Friday, May 29, 2020

"Everything You Need to Know About Section 230", booklet from The Verge; Kossef's "The 26 Words that Created the Internet"

Casey Newton has an online booklet on “The Verge” (a Vox Subsidiary) called “Upload: Everything You Need to Know About Section 230:The Most Important Law for Online Speech”.

A good place to start is with the text of the statute, 47 US Code, Section 230, from the Cornell Law School Site.  This is a provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, or Communications Decency Act.,   It was crafted by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep Brian Cox (R-CA). There was a case. Stratton-Oakmont v. Prodigy, where Prodigy was held liable for anonymous defamatory content in the 1990s, because Prodigy had moderated the content, creating a “moderator’s paradox”.  That case had referred to a more blanket downstream liability concept in Cubby v. CompuServe (1991). 

The most critical provisions are Section C.

“(c)Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material

(1)Treatment of publisher or speaker

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

(2)Civil liabilityNo provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—


any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or


any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).”

 Note that the wording specifically refers to “good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material”, and then the statement that the provider or user of an interactive computer service is not treated as the publisher of material by another speaker, but the second section anticipates that the usual remedy is removal or blocking of offensive content.  The wording does not imply that the operator of a platform cannot have its own overriding partisan political bias.  

Again, the centering of the language around moderation of content comes from the Prodigy case. Bloggers generally are not responsible for comments posted by others (although I use filters for spam comments and have a few times removed offensive comments aimed at others, where Section 230 protects me directly.)

Note also the changes to the law made in 2018 to carve out “exceptions” for “should have known” provisions regarding sex trafficking (FOSTA).  This change has not been very effective in the result it wanted, and may have led even more to targeting of minority women or even trans persons.  But some sites have taken down “hookup” ads or discussion boards out of caution.

Note also that the Verge maintains that European and British commonwealth countries have similar liability laws. 

Section 230 needs to be appreciated in conjunction with the DMCA Safe Harbor law, which applies a comparable liability shield to platforms with respect to copyright infringement (as set apart from most of the other common torts, like defamation).

Together, these two provisions make user generated content on the Internet (most obviously on social media, but also with conventional hosting) possible.  There has been a lot of controversy lately over the Safe Harbor given a recent paper by the Copyright Office, but that is legally a separate discussion not covered by Donald Trump’s Executive Order signed May 29.

Donald Trump’s XO aims to discourage political bias against conservatives in the way platforms apply “good Samaritan” clauses under 230.  There is legal controversy over how the law, as written, would apply and his order will certainly be challenged in court.

It should be noted that Joe Biden has said he wants to eliminate Section 230 completely, and both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren expressed concerns that user generated content permitted by the platforms amounted to hate speech (as generally outlawed in the EU) that could radicalize less intact people, particularly on the “alt right” or in the white supremacy area.

Great Seal of the United States (obverse)

In Europe we see a similar sentiment, plus the fact that in the Copyright area, there is a general impression that user generated content intended for global distribution should not be presumed as a natural right, but that people should earn some social credibility (personal “social credit”) before they have the right to be heard by the entire world. That is closer to the formal situation today in China.

There is a new book "The 26 Words that Created the Internet" by Jeff Kosseff, from Cornell University Press, 328 pages.  Kosseff appeared on Smerconish on CNN on May 30 and suggested that without 230 there are 3 alternatives (1) Platforms vet speakers just the way publishers do (although there would be more speakers, or (2) No moderation at all, or (3) A takedown system like DMCA Safe Harbor for copyright.  I ordered the book and will review it on Wordpress. 

(Great Seal of the U.S., click for wikipedia attribution, in article on 1996 Telecommunications Act, p.d.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"The Haunting of Girlstown" by Daniel Hernandez (in both Vox and New York Mag)


Both Vox and New York Magazine have published the booklet-length article “The Haunting of Girlstown”, by Daniel Hernandez .

A long narrative about an outbreak in a Catholic girls school in Chalco, Mexico. The “heroine” is Jovita, growing up in Tuxtepec.  (Somehow that reminds me of a character’s name “Tovina” in my own screenplay).

She winds up at the school, where the discipline is incredibly strict.  Some importation of the occult happens, and controversy erupts, and girls are expelled.  But a lot of them become ill with paralysis, which is thought to be a psychiatric disorder.

The incident happened in 2007. Some of the women became immigrants, many of them illegal, feeding today’s issues. 

The idea that a major “outbreak” could be related to the occult sounds interesting, perhaps distracting, in these times with a real pandemic.

The article reminds me of a short film "Saria" about a fire at a girls' school in Guatemala (review). 

Map is embedded from Wikipedia;  click for CCSA attributions. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

"EFF's Guide to Digital Rights During the Pandemic" (Cindy Cohn), downloadable e-book

Electronic Frontier Foundation offers an e-book, “EFF’sGuide to Digital Rights During the Pandemic”, edited by Cindy Cohn.

The book (130 pages) may be downloaded free as a PDF, or into mobile or Kindle apps.

A donation is requested.  I did $65 and will get a T-shirt, too.

The book comprises five sections:  Surveillance, Free Speech, Government Transparency, Innovation, and Living More Online.

 The Surveillance section explains the difference between convention cell phone location tracing, and Bluetooth Low Energy Proximity Tracing, which is thought to be more reliable and is in development by Google and Apple.

It also discusses the risks of aggregate location data.

One problem is that people are not told in advance of the exact consequences of being identified in a contact tracing event, and as to what restrictions will be placed on them and what considerations (if any) are offered for their involuntary economic or job loss.

There are other ideas on the table for more compulsory monitoring, such as facial recognition (as China uses it) to amplify contact tracing, and even mandatory devices like wrist oximeters.  The sci-fi author in me wonders about Holter monitors as next (just kidding).

I would also add that in many cases manual contract tracers being added are working with their own home computers and connections, which sounds like a big security exposure.

The Free Speech section hammers, especially, the attempt by platforms, especially YouTube and Facebook, to stop “misinformation” out of fear that the platforms will cause people not to comply with stay-at-home orders.  Youtube, for example, has threatened to take down content that contradicts the World Health Organization which, as we found out, was wrong on many details and some newer independent channels (like Peak Prosperity) were actually more accurate.   Independent news sources tend to keep “the establishment” in check and perform important review and watchdog functions (as we found in early 2019 from the Covington Kids incident.)

The government surveillance section is more self-explanatory. I would add that many people have trouble grasping the abstract moral reasoning of why they should wear masks and stay home if they feel well, especially when guidance (especially on masks) was changed so abruptly right around the first of April.

On Innovation, the book advocates open access (looking back to Aaron Schwartz and some of the Ted Talks of Jack Andraka).  But also notes there are patent and trademark issues in the medical innovation community, with therapeutics and tests. Already law firms are writing papers (like in National Law Review, Trademark Blog, April 9, 2020) about this problem.

The “Living More Online” section discusses the lack of efficient broadband in poor or rural communities necessary for learning online.  It’s also important to consider whether the doing of everything online will strain networks and whether tech itself can keep up in a work from home environment.  The booklet mentions Telehealth possibilities “outside of HIPAA”.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Time supermarket booklet: "The Science of Epidemics" (as of March 2020)

About a month ago I picked up the special Time edition 96 page booklet, “The Science of Epidemics”, 96 pages. It did not give as many credits as other Time supermarket books. Bryan Walsh seems to have edited it.

The secondary titles are “What we have learned: Fighting the World’s most challenging outbreaks” with a special yellow tag, “Coronavirus: The facts and truth about Covid-19”.

The booklet has 17 short chapters.

The eighth chapter, “The 9 deadliest viruses” starts with Smallpox, influenza and HIV; it does not include any SARS virus or Ebola/Marburg.

However it discusses Ebola (the outbreak in 2014) separately. Oddly, graduate students sent as Truman scholars to Sierra Leone the past summers did not get the new Ebola vaccine (they should have), and it is endemic again in the Congos.

It mentions dengue, as a mosquito born virus in the tropics, one with unusual problems in vaccination because of ADE, antibody-dependent enhancement reinfection or reactivation.

The last chapter discusses Zika, which produced birth defects, and could have produced a moral paradigm reminiscent of HIV. It didn’t.

I wasn’t aware that in 1916, babies with polio were taken away from families and isolated.

The booklet explains why the 1918 H1N1 influenza was so deadly to young adults, who had missed having the antibody protection of older generations, but instead had been exposed only to H3.

The information on COVIDE-19 is current as about late March, and it is still changing.

The chapter on p 20 discusses Moderna Therapeutics in Massachusetts, which has developed an nMRA vaccine for Sars-Cov-2.  Today the media announced some success in finding neutralizing antibody in vaccine subjects, with larger doses (with side effects) resulting in more antibody.

One think that is curious:  Sars coronaviruses are single strand RNA viruses but are not retorviruses (like HIV).  Yet the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test looks for reverse transcriptase anyway.  Could this provide a clue for prophylactics?  Could something biochemically like a Truvalda drug (for HIV) work for Sars viruses? Call it “gay medicine”.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Why one literary agent quit; an illuminating look at the world of "agenting" (and this does affect authors)

IWritely explains why she quit agenting (working “for” a literary agency).

She describes the process from the viewpoint of the author seeking (trade) publication:  the query, the call, the submission.  If the book is accepted, then there are various editing steps.

Publication of a book with conventional corporate entities takes months to years, which can make the book less timely if it is setting or recent-history dependent.  If your novel has a fictitious virus (mind does), the real one might duplicate what you imagined (on, you were smart and cunning enough to think of it) before you can get the book out.

But what was really interesting his how agents work.  Typically a literary starts as an unpaid intern (reading queries) and has to have a regular job “for the privilege of becoming an agent”.  That observation will shock many authors.  Then you have to compare all that to how the self-publishing and POD world works.

It’s interesting that she says authors are expected to promote their books before publication, by networking and trading blurbs and accolades with other authors.  That may account for sudden tweets and “requests” from other authors to back them up, in social media, which may seem rude or pushy if you weren’t aware of the practice.  This practice (in social media) is also common among independent filmmakers.

She also explained how authors get paid (advances and royalties), and how agents are paid on commission. Authors’ Guild allows membership only to authors who get advances to earn a living (or at least it used to). I had my own experience with a literary agency in NYC (Mark Sullivan) around 1996 when he read my first draft of my first "Do Ask Do Tell" book (1997, self-published).

 I also had submitted a novel in 1988 to Scott Meredith and certainly got an interesting response and analysis. Some agents will give you criticism (reading fee) if you submit some chapters of a novel;  this is more likely with science fiction, spy thrillers and the like. Today, those sorts of novels can become dangerously prescient. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Children's authors responding to demand for books that prepare children for sudden behavioral changes needed to avoid novel coronavirus

Children’s books authors have indeed responded to the dilemmas posed suddenly by Covid-19.

The IASC (Interagency Standing Committee)  of W.H.O. hired a collaborative team to write “MyHero Is You: How Kids Can Fight Covid-19”.  You can download the booklet free.  There is a little more text than I recall seeing from the earliest grade school readers.

Of course, the writers are trying to manipulate kids into accepting sudden paradigm changes for behavior that seem bizarre even to adults.  There is even the idea in some literature that heroes wear masks.

There is Elizabeth Verdick’s 2014 booklet ‘Germs Are Not for Sharing” (preview).

Of course, the bigger concept is that in nature, many more germs are beneficial and necessary (like in your intestinal tract) than harmful, and the beneficial bacterial compete with the dangerous ones. That is one more reason why the concept will seem so arbitrary and dictated by authority.

 And then there is a "Germ Book" (video). 

Pictures: from a boyhood train set, maybe around 1953.  I just found this in the estate stuff so I used it.  

Monday, May 04, 2020

Written in public health isolation: "5 Reasons I Love Being a Literary Agent"

I thought I would show a video from a literary agent made during the coronavirus lockdown.
Here, Jessica Faust from BookEnds gives “5 Reasons I Love Being a Literary Agent”.
The website says she comes from Minnesota and lives and works in New Jersey now, presumably in the northern suburbs.
She compares the work of being an agent to working for a publisher, where you get to work with only one genre (like maybe romance, if fiction, or health, if non-fiction).  She can work on any genre she wants.
I will have to give some aspects of my own novel manuscript some serious consideration soon (a separate Wordpress blog post coming) as to some aspect.  First, there is a fictitious virus, which ironically does many of the same things the novel coronavirus does.  Sci-fi authors can be prescient as to what could really happen (and maybe this is dangerous?)  But I did not envision the long-lived lockdowns all over the world (I did not think about “Contagion” [Cf blog 2011/9/8] that much, and was more interested in covert, little noticed spread), and right now I have major characters flying around (even internationally) more than might sound credible.  I’ll have something to say about that soon.
Picture: Historic house (Edison?) in Caldwell NJ on Bloomfield Ave.  I lived on Espy Road in apts from 1972-1073.