Jacob Sollum from Reason Magazine’s Hit & Run Blog has a good piece on the topic this morning.
It will surprise no one familiar with Donald Trump’s attitude toward criticism that people who make negative comments about him on Twitter may find their access to his account blocked. If Trump were an ordinary Twitter user, he would be well within his rights to shun anyone who offends him.
But Trump is not an ordinary Twitter user. He is the president of the United States, and he regularly uses his @realDonaldTrump account—which has about 32 million followers, 13 million more than the official @POTUS account—to trumpet his accomplishments, push his policies, attack his opponents, and complain about his press coverage.
In a letter they sent the president yesterday, lawyers for two blocked Trump critics argue that the way he uses his personal account makes it a “designated public forum,” meaning that banishing people from it based on the opinions they express violates the First Amendment.
“This Twitter account operates as a ‘designated public forum’ for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional,” write Jameel Jaffer and two of his colleagues at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute. … “The government may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in a designated public forum, but it may not exclude people simply because it disagrees with them.”
Not so fast?
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh likewise thinks the issue is not nearly as clear as Jaffer suggests. Volokh argues that @realDonaldTrump seems more like a personal project than a government program: “My inclination is to say that @RealDonaldTrump, an account that Trump began to use long before he became president, and one that is understood as expressing his own views—apparently in his own words and with his own typos—rather than some institutional position of the executive branch, would likely be seen as privately controlled, so that his blocking decisions wouldn’t be constrained by the First Amendment.”
We have not, at any rate, been here before.
The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington has earned its renown as an experimental – indeed avant-garde – institution; its ‘progressive’ bona-fides have been warranted as well. Back in the day, I explored the possibility of taking a faculty position in entrepreneurship there. Although it didn’t come through, this institution has remained close to my heart.
A recent controversy at Evergreen has made national news and has placed at least one professor as well as students and staff in potential peril. From the New York Times:
[Professor Bret] Weinstein, who identifies himself as “deeply progressive,” is just the kind of teacher that students at one of the most left-wing colleges in the country would admire. Instead, he has become a victim of an increasingly widespread campaign by leftist students against anyone who dares challenge ideological orthodoxy on campus.
This professor’s crime? He had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation.
A bit of background: The “Day of Absence” is an Evergreen tradition that stretches back to the 1970s. As Mr. Weinstein explained on Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, “in previous years students and faculty of color organized a day on which they met off campus — a symbolic act based on the Douglas Turner Ward play in which all the black residents of a Southern town fail to show up one morning.” This year, the script was flipped: “White students, staff and faculty will be invited to leave campus for the day’s activities,” reported the student newspaper on the change. The decision was made after students of color “voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.”
Mr. Weinstein thought this was wrong. The biology professor said as much in a letter to Rashida Love, the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.”
Seattle’s The Stranger reports on the “campus lockdown” ordered at Evergreen late this week “after local law enforcement officials received a call with a “direct threat to campus safety'”:
Student activists say they’ve been unfairly maligned. “While it is probably true that some of our strategies were very passionate, they were also peaceful,” an Evergreen student, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in an e-mail. “And while it might be true there was some ‘harassment’ (a subjective term), it was on the lines of condemnation and scorn, rather than threats and stalking.”
One student, who asked to remain anonymous out of safety concerns, said death threats to campus activists followed Weinstein’s media appearances. “A swastika appeared on campus. Student personal information was published on 4chan channels and other neo-Nazi and violent racist internet communities,” the student told The Stranger.
Said another student: “Calling these people ‘Weinstein supporters’ would be irresponsible of me. These people are mostly organized racists from off campus that use internet presence, anonymity, and misinformation to disrupt a narrative, and the threat of violence to suppress those who would fight back.”
Professor Weinstein fears that his and other students have been placed at risk:
On Twitter, [he] claimed that his student supporters were being threatened online by his critics. He subsequently tweeted: “I’m told people are doxing those that protested against me. I don’t know if it’s true. If it is, *please stop.* No good can come from that.” The biology instructor also said that Evergreen campus police warned him that he was “not safe on campus. They can not protect me.”
Student demonstrators refuted Weinstein’s claims that their supporters had attempted to dox the teacher’s supporters. They believe the media’s focus on Weinstein is a distraction from their chief concern: ongoing issues revolving around racism, sexism, and transphobia at Evergreen.
As a professor and as a person with many fond memories of the energetic intellectual and moral debates I shared or witnessed as a young student at SUNY/Buffalo and Stanford University, I find this Evergreen mess dismaying to the point of heartbreak.
cross-posted from basil.CA
V. told me that when someone [at a meeting to program literary events] proposed a poetry reading by cops who write poetry, another person said, “Yeah, and let’s have a night for poets who beat people up.” – Reginald Gibbons, in Taking Note: From Poets’ Notebooks
I don’t know of any English (or French) language poet who is or was a cop. Many poets have come to us from the worlds of business, medicine, labour relations, prostitution, mining, sports, and combat – but *not* from police departments. I don’t know that this can be said for any other profession.
Further, *lots of poets* have beaten people up. (A couple of these are friends of mine.)
Addendum: My co-editor Tierney introduces me to Sarah Cortez, the exception who proves the rule. – May 22
NYU Journalism Professor has been alarmed by USA President Donald Trump – which is unlikely to surprise readers of this blog.
Professor Rosen is hardly more sanguine about the journalists who “cover” him. This is from a recent twitter thread you can find at at @jayrosen_nyu.
The most basic tool a critic has is not to complain or object, but to describe. Here is my latest attempt to describe what is going wrong in the press treatment of Donald Trump. I wrote it as a Twitter thread — a series of connected thoughts — on the occasion of his first 100 days.
The title is: “The everyday language of news distorts the reality of Trump.” For among my conclusions from watching press coverage of the first 100 days: Normal language will be used for what it is not in any way normal. Ready? Here goes…
On day 100 of Trump-in-power a thread about failed descriptors that keep the press from rendering the situation in its various extremes.
Forced to choose between inventing a language for a presidency without precedent and distorting the picture by relying on normal terms, the newswriters have frequently chosen inaccuracy by means of a received language, even though they know there’s nothing normal here.
With no details — and no evidence of planning or deliberation — calling a page of bullet points his tax “plan” misdescribes what he did.
It might seem harmlessly routine for PBS Newshour to announce a look back at Trump’s “foreign policy accomplishments and setbacks,” except there is no evidence that he HAS a foreign policy, and lots of evidence he does not.
The most you can say is: stuff happened, and he reacted.
It goes further. Even to say the president has views is a distortion. There are particles and waves but these do not amount to “positions.” Every report on his ‘flip-flopping’ suffers by the implication that he had some sort of position in the first place. Nope. He just said stuff.
Talk of “a steep learning curve” credits him with learning. Got any evidence of that? Reacting, yes… but learning?
My point is the press is running into trouble with basic description because the thing being described violates baseline expectations.
Now flip it around. Just as thoughtless use of normal terms distorts an extreme situation, using accurate terms may sound ‘too extreme.’ An example I’ve used: many things he does can only be explained via Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But that is off limits to newsrooms.
As Josh Marshall has written, “He is not only ignorant but clearly unaware of his level of ignorance.”
When extreme facts about a president cannot be rendered in news space without the speaker sounding extreme, the facts had better watch out. And it’s this dynamic that creates ‘normalization’ by news: an accurate account feels less believable because the reality is so whacked.
But all is not lost! Here, NBC’s Chuck Todd describes an extreme situation with Trump, but stays within the language of news. Watch the clip: it’s way better than you might think. pic.twitter.com/AeqaCv5kH2
With several of his graduate students NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has just published the second annual “What’s Changing in Journalism” guide, which “depicts trends that are influencing the business now, and are still new enough that even experienced journalists may not understand what’s going on. Each development gets its own page, with a concise summary, links to learn more, key people to follow: everything you need to get up to speed.”
This is marvelous and helpful work. The trends:
Under the principle “go where the people are,” newsrooms are now making stories and features that are fully native to social platforms.ONE This is easier in the case of chatbots,TWO harder when it comes to audio,THREE which is just starting to adapt to the social media age. To reach people directly — without platforms in the middle —journalists are doing more with mobile push notificationsFOUR and reviving the email newsletter.FIVE Meanwhile, artificial intelligenceSIX is becoming part of the work flow, as new forms of storytelling emerge, like drone journalism,SEVENvirtual reality and 360° video.EIGHT With technologies and platforms proliferating, news companies have to get much better at UX designNINE and make subtler use of metrics,TEN since many of the traditional measures no longer apply. And with the discovery that people will pay for news, it’s time to get smarter about membership models.ELEVEN
I’ve folded a recent post re Jay Rosen’s work into this one. The two are closely related, obviously, political concerns being implicit in the first and explicit in the second –>
My first mentor keeps a list of things in journalism that worry him the most. His first three (“ranked by urgency”):
1. The President of the United States is proceeding as though he were liberated from the distinction between true and false. His spokespeople are following on this dubious lead. What does the press do in response?
2. It’s possible we are sliding toward authoritarian rule. That’s a development journalists ought to oppose with all their might. But they are reluctant to think that way. They don’t want to be on the opposing team— or anyone’s team. They just want to report the news. “We’re not the opposition,” they say. Yet they may have no choice. From what traditions can they draw to rise to the occasion, and find the will to fight?
3. With Trump in power there is a surplus of eventfulness, too many things to report, track, investigate, critique. Too much news! How does the press keep from exhausting itself and fracturing our attention into too many pieces?
I had long been puzzled by how many people don’t get the saying “That’s the exception that proves the rule.” This morning it occurred to me that the opacity is not in the minds of my friends but in the phrase’s antique construction.
Say “That’s the exception that proves that there is a rule,” and a world of lightbulbs will go on. And lovers of euphony shall be dismayed.
In a tart post this morning Atrios notes that he would be
shocked if foreign enrollment in [American] colleges and universities wasn’t down 10%+ next year (I completely made up that figure, of course, but you get the idea) even if they started handing out green cards to anyone who asked for one. And those institutions really rely on full paying foreign students these days, for better or for worse (certainly for worse in some ways, but just ripping away that revenue source isn’t going to help).
Prediction: If the travel bans and if the “extreme vetting” stay in place, Canadian universities like Kwantlen will see a surge in applications. And what a tremendous thing that would be for my country and for my colleagues in postsecondary institutions across Canada. But at such a cost.
I had not thought this possible. A very poignant story via the great Language Log.
It is a truism that dormant websites and social media platforms can do more harm to you than good, no matter how active you have been in the past. I teach my students numerous methods to keep their online presence bubbling even when they are busy with other things – the holiday season, school finals – or when they are ill. I have certainly used these methods myself, in both situations, to keep my many platforms up to date.
For websites and blogs:
– Feel free to recycle past posts that have a timeless or timely quality to them – maxims, insights, humour. Make it clear to your readers that these are re-posts.
– Point your readers to good writing posted by others whom you bookmark or follow via your news-feed (see below). There is nothing wrong with a post that is composed mostly of another writer’s thoughts. Give credit where credit is due, and Bob’s your uncle.
– Create and use an extensive photo library. A photograph with a short description will indicate that you are still “on the case.” And people like pictures.
– No matter how busy or under the weather you are, you can usually get out of bed and review your news-feeds (see my own Feedly feeds); this can take as little as twenty minutes.
– Then: Tweet the posts and articles that will appeal to those who follow you.
– To make sure that you don’t spam your readers, spread out your tweets. There are numerous tweet-schedulers. I use Hootsuite and Buffer. With these I can be tweeting all day with just a few minutes’ effort in the morning.
– Many, if not all, of your blog posts will be of interest to your LinkedIn “connections.” Post these in your LinkedIn updates. There is nothing wrong in repurposing your work this way.
– Once or twice a week, head over to your LinkedIn account and see what your connections are doing. Comment on or “like” their updates. Show that you are still attending to the work and insights of your online friends and colleagues.
So there you go: easy peasy lemon squeezy. Keep your online presence active and your ‘brand’ beaming. Have a wonderful holiday. [And – if you’re a student – good luck on your final exams!]
Originally published December 25, 2015. Minor edits.