Reactionary and viable proposals for a huge problem

(Getty/Arc)

“Ban TikTok!” “Take down Twitter and Facebook!” “Remove everything factually inaccurate!”

For years, we’ve been treated to reactionary, high-octane political takes for addressing a range of problems in contemporary social media. Congress, as irresponsible and absurd in its hot takes on technology as any editorial page, has seen a range of proposals from across the political spectrum. Many of these takes — from pundits and members of Congress alike — are outright nonsense. …


The other day, Michael Gerson published an editorial in the Washington Post with the header “Kamala Harris exacerbates Biden’s existing problem with religious voters.” Twitter quickly twitter’d, pointing out that both the header and the editorial itself take “religious” to be synonymous with “white Christian,” as that’s the only voting block of religious voters where Biden has any kind of issue (he’s 92–5 with Black protestants; basically ahead by 30 points with Jews and Latino Catholics).

The point in response to Gerson is ultimately a simple one: “religious” is frequently used as a place holder for white Christians, and this…


Relativism for me but not for thee

Christopher Columbus statue in Baltimore, Maryland. (Raymond Boyd/Getty/Arc Illustration)

Statues are once again in the news — which means, for those of us who work in philosophical ethics, fresh examples of conservative inconsistency on what morality is and how it’s supposed to work.

Here’s the inconsistency: The same conservatives who decry moral relativism as a depraved form of ethical thinking are often the first to embrace relativism in defending historical figures and institutions they like.

Let’s bring into closer focus the issue of statues.

Conservatives view moral relativism — a contemporary position in modern philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and history — as morally and intellectually bankrupt. …


When does speech cause harm?

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These days, everything gets filtered through the pandemic prism of social distancing measures. Our discussions of civil liberties and human rights—topics that obviously predate the pandemic—now cannot even be had apart from situating them against our present context.

In general, this is good—we should do more to actively contextualize abstract and historical concepts to our present social circumstances. But one underexplored area to discuss in light of the pandemic is free speech.

We’re familiar with the discussions asking us to strike a balance between privacy protections and the collective good—such as when we consider how much privacy we should give…


What varieties do they come in? And what role are they playing in American politics?

Protesters gather at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on April 15, 2020. (Jeff Kowalsky/Getty)

Since the 2008 election, conspiracy theories have become increasingly mainstream. Older concerns about free masons gave way to fears of death panels, and the covering up of disqualifying birth certificates. The past several years have seen innumerable conspiracies come to the fore. So many, in fact, that the media largely stopped focusing on their prevalence and place in political discourse. Recently, however, protests against stay-at-home orders amidst a deadly pandemic have drawn media attention back to the role conspiracy theories play in American politics.

To get a handle on the current conspiracy theory landscape, we need to distinguish some core…


The first electoral contest of the 2020 presidential race was an utter catastrophe. Here is what went wrong—and why.

Credit: Alex Wong (Getty)

Perhaps the most important maxim in dealing with politics is Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

During the last several years, especially for those of us who follow the precarious relationship between technology and politics, this maxim has been tested both by indisputable instances of malice (Cambridge Analytica’s data use; Breitbart’s strategy memos) and instances of company policies that seem too over-the-top dangerous to be a result of incompetence (Facebook; Twitter).

The Iowa caucuses have added some strain to Hanlon’s Razor. In this case, there’s stupidity aplenty. And there’s also room for…


“They didn’t give the tattoos there”

What they’re calling a “detention center” in McAllen, Texas

One of the few times my grandmother expressed frustration was when she was reading a book about the deportation of Czech Jews through the Theresienstadt Ghetto and the Terezin concentration camp. When the camp was established in 1941, my grandmother was 25 and married (her first husband did not survive). She did not start telling me stories until she was in her 80s. Perhaps she thought I was finally old enough to hear them; perhaps she was finally ready to talk about it. I was never sure.

Her frustration was about accuracy. It was important to her that stories of…


There are important open questions during the Alberta provincial election; whether the parties treat discrimination, hate crimes, and bigotry with the political seriousness they deserve, and whether the character of these candidates is undermined by past statements on issues of race. Whether a politician is racist, espouses racist views, etc. is an important question, as it speaks directly to whether the politician is capable of representing an increasingly diverse province, and to their moral judgment generally.

I think the statements of a number of the MLA candidates reflect poorly on either their character, judgment, or both.[1, 2, 3] But the…


The discussion of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN)’s anti-Semitic tweets won’t go away. A report from Politico indicates that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is drafting a resolution condemning anti-Semitism; that resolution focuses on the reading of Omar’s comments that certain activists have a greater loyalty to Israel than to the United States. The case of Omar’s comments is a bit tricky for me, for two reasons. …


Promoting articles against a publication’s stated mission

One of the ongoing discussions in digital publishing is about mission oriented publishing: basically, the creation of publications with specific editorial goals. Such discussions are not new. All serious publications have editorial mission, though in some cases such policies are simply predicated on general expectations regarding journalistic ethics, e.g. The Washington Post’s standards. Other organizations have long had explicit editorial standards that include a litmus test for the ideas they publish. William F. Buckley’s National Review had a famous mission statement which made explicit its advocacy for politically conservative policies.

Digital media outlets, however, have radically reconsidered the scope of…

Joshua Stein

Doctoral Candidate at University of Calgary working on a broad range of problems in ethics and meta-ethics, occasionally commenting on politics, public health.

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