My tech toolbox will include less of the Google hegemony

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This is actually a shorter version of a post I tried to put up earlier today. The gist is that I am uncomfortable with a few tech giants like Google deciding what communications can be consumed when the "soapbox” is effectively a virtual soapbox now and anything you want heard must go through the Interwebs. The First Amendment isn’t directly implicated, but a few companies now have almost total control over the digital public square, and they are putting their thumbs heavily on the scale.

I read an article yesterday that commented on internal Google emails that referred to Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, and Dennis Prager as “nazis.” I find that both depressing and disgusting. Depressing, as it shows that the current members of society are profoundly ignorant about the Holocaust. Disgusting, since it is simply a horrible slander.

I have heard all three of them speak more than once (Ben Shapiro and Dennis Prager mostly on the radio and Jordan Peterson in interviews). While I don’t know what lies deep in their hearts, I’ve heard nothing remotely close to justifying that abusive label by Google employees. Moreover, nothing they have to say is sufficiently awful to support an effort by Google’s employees to craft ways to exclude their content from recommendation algorithms. According to the story I read, those three individuals all had relatives that were killed during the Holocaust. Now, I happen to think Ben Shapiro, in particular, is frequently an obnoxious and arrogant punk. But at least he refuses to back down from the heckler’s veto mob, so credit for having brass ones I suppose. And not liking an opinion does not make one a “nazi.” That should go without saying. Apparently, it doesn’t.

The bottom line is that, after seeing tech companies like Google and Twitter and Facebook de-platform people while hiding behind their Section 230 immunity, I’ve decided that Google doesn’t get to look at my every purchase, newsletter and interest to make money by targeting ads at me.

I have started to view these lockstep platform bans as cartel behavior. Certain practices in the restraint of trade are categorized as being automatically unlawful. Such practices include group boycotts of competitors, customers or distributors. Implicit cartel agreements to refuse to deal with a class of customers might be per se unlawful behavior in restraint of trade.

If it isn't per se unlawful, the fallback analysis is the "Rule of Reason." I don't specialize in antitrust (at all), but this seems like a theory that should be examined closely by organizations with some resources that are being de-platformed and de-monetized.

Martin Niemöller offered the right warning; if you stay quiet for too long, eventually nobody will be left to speak out when they come for you.

Open Friday Post

It’s Friday again, so here is another chance to put up your very first ever comment.

Here’s a topic (that troubles me as a blogger): Do you think allowing the very large social media companies to ban swaths of commentary based on viewpoint will be beneficial in the long run? I’m not talking about the common error non-attorney commentators make of confusing this with First Amendment issues. I mean just what I asked — can you see any way that this doesn’t slide into severe, and constantly changing, viewpoint suppression by actual or quasi-monopolies?

Here’s an example: Pinterest Blacklists PJ Media, Other Conservative Sites and This Is Just the Tip of the Censorship Iceberg. PJ Media, if you don’t know it, is clearly a conservative political commentary site. But it’s certainly not radical by any reasonable measure. Among other things, it hosts Tennessee College of Law Professor Glenn Reynolds’ blog, Instapundit, which is widely read and not a hotbed of crazy, whether you agree with the politics there or not. Glenn is cool enough to have a regular column in U.S.A. Today, so I think it is safe to say that blacklisting a site like PJ Media is well down the slippery slope to the place where that greased pig is picking up steam. It’s all fun and games until your speech is the suppressed and blacklisted speech.

Can’t wait until I’m blacklisted. Bright side: maybe I already have been!

Enjoy your weekend.

Dear Twitter, pull your head out

I customarily cross-post to Twitter when I write a new post here.  That may change soon.  The evidence I have examined is strongly suggestive that Twitter engages in viewpoint-based censorship by asserting its "standards" in a very non-uniform manner.  Twitter is a private company.  They can do this.  But I can vote with my feet if Twitter doesn't want to remain neutral in viewpoint suppression.  As a blogger, and irrespective of personal views of the speaker, I am sensitive to the long-term, dire consequences that will result if large businesses and/or governments succeed in limiting expression of entire swaths of opinions.  I was particularly disturbed when I read that Twitter had blocked the account of Glenn Reynolds, a pioneering law/politics/current events blogger known as Instapundit.  He made an ill-considered point in a rather rough way, but, at the same time, individuals advocating the murder of police officers go unpunished.  This is unjustifiable if one assumes that Twitter is viewpoint neutral in its censoring.

I don't approve of or condone all of the messages that have resulted in some high-profile account banning of late on Twitter, but the simple fact is that Twitter has permitted far worse commentary to remain on Twitter without consequence.  Maybe this behavior explains, in part, why Twitter is likely up for sale.

Harvard Law Unbound blog successfully blacklisted by Harvard

As a blogger myself, I find myself growing increasingly uncomfortable about reports of speech suppression of other bloggers through threats, intimidation, maliciously false process and the like.  In this installment, some dissenting Harvard Law students were the victims of a likely bogus DMCA takedown demand issued by Harvard to WordPress.com.  Bogus is as bogus does.  If you are a Harvard alum, tell them you'll be a little short in the donation area this year.  But this story has a better ending than some; the students didn't stand for it and immediately started a new blog.  Keep fighting the good fight.

Written contact with putative class members for purpose of finding new plaintiff is not solicitation under California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-400

United States District Court Judge Susan Illston (Northern District of California) concluded that letters to putative class members seeking a new plaintiff were neither in violation of the Court's prior order governing class member contact nor a violation of California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-400, which governs solicitation.  Rand v. American National Insurance Company, 2010 WL 2758720 (N.D. Cal July 13, 2010).

In an earlier Order in that matter, the Court, in an effort to ensure protection of putative class members' privacy rights, instructed plaintiff's counsel to:

inform each policyholder at the outset of the initial contact that he or she has a right not to speak with counsel and that if he or she chooses not to speak with counsel, counsel will immediately terminate contact and not contact them again. Additionally, counsel will inform the policyholder that his or her refusal to speak with counsel will not prejudice his or her rights as a class member if the Court certifies a class. Finally, counsel is to keep a record for the Court of policyholders who make it known that they do not wish to be contacted.

Slip op., at 1.  After the death of the plaintiff, plaintiff's counsel sent a letter containing a first paragraph with substantially compliant language in the first paragraph.  The letter then went on to encourage contact to discuss the circumstances of annuity purchases.  The Court concluded that the inclusion of the disclaimer language in the first paragraph satisfied the Court's prior Order and was not an improper solicitation:

The Court also finds that the letter complies with California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-400. That rule defines “communication” as “any message or offer made by or on behalf of a member concerning the availability for professional employment....” Cal. R. Prof. Conduct 1-400(A). The rule defines “solicitation” as “any communication ... concerning the availability for professional employment of a member or a law firm in which a significant motive is pecuniary gain; and ... [w]hich is: (a) delivered in person or by telephone.” Id. at 1-400(B)(1)-(2). The rule generally prohibits “solicitations.” Id. at 1-400(C). As plaintiffs note, the letter was sent by mail, and thus it is not a “solicitation.” Defendant argues that because the letter invited policyholders to contact plaintiff's counsel by telephone, the letter is a “solicitation.” The Court disagrees, as the plain language of Rule 1-400(B) states that a solicitation is a communication “delivered” in person or by telephone. Here, the communication was delivered by mail. See Parris v. Superior Court, 109 Cal.App. 4th 285, 298 n. 6 (2003) (neither mail notice nor web site was “solicitation” under Rule 1-400(B)).

Slip op., at 2.

Nevada has a substantial interest in brothel advertisements

Yes.  Perhaps an over-generalization, but, yes.  See, Coyote Publishing, Inc. v. Miller (9th Cir. Mar. 11, 2010), wherein the Ninth Circuit held that Nevada's restrictions on brothel advertisements are constitutional because they are justified by state's "substantial interest."   These headlines sometimes write themselves.

California Proposition 8 elicits constitution-based, discovery rights opinion from Ninth Circuit

For those following the complicated twists and turns of litigation over California Ballot Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California, the litigation about that measure continues.  Today, the Ninth Circuit, in Perry, et al. v. Arnold Schwarzenegger (9th Cir. January 4, 2009), issued a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to enter a protective order barring access to internal campaign communications of proponents of the Proposition.  I'm no constitutional law expert, but high-stakes litigation like this tends to create its own complexity, so I simply note the opinion for the constitutional law scholars, fans and practitioners.  I can say that it's not every day that you see discovery limited because it would intrude on the the First Amendment right of freedom to associate.  The one-page appendix to the opinion is also available.