We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Out: Labour is about collective action. I’m listening to you. In: Take the debate off social media. Only experts should comment.

Here is Angela Rayner MP writing in the website Labour List on 13th January 2020 and making her pitch to Labour members for the job of Leader of the Labour Party: “Leadership starts with listening – and I want to hear from you”

As a trade union organiser for most of my life, I know this isn’t done through top-down structures. Our movement’s story is of collective action to achieve change. I don’t have all the answers – no one person does. But I know a few million people who can help.

That’s why I’m asking members, affiliates, councillors, candidates and everyone across the movement what you think we need to do. It starts with the lessons to learn from the election campaign but it goes much deeper than that – we haven’t won an election since 2005 and have lost support in too many areas of the country.

How should we be campaigning as a party? Is there something your CLP or branch is doing that you think everyone should know about? What resources and technology would really get us moving? What frustrates you – but also what inspires you? To be blunt: what went wrong this time, what can we do better and where do we need wholesale change? You can tell me here.

She didn’t get the top job, that went to Sir Keir Starmer. However Ms Rayner is currently Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

The slogan “Labour is listening” still gets plenty of Google hits, mostly linked to the websites of local Labour parties. However Angela Rayner has no time for that stuff any more.

Conor Clark of Gay Times reports, ‘Angela Rayner says discussion on trans rights “shouldn’t be debased into a debate”’

Angela Rayner said “debate” over transgender rights needs to be taken “away from commentators” as it “debases the serious issues” at hand.

During an appearance on Sky News on 29 March, Kay Burley questioned the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party on whether or not the world has “gone mad” because of people “struggling” to say whether or not a woman can have a penis.

Her question followed Sir Keir Starmer declining to answer the question during a radio interview a day earlier.

“This really upsets me because I think about a young person who’s struggling at the moment, who’s struggling with their identity, and when we’re having a social media or a debate around whether someone’s, what genitalia someone’s got, I think it really debases the serious issues that people face in their lives,” Rayner told Burley.

“There [are] protections for women and women that are in vulnerable situations, and we should also be looking after our young people who may be facing identity crises and making sure they get the help and support they need. When we debase it to whether or not what genitalia you’ve got, I think all that does is damage people and it doesn’t help us go forward on some of the real issues that people are facing.”

Trans rights are often the source of a so-called “debate” in the media, particularly when it comes to topics like self-ID.

Rayner called for these discussions to be taken “away from commentators” and handled by professionals instead.

She added: “Sure, we have to take everybody into account, and that’s why it shouldn’t be debased into a debate that is being had in media by people who are not qualified to discuss some of these issues.”

This tweet by Kay Burley contains a video clip of the words in question. Gay Times‘s summary of Angela Rayner’s words is fairly accurate – correcting her grammar in the first sentence of the quote did not change the meaning of what was said – but by presenting Angela Rayner’s words in a different order to that in which they were said, Mr Clark’s report makes them appear both more coherent and more benign than they actually were. Given that Mr Clark goes on to put scare quotes around the word “debate” in

Trans rights are often the source of a so-called “debate” in the media, particularly when it comes to topics like self-ID”

perhaps I should not have been surprised that he saw nothing wrong in Rayner’s suggestion that debate about gender should be “taken off” social media. However I am rather shocked that neither Kay Burley herself nor any other media outlet picked up on the implications of:

Rayner called for these discussions to be taken “away from commentators” and handled by professionals instead.

Her exact words at 0:35 were “I think we should be taking it off social media, taking it away from commentators and actually having…”

She never does say what “we” should be actually having, but abruptly changes course mid-sentence to saying that there are protections in place for “women in vulnerable situations”, which is another topic entirely. It sounds to me as if she started to say something nakedly authoritarian and then stopped herself. I would have liked to hear the end of the sentence. Who is the “we” that she thinks should be taking the debate off social media? Politicians? Labour politicians? The bosses of social media companies? The least alarming answer would be “we as a society should take the debate off social media”, but even that is a far cry from the egalitarian way she talked in 2020 when she sought the aid of “a few million people” to set the direction of the Labour party and hence, she hoped, the country. But that relatively benign meaning of Angela Rayner’s “we” – a call for us all to refrain from talking about the gender issue on social media – does not seem the most likely meaning. Later at 1:20 she says, “Sure we have to take everybody into account and that’s why it shouldn’t be debased into a debate that’s being had on media by people who are not qualified to discuss some of these issues.”

Most commentary on social media – read it while you still can – has centred around Angela Rayner’s answer to the question “Can a woman have a penis?” As I have said before, there is no one answer to that question and “there would be more scope for respectful compromise if people could agree to differ on the definition and get down to questions of what to do in difficult cases.” But there is a world of difference between “agree to differ” and “be forbidden to express your opinion if it differs from that of ‘experts'”. If Angela Rayner does not believe that non-experts should debate these matters, it is difficult to see why she believes that non-experts should be allowed to vote on them.

“All right then,” some may say, “what should we do in difficult cases?” Actually there is a simple answer, with a proven track record of success in reducing conflict. It is called “freedom of association”. The difficulty arises in having the self-restraint to apply it. It is hard for human beings not to exercise power.

Samizdata quote of the day

If you go back to the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution there was generally a sense of triumphalism. Back then, the CEO of Twitter said that we are the free speech wing of the free speech party. That’s how Silicon Valley saw itself. Ten years later, you have the widespread view that Silicon Valley needs to restrict and regulate disinformation and prevent free speech on its platform. You’d have to say that the turning point was 2016, when Trump got elected against the wishes of pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley. That was a little too much populism for them. And they saw social media as being complicit in Trump’s election.

David Sacks

“Legal but harmful”

“The draft Online Safety Bill delivers the government’s manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while defending free expression”, says the gov.uk website. It would be nice to think that meant that the Bill would make the UK the safest place in the world in which to defend free expression online.

The text of the draft Bill soon dispels that illusion. Today’s Times editorial says,

In the attempt to tackle pornography, criminality, the promotion of suicide and other obvious obscenities rampant on social media, the bill invents a new category titled “legal but harmful”. The implications, which even a former journalist such as the prime minister appears not to have seen, are worrying.

It is sweet to believe the best of people, but that “appears not to have seen” is either sweet enough to choke on, or sarcasm.

Could they give the censors in Silicon Valley power to remove anything that might land them with a massive fine? That would enshrine the pernicious doctrine of no-platforming into law.

Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, has expressed alarm at what he fears the wording could do to his publication. Any digital publisher who crossed the line might find an article on vaccine safety or on eugenics, or indeed any topic deemed controversial, removed without warning, without trace and without recourse to challenge or explanation. The decision would not be taken by human beings, but by bots using algorithms to pick up words or phrases that fell into a pre-programmed red list.

The editorial continues,

The bill specifically excludes from the category [of “legal but harmful”] existing media outlets. If Facebook or another platform took down an article from a British newspaper without explanation, Ofcom, the media regulator, could penalise the platform.

That’s us bloggers dealt with then. Notice how the article frames the threat to free expression almost entirely in terms of its effect on newspapers. Still, in the current climate I am grateful that the Times has come out against the Bill. If self-interest is what it takes to wake them, then good for self-interest.

However, social media giants operate on a global scale. In any market such as Britain, where they have a huge following and earn billions, they will not risk a fine of 10 per cent of their annual turnover. They will simply remove anything deemed “harmful”, or, to counter the bill, downgrade its visibility or add a warning label. Given that America’s litigious culture will influence those deciding what constitutes harm, this could include political assertions, opinions or anything the liberal left could insist constitutes “fake news”. If Donald Trump can be banned, so can others.

Some proposed amendments to the programme of public events when the revolution comes

So who is to be first against the wall? The traditional view is that it should be the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. While anyone who could call a robot “Your plastic pal who’s fun to be with” deserves their fate, bear in mind that Douglas Adams died before the triumph of the chatbot.

“For God’s sake, chatbots, let me talk to a human being”, cries Jessie Hewitson in the Times. She had a rotten time when both her bank cards stopped working.

Cross though the bus driver looked, he took pity on me and waved me to a seat. When I got off at the Tube station I tried again with the card readers at the gates. Same problem. My cards weren’t working, so there I stood, stranded, unable to get to work.

I called Barclays. After ten minutes of extreme faffery, an automated voice told me that I had to use the chat function because I had downloaded the phone app. So, thumbs frozen outside the tube, I typed my problem into the “chat”.

It was more like an endurance test, where the bank pushes you to the limit of your resolve. To see how long you will hang on to speak to a real person, if indeed you can figure out when you finally are.

In comparison to that “your plastic pal” doesn’t seem so bad. At least you can hit it. Let us spare the Sirius Cybernetics Corp. for a little while and execute the entire British banking establishment instead. But even they, citoyens, do not go first. So far, Ms Hewitson’s article is a pretty standard moan about the way the telephone number of your local bank now sits alongside the nuclear codes as a closely-guarded secret. Things are indeed grim. They, the chatbots, have taken to giving themselves names. Happy female names, mostly amusingly mis-spelled variants of human ones. We may also have to kill everyone who has ever used the term “customer engagement”. But bad as our current plight is, there are very few bad situations that government “help” cannot make worse:

Why are financial companies doing this? The obvious reason is money, but there’s another one: banks, broadband providers et al are keenly aware of the complaints figures that are given to the Financial Conduct Authority and other regulators.

If they manage to reduce these, customers view them as more trustworthy. The harder they make it for you to speak to a person, the fewer complaints that will be logged. And so you have a warped situation where the good banks that encourage people to raise problems look worse than the bad ones that don’t.

I present my revised schedule for the public entertainments on Day One:

3. The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation
2. BarcWestLloydHSBCrap
1. The Financial Conduct Authority

This is not going to work

UK online safety laws to be strengthened:

The new communications offences will strengthen protections from harmful online behaviours such as … deliberately sharing dangerous disinformation about hoax Covid-19 treatments.

Social media bosses face jail if they do not do as they are told.

Meanwhile, attempting to be the sole arbiter of truth turns out to be not quite so easy:

Facebook’s actions won’t stop The BMJ doing what is right, but the real question is: why is Facebook acting in this way?

Why, indeed?

The Tories are not the solution to anything

“If you don’t vote Tory, then Labour might get in” is the main argument I hear from people when I tell them I live in a very marginal Tory constituency and have no intention of voting Tory again. But frankly the Tories are just Labour with a better wine list, as is made clear in this ghastly article in CrapX by Damian Collins, the ‘Conservative’ MP for Folkestone and Hythe.

Proper regulation won’t suppress freedom of speech online – it will protect it […] Making sure the Online Safety Bill is not a ‘Censor’s Charter’ was also our priority.

Because nothing says “the state will not censor the internet” quite like a bill that enables the state to censor what you can say on online. I seem to be developing a Pavlovian condition that every time Damian Collins opens his mouth, I send a thousand pounds or so to Reform UK.

Distrust is the inevitable result of censorship. Oh, and announcing Peak 2021.

Doctors Fiona Godlee and Kamran Abbasi, editors of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), have written an open letter from from the BMJ to Mark Zuckerberg:

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

We are Fiona Godlee and Kamran Abbasi, editors of The BMJ, one of the world’s oldest and most influential general medical journals. We are writing to raise serious concerns about the “fact checking” being undertaken by third party providers on behalf of Facebook/Meta.

In September, a former employee of Ventavia, a contract research company helping carry out the main Pfizer covid-19 vaccine trial, began providing The BMJ with dozens of internal company documents, photos, audio recordings, and emails. These materials revealed a host of poor clinical trial research practices occurring at Ventavia that could impact data integrity and patient safety. We also discovered that, despite receiving a direct complaint about these problems over a year ago, the FDA did not inspect Ventavia’s trial sites.

The BMJ commissioned an investigative reporter to write up the story for our journal. The article was published on 2 November, following legal review, external peer review and subject to The BMJ’s usual high level editorial oversight and review.[1]

But from November 10, readers began reporting a variety of problems when trying to share our article. Some reported being unable to share it. Many others reported having their posts flagged with a warning about “Missing context … Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people.” Those trying to post the article were informed by Facebook that people who repeatedly share “false information” might have their posts moved lower in Facebook’s News Feed. Group administrators where the article was shared received messages from Facebook informing them that such posts were “partly false.”

Readers were directed to a “fact check” performed by a Facebook contractor named Lead Stories.[2]

We find the “fact check” performed by Lead Stories to be inaccurate, incompetent and irresponsible.

— It fails to provide any assertions of fact that The BMJ article got wrong

— It has a nonsensical title: “Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying And Ignored Reports Of Flaws In Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials”

— The first paragraph inaccurately labels The BMJ a “news blog”

Do read the whole thing, which is quite an important step in both fighting censorship by social media and in fighting Covid-19. These aims are not in opposition. I stopped my excerpt there for what some may call a trivial reason: to leap to the defence of blogging. While I sympathise with the irritation felt by the editors of the BMJ at hearing their venerable journal, founded in 1840, described as a “news blog” I have to say that there are some blogs I would trust more than some newspapers, even some older than the BMJ. For instance I found out about this matter via Not the Bee.

Yes, that’s 2021, folks, when a link from the “truth is stranger than fiction” non-satirical spinoff of an American Christian satirical website (even as a Christian myself, those are weird words to put next to each other) takes me to an open letter from the editors of the august British Medical Journal in which they angrily respond to a so-called “fact checker” working for a social media site who thinks the best way to combat the conspiracy theory that “they” might be suppressing news about inadequacies in the testing of vaccines is to suppress news about inadequacies in the testing of vaccines.

Everybody but me probably knows the explanation for this

Sometimes if one does an internet search for the headline of an article, one will find it in several different places on the internet.

For instance the article that Johnathan Pearce linked to in this post, a piece by Gerard Baker for the Wall Street Journal with the title “Biden Emerges as Progressive Government’s Mr. Bad Example” turned up in a site calling itself “Daily News 4 U” which offers “News for you all day” in English, German and Filipino. The headline seems to have lost the final word “example” but apart from that it is the same article.

It could be that the WSJ has a particularly active syndication sales department, I suppose. Though one would think they would get the headline right.

Whether or not the route by which an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 20th December reappeared in Daily News 4 U on 21st December was entirely … homologated, there is no mystery about why a little-known news site would want to re-publish an article by an established columnist alongside lots and lots and lots of articles by columnists from all over the world.

But there is a related phenomenon which I do not understand.

On December 14th an opinion piece by Bret Stephens in the New York Times caused a stir. Its headline was “Biden Should Not Run Again — and He Should Say He Won’t.” The full article is behind a paywall, but here are the opening paragraphs:

Is it a good idea for Joe Biden to run for re-election in 2024? And, if he runs again and wins, would it be good for the United States to have a president who is 86 — the age Biden would be at the end of a second term?

I put these questions bluntly because they need to be discussed candidly, not just whispered constantly.

In the 1980s, it was fair game for reputable reporters to ask whether Ronald Reagan was too old for the presidency, at a time when he was several years younger than Biden is today. Donald Trump’s apparent difficulty holding a glass and his constricted vocabulary repeatedly prompted unflattering speculation about his health, mental and otherwise. And Joe Biden’s memory lapses were a source of mirth among his Democratic primary rivals, at least until he won the nomination.

Yet it’s now considered horrible manners to raise concerns about Biden’s age and health. As if doing so can only play into Trump’s hands. As if the president’s well-being is nobody’s business but his own. As if it doesn’t much matter whether he has the fortitude for the world’s most important job, so long as his aides can adroitly fill the gaps. As if accusations of ageism and a giant shushing sound from media elites can keep the issue off the public mind.

And here is the Uncanny Valley version from an outlet called “Lightlynews.com”:

Is it a good suggestion for Joe Biden to run for re-election in 2024? And, if he runs once more and wins, would it not be good for the United States to have a president who’s 86 — the age Biden can be on the finish of a second time period?

I put these questions bluntly as a result of they must be mentioned candidly, not simply whispered continuously.

In the 1980s, it was honest sport for respected reporters to ask whether or not Ronald Reagan was too previous for the presidency, at a time when he was a number of years youthful than Biden is in the present day. Donald Trump’s obvious issue holding a glass and his constricted vocabulary repeatedly prompted unflattering hypothesis about his well being, psychological and in any other case. And Joe Biden’s reminiscence lapses had been a supply of mirth amongst his Democratic major rivals, a minimum of till he received the nomination.

Yet it’s now thought-about horrible manners to lift considerations about Biden’s age and well being. As if doing so can solely play into Trump’s arms. As if the president’s well-being is no one’s enterprise however his personal. As if it doesn’t a lot matter whether or not he has the fortitude for the world’s most essential job, as long as his aides can adroitly fill the gaps. As if accusations of ageism and a large shushing sound from media elites can preserve the problem off the general public thoughts.

The level of similarity between this and the original is too great to save the publishers from a lawsuit, but let’s be real, the example of the Gerard Baker article and many others suggests that no lawsuit is likely. Why did someone bother to pass this article through the word-grinder, when it is clear they could have just copied the real thing with less trouble and no greater risk?

The Welsh Senedd just voted for Covid passports because of a Zoom glitch

“Covid pass plans agreed in knife-edge Senedd vote”, the BBC reports:

Mandatory Covid passes in nightclubs and large events will be introduced in Wales as planned on 11 October after Welsh ministers won a knife-edge Senedd vote.

The measures were agreed with 28 politicians voting for and 27 voting against.

It came despite politicians in the opposition uniting against the plans.

The public will be expected to show evidence of being fully vaccinated or having a recent negative Covid test.

Conservative Vale of Clwyd Member of the Senedd (MS) Gareth Davies did not take part in the vote, with the Tories citing “technical difficulties” for what happened.

[…]

Ahead of the vote, Conservative MS Darren Millar could be heard telling Presiding Officer Elin Jones: “I’m sorry we still have a member who is desperately trying to get into Zoom.”

Ms Jones replied that she would still hold the vote: “We have made every opportunity possible for that named member to get in, including sharing my personal phone.”

I was not without sympathy for Elin Jones, the presiding officer. It has happened many times in many assemblies that a vote passed or failed because a member could not physically reach the chamber in time. One cannot spin things out forever. There has to be a cut-off point.

I can also see the reasoning behind the Labour-controlled Senedd’s refusal to re-run the vote.

Asked about holding a re-run of the vote, Eluned Morgan [Baroness Morgan of Ely, Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh Government] told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast with Claire Summers that that is “not how democratic processes work”.

“You don’t keep on having a vote until you get the answer that you want,” she said.

I do see her point, though I also note that both Elin Jones and Eluned Morgan were entirely in favour of re-running a vote until they got the answer they wanted when it came to the popular vote to leave the European Union.

I digress. Though this vote imposing Covid passports on Wales will stand, a bad smell hangs over the manner of its passing. Enough people have shared the experience of struggling to log into Zoom meetings since this pandemic began to ensure that sympathy with Gareth Davies will be widespread. Another thing… I tried to think of a way of saying “some people will think this looks suspicious” without sounding like a conspiracist myself but there isn’t one. All I can do is state for the record that I think this incident was a cock-up, not a conspiracy. But the trouble with every combination of voting and technology is that the process is opaque. If Gareth Davies had failed to reach the chamber in time because his car had got stuck in traffic, he and we could all be reasonably sure that was all that had happened. There is no such instinctive assurance that no one’s thumb was on the scale with Zoom. The Senedd should dump this “hybrid model” or whatever they call it where some members meet in person and others clock in, or fail to clock in, via Zoom. Stop mucking around, earn your pay, go back to meeting in person.

Astonishingly, Broness Morgan actually boasted of Welsh Labour’s mandate to pass this law:

“What we know is that the people of Wales want to be protected.”

“We had a huge mandate as a result of the election because of our cautious approach.”

Baroness, your mandate for this is about one electron thick.

“The app will contact people at random asking them to provide proof of their location within 15 minutes”

How will South Australia’s home quarantine trial work?

Premier Steven Marshall said he hoped the trial would be expanded to international travellers in “subsequent weeks”, making it a national first.

Those in home-based quarantine will need to download an app, developed by the South Australian Government, to prove they are staying home while required to.

People wanting to return to South Australia and home quarantine will have to apply to SA Health.

They will have to prove they have a place to isolate during their quarantine period and must also be fully vaccinated.

Those who are approved will have to download the South Australian Government home quarantine app, which uses geo-location and facial recognition software to track those in quarantine.

The app will contact people at random asking them to provide proof of their location within 15 minutes.

The report is by Sara Garcia and Rory McClaren of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, via “Australia Traded Away Too Much Liberty” by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic and (for the second time in two days) Ed Driscoll at Instapundit.

Far from being ashamed of this Orwellian project, Premier Steven Marshall says “I think every South Australian should feel pretty proud that we are the national pilot for the home-based quarantine app.”

This month’s heresy is next month’s orthodoxy

“YouTube suspends Rand Paul for a week over a video disputing the effectiveness of masks”, reports the New York Times.

I have no strong opinion on the question, but Senator Rand Paul is also Doctor Rand Paul, so his medical opinion holds some weight. This post on Rumble takes you to the video that got him banned: “It Is Time For Unfiltered News”

As Glenn Greenwald points out,

JUST LAST WEEK: Biden’s former COVID adviser, the epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, told @camanpour [the CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour] exactly the same thing.

YouTube and Facebook* play a merry game. On April 16 2020, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s “VP Integrity”, posted “An Update on Our Work to Keep People Informed and Limit Misinformation About COVID-19”. That post is as good as a soap opera; the writers are always adding new and dramatic plot twists.

On February 8, 2021 at 10:00AM PT, they announced that claims that “COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured” would be removed.

On May 26, 2021 at 3:30PM PT, they said, “In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps.”

In like spirit, Dr Paul is doing no more than returning to the medical orthodoxy before last. From the Independent, Thursday 12 March 2020:

Coronavirus: Face masks could increase risk of infection, medical chief warns

Members of the public could be putting themselves more at risk from contracting coronavirus by wearing face masks, one of England’s most senior doctors has warned.

Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, said the masks could “actually trap the virus” and cause the person wearing it to breathe it in.

*I initially mistyped that as Facesbook, and my spellchecker, set, of course, to British spellings, suggested an amusing alternative.

Deleting the weather report to make the rain go away

“Facebook axes team over far-right data”, says the Times.

Facebook has disbanded one of its teams after the data they produced suggested that far-right commentators outperformed all other users.

Facebook executives, including Sir Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, became concerned that the CrowdTangle tool was being used by journalists to produce embarrassing evidence that right-wing content was read more than anything else on the platform.

The analytics tool is owned by Facebook but is available to the public. It is one of the only ways for users to measure how well a post is doing in terms of being shared, commented on, liked or receiving a reaction emoji.

Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs, told colleagues last September that he was concerned “our own tools are helping journos to consolidate the wrong narrative”, according to The New York Times.

CrowdTangle’s data showed that in the US the links posted on Facebook to other websites which got the most engagement was to content by right-wing commentators such as Ben Shapiro and the Fox News host Sean Hannity, and to right-wing sites including Breitbart and Newsmax.

A commenter called LucasTheCat gave me the title for this post when they responded, “This is strange for two reasons – none of the commentators listed are what I would consider to be ‘far right’ and isn’t removing the report – the same as taking the weather report out of your paper – because you don’t like the weather – or am I missing something?”

By the way, the idea that Nick Clegg was released on the world deliberately is a fringe conspiracy theory that Facebook has rightly banned. The current theory is that he was accidentally leaked from an insufficiently secured British political system.