The Wall Street Journal is reporting that momentum is building for the U.S. government to subject Google and other Big Tech firms to antitrust scrutiny for fears that they have become too big and too powerful.
In today’s digital ecosystem, politicians, political parties, organizations and media all rely on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube to get the message out because that’s where consumers by and large go to in order to consume information.
A Pew report found 68 percent of adult Americans use Facebook, or over 170 million. 24 percent use Twitter, or about 61 million. A separate Pew report found 73 percent, or 185 million, use broadband internet. Statista reports that Google’s family of sites are the most popular in America, with 255 million unique U.S. visitors in March 2019 alone.
So, the internet is indisputably a huge part of the way people are getting information nowadays.
Now, conservatives and Republicans have become alarmed as many of these platforms are censoring and restricting speech that does not coincide with Big Tech’s social justice agenda. Deplatforming is real. Actor James Woods has been censored on Twitter, Stephen Crowder has been demonetized on Youtube (owned by Google) and Candace Owens was temporarily suspended on Facebook before the company did a reversal and declared it “an error.”
Political discrimination is destructive as it creates an incentive to silence your political opponents. Suddenly you have countrymen reporting on one another to get them deplatformed. Is this healthy for a society?
But it is not merely the reporting features that are being abused on these platforms.
Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe released a video on June 24 that showed how the algorithms that produce Google search results (and other machine learning) are programmed with algorithmic “fairness” in mind to prevent, per an internal 2017 Google document, “unjust or prejudicial treatment of people that is related to sensitive characteristics such as race, income, sexual orientation or gender, through algorithmic systems or algorithmically aided decision-making.”
Just throw in political affiliation, philosophy or religion, and one can immediately recognize how Republicans, conservatives or Christians might feel marginalized on social media platforms, but Google did not end up looking into that. A study by Google in 2018 on algorithmic fairness stated, “due to our focus on traditionally marginalized populations, we did not gather data about how more privileged populations think about or experience algorithmic fairness.”
As a Google executive in the video who was quoted in an undercover camera noted, “Communities who are in power and have traditionally been in power are not who I’m solving fairness for.”
But if Google had looked at other groups, they would have likely found that supposedly “privileged” populations can feel marginalized, too. The 2018 study unsurprisingly found that participants expressed, “In addition to their concerns about potential harms to themselves and society, participants also indicated that algorithmic fairness (or lack thereof) could substantially affect their trust in a company or product” and that “when participants perceived companies were protecting them from unfairness or discrimination, it greatly enhanced user trust and strengthened their relationships with those companies.”
The thing is, nobody wants to be discriminated against, and if they are it will affect their perception of the company or companies that are doing it. Deplatforming, censorship and manipulating search and news results undermines trust in these Big Tech firms, and suddenly makes them a problem that many want to solve. No need for another focus group.
So, what responsibility does Big Tech have to foster our way of life and our competitive system of representative government, if any?
I would argue just as much responsibility as they feel to tackle the issue of fairness for historically marginalized groups, if for no other reason than it is good, sound business to cater to all comers, particularly in the political and governmental sphere. Why make enemies? It’s provocative.
Many solutions have been proposed to help there to be a level playing field on the Internet. Some are heavy-handed and appear to miss the target, while others are more narrow.
There is the Federal Communications Commission route, which might seek to make public utilities out of Big Tech companies, and all the regulation that comes with that. Net neutrality springs to mind, although that appeared more focused on throttling broadband speeds due to how much data was being used, whereas the issues today appear to focus on content-based censorship.
There is antitrust approach, whether via the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, that might envision breaking up these large companies. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has come out for this approach. In a recent statement, she said, “As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies.”
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts “interactive computer services” from liability of what their users post, and grants them the power to remove items at their discretion they find objectionable. Some have proposed simply removing the liability protections, which would render sites that allow users to write whatever they want suddenly subject to liability of hundreds of millions of users. It would also effectively destroy the Internet, since nobody would be willing to assume the risk of hosting somebody else’s material that might be defamatory.
Some have called for conservatives to boycott these platforms and to take their business elsewhere or to make their own platforms, but what sort of echo chamber would we wind up with? More to the point, to win elections, Republicans have to appeal to independents and unaffiliated voters. You buy ads where there’s ad space to reach undecideds. Insular practices of exclusively only talking to partisans on your side is a recipe for being in the minority for a very long time. It does not grow a political movement to do that.
This author has posited that perhaps Congress could narrowly expand the franchise of protected groups under civil rights to include politics, philosophy and the like (although excluding employment hiring for exclusive organizations like political parties and organizations) and defining interactive computer services as public accommodations so that services cannot be denied on the basis of partisan differences. Throw in banking, DNS resolution, web hosting and email services as public accommodations while we’re at it for good measure.
From the perspectives of the Big Tech companies, surely they have noticed a marked uptick in calls to regulate their firms? Conservatives complain about censorship. Elizabeth Warren is worried about smaller businesses. The calls for regulation are directly proportionate to how powerful these firms have become. Do any of the above options sound profitable or more like a regulatory headache that will cost millions or billions of dollars to manage?
And these are not even things we would normally consider, but throw in the prospect of censorship and suddenly it’s an existential matter of survival. Republicans who might normally defend these companies from regulation might look the other way when it comes up now. See how that works?
The truth is, I’m taking time out of my column to focus on this issue and so are many other organizations that are worried they too could be censored. The platforms we’re talking about have such market saturation that is so pervasive it could be utilized to discriminate on the basis of politics in order foster conditions conducive to one-party rule, which I believe to be dangerous.
More broadly, groups like Americans for Limited Government and political parties depend on a competitive political system to function. If we and others like us were suddenly barred from posting on social media or hosting a website or sending emails, suffice to say we would not function for much longer.
In a representative form of government, political parties’ access to media and their followers are critical to building and growing constituencies, and in the digital age these represent a digital sort of civil rights, and they must be protected in order for that system to continue to exist. One party systems do not respect civil rights. They squelch dissent to consolidate power and they target political opponents and critics of the system.
The great Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli supposed that there were but two forms of government, republics and principalities, perhaps for that reason. One is ruled by the consent of the governed and the separation of powers, and the other by the will and domination of the state and over time needs to instill fear in order to govern.
There are liberal democracies that foster debate, and then there are one party systems that demand loyalty to the state. There’s not much in between.
The alarming trends we’re seeing with Big Tech companies engaging in censorship in the pursuit of “fairness” look a lot like a bid for one party rule. And the thing about one party systems is, once you have one, it’s really, really hard to get rid of it and there’s no guarantee that your favored class will be represented in its leadership. Sometimes those who support the rise of such a system wind up being marginalized by it. Look no further than Elizabeth Warren to see what lies at the end of that tunnel. Is it worth the risk? Be careful what you wish for.
Unless you’ve been playing fantasy baseball and were in need of an undrafted reliever like me, you might not have known who Josh Hader was until the 2018 MLB All-Star Game. Hader’s All-Star selection was a bittersweet honor in more than one way. He allowed three runs in a third of an inning and then discovered after the game that he’d have to complete sensitivity training for racist, sexist and homophobic tweets made at 17.
The tweets were uncovered by Twitter users with too much time on their hands. These investigations into the social media statements of minors are unfair to the public figures who made the statements because minors aren’t entirely responsible for themselves, legally speaking. Journalists seldom quote minors for that very reason. Their parents share responsibility for their words and actions until they’re 18.
While I agree with my colleague, Dan Szczepanek of Grandstand Central, that Hader’s “young and dumb” excuse isn’t good enough, he isn’t solely responsible for the social media statements he made as a minor. His parents share that responsibility, but not in the court of public opinion. It is troubling, however, that just seven years ago and even to this day, racist, sexist and homophobic thoughts are running through the minds of American minors.
On the Foul Play-by-Play podcast, my attorney and I discussed how to remedy the racist, sexist and homophobic sentiment that seems to be growing or at least getting louder in America. Reforming haters is a delicate process not unlike treating addiction. It requires the dedication of the addict first, and an empathetic, supportive community providing evidence consistently contradicting the addict’s former mentality. But hate, like addiction, isn’t curable, only treatable.
“There’s no magic cure, no such thing as a ‘life after hate,’ only a life of fighting not to succumb to it” Wes Enzinna wrote for Mother Jones’s cover story in the July/August issue. Not everyone is as fortunate as Hader was to grow into a man in an environment conducive for avoiding an addiction to hate.
Without social and familial support and a safe environment facilitating the formation of relationships between diverse groups of people, haters gonna hate. That’s why Barack Obama’s administration added the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to the Fair Housing Act in order to address segregation that persists in public housing. Department of Housing and Human Development Secretary Ben Carson has since suspended enforcement of the rule, resulting in a lawsuit brought by the National Fair Housing Alliance and joined by the state of New York.
Those living in environments that perpetuate hate can also learn something from Hader’s hateful tweets coming back to bite him. Even parents perpetuating hate in the home have their children’s preservation as their top priority, so talking with their children about safe social media usage, similar to the talk about practicing safe sex could result in fewer instances of hate speech online.
If children in the moment are too emotional to consider the effect their words might have on others, perhaps they’ll resist using hate speech over their own interest in self-preservation. Just as images of STDs are used in sex education courses to scare young people into practicing abstinence or safe sex, stories like Hader’s and Roseanne Barr’s might be enough to scare children from publicly expressing hate if their parents explain how imperative it is that their children are employable.
And if Hader’s and Barr’s stories aren’t scary enough, or children don’t understand why they should protect something they don’t yet have, maybe they’ll protect something they do. A fifth of undergraduate college students believe physical force is an acceptable response to “offensive and hurtful statements,” according to a 2017 Brookings Institution survey. So hate speakers have to consider whether they’re prepared to defend themselves, although most instances of violence resulting from hate speech indicate they are, which is why it’s so important that Hader do more than apologize and complete sensitivity training.
Colin Kaepernick didn’t just take a knee during the national anthem. He thoughtfully explained why he took a knee when asked, sought feedback from military personnel as to avoid offending them and backed up his words and actions with his money. Kaepernick has donated a million dollars to organizations working in oppressed communities as of January. Life After Hate, an organization working to reform haters, received a $50,000 donation from Kaepernick. Since Hader doesn’t make millions of dollars, he should donate his time and image to the movement to end hate.
If Hader was willing to take the time to trademark his nickname, “Haderade,”he can take the time to start a nonprofit called Hater Aid, an organization that helps haters stop hating. I’ve started two nonprofit organizations, make a lot less than Hader’s $555,500 annual salary and had no previous training. If he needs some guidance, the National Council of Nonprofits provides all the information he needs.
I would only recommend Hader focus his efforts locally to start. If the standing ovation he received from Brewers fans at Miller Park in his first appearance since the All-Star Game is any indication, he still has the support of Milwaukeeans, at least until he struggles to get MLB hitters out. Regardless of his performance on the field, Milwaukeeans will appreciate Hader focusing his off-field efforts locally, and there’s plenty to be done in Milwaukee.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are four active hate groups in Milwaukee alone and nine statewide. So Hater Aid’s initial mission should be to eradicate hate in Milwaukee first, then the state of Wisconsin, and then the region and nation. It’s also cheaper and easier to start and run a locally-focused nonprofit than one with a state or national focus.
With a modest, tax-deductible donation from Hader to found Hater Aid and a bit of paperwork to incorporate the organization and acquire a tax exemption, Hater Aid could be up and running before the end of the baseball season. MLB and the Brewers’ public relations department would love for Hader to dedicate some free time to meeting with former haters in the Milwaukee area willing to share how they managed to stop hating. If interested, they could serve as Hader’s Hater Aiders, a group of volunteers, interns and paid staff to run the day-to-day operations of Hater Aid, including a 24-hour, hater hotline for haters who want to stop hating but aren’t sure how.
If Hader were to take these steps, his national image wouldn’t just be repaired — it’d be more valuable than it was before the tweets were uncovered. It never hurts to be a role model and a community contributor in contract negotiations, either. By the time Hader’s eligible for free agency in 2024, Hader’s Hater Aiders will have helped haters stop hating throughout Milwaukee and, perhaps, the state of Wisconsin if not the entire country.
Hader might never have been addicted to hate, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the face of a movement to end hate. He should embrace and take advantage of this opportunity if he wants to earn a standing ovation from anyone other than Brewers’ fans.
Each week here at Foul Play-by-Play we cover the week's law-related, sports stories. So here are the cheats, cheap shots, and alleged criminals in sports for the week of May 28.
The Philadelphia 76ers launched an independent investigation into the Twitter usage of president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Wednesday after a report by The Ringer cited circumstantial evidence indicating Colangelo allegedly using anonymous Twitter accounts to defend his work and criticize his current and former players.
Tweets from those accounts alleged by a source cited by The Ringer to belong to Colangelo questioned Joel Embiid's ego, blamed Markelle Fultz's shooting woes on a former mentor of the No. 1 overall draft pick, pushed a theory that a possible Jahlil Okafor trade fell apart because he failed a physical, and called Nerlens Noel a "selfish punk."
Colangelo has denied the Tweets are his, going so far as to call Embiid to express his innocence. Colangelo’s wife has since been implicated as possible owner and operator of the Twitter accounts.
The mother of Zeke Upshaw, former swingman for Detroit Pistons’ G League affiliate Grand Rapids Drive who collapsed on the court and died two days later, has filed a lawsuit accusing the NBA and the Detroit Pistons of negligence.
Upshaw, 26, collapsed during a game in Grand Rapids on March 24 and died two days later of what a Grand Rapids medical examiner called a sudden cardiac death with cardiac abnormalities. Upshaw had a “slightly enlarged” heart, which is not entirely unusual in athletes and could be unrelated to his death, but the Grand Rapids team doctor was not at the arena when Upshaw collapsed on March 24, so life-saving measures were not attempted, no CPR initiated and no defibrillator used, but Upshaw died two days later.
Five former NFL cheerleaders sued the Houston Texans on Friday, accusing the franchise of paying the women less than the $7.25 per hour they were due, not compensating them for making public appearances and creating a workplace where the women were threatened with termination for voicing complaints.
This isn’t the first time NFL cheerleaders have sued their employers. I wrote a column about the Oakland Raiders’ cheerleaders who sued citing similar allegations back in 2014, I think, and spoke to their attorney who recommended NFL cheerleaders unionize. I think these NFL owners continually take advantage of these women because there will always be a cheaper body to objectify, even if there was a cheerleaders’ union.
Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder Carlos Gomez alleges that Major League Baseball targets older players and Latino players for drug testing in an interview for a Yahoo! Sports podcast the day after Mariners’ All-star Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games. Gomez said, “One month into the season I got like seven drug tests. Something like that. Between five or seven. That’s not right. We have a guy on the team who for sure hasn’t had one drug test.” Three days after coming off the disabled list, Gomez was again drug tested.
MLB defended its drug testing policies in a statement made to the Tampa Bay Times: "Our Joint Drug Program, which is negotiated with the Players Association, is independently administered and has random testing procedures in place with no regard for a player's birthplace, age, or any other factor," the league said. "Every aspect of the test selection process is randomized and de-identified, and every player is included each time random selection is conducted. This results in some players being tested more often than others, but, as a whole, MLB players are tested more frequently than any athletes in professional sports.”
Like Gomez, the three Major League players suspended for failing performance-enhancing drug tests are from the Dominican Republic. Gomez wants MLB to prove to him the process is randomized, and won’t believe it is until they do so. MLB isn’t required to reveal anything, though, and probably insulates itself from any wrongdoing by outsourcing the testing to an independent firm.
Dishonorable mention: San Francisco 49ers receiver Victor Bolden Jr. has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Bolden is trying to make the team as a kick returner and has considerable competition.
Bronze medalist: Anthony Rizzo, last week’s Statistically Significant Foul Player for his uncanny ability to be hit by pitches, slid into the feet of catcher Elias Diaz of Pittsburgh to break up a double play. He was successful, as Diaz threw the ball into right field allowing two Cubs’ runners to score. While umpires on the field called it a clean play, reviewed it and upheld the call, Major League Baseball said the slide wasn’t legal. Rizzo clearly altered his path to contact the catcher, sliding late and well inside the baseline.
Silver medalist: Washington Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson blindsided Jon Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The hit came well after Marchessault had handled the puck, but Wilson, who has a history of questionable, physical play, avoided a suspension for the hit. Marchessault was unable to stay on the ice for the 4-on-4 that resulted from Wilson’s two-minute minor that should have probably been a five-minute major penalty.
Gold medalist: Wilson’s hit might have been the cheapest shot taken in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, but it wasn’t the most effective form of cheating used in the game. Vegas Golden Knight Ryan Reaves scored a game-tying goal in the third period as the result of a cross-check on Washington’s John Carlson. The goal was a quick response to the Capitals’ go-ahead goal scored just 91 seconds earlier, and swung the momentum back to the Knights.
Mel Bridgeman of the Flyers served 53 minutes in penalties in 1980 against the Islanders, the most by any player in one Stanley Cup Final. Chris Nilan of the Canadiens is next with 49 minutes in 1986. They play 60 minutes in a game if you’re unaware.
Vegas’s Erik Haula has spent 19 minutes in the penalty box during this Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals, which is almost half as many minutes as he’s skated in the series.