American Democracy


"To test it, VICE News applied to buy fake ads on behalf of all 100 sitting U.S. senators, including ads “Paid for by” by Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. Facebook’s approvals were bipartisan: All 100 sailed through the system, indicating that just about anyone can buy an ad identified as “Paid for by” by a major U.S. politician.

What’s more, all of these approvals were granted to be shared from pages for fake political groups such as “Cookies for Political Transparency” and “Ninja Turtles PAC.” VICE News did not buy any Facebook ads as part of the test; rather, we received approval to include “Paid for by” disclosures for potential ads."


The issue of advertising and internet advertising is a separate. I view almost all advertising as immoral. The first amendment does not protect commercial speech. The regulation of advertising in general, and not just political advertising, should be a huge and heavy fucking fist whereas today it is barely a feathers light touch.

If you’re gonna spread a conspiracy theory, you’re gonna spread it. If you’re going to buy and sell ads as your means of spreading, well that’s a different story entirely.


No law is 100% effective. The law is always playing catch-up with ways of getting around it. That doesn’t mean we should just give up and have no laws whatsoever.

@thewhaleshark Do you believe in campaign finance reform? Because based on the philosophy you’re advocating here, we shouldn’t have it. Why should we have campaign finance reform if people will find ways to “cheat” the system? It’s a fools errand.

If winning by any means is OK, as long as the outcome is good, then bring on the Super PACs. Bring on the Dark Money and the anonymous donors. Let Corporations and people contribute as much as they want to campaigns.

If we win, it’s all good, right?

If we extend your philosophy further, why should I pay taxes? I know other people lie on their tax forms and find loopholes to pay less, why shouldn’t I do the same? Why collect taxes in the first place and have laws to punish people who don’t pay, if people are just going to find ways around the laws?

Society functions, and civilization works, on the assumption that people follow the laws. It’s impossible to get 100% compliance, but just because not everyone plays fair doesn’t mean we should scrap the whole system.

This past mid-term, just two months ago, the Democrats were able to pick up around 40 House seats without resorting to these tactics. They retook state legislatures. They won governorships and attorney general elections. Was every campaign 100% squeaky clean? I have no idea, but probably not. Did the Democrats resort to the kinds of dirty tactics that Republicans use? I can’t answer with 100% certainty, but overall, I would guess no. Yet even without using every technique and strategy available, the Democrats were able to decisively win the 2018 midterms. The Blue Wave crashed over the country. Clearly, it is possible to win without sinking to the level of the Republicans.

And again, it IS possible to limit these kinds of tactics through laws.


The problem is that if the advertising is related to political candidates and similar issues, then it is no longer commercial speech but political speech, which is protected by the first amendment. For example:

Advertising talking about the awesome new Ford Whatchamacallit car and why you should buy one: commercial speech, not protected.

Advertising talking about how political candidate Joey Joe-Joe Shabbadoo eats kittens (whether true or not) and therefore you shouldn’t vote for him: political speech, fully protected.

Edit: Oversimplied of course, given how there is only a narrow band in which commercial speech loses first amendment protection and, of course, the second case can be addressed via slander/libel lawsuits.


Overturn Citizen’s United and fix that shit.


Citizen’s United only refers to the spending of money with regards to political speech, not the speech itself.

While some sort of limit of the amount of money that may be spent by an individual entity on political speech probably would be a good idea, given the outsized influenced moneyed influences have on our political system, overturning it won’t completely remove first amendment protections on political speech. It just means something like an individual entity can only spend $XX,XXX any given year as opposed to $XXX,XXX,XXX or more, any given year.


Can I just point out, before this conversation devolves even more, that the First Amendment only applies to the government?

Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc can do whatever the hell they want. They’re private corporations. They can limit speech on their platforms as much as they goddamn want.


Ok, sure, but we can still change it. Anything can be changed except the laws of the universe.


And they should.


I make no guarantees.


True, we could change it, but we also need to be careful of unforeseen consequences of changing it.

I’m more in favor of better disclosure laws, like @jabrams007 suggested, so that we know (as much as possible) who exactly is paying for political ads. I’m old enough to remember a time where there was no real disclosure on TV/radio political ads, back before they started or ended with, “I’m Joey Joe-Joe Shabbadoo and I approved this message,” or “This message was paid for by the Coalition Against Eating Kittens.”

Internet political ads on sites like Facebook seem to be roughly in the same state that TV/radio ads were in the 80’s and 90’s. That’s how Russian Troll Factories and other groups were able to game the system so well – their ads were pretty much anonymous and Facebook didn’t care so long as they kept getting cash.



See my post above about Vice News successfully impersonating all 100 Senators in order to buy ads on Facebook.


That’s the kind of weak whack-a-mole problem solving I’m not into. Sure, we should definitely fix the disclosure aspect, but that doesn’t go nearly far enough. Gotta strike at the root.


But we can fix the disclosure laws literally tomorrow, without impacting the First Amendment.

Why not do that now, and then figure out how to do the hard stuff.


Why don’t we just strike at the real root and eliminate voting entirely. I mean, it’s obvious people are too dumb so they can’t be trusted to sort legitimate political ads vs. bullshit ones, so let’s just have a bunch of folks in an ivory tower somewhere decree all the laws and end this worthless democracy crap once and for all.


I agree and never said anything to the contrary. I’m not sure where you’re getting that from.

Campaign finance reform is an inherently different sort of regulatory arena than social manipulation via speech. We can make laws about donations, and I support those efforts - but making laws restricting the types of speech people can employ is a rather onerous task, and legal precedent sides with allowing speech rather than restricting it.

If we were talking about other manipulation tactics, we could have a much more useful ethical conversation, but our options are significantly more limited when we’re dealing with people making words at each other.

That’s the context of my entire comment - I am operating under the assumption that the primary tools of effective response to these tactics would be legal ones, and since legal options for restricting speech are severely limited, they’re not options here.

If we want to talk about slippery slopes, what about the slope we embark on when trying to legally restrict people’s ability to communicate with one another?

It falls apart, yes, because I generally do not apply broad principles to all situations. Context matters a lot to me. I have some touchstone philosophies, but in general my view of ethics and morality is a messy confluence of opinions in countless different situations.

In this case, again, I see few useful options because of the sheer difficulty of restricting speech in this country, as I said above.

Were I the sole despot in charge of the USA it might work differently, because I actually personally believe in a need to restrict free speech. I’ve talked about this several times before, but I continually go back to the anti-vax movement as my example of disinformation speech that literally kills people, and that had I the ability I would legally bar that kind of speech in the US.

But I’m not in charge of the US and we’re likely better for it, so instead I assess the tools that we are likely to employ.

If you want to poke holes in my argument, you don’t need to erroneously extrapolate it. Instead, it begs a question - my assumption is that our only useful recourse here is legal restriction of speech, and I have rejected that as effectively impossible without actually discussing the merits of it. I don’t see other tools but I also don’t want to see other tools.

You want to talk about whether or not these tactics are right, and I’m saying that the question of “right” is irrelevant because we don’t have options. When deprived of choice, ethics is a non-issue.

So, what are the choices? How can we effectively limit the use of these tactics without also eradicating swaths of free speech?


As @DMLou and I pointed out above, we don’t need to restrict speech to curtail these tactics. We can just increase the disclosure laws, which doesn’t violate the First Amendment.


Right, so the problem here is that they are profit-motivated, and this creates profit for them. There are many many many corporations willing to dispense with consumer well-being for the sake of profit, and Facebook is among them.

It’s like Twitter consistently allowing Nazis on their platform. They absolutely have the ability to remove them and choose not to, thus allowing the problem in the first place.

It’s a double-edge sword. We could rely on what is effectively charity from a corporation (i.e. removing a revenue stream), but that only works if they are sufficiently incentivized to do it. As long as the money is there, they will continue allowing this to happen.

How do we get past that?


That seems like a good step, and I suppose it’s better to add it than not - but do we have any evidence that these disclosures are effective in changing people’s view of the message being delivered?

That’s a genuine question, because I have a strong interest in how cultures communicate and assimilate information, and I haven’t seen any studies on tools like this to alter message reception.


Well, it’s hard to have evidence of something that doesn’t exist yet.

Would people believe BS conspiracy theories if they knew that Candidate X was pushing them instead of just random people? I have no idea.

Would people react negatively if they knew that Candidate Y was saying ridiculous stuff about Candidate Z? Again, I don’t know, but it seems to prevent those kind of shenanigans from happening on TV, which, granted, is a different can of soup entirely.