Should professors have more free speech rights than others?

If we engaged in widely publicized hateful or hurtful or vile speech, our employers would likely begin job termination procedures within 24 hours regardless of whether we made such comments in a private capacity or not.

As the NY Times notes, “Speaking Freely About Politics Can Cost You Your Job“. Private sector workers ‘ “…don’t have the right to speak freely in the workplace.” Or even outside it.’ Unlike public sector workers: “… anyone who works for a government office, whether local, state or federal, is for the most part protected by the First Amendment”. In other words, public sector workers have a greater free speech right than do private sector workers (which is most of the workers in the country). This disparity warps public discourse as one very large cohort can be vocal while the other must often remain silent.

Professors and teachers argue their speech is protected by “academic freedom”, which they assert protects them from sanctions (or as seen below, even criticism by others) for engaging in hate speech. They assert they have greater speech rights than the rest of us. Randa Jarrar  says “I will never be fired” because she says, she has tenure:

While she asserts that her tenure gives her absolute freedom of speech, university officials publicly disagreed with her claim. Further views on that from the Washington Post.

A different Fresno State professor argues, in so many words, that objecting to his speech is wrong – while simultaneously condemning the speech of those criticizing him for his comments.  He asserts that due to academic freedom he has greater free speech rights than the rest of us and that he should be exempt from consequences (Read it: Fresno State’s Castro didn’t defend my free speech– from the title, he demands others defend his speech, thereby desiring to control the speech of others.)

The First Amendment restricts the government from passing laws controlling (most) speech; it does not require employers to embrace your speech nor does it prohibit employers for sanctioning you for your speech.  Nor does it prohibit others from condemning your speech and calling for sanctions. The First Amendment does not call upon others to defend your speech.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says ““Randa Jarrar’s speech is constitutionally protected, and Fresno State cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, discipline her for it”. That protection, however, does not extend to the rest of us, who as noted above, would be quickly fired.

Most expect professors and teachers to engage in civil discourse, based on facts and logic, and to not adopt the methods of propagandists using emotional language, swearing, hurtful and hateful speech, and doxxing a suicide crisis phone line. This is the behavior of middle school students – and not what we expect of professionals.

By creating two classes of free speech – those in a protected class and those who are not in a protected class – we distort public discourse.

For example, in my state all public sector workers are protected by law from retaliation in any form for their political views or activism. Private sector workers in “at will” employment have no protection and can be fired for any reason, including their political views.

This means public sector workers have a greater freedom to influence the political process than do private sector workers, giving public sector workers greater political power than private sector workers. This distorts the public discourse, harming democracy.

This distorted concept of free speech becomes a powerful tool in propaganda messaging. Randa Jarrar used the simple method of Name Calling (Bush is a racist). Academics frequently use the Appeal to Authority argumentative form (or as Jarrar put it, people want to listen to here, she’s a tenured professor and your not) but some also use their unique academic freedom to say what they want knowing that others are gagged. Which is a form of censorship that applies to one class but not the other.

As noted by the NY Times, public sector workers have greater rights to free speech than do private sector workers, giving public sector workers are louder and stronger voice in public policy discussions and activism.

Should some people have a greater right to engage in “free speech” – including hate speech – than others?

Note – my comments have nothing to do with left- versus right-wing, causes, statements or proponents. My comments are about the question of whether some are more entitled to greater free speech rights than others and the effect this has on public discourse. Further, the actions of (presumably) a few faculty tarnish the reputation of the school and diminish the value of degrees earned by students at these schools. How is such nasty discourse helpful to anyone and how does it lead to making lives better?

It’s the medium, not the message that is the problem

Hoaxers impersonate legitimate reporters

In the first incident, a perpetrator used a software tool to create two fake tweets that looked like they came from the account of Alex Harris, a Herald reporter preparing tributes to the slain students. One fake tweet asked for photos of dead bodies at the school and another asked if the shooter was white.

The reporter almost immediately began getting angry messages.

Source: Hoax attempts against Miami Herald augur broader information wars | McClatchy Washington Bureau

Hoaxers also created a fake Miami Herald news story that got shared online. Read the whole story.

“I think it’s part of this larger evolving system of misinformation,” said Aviv Ovadya, chief technologist at the Center for Social Media Responsibility at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. “This is sort of the very, very beginning of something that could be much darker.”

The future will bring hoaxes that far surpass fake tweets and screenshots of fake stories, Ovadya said, noting that “fake video is just about here,” with tools that will make it easy even for amateurs to create images that are totally false but look real.

It’s the medium, not the message that is the problem.

This is social media.

Do social media propagandists suffer from fragile egos?

This linked piece was shared into my FB news feed. The item argues that President Trump suffers a fragile ego and is constantly looking for affirmation from others.

The column says people seek to increase their “tribal self esteem” by strengthening their group membership, by, for example, spreading online propaganda messaging in support of their cause – and denigrating those who think otherwise (for any reason).

The column quotes from Nathaniel Branden:

“It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.”

This is the form of much online social media propaganda, whether you call it “I’m right and your wrong” or “My group is smarter than your group”.

It comes down to fragile egos seeking positive feedback from their own group.

Much online social media propaganda reinforces group membership – it certainly does not cause the target to change their perspective. But “sharing” such propaganda virtue signals one’s self importance within the group garnering group support that satisfies the social media propaganda participant’s ego.

Source: Trump’s Ego Is Actually Too Small – Foundation for Economic Education – Working for a free and prosperous world

Social media propaganda poster implies world hunger is getting worse (but it’s not) #socialmedia #propaganda

This came across my Facebook time line today:

“The world’s hunger is getting ridiculous” – the word “getting” implies global hunger is getting worse – which is the message intended by this social media propaganda meme.

Some types of shampoo may contain extracts of flowers or herbs and a few may contain extract of a fruit, but they are not significant components, by mass, of shampoo. This tidbit seems thrown in to encourage the target to feel guilty.

In reality, in the incidence of global hunger is decreasing sharply. In spite of growth in the world’s population, hunger fell from 1,010.6 million afflicted in 1990-1992 to 794.6 million afflicted in 2014-2016.

Because of population growth, when translated to a percentage, the incidence of hunger fell from 18.6% to 10.9%.

Social media is filled with false propaganda claims such as the above. The target is undoubtedly aware that hunger is a problem. Due to media coverage and advertising campaigns by groups[1] doing fund raising to fight hunger (which remains a genuine problem, although access to clean water is a bigger problem), the target has received pre-propaganda messaging to know that hunger is a problem. Consequently, when a minor social media propaganda post such as the above is shared by friends on Facebook, the target’s System 1 intuitive and easy going thinking mode kicks in and thinks, wow, hunger is getting worse.

Few people will stop to think about this poster. The effect is that social media propaganda messaging, even extremely simple messages like that in this poster, have the desired impact on the target. This type of simplistic propaganda is effective at influencing public opinion – and notably, the results of public opinion polls.

As we noted in the past, public opinion polls measure the effectiveness of a propaganda campaign (at best). Opinion polls are mostly just another form of propaganda used to influence public policy.

The person posting and sharing this poster (or similar) is engaged in virtue signalling, showing to others that he or she is a compassionate, caring individual. On Twitter we see many “Re-tweet if you agree” memes. Not one of these tweets will actually fix or change anything – but the person re-tweeting can feel good about themselves because they are making a difference (well, not really) – and letting their friends know that they care!

[1] Hunger, with a focus on children, is a powerful marketing message for fund raising. Groups that depend on donations know this and make hunger the “face” of their promotional activities because it works. Many of these groups have effective programs and are doing good works but hunger programs may be a relatively minor part of their spending.

 

Much news reporting is pure speculation, not actual reporting

I ran across a link to an old CNN Money financial news report from October 24, 2016. Every speculation made in this news report was wrong and illustrates how much “news” is not really reporting on events but is speculation about the future.

One week before the 2016 Presidential election, CNN Money’s report is titled

Key points:

  • If Donald Trump wins, U.S. stocks – and likely world markets – will “almost certainly tank”
  • “A Trump victory would be “America’s Brexit.” It would shock U.S. and global markets, much like the surprise, June referendum in the U.K.”
  • “Almost everyone on Wall Street currently predicts Hillary Clinton will win”
  • “A Trump triumph would likely cause investors to flee stocks to the safety of gold and bonds”.
  • “the market is already pricing in a Clinton win”
  • Voters like a split government but “there’s a growing fear that the Senate — and even the House — could flip [to Democrats] if voters come out strongly for Democrats.”
  • There is a 71% chance Democrats retake the Senate
  • “All the ‘market metrics’ point to a Clinton victory

All of the key points were speculation and were wrong.

Do watch the CNN video at the link and do watch the reporter’s body language. (The reporter no longer works for CNN. She now works for the Washington Post.)

Impact on Social Media and Propaganda

These news reports are entertainment stories designed to occupy your time while pretending to inform you.

These stories become the basis for social media conversations as they are Shared, Liked and Commented on via Twitter and Facebook.

These stories whip some into emotional outrage. In reality these stories waste our time – we are not better off for having watched or read a story that ended up being 100% wrong. In fact, we may be worse off.

Speculative Stories Are Easily Spun into High Emotional Impact Stories

Large numbers of news reports are pure speculation about the future; none are ever a scorecard of whether past speculation proved true or false. Speculative stories are entertainment to fill a 24 x 7 news cycle, to keep our eyes glued for the delivery of advertising messages. Reporters can find an authority (“Appeal to authority”) to find any quote they want. Speculative stories are easily spun into high emotion grabbing content, which is perfect for Sharing – or merely to lull our brains into being more susceptible to advertisements.

Bottom line: Learn to recognize speculative news reports and do not take them seriously. Learn to think for yourself and question whether someone is spinning a story to persuade you of something. Avoid sharing speculation on social media – all that does is amplify that you’ve wasted your time and think your friends should waste their time too.

Disclaimer – The U.S. is so polarized that I am required to post a disclaimer: reminder, I did not vote for Trump and the above comments are not pro- or anti-Trump but are a comment about the use of speculation as an editorial technique to inflame our emotions and engage us into social media propaganda sharing.

Supporting Data

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