Harmeet Dhillon is a force of natural justice. For those in the know, she’s become a free-speech legal superhero. The San Francisco-based civil rights lawyer won a major free speech victory over UC Berkeley; she represents James Damore in his ongoing fight against Google’s monolithic, social-justice corporate culture; and now, she’s making history by launching Publius Lex, a non-profit organization with a broad mandate: to fight in the courts for civil rights of Americans whose voices have been silenced by activists, big tech, and legacy media.
Dhillon agreed to sit down with The Post Millennial and she told me that it’s a lengthy process to establish a non-profit in the United States, and that Publius Lex was finally approved by U.S. tax authorities as a nonprofit entity earlier this year.
Tech ethicists have been sounding the alarm about deepfakes for some time now, and tech think tank Future Advocacy has decided to show just how possible and damaging this tech can be. They’ve released a fake campaign video that shows the two candidates for the coming U.K. election endorsing each other.
Rationally, we know that Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson would not actually endorse each other for the office they both covet, yet our eyes deceive us when we view a video like this. In the hands of Future Advocacy, the video is revealed to be a fake. But this tech could be used by bad actors to disrupt elections all over the world.
Unlike the magician who guards his sleight of hand with care, Future Advocacy reveals how the trick was turned. First, they choose the source video, that clip that they would use to as the base image and movement of the person they are going to fake. Then they parse the words the person most uses, and write the script that sounds like what the person would say. After that, the voice is laid in, and aligned with the movements.
Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the Deepfake Report Act, that “would require the Department of Homeland Security to publish an annual report on the use of deepfake technology that would be required to include an assessment of how both foreign governments and domestic groups are using deepfakes to harm national security.”
The Senate became more concerned about the problem earlier this year when a parody video of Nancy Pelosi was released that made her look drunk. This video was not actually a deep fake, but an actual video slowed down to make her appear sluggish. But it was enough to strike fear into the hearts of legislators.
While the Deepfake Report Act is a step toward trying to understand how the tech is used, what is still needed are the tools on how to detect it. Facebook, ever in the spotlight when it comes to hating on big tech, has dedicated $10 million to the study of deepfakes.
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been researching deep fakes, learning first how to make them, so that they can learn how to detect them. The creation of deep fakes is entirely dependent on computer analysis, and as is the detection of the fakes.
It’s a good bet that while Future Advocacy and the Pentagon are working on both raising awareness and figure out how to combat this problem, respectively, those who would sow the seeds of chaos around the world are working just as hard to make them undetectable.
The very concept of reality is under threat. Libel and defamation laws could punish those who would legit make faked campaign videos such as the one conjured by Future Advocacy. But where does that leave us with regard to those videos that go undetected? Even when a video, as the slurred Pelosi one, was proved to be false, the damage was already done. That clip went viral before anyone even raised a question, probably even before Pelosi saw it herself.
Even more recently, friends of the Royals have floated the theory that the infamous photo of Prince Andrew with his 17-year-old accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre is “doctored” and that “his fingers look too chubby.”
Giuffre responded by saying “This photo has been verified as an original and it’s been since given to the FBI and they’ve never contested that it’s a fake. I know it’s real. He needs to stop with all of these lame excuses. We’re sick of hearing it. This is a real photo. That’s the very first time I met him.”
As illustrated by this recent example, the implications go beyond fooling voters. Allegations of deep-fakery could be used to cover up crimes or in other cases, falsely implicate people in crimes.
If the goal of those who make deepfakes is to create chaos and confusion in the U.S. and the U.K., they are proving that they are already capable of achieving success. We must maintain our vigilance, good humour, and wariness of everything that flickers across our screens. However, this wariness, this inability to trust trusted sources, is the chaos, confusion, and disorder that bad actors have engendered. When we don’t know who to trust, when we can’t believe our own eyes, when every conceivable source of data and information needs to be interrogated, where does that leave us?
In many ways, humans make snap judgements. Perhaps it’s a remnant of a survival instinct, a fight or flight impulse. But thinking on our feet, making quick determinations, is how we get through life. We do not question everything, because there is simply not enough time in the day. If we find that we are unable to trust new sources of information, we may lock down our views, solidify them, and begin to believe that anything that contradicts them is false.
The hardest part, for each individual, in addressing and dealing with this emerging technology, is not knowing what incoming data to trust. This means that when we read or see something that confirms a view we hold dear, we should question it, antagonize it, investigate it. We need to make sure we know why we believe what we believe, and not assume truth just because it feels right (or wrong) to us. As deepfakes threaten our reality in every aspect from education to crime to democracy, we must remain aware of what is being thrown at us. If not, it’s going to knock us over.
In what caused a wave of outrage Wednesday evening, former Conservative Party candidate Cyara Bird tweeted that Natalie, her 17-year-old cousin, had been suspended from school for having “rejected the idea” of wearing a rainbow poppy instead of the traditional red-and-black one at their school’s Remembrance Day ceremony.
The Post Millennial reported on the initial claims, reaching out to the Interlake School Board and Stonewall Collegiate, Natalie’s school, for comment on the matter. While both declined to provide comment on the suspension, the Interlake School Board posted a poorly-received clarification to their Twitter account which stated that no students had been mandated to wear a rainbow poppy.
As the situation developed, The Post Millennial published a subsequent article featuring a statement from Natalie with additional details that clarified the situation. Rather than having been suspended for rejecting the poppy during choir practice as Bird’s initial tweet read, Natalie outlined that she had been suspended for “rejecting the idea” of the rainbow poppy replacing the red-and-black poppy, plastering posters in her school which included criticisms of the rainbow poppy symbol. Natalie’s father also confirmed that she had in fact been suspended until after the Remembrance Day holiday.
On November 8th, Cyara Bird issued a statement on her Twitter addressing the viral fallout from the coverage of her initial tweets. Apologizing that her “words were misconstrued,” Bird goes on to reiterate earlier sentiments she had made on her Twitter about her support for the LGBT community and veterans.
Bird had put her social media accounts on private early this morning after facing a barrage of criticism and abuse for her initial tweets on her cousin’s suspension.
The Post Millennial reached out to Bird for comment, but Bird stated that she would not be discussing the matter further.
It takes only a cursory examination of our tumultuous human history to appreciate that periods of liberty—when individual citizens are largely free to speak, think, believe and act as they choose—are vanishingly rare and must be jealously guarded. In the span of three days last week, incidents in Toronto and Vancouver demonstrated that shockingly few people seem to understand this, and fewer still actually care.
Both incidents involved radical feminist Meghan Murphy, who had speaking engagements booked at the Toronto Public Library and Simon Fraser University (SFU) in B.C. on the topic of sex-based rights and their apparent conflict with gender identity.
The first event went ahead despite petitions, protests, threats to the library of ex-communication from PRIDE events, and even denunciation by the Mayor of Toronto. But for the fortitude of Chief Librarian Vickery Bowles, who described freedom of expression as “a hill to die on,” the mob would have had its way: the event would have been cancelled.
Indeed, the second event was scrubbed from its initial venue at SFU, due to threats of violence and disruption from so-called “activist” groups. Had the organizers not managed to find a last-minute replacement location, the heckler’s veto would have won the day.
Most thoughtful people would agree that a conflict of rights between two groups should be sorted out in a rational and fair manner, and that the best way to do that is by undertaking a thorough examination and discussion of the issues, which includes hearing and listening to the other side. But intolerant mobs have instead decided that anything Meghan Murphy or her following says, or might say in the future, is unquestionably “hate” speech that must be stopped at all costs.
This is not new a new phenomenon in our times. Any speaker whose ideological outlook doesn’t conform to that of the mobs will face attempts to deplatform them. Recently in Vancouver, the University of British Columbia Free Speech Club attempted to bring two “politically incorrect” speakers to campus, but was thwarted by high security fees after UBC determined there would likely be damaging protests. The event was moved to the local Hellenic Centre, which then faced online harassment and bullying from groups such as the “Revolutionary Student Movement” and the “Revolutionary Communists.” Death threats were made to the organizer of the event and a police presence was required to ensure it could proceed.
As anthropology professor Mark Collard, one of the organizers of the cancelled SFU event, told me, “In 300,000 years, humans have only managed to discover two ways of dealing with political disputes: conversation and democracy, or violence.”
If the mobs get their way, there will be no conversation. But if we can’t have a conversation, we are left with violence or threats of violence. In Toronto, baying crowds numbering in the hundreds lined the walkway where the much smaller group of mainly women exited the building after Ms. Murphy’s talk. As though channelling medieval witch-burners, they chanted, “walk of shame, walk of shame.” At least one called for their deaths, expressing the wish that they would “bleed out.”
Just three days later, under threats of violence from mobs in Vancouver, Professor Collard withdrew his support for Ms. Murphy’s event at the Harbour Centre on SFU’s downtown campus. Having been advised by SFU’s security chief that the risk of violence ranked “11 on a scale of 1 to 10”, he was told to choose between freedom of speech, which he considers of utmost importance, and the safety of attendees.
It is difficult for any group or individual to find a platform if they dissent from the increasingly narrow range of acceptable speech. Who gets to speak and what they say is being decided by modern-day Brownshirts, some of whom have already demonstrated that they have lost their grip on basic human decency by beating journalists and shouting down little old ladies with walkers.
Nearly 100 years ago, a newly-formed extremist group in Munich—including a large number of students and young middle-class professionals—started patrolling the streets and disrupting the meetings and speeches of those they disagreed with. Daniel Siemens’ book Stormtroopers: A New History of Hitler’s Brownshirts describes how the movement grew to include bloody street battles between fascists and communists, which the fledgling German democracy proved unable to control, accelerating the erosion of the free and democratic society and paving the way for Hitler’s rise.
There is no question that ordinary people can easily be swept up in political violence, believing themselves to be on the side of right. But the inevitable result is to ensure the demise of a civil and free society unless the adults among us who value our freedoms start taking a stand.
Sadly, the “adults” are doing a shockingly poor job at even grasping the issue. It wasn’t just the mob outside the library that the fearless Ms. Bowles had to withstand. The pressure came too from mainstream media like the CBC, as well as the Mayor and Toronto city councillors who challenged her stance. The Council appallingly voted 20-1 to review the Toronto Public Library’s policies on the use of community spaces. The message has been delivered that city politicians would be quite happy to see unpopular opinions censored.
For civil society and liberty to survive, institutions like governments, courts, universities and libraries need to take seriously their commitment to the fundamental freedoms of Canadians and stop enabling the mobs by tacitly endorsing their tactics.
Universities should make it clear that freedom of expression and academic freedom are non-negotiable. If security fees are to be charged at all, the invoice should be rendered to those who threaten violence or the disruption of events, and universities should file formal complaints with police about criminal behaviour. Demanding such fees from event organizers, who are doing nothing wrong by exercising their free expression rights, is grossly unfair.
Those who host or organize events need to hold fast and find some backbone. Backing down under vague threats of potential violence is ceding control of the discourse to the heckler and the mob. The SFU event should have proceeded as planned, and any disrupters dealt with firmly and immediately, using legal tools that are readily available.
Police need to ensure the safety of people attending events, as they did at the Murphy event in Vancouver at the replacement location. While protestors have every right to stand outside and peacefully demonstrate (even with cardboard guillotines as they did outside the Vancouver event), violence and threats of violence need to be taken seriously and dealt with by police. Violence needs to be met with criminal charges and a firm message from the courts: mess with our liberty at your peril.
And ordinary citizens, too, need to step up before this country becomes toxic and unlivable, with people speaking their opinions only in hushed whispers around their kitchen tables. We expect our public institutions to uphold our Charter freedoms, but we should all be standing up for the free exchange of ideas.
In 1867 the British philosopher and political theorist John Stuart Mill delivered an inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews:
Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
Future historians may decry our times as the turning point when Lady Liberty laid down her torch and gave up the fight; or, they may proclaim it as the time when our free and democratic order was defended by ordinary people standing up to the mobs and declaring, “Enough!”
Lisa Bildy is an Ontario-based lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. Her Twitter handle is @LDBildy.
In a newly released clip taken during the protests outside of Saturday’s GIDYVR debate featuring Jon Kay, Meghan Murphy, and myself, professional anti-bigotry activist Amanda Jabbour is seen racially abusing an interracial couple.
“Is that your mail-order bride?” Jabbour is seen repeatedly pointing at the Asian partner of the attendee, before asking “How much? How much did you pay?”
Jabbour, who identified herself to Press for Truth reporter Dan Dicks in a separate video as representing the PACE society with colleagues at the protest, is also seen yelling at and following the police officers protecting the entrance of the Pan Pacific Hotel, stating “your only purpose is oppressing people” and demanding to be allowed inside the private venue, where the debate was taking place in the conference room.
In Dicks’ video, Jabbour is also seen confronting an unidentified cameraperson. Jabbour aggressively approaches the woman, goading “next time you kick me, it better be f*cking hard, b*tch!” Jabbour had tripped over the camera person’s leg moments prior. Jabbour then attempts to lick the woman’s camera before rushing back to Dicks and holding her hand over his filming cell phone. Both journalists are also targeted by Jabbour blowing cigarette smoke at them.
Jabbour is listed as the Occupational Health and Safety Facilitator for the PACE Society, a charity focused on de-stigmatizing sex work and supporting sex workers. Jabbour is also the founder of Sault Ste. Marie Sex Workers’ Rights.
PACE Society’s most recently published annual report states the 62% of their funding is provided by the government, with the City of Vancouver and the Province of British Columbia appearing to provide the majority of the support. While this information is not provided in any subsequent reports, the 2015 annual report stated that 82% of PACE’s funding was spent on salaries for staff.
The Post Millennial reached out to Jabbour via the PACE Society, but PACE instead offered an email where “comments or concerns” could be sent. When clarification was sought on whether or not a comment would be given, PACE hung up, and subsequent calls were not answered.