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E-Pluribus | December 8, 2022
Don't be so quick to scoff; truth isn't "generated"; and Twitter and the Free Speech Wars.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Nick Catoggio: The Resistible Urge to Scoff
In his latest for The Dispatch, Nick Catoggio admits he was ready to react to the Twitter Files release about Hunter Biden before he’d heard a word about the details. Catoggio, Twitter’s Allahpundit, finds the instinct to give in to preconceived notions especially discreditable to journalists whose fundamental commitment should be to the facts, not to preserving a narrative.
The “Twitter Files” didn’t interest me much. What did interest me was my reaction once Musk announced that they were about to be published. I felt an intense urge to scoff even though, rationally, I had no reason to.
After all, if anyone might have access to secret, damning Twitter correspondence, it’s the company’s new owner/operator. And Taibbi is no rando plucked from obscurity to uncritically repost whatever Musk handed him. He’s a journalist with many years of experience.
The “Twitter Files” plausibly could have been, and might still be, a blockbuster about Big Tech liberals manipulating the truth for political reasons. As a conservative, that would bother me. And as an American, it would bother me. The country would benefit from having that bias exposed.
But I was revved up to scoff anyway.
[ . . . ]
It’s a shameful thing for an intellectual, especially an intellectual who writes for a living and is adjacent to journalism, to have plunged into “scoff” mode before viewing the evidence behind a blockbuster claim. Although my skepticism ended up being justified, it’s no excuse for poor instincts. In fact, the “Twitter Files” exist only because the company’s executives in October 2020 failed to suppress their own foolish urge to scoff at a damaging political revelation that ended up being … true.
Hate makes you stupid.
Maybe worse than stupid. It can turn you into a conscript in somebody else’s war.
Read it all.
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Megan McArdle: The new AI writing tool might teach us the value of truth
Sometimes our experiences with artificial intelligence can be underwhelming. Who among us hasn’t silently reproached autocorrect on our phones for completely missing the point? The Washington Post’s Megan McArdle, however, finds a new AI writing application might be a game-changer and in a roundabout way may highlight the need for an unshakable commitment to the truth.
The fictitious text topping this column was generated by an artificial intelligence agent built by OpenAI, which has been releasing tools to the public that can generate astonishingly good images and text using natural language prompts. On Nov. 30, OpenAI released a new feature called ChatGPT, a rather uncannily convincing chatbot that can be prompted to write essays. Within a week, it crossed a million users. And we’re going to spend the next few years grappling with what that means for a whole host of industries, including my own.
[ . . . ]
This is a crisis for journalism, but also for everyone else because, as my example demonstrates, these engines can be as good at generating fake news as the real thing.
[ . . . ]
[W]hat is a “fact” to AI? The stunning emulation of natural language can blind us to the deeply alien thinking — or, if you prefer, processing — underneath.
We often say that a person “doesn’t care about the truth,” but what we mean is that they don’t care about telling the truth. Even the most shameless liar knows at some level what the truth is — they have to, if only to avoid accidentally stating it.
AI literally doesn’t care what is true. It can emulate the style of a news article, and even some of the substance. But it cannot (yet) emulate our interest in whether that article is a reasonably faithful reflection of the real world. With the right prompt, it will just as confidently write an article about an imaginary policy as a real one.
Read the whole thing.
Eli Lake: Twitter Is Now the Front Line in the War for Free Speech
Twitter is certainly not the whole Free Speech war, but Eli Lake writes at the New York Sun that it’s at least the most visible battle at the moment. Between the Hunter Biden laptop story, Elon Musk, and repeated calls for censoring “hate speech,” Lake says the social media site everyone loves to hate is the new front line.
One can fairly argue that as scandalous as the Hunter Biden laptop story was, it’s unlikely that it would have swayed the election. It’s also true that President Trump’s suggestion that the Twitter file reporting justifies suspending the Constitution is ridiculous and sinister.
That however misses the point. As Twitter and other social media companies acquiesced in recent years to the demands of activists and academics to moderate more and more online content, the company lost sight of its original mission to promote digital free speech.
Just consider what a Harvard professor, Juliette Kayyem, told the Washington Post last week regarding the increase of so-called hate speech on Twitter in recent weeks. She said, “The idea that there is a difference between online chatter and real-world harm is disabused by a decade of research.”
This idea — that there is no difference between real world violence and online speech — is now conventional wisdom in the industry that seeks to preserve “online safety” for social media networks.
Do these experts not realize that free speech requires one to distinguish between words and violence? Once that line is erased, then almost any speech can be censored in the name of safety.
Read it all here.
Via the Washington Free Beacon and Bari Weiss’s Common Sense, Aaron Sibarium with a wide-ranging investigation of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Some thoughts from Jon Haidt and Caroline Mehl on ways to bring down the temperature in classroom debates and improve the dialogue at the same time:
And finally, here’s American Federation of Teachers union president Randi Weingarten reacting to WNBA player Brittney Griner’s release. When all you have is a hammer…