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Posts Tagged ‘dissent’

I wrote earlier about Obama’s attempts to silence ads critical of him by legal intimidation.

His “truth-squad” at Missouri is, however, no less disturbing. [However, see update below]

Perhaps we are getting overworked about the whole thing and this “truth squad” is simply there to issue rebuttals and not actually engage in prosecutions.

Perhaps Obama really does not believe in free speech and like Stalin, Che Guevera or Hugo Chavez has no qualms about crushing dissenting voices using all the force and cunning at his disposal.

The truth probably lies somewhere between these two extremes. I think Obama does generally believe in free speech and civil liberties but he also believes it is of paramount importance that he get elected. And he probably thinks that if some false propaganda against him can be silenced only by intimidatory tactics, it is not such a terrible thing.

That brings one to an interesting moral question. To what extent should one be willing to compromise one’s principles for some ‘greater good’?

I know where I stand, at least with regard to this particular issue. But Obama, and surely over 70% of the country, would probably view me as a free speech radical.

[Update] Eugene Volokh has another post on the issue. Perhaps, as he suggests, the “truth squads” are nothing worse than an apparatus to systematically rebut falsehoods. If so, I have no problems with the principle. The devil however lies in the details: to many ordinary citizens, the sight of officials such as sheriffs and prosecuters forcefully countering claims might seem rather close to intimidation.

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And thuggishness by, well, see below…

A month ago, I wrote critically about Obama’s attempt to silence advertisements that opposed him: using a combination of his passionate supporter-strength and legal threats.

Sadly, it was not a one-off incident.

The latest targets of the Obama campaign is an advertisement by the National Rifle association (NRA). Obama claims that the ad misrepresents his position, which may well be true. But his response goes beyond that.

The Obama campaign has written radio stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio, pressing them to refuse to air an ad from the National Rifle Association.

“This advertisement knowingly misleads your viewing audience about Senator Obama’s position on the Second Amendment,” says the letter from Obama general counsel Bob Bauer. “For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement.”

As the letter makes clear, it’s not just a request but a transparent legal threat.

Yes, Obama, and indeed every individual has the right to make legal threats. But this issues isn’t whether Obama did anything illegal in sending that letter (he didn’t) but whether you want a president who lacks the basic respect for the First Amendment and free speech that was displayed here. Can you imagine what it would be like if in an Obama administration, the people sending these letters are not lawyers but Federal investigators?

Yes, the First Amendment is too precious to take a chance with. So, despite the fact that I am an Obama supporter, I’ll respond to him in the only way I can think of — by linking to the NRA ad that he hates.

Update: I now see that David Bernstein at Volokh had the same idea. Good for him and I hope more people do this. The small difference is that Prof. Bernstein titles his post “Doing my patriotic duty”. I am not American, and in any case, this is not about a country. So let’s just say I am being true to my beliefs.

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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let’s talk about the echo chambers that you specialize in. These are the chambers that exist, both small and large, in cyberspace.

CASS SUNSTEIN: Yeah. The internet has many great advantages from the standpoint of democracy, ’cause people can expand their horizons, but one thing that’s happened is that many people use the internet to narrow themselves, so that they end up speaking mostly to people who already agree with them. So one just fact about the operation of the internet is you get these Dean supporters, for example, speaking most of the time to fellow Dean supporters, and the same can happen for Bush supporters who hear only what other Bush supporters say about the Democrats or about France. And the internet really facilitates a situation in which people are in a way living in echo chambers that they themselves have created.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And this phenomenon you’ve applied a new term to called “cyber cascade.” Does that relate to incestuous amplification only it’s on the web?

CASS SUNSTEIN: Yeah. Cyber cascades are specifically a web phenomenon in which one fact or something that’s supposed to be a fact is stated to another person who then tells maybe another dozen people who then tell maybe another 10,000 others, and pretty soon people all over the world are hearing and potentially believing something that just isn’t so.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: At the risk of being obvious, state for the record what you think the long term impact of the proliferation of these echo chambers would be.

CASS SUNSTEIN: The greatest danger of the echo chambers is unjustified extremism. So it’s a well-known fact that if you get a group of people who tend to think something, after they talk to each other, they end up thinking a more extreme version of what they thought before, and the danger of that is you can make a situation where mutual understanding is, is difficult, and people don’t appreciate but instead demonize those who disagree with them. And that’s an ongoing threat to our democracy.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So beware the echo chamber?

CASS SUNSTEIN: Yeah. If it turns out that we’re talking mostly to people we agree with, something’s gone wrong, and there’s a kind of obligation for citizens to leave their echo chambers at least some of the time and seek out dissenting opinions.

Assuming Prof. Sunstein isn’t actually advocating regulation of the internet to discourage these echo chambers, I find a lot to agree with in what he says. It is a human trait to seek out supporting opinions, or only listen to those whose views we already agree with. I myself am guilty of reading mostly blogs that I agree with ideologically. But the internet is a vast, vast place and there is some excellent stuff out there written by people whose philosophy differs substantially from ours. It would be a shame to shut them out completely, don’t you think?

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