Category Archives: cheap speech

“Ad makers seek to nip ‘deep fake’ campaign ads in the bud”

From Politico:

The trade association representing Washington political consultants wants to curb the use of “deep fakes” in political advertising before it gets the chance to take off, as political campaigns become the latest space scrambling to respond to the proliferation of AI technology.

On Wednesday, the American Association of Political Consultants announced that its board of directors had voted unanimously to formally denounce the practice at the association’s annual conference last month.

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“The Jolt: Georgia megadonor tells Trump attorney election was clean”

Lauren Windsor with another audio reveal from the Cleta Mitchell conversation to RNC donors. More here at the AJC.

From a donor apparently identified as Tommy Bagwell, to the assembled crowd:

I’m one of the largest donors to Trump in the state of Georgia.  Not anymore.  But one of the worst things you can do in this stuff is start repeating and promoting stuff that absolutely just didn’t happen.  And the Georgia election was pretty damn clean.  I’ll defend a lot of it, if you want to, on a sidebar. 

But Dominion voting machines connecting to the internet and talking to Chavez is beyond insane.  It didn’t happen.  We printed hard copy ballots and you got a hard copy of what you electronically voted.  You looked at it and when you turned it in, they printed it and said, “Now, you see this is your ballot that you’ve marked, and it’s printed, and it’s counted, and it’s locked.”  That was clean.  Everything — especially that Mr. Trump promoted — that I heard was roundly and convincingly debunked.  The big eruption of the water pipes – no, it didn’t happen.  The rollaboard suitcases under the tables – and here we have video of ‘em pulling out – didn’t happen.  Those were official locked boxes.  I’ve seen high definition, high resolution videos where you zoom in and that was what it was supposed to be.  It goes on and on and on. …

Ballots getting mailed out: didn’t happen in Georgia.  They don’t mail out ballots, they mail out applications for ballots.  So everything that I could – everything I could hear that I could look at and I could talk to different people, not all of ‘em were Democrats – and it was just debunked. . . .

[Then Mitchell responds.  Bagwell later interjects:]

You really kind of misinterpreted what I said.  What I said about those bins was correct.  What I said about the plumbing was correct. … I was just trying to tell the audience to know what they were talking about, because I had so many of my close friends – I’m one of the reddest state, reddest voters, in the reddest county, in the reddest state, I mean the reddest county in the state, and I’m on the team – but I don’t like to say something unless I absolutely know.  The way I was raised up in north Georgia is, you don’t ever call someone a thief or a liar unless by God, you’ve got proof, or there’s going to be a fistfight, right then. … So all I’m saying is that all of those things that were running around all over north Georgia – and close friends and my wife – have been debunked.

All of the audio from the excerpt, including the parts I’ve excised and Mitchell’s intervention in the middle, is online.

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“Inside a private portal from GOP campaigns to local news sites”


The top Republican campaigns in Illinois used a private online portal last year to request stories and shape coverage in a network of media outlets that present themselves as local newspapers, according to documents and people familiar with the setup.

Screenshots show that the password-protected portal, called Lumen, allowed users to pitch stories; provide interview subjects as well as questions; place announcements and submit op-eds to be “published verbatim” in any of about 30 sites that form part of the Illinois-focused media network, called Local Government Information Services.

In some cases, users with Lumen access could choose whether to add a fact-checking step, screenshots obtained by The Washington Post show. Campaigns could findfeedback about the stories they had submitted within the portal, including online views and the kinds of audiences reacting to the content, according to people with access to Lumen who, like most others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive details.

The online portal offers the potential for a new level of collaboration between political operators and certain media outlets — one in which candidates can easily seek to customize news stories without the public’s knowledge. The use of the tactic in Illinois has caught the attention of allies of former president Donald Trump, who have discussed the potential of expanding the operation, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The network is run by Brian Timpone, a businessman and former television broadcaster who told federal regulators in 2016 that his publishing company was filling the void left by the decline of community news, “delivering hundreds and sometimes thousands of local news stories each week.” He did not respond to requests for comment.

The Illinois-centric outlets form just one part of a broader network of sites, estimated to number more than 1,200 nationally, that the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University has connected to Timpone. The Lumen portal shares technical features, including an online performance tracking ID,with multiple sites that form part of what Priyanjana Bengani, a fellow in computational journalism at the Tow Center, described as Timpone’s extended network.

I wrote about these troubling new entities in Cheap Speech. Democrats had a much smaller operation, but were doing their own thing through Courier. And the Russian government tried to get in on the act too. This will only grow.

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“Supreme Court to decide if First Amendment stops government officials from blocking social media critics”

Tierney Sneed for CNN:

The Supreme Court said Monday that it will consider whether the First Amendment protects social media users from being blocked from commenting on the personal pages that government officials use to communicate actions related to their duties.

The justices said they were taking up two cases concerning the question: one lawsuit brought against local school district officials in California and another lawsuit against a city manager in Michigan.

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“Why It’s Fine that Fox and Dominion Settled; Murdoch testimony would have been more fun to watch than Succession. But the trial wouldn’t have fixed the bigger problem.”

I have written this piece for Slate. It begins:

What does the Fox (News) say? Not enough to save American democracy. But we never should have expected that a private defamation suit could have cured this country’s ongoing election panic anyways.

Dominion Voting Systems had sued Fox for defamation after Fox hosts and guests lied about the supposed role of Dominion’s voting machines in the 2020 presidential election. (Specifically, they said that the company rigged the votes against Donald Trump and for Joe Biden.) Voting machine manipulation was one of many outlandish conspiracy theories—like those involving Italian space lasers or fake ballots coming in from China—that swirled across right wing cable television and social media as Donald Trump churned up the lies to try to overturn his loss.

By the time the Dominion defamation case got to trial, Fox had a weak hand. Embarrassing depositions, emails, and other material from inside Fox showed that those at the top of the company knew the claims of a stolen election were a huge lie unsupported by any real evidence. The trial judge had already ruled, before trial, that the evidence indisputably showed that claims of Dominion voting machines being rigged were false, and that Fox was not merely reporting on such claims. The only real issue (aside from which Fox entities were liable and how much damage Dominion suffered) was whether Fox made false statements with “actual malice.” That standard, imposed by the Supreme Court to protect journalists and others reporting on public officials and public figures, requires proof that the speaker made the statements knowing they were false or with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity.

Ultimately, Dominion agreed to a whopping a $787.5 million settlement from Fox in its defamation suit just as opening arguments in the trial were about to begin. Those damages more than compensate for any loss of reputation suffered by Dominion. What the settlement did not come with was a requirement of an apology or any on-air recognition directed to Fox’s cocooned viewers. No statement by the conservative-turned-Trumpy network that it had been shoveling manure for Trump and others when it came to the 2020 election. The most that the public will get is this anodyne sentence in the middle of Fox’s one-paragraph statement: “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” The sentence came right before Fox, with unparalleled chutzpah, praised its own “continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”

Some who wanted more out of this case were sorely disappointed. Journalism professor and columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted: “Dominion should have insisted on an apology, including prominently on air. They could have gotten it from F[o]x, which was feeling desperate (in my view). It would have been in the public interest.” Before the settlement, liberal Twitter was full of similar sentiments urging Dominion not to settle so that more embarrassing truths would have come out. How great it would have been, they argued, to get Fox leader Rupert Murdoch under oath on cross examination.

While Murdoch testimony may have been better than an episode of Succession, we should abandon the idea that a single trial full of embarrassing details would change beliefs about a stolen 2020 election. Even if Fox agreed to a two-minute on-air crow eating by Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson, it would not have moved the needle. In poll after poll, the base of the Republican Party continues to express belief in a stolen 2020 election, a message that was repeated not just by Fox but by Trump himself, on television, social media, and elsewhere. It is supported by a constellation of grifty people lying about the American election system for profit and political power. Indeed, when Fox was the first out of the box to call the 2020 election for Biden after their decision desk determined he was going to win in Arizona, Fox viewers did not suddenly accept Biden’s victory; they instead switched over to One America News Network or Newsmax to hear happier lies. It was that ratings pressure that caused Fox to amplify the false statements in the first place….

Defamation is just a limited tool to deal with this social problem. Most of the statements Trump made about the election being stolen could not even be subject to a defamation suit despite their falsity because they did not injure the reputation of anyone in particular. Falsely saying the election is “rigged” is an attack on the system as a whole, not on someone who is an identifiable plaintiff. Think of stolen election claims more like creating a “vibe” than stating a falsifiable fact.

Much more needs to be done to counter the Big Lie vibe. Among the most important things is campaigning and voting against the politicians who embrace such lies. Early studies show that election deniers who ran for office underperformed in the 2022 midterms. When enough Republicans learn that running on a stolen election platform is a recipe for losing, they will start giving up on those claims.

Social media companies have no obligation to amplify election lies on their platforms. Meta and Twitter are moving in the wrong direction in many ways, but at least Meta has taken the position that it may remove Trump again if he starts lying about election integrity in 2024.

Congress and the states also need to provide a lot more money so that election officials can run free and fair elections. Without enough funds, election officials are more apt to make mistakes, and in a poisonous atmosphere, those mistakes metastasize into new conspiracy theories.  And our leaders need to deal with ongoing threats of violence against election officials and poll workers, and to stop the exodus of talented election workers who just cannot take the abuse anymore….

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“As Fox News case heads to trial, far right St. Louis site faces its own defamation suit; A trial is scheduled for May 9 in St. Louis in a lawsuit filed by two Georgia election workers against The Gateway Pundit”

Missouri Independent:

They didn’t know it at the time, but Dec. 3, 2020, was the start of a nightmare for Wandrea Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman.

Both were election workers in Atlanta, and that was the day Rudy Giuliani — ex-New York mayor and adviser to former President Donald Trump — testified to a state Senate committee that Georgia election officials had counted illegal ballots to steal the presidency for Joe Biden. 

The allegations were quickly debunked by government officials and the media, but they still reverberated through right-wing media outlets.

Later that day, the Gateway Pundit, a St. Louis-based site run by brothers Jim and Joe Hoft, identified Freeman as one of the election workers accused of producing and counting 18,000 hidden, fraudulent ballots from a suitcase.

“What’s Up, Ruby,” the site’s headline read that day. “BREAKING: Crooked Operative Filmed Pulling Out Suitcases of Ballots in Georgia IS IDENTIFIED.”

A month after the initial allegations, Trump himself singled out Freeman by name in a call with Georgia officials pressing them to alter the state’s election results. The Gateway Pundit bragged in an article about the call that the site was “first to identify” Freeman and Moss in the “suitcase fraud scandal that was caught on tape and went viral online.”

The former president’s supporters went on the attack. 

Freeman and Moss say they were almost immediately bombarded with threats of violence, many tinged with racial slurs. Under advice from the FBI, Freeman says she had to flee her home. On Jan. 6, 2021 — the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — Freeman said her home was surrounded by Trump supporters shouting through bullhorns.

Moss says strangers tried to get into her grandmother’s home to make a “citizen’s arrest.”

Gateway Pundit would go on to publish numerous stories about Freeman and Moss, with headlines like: “WHERE’S BILL BARR? — We Got Your Voter Fraud AG Barr — It’s On Video and They Attempted to Steal Georgia with It! — HOW ABOUT A FEW ARRESTS?” 

“It’s turned my life upside down,” Moss testified last year to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Freeman and Moss say the Hofts never responded to a letter demanding they retract and take down the stories. So in December 2021, the women filed a lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court against The Gateway Pundit for defamation and emotional distress. 

It’s scheduled for a jury trial on May 9.

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“Erosion, Backsliding, or Abuse: Three Metaphors for Democratic Decline”

Thomas Keck review essay in Law & Social Inquiry reviewing these three books:

Rosalind Dixon and David Landau, Abusive Constitutional Borrowing: Legal Globalization and the Subversion of Liberal Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021).

Stephen M. Feldman, Pack the Court: A Defense of Supreme Court Expansion (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2021).

Richard L. Hasen, Cheap Speech: How Disinformation Poisons Our Politics—And How to Cure It (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2022).

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“Twitter fails to report some political ads after promising transparency”


Elon Musk took over Twitter last fall with a pledge of transparency for the social media giant — but so far political advertising on the platform has been anything but forthcoming.

Twitter has failed to disclose some political ads running on its site since early March, according to a review of its activity by POLITICO. At least three promoted fundraising tweets were not included in Twitter’s own data, seemingly contradicting the company’s policies and raising doubts about the integrity of the platform’s data and how many other political ads could go unreported.

The tweets identified by POLITICO spanned politicians from both parties, including the accounts of Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and Adam Frisch, the Democrat who is again challenging Rep. Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s 3rd District this cycle.

Stefanik’s tweet, which promised the opportunity to win a signed MAGA hat, included a link to her joint fundraising committee’s WinRed page, where users could donate. The tweets from Fetterman and Frisch included links to their respective campaign’s ActBlue pages. All three were labeled as “promoted” in users’ feeds and would seem to fall under Twitter’s political content policy, which allows for political ads — defined to include several types of promoted political content, including tweets that “solicit financial support” — but says they will be subject to public disclosure.

The lack of disclosure casts doubt on all of the political advertising data released by the platform and makes it hard to assess which groups are using Twitter to fundraise or sway voters ahead of 2024. It also highlights the hodgepodge of voluntary transparency efforts that experts say falls short when it comes to informing voters about who is trying to influence them online.

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