Federal government secretly opens Afghanistan War memorial without inviting veteran’s families
The Department of National Defence opened the Afghanistan Memorial Hall on May 13th with little to no public fanfare. Families of veterans who fought in the Afghanistan War also did not receive any invitation to the commemorative event and the venue was not accessible to the public.
The event was advertised on Facebook three whole days after it had occurred.
“The importance of this hall for the families of the Fallen, as well as Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence members, cannot be understated. We must maintain the memories of those who fell, and those who returned, from Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. We will remember them,” claimed General Jonathan H. Vance.
Those in attendance were senior members of the Canadian military alongside department management.
On May 17th, the Canadian Armed Forces’ Twitter account responded to some of the criticisms about the commemoration’s secretive nature.
“We understand and appreciate the outpouring of sentiment and feelings regarding the recent dedication of the Afghanistan Memorial Hall at our new headquarters building,” wrote the account.
“We are also considering ways to accommodate special visits by the public on appropriate occasions. Given the memorial’s location inside the national HQ, it is not possible to make it constantly available, but we do want to share it with Canadians.”
Tens of thousands of tweets have flooded in, as it appears Facebook and Instagram—both owned by the Facebook Group—are experiencing vast technical difficulties, loading slowly for many users across the world.
Instagram published a response via Twitter that the tech giant is “aware that some people are currently having trouble accessing Facebook’s family of apps, including Instagram,” and promising to “get things back to normal as quickly as possible.”
WhatsApp is also reportedly experiencing issues.
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The keynote speech Sacha Baron Cohen gave at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Never Is Now conference showed that he is in favour of not only censoring others but unwittingly censoring himself. Cohen has been a funny, irreverent, offensive comic for some time. His entire brand is based on saying the wrong thing to the right people. Yet this man, who has made his name and his money pushing the limits of tolerable speech, wants to silence the social media speech of those he doesn’t agree with. Doesn’t he know that when free speech rights are curtailed, no one’s voice is spared?
At issue for Cohen is the political landscape of Facebook. While Twitter’s Jack Dorsey has curbed political ads on his network, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has refused to do so. Cohen blames the way people communicate for the evils in the world, but the methods of speech are not the problem. The problem is the same as its always been: bad actors who use whatever means necessary to spread lies and misinformation.
“Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others—they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged—stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear,” Cohen said. “It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news because studies show that lies spread faster than truth.”
We didn’t need studies to tell us this. Lies have been spreading faster than truth even before the Mark Twain saying about how a lie can get around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on. Hell, it’s even a lie that Mark Twain said it! Lies and propaganda are not new. Prior to Facebook, Google, and Twitter, there were newspapers, magazines, and television news, which were also susceptible to falsehoods.
While Cohen is concerned that Hitler could hypothetically buy a 30-second ad on Zuckerberg’s Facebook, Ashe Schow of The Daily Wire points out that Cohen fails to address the fact that Hitler was given a platform by none other than The New York Times in 1941. The New York Times Magazine ran excerpts from “Mein Kampf,” headlining it “The Art of Propaganda.” And they ran articles both in favour of and against intervention.
The rise of anti-Semitism is one of the most pressing threats to our civil society. It is tempting to say that this alone is a reason to block, ban, or censure. But it is not that easy, that simple, or that solvable. Cohen’s call for regulation and censorship will not curtail hate—it will just cause it to flourish in darker, more radical places. The internet is boundless, and we cannot monitor it all. His proposed solution—to grant power to a select few arbiters of right-speak who would attempt to monitor it—would make things worse.
The ADL has long provided leadership in the essential fight against anti-Semitism, but it has not been without its own stumbles along the way in recent years. Critics have argued that the ADL has “betrayed its mandate” by taking a hard-left turn and focusing on the much more amorphous issue of “hate.” Take, for example, their recent labelling of the children’s “bowl haircut” and the classic “OK symbol” as “official hate symbol.”
Even the great Stephen Fry, who has dedicated considerable effort to combatting anti-Semitism on a global scale, was quick to point out how counterproductive and preposterous such an overreach was:
Another flaw in Cohen’s thinking is in his assumptions that the fact-checkers he is calling for will be non-ideological. One need look no further than the current incarnations of Wikipedia or Snopes to see that deploying a team of fact-checkers does not solve the problem of partisanship. Most fact-checkers have a left-wing bias, and this ideological creep has led to Wikipedia blacklisting many conservative news sources and Snopes embarrassingly “fact-checking” satirical articles.
Which brings us to Cohen’s own work. Cohen had been an effective satirist for so long because he played the role of a trickster who eventually told on his subjects’ and society’s own biases. Through characters like Ali G and Borat, he exposed the preposterous assumptions, values and beliefs that surround us. It was never great comedy, but it certainly achieved the effect he was going for.
In his unscripted Showtime series Who Is America, he duped Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Ted Koppel, Senator Bernie Sanders. He posed as an interviewer, asked them questions in order to reveal their flaws, and made them look foolish. Is posing as a reporter in order to access and exploit information for entertainment a reasonable thing to do? The answer should be yes, sure, why not, all’s fair in love and comedy.
But those who favour Cohen’s style might find themselves less on board with a guy like Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe, who posed as a pimp in order to expose, Acorn, a government home mortgage lending scheme. O’Keefe’s methods were roundly criticized by the left at the time as disingenuous. But perhaps that’s just the kind of work that Cohen would like to see disallowed from the platform, the kind that’s so like his own.
The greatest satirists in the current cultural age are ones like Titania McGrath who dupes an unsuspecting public into believing her identity-based personae is real. Titania taunts her audience with inconceivable calls to action in the name of wokeness, blurring the already blurry line between reality and mockery. That’s what good satire does.
It’s no surprise that Titania has been twice suspended on social media based on the misunderstanding of her satirical project. This is what Cohen is unintentionally advocating for—the silencing of satirists, comedians, and provocateurs.
The truth is Cohen’s own work would not survive the censorious cull he is calling for. It would be removed for reasons of “hate speech”—almost all of it. And the messages or lessons Cohen has hoped to convey with his work would be gone too.
It’s been said many times that the solution to bad speech is more speech. It’s disconcerting and depressing as hell to see that in 2019, those who made their careers by living this truth are now abandoning it.
Facebook has contacted the Canadian government over a possible threat to election integrity resulting from a story published by the Buffalo Chronicle that involves Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The story in question alleges that one of Trudeau’s former students had been having sexual relations with the future Prime Minister at the age of 17 while he was teaching at West Point Grey Academy, a prestigious B.C. private school. A subsequent story further alleges that the student, who would now in her mid-30s, received $2.25 million to sign an NDA to not talk about the alleged relationship, according to the Buffalo Chronicle’s unnamed source, who they say is a friend of the woman’s family.
According to iPolitics, the story, originally published October 7, had been shared roughly 40,000 times on Facebook and caught the attention of Facebook’s fact checking partner Agence France-Presse (AFP). The AFP deemed the story “false,” which Facebook “relayed to the Privy Council Office (PCO) that it had undertaken its standard response, which the office confirmed.”
Facebook and the PCO have yet to directly answer specific questions regarding the story, story’s contents, or the connection between the two parties; however, Facebook released a brief statement regarding Facebook’s contacting the PCO.
“We have close working relationships with the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, the Privy Council Office and other public authorities to ensure close co-ordination and the protection of the election,” Erin Taylor, a spokesperson for Facebook, said in response to a set of questions asking about her company’s election campaign communications with PCO,” reports iPolitics.
Despite being labelled “false” by the AFP, Facebook says it will not remove the story, as publishing a fake news story does not technically break its terms of service, and, likely, they do not want to travel too far down the slippery slope of becoming the final say in what is and isn’t truth.
However, the discrediting of the Buffalo Chronicle’s fabricated story has negatively impacted the news outlet’s credibility as a whole, with many writers contacting the outlet asking that their names be removed from their writer’s list or claiming that they never wrote for the Chronicle in the first place.
Mark Zuckerberg’s been talking to conservatives, and it pissed progressives off. So much so that the hashtag #DeleteFacebook began circulating. Maybe if we’re lucky, everyone who deletes their facebook over this will pen posts about how virtuous and righteous they are for doing so, before getting off the platform for two weeks, then sneaking back on because they miss everyone.
This past year has seen many changes for Facebook. In April, Zuckerberg spoke at a congressional hearing about how Facebook handles user data and what regulation would mean for social media. Despite accusations from conservatives that the site is biased against them, Senator Elizabeth Warren is threatening to break up Facebook’s many social media platforms using anti-trust laws. Progressives are also accusing the site of allowing too much false information, yet Facebook continues its refusal to interfere with the political content on the platform.
Zuckerberg’s dinners with conservatives, including Senator Lindsey Graham and Fox commentator Tucker Carlson, were likely in response to a report conducted by Senator Jon Kyle and law firm Covington and Burling LLP, released in August. The report, over a year in the making, showed decisively that Facebook had an anti-conservative bias. Now that Facebook is trying to fix it, Zuckerberg is being hassled by progressives who think that Facebook has been in conservative pockets all along.
It makes sense that Zuckerberg would take these meetings. His goal seems to be to make the site something of a social media Switzerland, a neutral, third party platform, not a publisher that would be held to account for the shared content of its users. This is probably a smart move, since controlling Facebook’s content is basically an impossible task. Facebook could not take down the video released of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand earlier this year. No matter how much it was flagged and removed, it kept popping up elsewhere. There are secret and closed groups across the platform, some of which engage in the practice of sharing child pornography. No doubt Zuckerberg wants to steer clear of liability for that.
Senator Warren also has a clear idea of how the platform should be run, and what kind of control it should exercise over user content. This week, she is slated to release an intentionally fake political ad on Facebook to see how Facebook would respond. Her goal is to point out that Facebook will run fake ads.
Trump released an ad full of false information as well, but with the intention of spreading the information as truth. Both Twitter and Facebook declined to remove the ad from their platforms. In practice, running an ad with false information for the intention of showing that a platform will allow an ad with misleading info to run and running an ad with bad info for the purpose of spreading those untruths, even if you believe them, is exactly the same thing. It is using the platform disingenuously and for political gain.
Trump’s goal is to get votes. Warren’s goal is to get votes. Don’t the voters deserve better? Warren’s tactic was hailed as a “dare” to the platform, but Facebook isn’t going to pull her ad, they didn’t pull Trump’s either.
Back in July, a recording from a Facebook internal meeting was leaked wherein Zuckerberg stated existential concerns about a Warren presidency. Warren has expressed frustration at what she sees as the site’s monopoly on social media discourse. In addition to the eponymous platform, Facebook owns Instagram and messaging platform WhatsApp.
While Warren threatens to break up Facebook’s monopoly, Attorney General Bill Barr seeks to gain back door entry into WhatsApp, criticizing the platform for making its messaging services more secure. Progressives and conservatives want to take the platform down to achieve their own ends.
Perhaps free speech is a threat to all ideologues and Zuckerberg should be working as hard as he is to ensure it. Though of course, he’s got his own reasons: keeping his company intact, his revenue flowing, and his docket clear of liability lawsuits. Facebook’s behaviour in China shows that Zuckerberg is not some kind of free speech absolutist, but a corporate exec who wants to do what is most profitable and sustainable for his business under the applicable laws of whatever country he’s operating in.
Progressives think Facebook is conservative, conservatives think Facebook is progressive, Elizabeth Warren wants to bust it up like Bell Telephone, creating openings for multiple smaller social media platforms. No doubt these will be easier to control and regulate, and none will be able to attain the powerhouse status of Facebook. The question is not what is better for conservatives, progressives, or even Facebook and Zuckerberg, but what is best for users.
Is it better to have a platform policed by biased content police, no matter what their bias? Regulated by algorithms? Should encrypted messages and the content of secret and closed groups be made available to authorities? How are Facebook, the FBI, and the public going to deal with social media when it crosses the line into serious harm, such as the rampant child pornography problem?
These are difficult questions to answer, and it’s why it’s essential that Zuckerberg search out all perspectives. That progressives are calling out Zuckerberg for talking to all sides reveals that the problem of bias is not localized to any one political perspective, and the issue is more about pushing through an ideology than securing free speech or making sure users are treated fairly by the world’s biggest social media platform. Maybe Facebook and social media is a scourge that we should all delete, but discourse has moved to these platforms, and it isn’t going back to what it was. Instead, we should take responsibility for our own scrolling, and not assume that everything we see is truth.