated.

Once you get above the treetops, the shape of the forest can be fairly straightforward to discern, and so it is with the war between the alt-right and Google.

Keep up the good work Google. We’re proud of you.

–Lauren–