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Want to know what is on our minds? Find blog posts written here, by the City Club staff, members, and partners. Every week you can find a new edition of #FreeSpeech in the News — a collection of related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century that’s making the news. You’ll also find takes on current events, past forums, and issues surrounding Northeast Ohio. Read on for all things City Club.

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Monday, January 25, 2021

#FREESPEECH in the News January 25, 2020

Bliss Davis, Content and Programming Coordinator, The City Club of Cleveland

#FREESPEECH in the News January 25, 2020

As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.

1.) Amazon Has Enormous Power Over Parler — and Everyone Else

A federal district court has refused to order Amazon Web Services to restore service to Parler, the right-wing Twitter alternative that the web hosting service took down on January 10, in the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol. The decision highlights the very limited legal options available to social media platforms if the major web hosting services refuse to carry them. And it stands as a reminder that the regulation of content on social media is now inevitably a challenge not only for the platforms, but for providers of essential services like Amazon and Apple.

The case arose at what might have been a moment of triumph for Parler. The platform, which launched in 2018 with backing from important conservative figures like Rebekah Mercer, emphasizes free speech. Consequently, its terms of service for users that more permissive than Twitter’s.

As of December 2020, Parler had about 2.3 million users. When, on January 8, Twitter “permanently suspended” then-President Donald Trump from its service, users flocked to Parler in anticipation that Trump would start using it. According to the company, it saw a 355% spike in installations over just a few days.

2.) Pro-Life Student Group, Chemeketa Community College Agree to Settle Free Speech Lawsuit for $25K

Chemeketa Community College in Oregon recently agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a federal lawsuit with a pro-life student group. The student group sued the school over allegations the college was “confining free speech to a small area of campus.” As part of the settlement, the college will also end its free speech policy the student group took issue with.

The student group was the Chemeketa Students for Life. The pro-life group was represented by the legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom. The suit itself was filed back in November and argued the college “limited outdoor free speech in two small areas of campus.” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) stated the “tax-payer funded school’s policies restricted the free speech rights of students to just 1.5% of the school’s 100-acre campus.” Additionally, in order to use the tiny free speech space, students were “required to give the institution two weeks’ notice before speaking in the allotted areas.”

Upon learning what the free speech activity would be about, the school could then halt the planned activity, according to the suit. As a result, the policy “prevented students from engaging in informal conversations about their pro-life beliefs as the opportunities arise in the outdoor areas of the College’s campus,” the suit further alleged.

3.) Free speech-focused social platform uses AI to moderate against hate speech

“The hardest part of having a social media platform is moderation and protecting your users,” said CloutHub CEO Jeff Brain on The National Desk Friday morning.

CloutHub is a “next-generation social network for social, civic and political networking.” The platform includes “tools like a civic hub where you can actually access government resources, whether that's at the federal, state or local level, you can interact with your legislators, you can access election information,” said Brain.

As social media platform Parler is under fire for allowing posts that incite violence, and their recent ban from Amazon Web Services, many are concerned about censorship from big tech companies. Even with CloutHub using an AI to prevent hateful speech from even landing on a platform in the first place, the platform has experienced censorship from their video host company, IBM.

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