The Atlantic December 2021 Subject: The Commons

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The New Puritans

A rising illiberalism, fueled by social media, is trampling democratic discourse, Anne Applebaum argued in October. The result’s a chilling ambiance wherein mob justice has changed due course of and forgiveness is inconceivable.

The paramount worth of the college has all the time been educational freedom, the liberty of college departments and professors to determine what to show and the way. However educational freedom can not survive in an environment of educational cowardice, the place its beneficiaries—those that had been assumed to have the braveness to guard it from destruction by both governmental or ideological interference—are prepared to sacrifice it to pacify their college students.

From our December 2021 situation

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The “new Puritans” can succeed provided that they’re joined by these “new teachers,” who’ve forgotten what a college training is all about.

Rick Nagel
Mercer Island, Wash.


Thanks, Anne Applebaum. We can not depart it to the likes of Tucker Carlson to outline this situation and use it as one other culture-war weapon. Enlightened minds of all political stripes want to talk out with braveness and pressure.

Joseph Urbano
Audubon, Pa.


Maybe the overwhelming lack of “due course of” concerned on this social shunning is a direct results of a long time (centuries, actually) of our current justice system defending and insulating such actors from any kind of accountability in any way. When so few rapes are prosecuted, and so few of these prosecutions result in conviction, what hope can anybody fairly have that mere claims of sexual harassment—even a sample of repeated offenses—might be adequately addressed and remedied by way of our justice system?

Teresa McQuade
Inman, S.C.


Q & A

Fb is appearing like a hostile international energy, Adrienne LaFrance argued in “Facebookland” (November). Right here, she solutions questions from readers about her essay.


Q: LaFrance writes, “Fb is a lie-disseminating instrument of civilizational collapse. It’s designed for blunt-force emotional response, lowering human interplay to the click of buttons. The algorithm guides customers inexorably towards much less nuanced, extra excessive materials, as a result of that’s what most effectively elicits a response. Customers are implicitly educated to hunt reactions to what they submit, which perpetuates the cycle.” There’s no actual arguing with that. However take into consideration how a lot those self same phrases apply to Twitter. Sure, you possibly can argue that Twitter does a greater job of policing and eradicating misinformation. However is it not designed for a similar kind of blunt pressure emotional response? — Bert Clere, Durham, N.C.

A: Twitter might be an absolute cesspool, it’s true. However it’s additionally a a lot, a lot smaller cesspool than Fb. (Twitter has roughly 200 million energetic every day customers; Fb has practically 2 billion.) Fb’s enormity issues; its dimension is a serious a part of what makes it so influential, and so harmful. That mentioned, addressing the threats posed by Fb alone wouldn’t be sufficient. The general public deserves a greater understanding of a number of different platforms that disproportionately and opaquely form our informational environments. For my part, Google and YouTube (which Google owns) each deserve much more scrutiny.

Q: What Fb has change into leads us to what should be a blindingly apparent query: Why are social-media corporations nonetheless immunized from lawsuits below Part 230 of the Communications Decency Act? They don’t seem to be, and by no means actually had been, impartial content material transmitters, and the notion that we’ve any probability of reining them in whereas immunity stays is a fantasy. — Steven E. Mittelstaedt, Ferndale, Wash.

A: With out these 26 phrases of Part 230, handed in 1996, a few of the strongest corporations on this planet wouldn’t exist: “No supplier or person of an interactive pc service shall be handled because the writer or speaker of any data offered by one other data content material supplier.” It’s type of wonderful, isn’t it? Fb would by no means have achieved megascale if it had been responsible for the toxicity and hurt posted on the platform. As a substitute, the regulation treats social platforms as if they’re impartial distributors—like phone wires. However I’m with you: It’s apparent that the most important social platforms aren’t impartial in any respect. Their algorithms are designed so as to add weight to totally different sorts of content material, and to totally different person reactions, in ways in which have an effect on distribution and vitality. I imagine you’re proper that Fb isn’t going to vary with out substantial intervention. I used to imagine that market competitors would ultimately do the trick—that buyers would have the chance to flock to better-quality platforms. Now I’ve been satisfied by arguments that authorities regulation isn’t just mandatory however overdue—and maybe inevitable.


The Info

What we realized fact-checking this situation

In “The Autocrats Are Profitable,” Anne Applebaum invokes a preferred historic instance of autocratic indignation: Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev brandishing his shoe throughout a United Nations assembly in 1960.

The second is also known as the “shoe-banging incident,” partly as a result of The New York Instances reported the following day that Khrushchev had slammed his footwear on a desk after a Filipino delegate criticized the usS.R. Within the following decade, references to the occasion appeared in such numerous locales as an episode of the spy collection The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a chapter of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.

Extra not too long ago, historians and journalists have debated the small print of how this second unfolded. Did Khrushchev actually bang the shoe, or merely wave it round? Did he take away his shoe through the assembly, or had it slipped off on his technique to the desk? Some have speculated premeditation: the presence of a 3rd shoe.

Though photos of Khrushchev wielding a superimposed idler have sometimes fooled the general public, precise pictures of the session attest solely to a shoe on his desk. Nonetheless, the supposed shoe-pounding stays a standard reference in discussions of nationwide management—a picture of authoritarian belligerence or righteous political umbrage, relying on one’s outlook.

In his memoirs, Khrushchev conflates the incident with an earlier UN outburst, summing up his diplomatic technique like so: “I made a decision so as to add a bit of bit extra warmth.”

Sam Fentress, Assistant Editor


Behind the Cowl

In “The Autocrats Are Profitable,” Anne Applebaum argues that democracies like the US are shedding affect throughout the globe because the leaders of Russia, China, Turkey, and different autocratic states strike self-interested offers to bypass sanctions and guarantee their very own political longevity. On the duvet, 5 world leaders—Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—stand in a row, suggesting a coordinated menace to liberal democracies the world over.

Oliver Munday, Design Director


This text seems within the December 2021 print version with the headline “The Commons.”

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