Inside YouTube’s Far-Right Radicalization Factory

Interesting study, symptomatic of the problems with social media companies:

YouTube is a readymade radicalization network for the far right, a new study finds.

The Google-owned video platform recently banned conspiracy outlet InfoWars and its founder Alex Jones for hate speech. But another unofficial network of fringe channels is pulling YouTubers down the rabbit hole of extremism, said the Tuesday report from research group Data & Society.

The study tracked 65 YouTubers—some of them openly alt-right or white nationalist, others who claim to be simply libertarians, and most of whom have voiced anti-progressive views—as they collaborated across YouTube channels. The result, the study found, is an ecosystem in which a person searching for video game reviews can quickly find themselves watching a four-hour conversation with white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Becca Lewis, the researcher behind the report, calls the group the Alternative Influence Network. Its members include racists like Spencer, Gamergate figureheads like Carl Benjamin (who goes by ‘Sargon of Akkad’), and talk-show hosts like Joe Rogan, who promotes guests from fringe ideologies. Not all people in the group express far-right political views themselves, but will platform guests who do. Combined, the 65 YouTubers account for millions of YouTube followers, who can find themselves clicking through a series of increasingly radical-right videos.

Take Rogan, a comedian and self-described libertarian whose 3.5 million subscribers recently witnessed him host a bizarre interviewwith Tesla founder Elon Musk. While Rogan might not express extreme views, his guests often tend to be more fringe. Last year, he hosted Benjamin, the anti-feminist who gained a large following for his harassment campaigns during Gamergate.

Rogan’s interview with Benjamin, which has nearly 2 million views, describes Benjamin as an “Anti-Identitarian liberal YouTuber.” It’s a misleading title for Rogan fans who might go on to view Benjamin’s work.

Benjamin, in turn, has also claimed not support the alt-right. Like other less explicitly racist members of the network, he’s hyped his “not racist” cred by promoting livestreamed “debates” (a favorite term in these circles) with white supremacists.

But the line between “debate” and collaboration can be indistinct, as Lewis noted in her study. She pointed to one such debate between Benjamin and Spencer, which was moderated by white nationalist creep Jean-Francois Gariepy, and which briefly became the world’s top trending live video on YouTube, with more than 10,000 live viewers.

“In his video with [Richard] Spencer, Benjamin was presumably debating against scientific racism, a stance he frequently echoes,” Lewis wrote in her study. “However, by participating in the debate, he was building a shared audience—and thus, a symbiotic relationship— with white nationalists. In fact, Benjamin has become a frequent guest on channels that host such ‘debates,’ which often function as group entertainment as much as genuine disagreements.”

Debates are often better measures of rhetorical skill than they are of an idea’s merits. A well-spoken idiot might stand a good chance against a shy expert in a televised argument. When they disagreed during the four-hour livestream, Spencer, a more practiced speaker, mopped the floor with Benjamin. The debate earned Spencer new followers, some of whom appear to have been lured in by the other YouTubers’ thinly-disguised bigotry.

“I’ve never really listened to Spencer speak before,” one commenter wrote. “But it is immediately apparent that he’s on a whole different level.”

And Benjamin has been willing to collaborate with further-right far right YouTubers when the circumstances benefited him.

“In many ways, we do have similar objectives,” he told the openly racist YouTuber Millennial Woes in one video cited in the study. “We have the same enemies, right? I mean, you guys hate the SJWs, I hate the SJWs. I want to see the complete destruction of social justice. . . . If the alt-right took the place of the SJWs, I would have a lot less to fear.”

“Some of the more mainstream conservatives or libertarians are able to have it both ways,” Lewis told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “They can say they reject the alt-right … but at the same time, there’s a lot of nudging and winking.”

Her report cited other instances of this phenomenon, including self-identified “classical liberal” YouTuber Dave Rubin, who promotes anti-progressive views on his talk show, where he hosts more extreme personalities, ostensibly for debate. But the debates can skew friendly. The study pointed to a conversation in which Rubin allowed far-right YouTuber Stefan Molyneux to make junk science claims unchecked. A description for the video encouraged viewers to do their own research, but provided links to Molyneux’s own content.

“It gives a generally unchallenged platform for that white nationalist and their ideas,” Lewis said on Tuesday.

YouTube’s algorithms can sometimes reward fringe content. Researcher Zeynep Tufekci previously highlighted the phenomenonwhen she noted that, after she watched footage of Donald Trump rallies, YouTube began recommending an increasingly radical series of white supremacist and conspiracy videos.

Lewis said YouTubers have learned to leverage the site’s algorithms, frontloading their videos with terms like “liberal” and “intersectional” in a bid to “hijack” search results that would typically be dominated by the left.

YouTube, which is built to keep users watching videos, might be a perfect recruiting platform for fringe movements, which want followers to remain similarly engaged.

“One way scholars of social movements often talk about recruitment is in terms of the capacity of the movement to bring in new recruits and then retain them,” Joan Donovan, a research lead at Data & Society said on Tuesday.“Social media is optimized for engagement, which is both recruitment of an audience and retention of that audience. These groups often use the tools of analytics to make sure they continue to grow their networks.”

Source: Inside YouTube’s Far-Right Radicalization Factory

Douglas Todd: Why say ‘inappropriate’ when we mean ‘wrong’?

Words matter. Sometimes appropriate may in fact be appropriate, other times stronger and clearer language is. Depends on the degree and context:

Anybody who feels repelled by the word “inappropriate” is a friend of mine.

It is an increasingly over-used term in public education, health and academia, a bit of bland jargon that is supposed to fill in for actions that used to be called “immoral.”

It’s fine to talk about how it is inappropriate for a man to don a muscle shirt for a gala dinner, since that is referring to mere etiquette. But it is not helpful to claim it is inappropriate to spread malicious gossip about a classmate, sell drugs tainted with fentanyl or wantonly pollute a creek.

Dennis Danielson, professor emeritus of English at the University of B.C., explores abuse of the word “inappropriate” as he builds a comprehensive case for bringing terms such as “right,” “wrong” and “should” back into the public sphere in Canada and the U.S., where such traditional concepts are deemed suspicious. If not inappropriate.

In a brilliant 80-page essay titled The Tao of Right and Wrong (Regent College Publishing), Danielson writes about how “natural philosophy” can move us beyond the core curricula in use in B.C., Ontario and most U.S. schools, which insinuate that students and teachers who have convictions about good and evil can be brushed off with: “But that’s just your opinion.”

Danielson begs to differ. And he offers “The Tao” as shorthand for the way to counter-act the confusing moral relativism that pervades secular education at virtually all levels. Danielson borrows the term, the Tao, from Eastern philosophy to describe the trans-cultural entity from which all moral judgment flows. He makes a convincing argument it’s real. And it matters.

It’s important, he recognizes, to have an ultimate ground for our ethical convictions, whether we’re trying to figure out how to treat strangers, to respond to climate change, to deal with global wealth inequality, to solve housing unaffordability or to combat racial discrimination and scientific data fudging. The Tao can provide direction.

But first, a few more words about the weasel word “inappropriate.” The literature professor considers it part of our “pale modern vocabulary,” which has infected the public realm, including politics, replacing words like “should,” “ought” and “good.”

Danielson, author of The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining The Universe From Heraclitus To Hawking, provides evidence from school curricula around North America that words such as “just,” “decent” and even “important” have been suppressed and replaced with pallid jargon, such as “appropriate.” Even vicious behaviour is simply described as “not up to expectations.”

Danielson, who has been receiving cancer treatment, said he recently went through education ministry documents from across Canada, such as Diversity in B.C. Schools. He found the “authors clearly desire to promote worthwhile things, but just can’t bring themselves to use scary vocabulary like ‘right’ (as distinct from ‘rights’), ‘wrong,‘ ‘good,’ bad,’ ‘evil’ or ‘virtue.’ Of course ‘appropriate’ is all over the place! There’s something pathetic about this.”

While Danielson doesn’t want to be seen as a naysayer — he respects how many teachers are trying to promote citizenship — he maintains in The Tao of Right and Wrong that the crucial piece many are missing is a sense of the ultimate reality that supports meaning and ethical behaviour.

That reality is pointed to in virtually all wisdom traditions, whether ancient Greek, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Confucian or Taoist. Even though humans will always be imperfect in their understandings of what Plato called “the right and just,” Danielson follows the lead of C.S. Lewis in using the concept of The Tao as a kind of umbrella term for the ultimate source of “goods and shoulds.”

He draws a parallel with mathematics to explain how we can commit to the “obvious” truth of universal admonitions, for instance, to treat others the way we would like to be treated, and to view all humans as brothers or sisters. Even though “obvious” can have a subjective dimension, Danielson cites how “most mathematicians agree that, once we thoroughly understand the terms of a mathematical axiom or theorem, its truth is self-evident, or obvious.”

UBC literature prof emeritus Dennis Danielson adopts the concept of The Tao as a kind of umbrella term for the ultimate source of “goods and shoulds.”

In this cynical era in which “values-free” educators teach that every attempt to define meaning is merely “socially constructed” — or, worse, an attempt to exert power over others — many will criticize Danielson’s approach as absolutistic or even black and white. But it’s not. It’s meaty and nuanced. He takes seriously that all human declarations are provisional, even while maintaining sacred values exist to which all can attune themselves.

What are some of those ultimate purposes, which used to be considered virtues? Danielson rightly promotes the classical values of courage, prudence, self-control and fairness.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see such virtues exhibited more often from trendsetting celebrity commentators, either conservative or liberal, who often lead the mob in trash-talking on Twitter, attempting to ostracize those who use moral reasoning to disagree with them? (The tragic irony of “values-free” education is it produces people with no skills in applied ethics; so when they do express opinions they often adopt a hectoring, self-righteous tone.)

I appreciate how Danielson, along with philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, places these classic virtues above what he calls “secondary” truths. And it’s no coincidence a key example of such secondary truths is something many multicultural Canadians contradictorily elevate into an outright absolute: Tolerance.

“Tolerance is clearly a virtue — until it is not. Innumerable codes of conduct across varying school systems — as well as government, law, health care and so on — today declare unapologetically that harassment, bullying, vandalism, violence, possession of illicit drugs, and the like ‘will not be tolerated,’” Danielson says.

“Well and good. But the problem is that teaching materials in those same school systems offer scant wisdom that might help young people or educators discern where the line should be drawn between virtuous tolerance and a principled refusal to tolerate.”

Why has Danielson felt compelled to write The Tao of Right and Wrong at this stage of his life? He believes the most important things facing the rising generation are questions of morality, meaning, virtue and purpose. But he believes many of the young are embarrassed to talk about them. “There are a lot of voices out there calling these things merely vacuous, ultimately made up, ‘constructed’,” he said.

“But with every fibre of my being I think that those things are real and significant — and when it comes down to it, are much more than just arbitrary or culturally specific. I think our future as a species very much depends on our treating them as real and significant. So, hoping to make a modest contribution to that recognition, I wrote this little book — and dedicated it to my youngest granddaughter.”

I could offer that I find Danielson’s motive for writing this new book to be quite “appropriate.” But I’d prefer to try to be true to the Tao and refer to it as right and good.

Source: Douglas Todd: Why say ‘inappropriate’ when we mean ‘wrong’?

Making society civil again

Good reflection on the need for civility. At the individual level, we all need to reflect on how we engage with others, in particular how we express our disagreements:

The United States media has been awash with debates about civility in recent months after a number of officials in Donald Trump’s administration have been heckled and shamed in public places.

Commentators have claimed the cause of incivility stems from everything from political orientation to Donald Trump’s leadership and the way we communicate on social media. The recent White House wavering on flag-lowering protocol following the death of Sen. John McCain has only reinforced the ubiquity of this issue, as did high-profile speakers calling for a return to civility at his funeral.

But eroding civility is not just a modern American affliction; Canada, the U.K. and others are not immune.

Respect and civility ultimately reflect our social competency. Their decline can be attributed to a number of factors in our modern world: Abrupt encounters between different beliefs (e.g., through immigration and refugee “crises”), the disbelief and denial that social inequalities still persist, social media algorithms that only expose us to beliefs that are similar to our own and the rise of both real and artificial online trolls.

The microcosm: Incivility in groups

Whether intentional or instinctual, human and non-human animals alike act in a way that ensures equitable exchanges within their group.

We seek balance. If we are treated in a respectful manner, we want to return the favour. If we feel slighted, we typically want reprisal. This is the catalyst for the spiral of incivility.

Incivility has become a persistent concern in workplaces around the world (e.g., U.S. and Japan). It reflects more general tendencies driven by features of individual psychology in group settings.

At work or at home, if we are treated in a respectful manner, we want to return the favour. If we feel slighted, we want reprisal. (Shutterstock)
Whether at work, at a restaurant, or at home, our expectations will ultimately depend on the kind of relationship we believe we share with those around us: Communal sharing in a family, equality with a co-worker, deference to a boss or even proportional cost and benefit in a market economy.

All of these expectations reflect possible models of fair interpersonal exchange that we might reference. Crucially, violating their norms can make us feel justified in engaging in verbal and nonverbal aggression.

Rather than being unethical or disrespectful, others simply might not share the same beliefs about what is appropriate in a given context: For example, as children grow older, the expectation of deference to a parent can turn into an expectation of equality — one that is not yet shared by the parent.

Civility requires that we make a concerted effort to understand each other. Despite our confidence in knowing the intentions of others, our accuracy can be quite low.

Depersonalizing ourselves, others online

All we truly know of each other are sundry fragments that are hastily gathered in a moment. Social judgments are made fast and furiously. Yet, understanding others is a multi-faceted competency that requires time to develop.

In an online setting, where many social cues are modest or absent, we are left with the written word. Without nonverbal cues discerning their meaning can be a daunting task. Online posts have become the Rorschach tests of our time. They are as ambiguous and equally inaccurate in predicting behaviour.

Making matters worse, when we feel like we are one of the crowd, we tend to misbehave. Anonymity, a lack of time, and stress can reduce helpful behaviour and increase antisocial behaviour.

In online spaces, we feel disinhibited. Online communities and dating sites are replete with uncivil behaviour. Rather than living in a community with repercussions, we practice avoidance. Rather than constructively confronting perceived inaccuracies we find in ourselves, we might run further away from one another and toward the fringes.

In the short run, we might preserve a fragile sense of self as a good and competent individual. In the long run, this isolation only reinforces perceived differences and places us in a bubble.

Losing contact with our leaders

Power can alter our behaviour. It can change what people want and how they attain their goals.

Leaders believe that they must symbolically represent the group and its values. If those with power feel it’s their duty to adhere to the values of the group, they will. If certain values are deemed irrelevant, they will be ignored: A leader might focus on a group’s finances and neglect its ethics.

Over the long term, leaders can trap themselves if these values are not realistically attainable over the course of their tenure. This moral hypocrisy places them in a precarious position. The higher the pedestal, the greater the fall. And people will push.

Wanting a world without ambiguity, followers often resort to rationalizing inconsistencies and can dismiss the proposals from those of other groups , something that can translate into real-world consequences.

Choosing the course of history

History is a willing tutor if we’re prepared to listen with a critical ear. When we come together to fight a common enemy, we can push back empires. When we lose common ground, our societies shatter.

A reading of the history of North America reflects an uneasy plurality. Whether historically or presently, evidence suggests that tensions can be reduced when faced with common threats. Leaders can and do manipulate this to increase cohesion within the majority. However, there is a price to pay.

In the Second World War, Japanese-Canadians paid the price. Now, an increase in hate crimes might suggest Canadian Muslims are footing the bill. The U.K. and the U.S. have their own variants.

Unless we want to become another failed stratum in the sediment of history like Rome, we must choose our responses wisely. When our barbarians are at the gates, will we be prepared?

The greatest threats are not as simple as identifiable countries or peoples. Instead, our common adversaries are largely self-made. Antibiotic-resistant diseases, climate change, workforces ill-equipped for seismic technological shifts and overly simplified rhetoric imperil us.

The endemic rashness of political discourse can no longer be tolerated.

Civility has a role to play here as we challenge ourselves and others. We must be humble with the limits of our knowledge. In an age when fact and opinion have become blurred for many, we must approach absolute statements with caution. This requires deliberation and respectful exchange. The more reasoned the arguments we take into consideration, the better off we will be.

Equally important, civility does not imply that all opinions have equal merit. Instead, we must invest time and effort in our response and avoid being stuck between reactive gut feelings and indifference. We must reflect on how we will be judged and remembered when the dust of history settles upon us.

In an irrevocably globalized world, civility is likely more important now than it has ever been.

Source: Make society civil again

The New Yorker, The Economist and Steve Bannon’s squad of useful idiots: Balkissoon

Find it hard to disagree with her fundamental points (although I have respect for David Frum):

Steve Bannon is going on tour, and venerable institutions are lining up to host him.

This week, the 93-year-old New Yorker and the 175-year-old Economist announced plans to have their editors-in-chief interview Mr. Bannon at separate live events this month. Organizers of the Munk Debates revealed that their first decade will be celebrated by having him debate “the rise of populism” with David Frum at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall in November.

Mr. Bannon is on the “pro” side: He’s a flashpoint figure in the populist wave washing over the globe. His past occupations include investment banker, vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and co-founder of Breitbart News, a web publication that he personally called “the platform for the alt-right” in 2016.

His White House appointment brought criticisms of anti-Semitism from the Southern Poverty Law Center. His time there included constructing the “travel ban” restricting movement into the United States from seven countries, most of them with majority Muslim populations. Just before his departure, the NAACP labelled him a “well-known white supremacist.”

To observers both inside and outside of the two publications, giving Mr. Bannon a platform was a bad idea.

Notable figures dropped off of both magazine agendas: At press time, The New Yorker had rescinded its invite, The Economist hadn’t and the backlash against Munk was just beginning. Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash said on Twitter that he’d still talk at the Economist event but would ditch his original topic to focus on “the consistent, immoral attacks Bannon has directed against the South Asian American community.”

Mr. Dash also said The Economist’s executives “are either foolishly getting exploited by providing a platform without any accountability, or are complicit in an awful agenda.” Let’s stick with the first idea today: that despite the big brains inside these institutions, they’ve become, in this instance, useful idiots.

The term refers to someone whose hubris prevents them from seeing they’re being used to spread the message of a nefarious actor. That’s always been Mr. Bannon’s goal – in February, he told Bloomberg News that he was never fighting the Democrats in the 2016 election. “The real opposition is the media,” he’s quoted as saying. “And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

It’s a dark plan, and it’s worked. Supposedly savvy outlets across the globe have been beaten at their own game by far-right propagandists time and again.

Richard Spencer got the left-leaning publication Mother Jones to call him “dapper.” Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie started out with gaming videos, got a Disney contract and evolved into a virulent racist: Although Disney dropped him, he hasn’t lost his popularity. Multipronged attacks by multiple extremists have made it so that journalists – including me – often seem to have no choice between ignoring them until something terrible happens, or helping to introduce their message to a new audience.

I’m not the first to say that the far-right onslaught is shaking the very foundations of journalism. This past May, the New York-based Data Society, which studies how new technologies affect culture, released “The Oxygen of Amplification: Better Practices for Reporting on Extremists, Antagonists and Manipulators.” It’s a detailed, 125-page outline of how pillars including open debate, free speech and balance have been twisted to sneak hate into the mainstream.

Take the belief that a debate of reasonable ideas helps get us out of our echo chambers. No insular bubbles are being popped at these events: Mr. Bannon, Mr. Frum, New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick and his Economist counterpart Zanny Minton Beddoes are all Ivy League graduates. New Yorker tickets start at US$17, but The Economist is charging US$49, and Munk seats go up to $100. If populism is about the working class, it would be good to have them in attendance.

More to the point, racism and xenophobia are not reasonable. They aren’t ideas, but harmful actions, happening now. Ask the Latin American migrants still separated from their children, or the people in Puerto Rico mourning their 3,000 dead while living without basic services almost a year after Hurricane Maria.

A woman was killed at last year’s white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., and it was after repeated consultations with Mr. Bannon that Mr. Trump responded. The President eventually blamed “both sides” for the violence – a false equivalency that equates resisting violence with starting it, and manipulates the journalistic tenet of balance.

The world has “debated” hateful ideologies time and again – choose your genocide, and the “never again” declaration that came afterward – and letting them be revisited is, quite frankly, stupid. It’s not an opportunity for intellectual discourse. It’s allowing violence to go unchecked, to sweep up vulnerable people, and to grow.

Mr. Bannon knows it, so why don’t experienced journalists? The answer is ego: the desire to go head-to-head with infamy, the belief that their personal smarts can’t be outsmarted and the inability to admit when one is being used. Pride comes before a fall, and it’s revealing supposedly intelligent people as idiots.

MacDougall: Journalists are addicted to Twitter, and it’s poisoning their journalism

Valid points by MacDougall. Other observation, to be corrected as necessary by journalists, is the degree to which it cuts down on their time for more detailed investigation and reporting, thus resulting in less deep coverage of issues:

What’s the problem with the media?

Ping a journalist that question, and you’ll get back chapter and verse about the money problems facing newsrooms and the indifference of advertising-stealing platforms such as Facebook and Google.

Ask a random bloke on the street, however, and there’s a good chance the answer will be “bias” or “trust,” as in: “I don’t trust the press, they’re all biased.”

Ah, yes. The “fake” news. The “enemies of the people.” It’s not the best time to be repping the fourth estate.

The question now is how the press should fix their dismal approval ratings. A good start would be to stop being their own worst enemies. And a good place to start with that is ditching social media. It’s simply too easy for opinions to slip into posts that would never make it into news copy, leading to perceptions of bias.

Reporters should instead treat social media like the poison it is. For one, it’s not a representative sample of the public. Nor is the “shoot-first, think-later” mentality encouraged conducive to good journalism. Most importantly, social media reveals way too much of a reporter’s own bias to the people they cover and the people who read that coverage.

The ability of social media to reveal reporter bias has been apparent for years, but it’s shifted into overdrive now that Donald Trump has turned Twitter into grotesque political performance art, dragging an enraged global press corps with him, most of whom tweet their disgust or puzzlement at what the president does every day. And it’s affecting political journalism in every country. A day now isn’t a day without reporters broadcasting hot takes that risk tainting the coverage they ultimately provide.

And while it’s true most media organizations have guidelines or social media codes of conduct — most of which prohibit opining — they are largely self-enforced. Stretched editors simply can’t track their charges all day long on Twitter.

Forget about columnists, who are paid to give their opinion; it’s a mystery why straight news reporters would want to reveal anything about themselves or their views on public policy. Most politicians already think the press is biased — why risk confirming it for them in real-time?

Why, for example, would a freelance journalist want Conservative leader Andrew Scheer to know that his views on Scheer’s views on government are that they are a “ridiculous collection of straw men?” They might be, but good luck convincing Scheer’s people that anything you ever write will be a fair shake.

Sadly, it’s not just the smaller fish in the profession who blunder in this way; the problem reaches up much higher.

Lots of people heaped scorn on Maxime Bernier’s clumsy foray into multicuralism on Twitter before his split from the Conservative party, but did one of them really need to be the senior broadcast producer of Canada’s most-watched television news broadcast?

And then there was Rosemary Barton of the CBC, who suggested on Twitter that her network didn’t have a clue about Bernier’s motives for tweeting about diversity, even though reporter Evan Dyer inferred in his report that the one-year anniversary of the alt-right march in Charlottesville had informed Bernier’s timing, if not his thinking.

These examples are the kind of clever or knowing things journalists have always said to each other or their subjects. In private. Now they fire away for all to see. And for what? A bushel of RT’s and “likes”?

Ten years or so into the folly of social media, it should by now be clear that it’s the ranters and shouters who get the most clicks, not the neutral observer. Reporters should stop trying to play the game.

Ten years or so into the folly of social media, it should by now be clear that it’s the ranters and shouters who get the most clicks, not the neutral observer. Reporters should stop trying to play the game.

They should instead go back to being a mystery. To valuing personal scarcity over ubiquity. To ditching Twitter, and forgetting Facebook. Or, at least limiting appearances there to the posting of their work. They should also say “no” to shouty panel appearances alongside partisans.

Reporters might even find the lack of distraction focuses them on their work. And if a politician’s B.S. needs to be called out in real-time, reporters should have an editor or colleague peek over their shoulder to give them a sense check on tone. Because even super-fact checkers such as Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star can appear biased owing to the sheer volume of material they post to their channels. And most reporters aren’t dedicated super-fact checkers, they’re just smart people with opinions, ones the news-consuming public shouldn’t know.

Political journalism is at a crossroads. Reporters need to keep doing their valuable work. But do the work, full stop. Keep your opinions to yourself. More people will believe the good work you do if they have no idea who in the hell you are, or what you think about what’s going on.

Here’s the Conversation We Really Need to Have About Bias at Google

Ongoing issue of bias in algorithms:

Let’s get this out of the way first: There is no basis for the charge that President Trump leveled against Google this week — that the search engine, for political reasons, favored anti-Trump news outlets in its results. None.

Mr. Trump also claimed that Google advertised President Barack Obama’s State of the Union addresses on its home page but did not highlight his own. That, too, was false, as screenshots show that Google did link to Mr. Trump’s address this year.

But that concludes the “defense of Google” portion of this column. Because whether he knew it or not, Mr. Trump’s false charges crashed into a longstanding set of worries about Google, its biases and its power. When you get beyond the president’s claims, you come upon a set of uncomfortable facts — uncomfortable for Google and for society, because they highlight how in thrall we are to this single company, and how few checks we have against the many unseen ways it is influencing global discourse.

In particular, a raft of research suggests there is another kind of bias to worry about at Google. The naked partisan bias that Mr. Trump alleges is unlikely to occur, but there is a potential problem for hidden, pervasive and often unintended bias — the sort that led Google to once return links to many pornographic pages for searches for “black girls,” that offered “angry” and “loud” as autocomplete suggestions for the phrase “why are black women so,” or that returned pictures of black people for searches of “gorilla.”

I culled these examples — which Google has apologized for and fixed, but variants of which keep popping up — from “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism,” a book by Safiya U. Noble, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication.

Dr. Noble argues that many people have the wrong idea about Google. We think of the search engine as a neutral oracle, as if the company somehow marshals computers and math to objectively sift truth from trash.

But Google is made by humans who have preferences, opinions and blind spots and who work within a corporate structure that has clear financial and political goals. What’s more, because Google’s systems are increasingly created by artificial intelligence tools that learn from real-world data, there’s a growing possibility that it will amplify the many biases found in society, even unbeknown to its creators.

Google says it is aware of the potential for certain kinds of bias in its search results, and that it has instituted efforts to prevent them. “What you have from us is an absolute commitment that we want to continually improve results and continually address these problems in an effective, scalable way,” said Pandu Nayak, who heads Google’s search ranking team. “We have not sat around ignoring these problems.”

For years, Dr. Noble and others who have researched hidden biases — as well as the many corporate critics of Google’s power, like the frequent antagonist Yelp — have tried to start a public discussion about how the search company influences speech and commerce online.

There’s a worry now that Mr. Trump’s incorrect charges could undermine such work. “I think Trump’s complaint undid a lot of good and sophisticated thought that was starting to work its way into public consciousness about these issues,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia who has studied Google and Facebook’s influence on society.

Dr. Noble suggested a more constructive conversation was the one “about one monopolistic platform controlling the information landscape.”

So, let’s have it.

Google’s most important decisions are secret

In the United States, about eight out of 10 web searches are conducted through Google; across Europe, South America and India, Google’s share is even higher. Google also owns other major communications platforms, among them YouTube and Gmail, and it makes the Android operating system and its app store. It is the world’s dominant internet advertising company, and through that business, it also shapes the market for digital news.

Google’s power alone is not damning. The important question is how it manages that power, and what checks we have on it. That’s where critics say it falls down.

Google’s influence on public discourse happens primarily through algorithms, chief among them the system that determines which results you see in its search engine. These algorithms are secret, which Google says is necessary because search is its golden goose (it does not want Microsoft’s Bing to know what makes Google so great) and because explaining the precise ways the algorithms work would leave them open to being manipulated.

But this initial secrecy creates a troubling opacity. Because search engines take into account the time, place and some personalized factors when you search, the results you get today will not necessarily match the results I get tomorrow. This makes it difficult for outsiders to investigate bias across Google’s results.

A lot of people made fun this week of the paucity of evidence that Mr. Trump put forward to support his claim. But researchers point out that if Google somehow went rogue and decided to throw an election to a favored candidate, it would only have to alter a small fraction of search results to do so. If the public did spot evidence of such an event, it would look thin and inconclusive, too.

“We really have to have a much more sophisticated sense of how to investigate and identify these claims,” said Frank Pasquale, a professor at the University of Maryland’s law school who has studied the role that algorithms play in society.

In a law review article published in 2010, Mr. Pasquale outlined a way for regulatory agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to gain access to search data to monitor and investigate claims of bias. No one has taken up that idea. Facebook, which also shapes global discourse through secret algorithms, recently sketched out a plan to give academic researchers access to its data to investigate bias, among other issues.

Google has no similar program, but Dr. Nayak said the company often shares data with outside researchers. He also argued that Google’s results are less “personalized” than people think, suggesting that search biases, when they come up, will be easy to spot.

“All our work is out there in the open — anyone can evaluate it, including our critics,” he said.

Search biases mirror real-world ones

The kind of blanket, intentional bias Mr. Trump is claiming would necessarily involve many workers at Google. And Google is leaky; on hot-button issues — debates over diversity or whether to work with the military — politically minded employees have provided important information to the media. If there was even a rumor that Google’s search team was skewing search for political ends, we would likely see some evidence of such a conspiracy in the media.

That’s why, in the view of researchers who study the issue of algorithmic bias, the more pressing concern is not about Google’s deliberate bias against one or another major political party, but about the potential for bias against those who do not already hold power in society. These people — women, minorities and others who lack economic, social and political clout — fall into the blind spots of companies run by wealthy men in California.

It’s in these blind spots that we find the most problematic biases with Google, like in the way it once suggested a spelling correction for the search “English major who taught herself calculus” — the correct spelling, Google offered, was “English major who taught himself calculus.”

Why did it do that? Google’s explanation was not at all comforting: The phrase “taught himself calculus” is a lot more popular online than “taught herself calculus,” so Google’s computers assumed that it was correct. In other words, a longstanding structural bias in society was replicated on the web, which was reflected in Google’s algorithm, which then hung out live online for who knows how long, unknown to anyone at Google, subtly undermining every female English major who wanted to teach herself calculus.

Eventually, this error was fixed. But how many other such errors are hidden in Google? We have no idea.

Google says it understands these worries, and often addresses them. In 2016, some people noticed that it listed a Holocaust-denial site as a top result for the search “Did the Holocaust happen?” That started a large effort at the company to address hate speech and misinformation online. The effort, Dr. Nayak said, shows that “when we see real-world biases making results worse than they should be, we try to get to the heart of the problem.”

Google has escaped recent scrutiny

Yet it is not just these unintended biases that we should be worried about. Researchers point to other issues: Google’s algorithms favor recency and activity, which is why they are so often vulnerable to being manipulated in favor of misinformation and rumor in the aftermath of major news events. (Google says it is working on addressing misinformation.)

Some of Google’s rivals charge that the company favors its own properties in its search results over those of third-party sites — for instance, how it highlights Google’s local reviews instead of Yelp’s in response to local search queries.

Regulators in Europe have already fined Google for this sort of search bias. In 2012, the F.T.C.’s antitrust investigators found credible evidence of unfair search practices at Google. The F.T.C.’s commissioners, however, voted unanimously against bringing charges. Google denies any wrongdoing.

The danger for Google is that Mr. Trump’s charges, however misinformed, create an opening to discuss these legitimate issues.

On Thursday, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, called for the F.T.C. to reopen its Google investigation. There is likely more to come. For the last few years, Facebook has weathered much of society’s skepticism regarding big tech. Now, it may be Google’s time in the spotlight.

Source: Here’s the Conversation We Really Need to Have About Bias at …

Andrew Coyne: Trump doesn’t deserve civility, but it’s the best weapon against him

Good arguments by Coyne on resisting descending to the gutter, even if hard to do so:

All in all it’s been a fine season for the tu quoque.

As America’s nervous breakdown continues apace, there has been a sudden outbreak of concern for the decline in civility, particularly among supporters of President Civility, Donald Trump.

The signs, it seems, are everywhere: the Homeland Security secretary was hounded out of a restaurant by protesters. The White House press secretary was asked to leave by management at another. Here in Canada, things have gotten so out of hand that several Ottawa dignitaries declined to attend this year’s 4th of July party at the US ambassador’s.

All of which has been fodder for yet more vituperation on social media, where incivility has been the norm since day one. Critics, particularly on the left, have scoffed at the suggestion there is anything particularly new or over the line about the insults lately offered members of the Trump administration, not least given the constant stream of insults spewing from the gold-plated spigot in the Oval Office.

Surely, they ask, the people first to decry the chilling effects of political correctness on free speech have not suddenly themselves turned into snowflakes? To which the right replies: wait, so now the left is in favour of free speech? You mean now it’s OK for a business to refuse service to someone on the basis of certain deeply held beliefs? To which the response from the left, inevitably, is: you mean you’re no longer defending their right to do so?

And everyone has had a perfectly marvellous time calling each other out for their hypocrisy. These days, that’s the only sin anyone bothers with, since it requires no judgments, but only comparisons.

It does seem a bit late in the day to be fretting about the absence of civility in American public life. Nor would rudeness, as such, rank among the more pressing of the Great Republic’s problems at the moment. Whatever discomfort the Homeland Security secretary might have endured on her night out, her critics are surely right to say it is nothing compared to the suffering the administration she serves has imposed on, oh, immigrant children, for example.

So no, I’m not particularly moved by sympathy for Trump officials. Nor am I of a mind to scold the protesters for their bad manners. I would only ask: what purpose are they trying to achieve? Because if the intent is actually to persuade anyone who is not already opposed to the president and his policies, this is the very worst way to go about it.

The argument for civility in debate is an old one, and not much heard these days. In the online world it tends to be regarded as an affectation, a luxury only the privileged can afford.

But the case for civility is not grounded in a concern for mere decorum. It’s really one of self-interest. Treating opponents civilly — listening to their arguments, rather than shouting them down; presenting them fairly, without caricature; addressing them squarely, without ad hominems — isn’t just good manners. It’s smart strategy.

Yes, much harm is done to the general climate of debate when it descends into shouting and name-calling. But the worst harm done by such behaviour, in my observation, is to the cause of those engaging in it.

Because if you want people who do not already share your views to listen to you — not your opponents, necessarily, but the broad mass of people who are typically somewhere in between — if that matters to you, they won’t do so if you’re shouting. And the louder you shout, the less they’ll hear you.

This isn’t just a matter of sticking to facts and arguments; as important as that is, it’s frankly secondary in the real world of how opinions are formed. Rather, people often judge matters of controversy in the light of their impressions of the combatants.

We are hard-wired to be more persuaded by people who themselves seem open to persuasion: who are led by facts rather than preconceptions; who have understood the opposing view and can rebut it, not in caricature, but on its most reasonable possible construction; and, perhaps most importantly, who treat us as if we were reasonable people ourselves — who talk to us as adults, rather than shouting or talking down to us.

The “rules” of debate, that is, are there for the disputants’ own good. When people don’t follow the rules, we tend to conclude, not that their position is so obviously superior as to absolve them of such petty constraints, but rather that they have something to hide — either that they haven’t fully understood their opponents’ arguments, or worse, that they have, and cannot answer them.

But, you’re saying, what has this got to do with Trump? This might be good advice in normal times, against a normal opponent, but these are not those, and he is not that. Aren’t I just “normalizing” Trump?

There is a danger of that, admittedly. Anybody in the persuasion game soon learns of the danger of being equally outraged by everything. You have to keep a “high C” in reserve that you can go to when things get truly outrageous.

The difficulty Trump presents is that he says and does about six things a day that would normally call for the coloratura treatment. Do so, and you risk people tuning out. But fail to do so, and you are effectively giving him a volume discount.

But you don’t escape this dilemma by ignoring it. The thing that would truly “normalize” Trump is if everyone got down in the gutter with him. The one true weapon that decent people have against him is decency, and the power of the opposite example.

It is the path not just of reason, but I dare say cunning.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Trump doesn’t deserve civility, but it’s the best weapon against him

Fighting fire with fire: Rudeness can be as contagious as a common cold, research shows

While I fully understand the impulse for replying or acting in kind to the Trump administration and their enablers, this only further coarsens societal norms.

The sound advice below is hard to implement but it starts with greater self-awareness:

“When you experience incivility, it’s important to take a step back and not act on your impulses. Do things that help you recover your ability to self-regulate, like exercise or taking a break,” he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged, “Our research shows people are often not even aware of their reactions and the way they spread negativity. So some of these recommendations for how to stop it are easier said than done.”

So try to develop a reflex of asking whether a proposed remark or tweet is likely to coarsen or improve tone and substance:

These are rude times we live in.

And many people find themselves struggling with how to respond. Do they fight fire with fire or try somehow to take the moral high ground?

Scientific research has surprisingly quite a lot to say about it all.

Trevor Foulk, who researches organizational behaviour at the University of Maryland, likens rudeness to the common cold: It’s contagious.

“When it comes to incivility, there’s often a snowballing effect. The more you see rudeness, the more likely you are to perceive it from others and the more likely you are to be rude yourself to others,” he said.

The debate over civility kicked into high gear after a Virginia restaurant asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave because employees didn’t want to serve her. That followed the outright heckling of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen as she ate at a D.C. Mexican restaurant. Some people, like Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, have called for more such confrontations with Trump officials. Others warn of a race to the bottom and plea for an end to the boorishness.

Trump opted for insulting the restaurant, Waters and others.

Trump tweeted “The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”

Such cycles — now repeated on a weekly or even daily basis and spreading quickly online — are driven in part by our unconscious reactions, experts say.

In a 2016 study, Christopher Rosen, an organizational scientist at the University of Arkansas, tracked employees over the course of their work days. He and fellow researchers found that individuals who experienced a perceived insult earlier in the day would later strike back at co-workers. Using psychological tests, the researchers linked that reaction to lowered levels of self-control.

“When someone is uncivil to you, it forces you to spend a lot of mental energy trying to figure out what’s going on, what caused the rudeness, what it means,” Rosen said in an interview Monday. “All that thinking lessens your capacity for impulse control. So you become more prone to be rude to others… People in a way ‘pay it forward.’”

In recent years, rising concerns over incivility — insults, condescension, dismissiveness and the like — have led to increasing research on the topic by social scientists and psychologists.

In a series of experiments, for example, Foulk and others showed that the more that people witness and experience rudeness, the more they are predisposed to interpret an action as rude and then act toward others in rude ways.

“Rudeness is interesting in that it’s often ambiguous and open to interpretation,” he said. “If someone punches you, for example, we would all agree that it’s abusive. But if someone comes up to you and says in a neutral voice ‘nice shoes,’ is that an insult? Is it sarcasm or something else?” The more someone has witnessed rudeness, “the more likely you are to interpret ‘nice shoes’ as deliberately rude.”

In one study, workers were shown videos every morning before work. On the mornings when those videos included an uncivil interaction, the workers were more likely to interpret subsequent interactions throughout their day as rude.

In another study on negotiations, Foulk found that if someone experiences rudeness from a person on the opposing side, the next person they negotiate with is highly likely to perceive them as rude, too. Even when the two negotiations took place seven days apart, the contagion effect was just as strong.

“What is so scary about this effect is that it’s an automatic process — it takes place in a part of your brain that you are not aware of, can’t stop, and can’t control,” Foulk wrote in a summary of his findings.

Other studies also suggest incivility by top brass — whether immediate supervisors or CEOs — has an outsized influence on the uncivil behaviour of those below them.

But perhaps most worrisome is the effect of all this growing incivility. Mounting research shows rudeness can cause employees to be chronically distracted, less productive and less creative. Researchers have shown how incivility can lower trust, spark feelings of anger, fear and sadness, and cause depression. One study found increased incivility at work had personal life implications, such as less marital satisfaction.

And two studies in 2015 and 2017 found that doctors and nurses in neonatal intensive care units who were scolded by an actress playing the mother of a sick infant performed much more poorly than those who did not — even misdiagnosing the infant’s condition.

“The results were scary,” one of the authors told the Wall Street Journal. “The teams exposed to rudeness gave the wrong diagnosis, didn’t resuscitate or ventilate appropriately, didn’t communicate well, gave the wrong medications and made other serious mistakes.”

Researchers have struggled in vain to come up with ways to stop the spreading effects of rudeness. Those who studied the hospital neonatal staffs, for example, tried having the doctors and nurses write about their interaction from the perspective of the rude mother. Doing so made no difference.

Rosen has a simpler suggestion. “When you experience incivility, it’s important to take a step back and not act on your impulses. Do things that help you recover your ability to self-regulate, like exercise or taking a break,” he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged, “Our research shows people are often not even aware of their reactions and the way they spread negativity. So some of these recommendations for how to stop it are easier said than done.”

Source: Fighting fire with fire: Rudeness can be as contagious as a common cold, research shows

Opinion | The Ignorant Do Not Have a Right to an Audience – The New York Times

As I am working on an article on possible guidelines for panelists and presenters on immigration, found this commentary by Bryan W. Van Norden of interest. His distinction between free speech and being given a platform is valid, and his examples compelling:

On June 17, the political commentator Ann Coulter, appearing as a guest on Fox News, asserted that crying migrant children separated from their parents are “child actors.” Does this groundless claim deserve as much airtime as, for example, a historically informed argument from Ta-Nehisi Coates that structural racism makes the American dream possible?

Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has complained that men can’t “control crazy women” because men “have absolutely no respect” for someone they cannot physically fight. Does this adolescent opinion deserve as much of an audience as the nuanced thoughts of Kate Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University, about the role of “himpathy” in supporting misogyny?

We may feel certain that Coulter and Peterson are wrong, but some people feel the same way about Coates and Manne. And everyone once felt certain that the Earth was the center of the solar system. Even if Coulter and Peterson are wrong, won’t we have a deeper understanding of why racism and sexism are mistaken if we have to think for ourselves about their claims? And “who’s to say” that there isn’t some small fragment of truth in what they say?

If this specious line of thought seems at all plausible to you, it is because of the influence of “On Liberty,” published in 1859 by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill’s argument for near-absolute freedom of speech is seductively simple. Any given opinion that someone expresses is either wholly true, partly true or false.

To claim that an unpopular or offensive opinion cannot be true “is to assume our own infallibility.” And if an offensive opinion is true, to limit its expression is clearly bad for society. If an opinion is partly true, we should listen to it, because “it is only by the collision of adverse opinions, that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.” And even if an opinion is false, society will benefit by examining the reasons it is false. Unless a true view is challenged, we will hold it merely “in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds.”

The problem with Mill’s argument is that he takes for granted a naïve conception of rationality that he inherited from Enlightenment thinkers like René Descartes. For such philosophers, there is one ahistorical rational method for discovering truth, and humans (properly educated) are approximately equal in their capacity for appreciating these truths. We know that “of all things, good sense is the most fairly distributed,” Descartes assures us, because “even those who are the hardest to satisfy in every other respect never desire more of it than they already have.”

Of course, Mill and Descartes disagreed fundamentally about what the one ahistorical rational method is — which is one of the reasons for doubting the Enlightenment dogma that there is such a method.

If you do have faith in a universal method of reasoning that everyone accepts, then the Millian defense of absolute free speech is sound. What harm is there in people hearing obvious falsehoods and specious argumentation if any sane and minimally educated person can see through them? The problem, though, is that humans are not rational in the way Mill assumes. I wish it were self-evident to everyone that we should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, but the current vice president of the United States does not agree. I wish everyone knew that it is irrational to deny the evidence that there was a mass shooting in Sandy Hook, but a syndicated radio talk show host can make a career out of arguing for the contrary.

Historically, Millian arguments have had some good practical effects. Mill followed Alexis de Tocqueville in identifying “the tyranny of the majority” as an ever-present danger in democracies. As an advocate of women’s rights and an opponent of slavery, Mill knew that many people then regarded even the discussion of these issues as offensive. He hoped that by making freedom of speech a near absolute right he could guarantee a hearing for opinions that were true but unpopular among most of his contemporaries.

However, our situation is very different from that of Mill. We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” This form of “free speech,” ironically, supports the tyranny of the majority.

The media are motivated primarily by getting the largest audience possible. This leads to a skewed conception about which controversial perspectives deserve airtime, and what “both sides” of an issue are. How often do you see controversial but well-informed intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Martha Nussbaum on television? Meanwhile, the former child-star Kirk Cameron appears on television to explain that we should not believe in evolutionary theory unless biologists can produce a “crocoduck” as evidence. No wonder we are experiencing what Marcuse described as “the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda.”

Marcuse was insightful in diagnosing the problems, but part of the solution he advocated was suppressing right-wing perspectives. I believe that this is immoral (in part because it would be impossible to do without the exercise of terror) and impractical (given that the internet was actually invented to provide an unblockable information network). Instead, I suggest that we could take a big step forward by distinguishing free speech from just access. Access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole.

There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas. When Nathaniel Abraham was fired in 2004 from his position at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute because he admitted to his employer that he did not believe in evolution, it was not a case of censorship of an unpopular opinion. Abraham thinks that he knows better than other scientists (and better than other Christians, like Pope Francis, who reminded the faithful that God is not “a magician, with a magic wand”). Abraham has every right to express his ignorant opinion to any audience that is credulous enough to listen. However, Abraham does not have a right to a share of the intellectual capital that comes from being associated with a prestigious scientific institution like Woods Hole.

Similarly, the top colleges and universities that invite Charles Murray to share his junk science defenses of innate racial differences in intelligence (including Columbia and New York University) are not promoting fair and balanced discourse. For these prestigious institutions to deny Murray an audience would be for them to exercise their fiduciary responsibility as the gatekeepers of rational discourse. We have actually seen a good illustration of what I mean by “just access” in ABC’s courageous decision to cancel “Roseanne,” its highest-rated show. Starring on a television show is a privilege, not a right. Roseanne compared a black person to an ape. Allowing a show named after her to remain on the air would not be impartiality; it would be tacitly endorsing the racist fantasy that her views are part of reasonable mainstream debate.

Donald Trump, first as candidate and now as president, is such a significant news story that responsible journalists must report on him. But this does not mean that he should be allowed to set the terms of the debate. Research shows that repeatedly hearing assertions increases the likelihood of belief — even when the assertions are explicitly identified as false. Consequently, when journalists repeat Trump’s repeated lies, they are actually increasing the probability that people will believe them.

Even when journalistic responsibility requires reporting Trump’s views, this does not entail giving all of his spokespeople an audience. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” set a good precedent for just access by banning from the show Kellyanne Conway for casually spouting “alternative facts.”

Marcuse also suggested, ominously, that we should not “renounce a priori violence against violence.” Like most Americans, I spontaneously cheered when I saw the white nationalist Richard Spencer punched in the face during an interview. However, as I have noted elsewhere, Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us that nonviolent protest is not only a moral demand (although it is that too); it is the highest strategic cunning. Violence plays into the hands of our opponents, who relish the opportunity to play at being martyrs. Consequently, while it was wrong for Middlebury College to invite Murray to speak, it was even more wrong for students to assault Murray and a professor escorting himacross campus. (Ironically, the professor who was injured in this incident is a critic of Murray who gave a Millian defense of allowing him to speak on campus.)

What just access means in terms of positive policy is that institutions that are the gatekeepers to the public have a fiduciary responsibility to award access based on the merit of ideas and thinkers. To award space in a campus lecture hall to someone like Peterson who says that feminists “have an unconscious wish for brutal male domination,” or to give time on a television news show to someone like Coulter who asserts that in an ideal world all Americans would convert to Christianity, or to interview a D-list actor like Jenny McCarthy about her view that actual scientists are wrong about the public health benefits of vaccines is not to display admirable intellectual open-mindedness. It is to take a positive stand that these views are within the realm of defensible rational discourse, and that these people are worth taking seriously as thinkers.

Neither is true: These views are specious, and those who espouse them are, at best, ignorant, at worst, sophists. The invincibly ignorant and the intellectual huckster have every right to express their opinions, but their right to free speech is not the right to an audience.

via Opinion | The Ignorant Do Not Have a Right to an Audience – The New York Times

Ignore the alarmists, there is no language crisis in Quebec, economists say

Interesting and pertinent analysis of Census language data, using the different measures, and the resulting complexities of mixed linguistic unions:

Quebec’s June 24 Fête nationale is a celebration rooted in an impulse for preservation. Behind the parades, concerts and bonfires across the province this weekend lays a reminder of the ever-present need to defend the French language.

It is a message regularly reinforced by the media and politicians, from reports highlighting a decline in the proportion of Quebecers with French as their mother tongue to dismay over Montreal merchants embracing English with a ‘Bonjour-Hi’ greeting.

In fact, it is hard to imagine a Quebec without a serious language issue. But according to the author of a new economic study for a Montreal think tank, that Quebec already exists.

Analyzing the supply and demand of English and French in Quebec over the 40 years since the language law known as Bill 101 was introduced, the study by Université de Montréal economics professor François Vaillancourt finds the law and other measures have done their job.

Knowledge of French has increased despite a drop in the share of French mother-tongue speakers. Francophone employers dominate the Quebec economy. And speaking only French is no longer a brake on earning power.

“Quebec language policy will always face challenges, since Quebec is surrounded by anglophones,” the study for the CIRANO research group concludes. “But considering the picture presented in this paper, we must set aside language policies that regard English as the language of conquest and not the language of international openness.”

He is an economist, but Vaillancourt is intimately familiar with Quebec language law. In 1977 he was recruited to work as a consultant to Parti Québécois cultural development minister Camille Laurin in the drafting of Bill 101.

Forty years later, he decided it was time to assess the impact, and his paper published last month is the result.

Quebec Premier Rene Levesque tries to hush supporters at a Parti Quebecois rally in Montreal, Nov.15, 1976, following his party’s victory in the provincial election. The PQ victory led to the landmark Charter of the French Language, more commonly known as Bill 101, which became law on Aug. 26, 1977.

“Essentially, we are told two things,” Vaillancourt says in an interview. “There are fewer Quebecers with French as a mother tongue, and at the same time Montreal is becoming more English. That is true, but it is not the whole story. There are other things going on.”

For one thing, the percentage of the Quebec population able to speak French rose to 94.5 per cent in 2016 from 88.5 per cent in 1971, before Bill 101 was adopted. Because of the province’s selection criteria, more than half of immigrants to Quebec today already speak French, and Bill 101’s requirement that their children attend French school has ensured future generations become fluent.

To an economist’s eye, this is an increase in the supply of French speakers, and it has coincided with an increased demand, as francophones took control of the Quebec economy and workplaces became more French.

Vaillancourt has found that French is more common in the workplace when the ownership is francophone, and he notes that between 1961 and 2003 — the last year for which data is available — francophone-owned companies went from employing 47 per cent of workers to 67 per cent.

Using census data, Vaillancourt documents a steady increase in the income of unilingual francophones in comparison to their unilingual anglophone counterparts. For example, in 1970, a unilingual anglophone man earned on average 10 per cent more than a unilingual francophone man with comparable education. By 2010, the advantage had flipped to the unilingual francophone, who was earning 10 per cent more than a unilingual anglophone — and eight per cent more than a bilingual anglophone.

Economists Vincent Geloso and Alex Arsenault Morin have also written a paper challenging the commonly held view that French is in decline in Quebec.

The reality, they say, is that language-usage patterns have become much more complex as a result of immigration and “inter-linguistic marriages.” Their 2016 paper says that while census data shows a slight decline between 2001 and 2011 in the proportion of people speaking French at home, it is compensated for by an increase in those using French at work.

“In other words, 88 per cent of the population of Quebec have French as their most often used language at home, at work or in both spaces. The apparent decline of French in Quebec is then a consequence of a rise in multilingualism,” they write.

Statisticians struggle to keep up with evolving behavior that muddies once reliable measures such as mother tongue and language spoken at home.

“Before, if you were a French speaker, you married a French speaker, you worked in a French job and that was it,” Geloso, an assistant professor at Bates College in Maine, says in an interview.

“Now you may be a French speaker who marries an English person and works a French job. … It’s not because somebody uses English 30 per cent of his life instead of zero per cent that French is in a crisis, especially if some English speakers in the process start speaking more French on a daily basis.”

Vaillancourt says language has practically become a matter of faith in Quebec, with people worshipping at the altar of Bill 101 instead of the Catholic Church. But he thinks it is time to challenge the language-law orthodoxy.

He notes that the majority of people affected by Bill 101’s schooling restrictions are francophones, because they are prevented from sending their children to English school.

“That’s fine, but I don’t think having a common language necessarily implies depriving ourselves of understanding another language,” he says.

In 2011, just 38 per cent of Quebec francophones were bilingual, according to census results, compared with 61 per cent of Quebec anglophones. Vaillancourt proposes a mandatory one-year English immersion program for all students in French schools. He acknowledges there could be an increased “risk of assimilation” but says Quebecers’ economic potential would grow.

In parallel, with a view to ensuring all employees are able to provide service in French, he recommends that anglophones should be obliged to have part of their schooling in French, either in an immersion program or in French schools.

Quebec should draw inspiration from the Netherlands, where 90 per cent of the population speaks English, 71 per cent speaks German, and no one worries about he disappearance of the Dutch language, Vaillancourt says.

And if ever a widespread knowledge of English in Quebec led to the disappearance of francophone Quebec hundreds of years from now, “it would have to be understood that this is the result of the choice of francophones themselves and not a forced assimilation,” he concludes.

Source: Ignore the alarmists, there is no language crisis in Quebec, economists say