Their Views for October 16

Counting us out?

After Tuesday’s daylong Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court came a one-paragraph, unsigned opinion from her potential future colleagues: They granted the Trump administration’s effort to stop the counting for the decennial census, proving once again that the top bench _ and who sits on it _ matters immensely.

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Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor objected, noting correctly that after months of political conniving by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the normal July 31 end date of the national tally had been extended to Oct. 31 due to COVID, then mysteriously pulled back to Sept. 30.

A California federal judge saw through the nonsense and ordered the enumerators to keep enumerating until Halloween, a decision unanimously upheld by a three-member appeal panel. Ross persisted and asked the Supremes to freeze the trial judge’s reasonable schedule while the full appeal is heard in San Francisco and then before the Supreme Court itself.

What’s the point of that? When the order is frozen, as it is now, the counting stops. By the time all the appeals are concluded, there’ll be no time left on the clock, which greatly increases the chances of a flawed count that will shortchange hard-to-count populations, especially immigrants and low-income Americans.

The Census was still accepting electronic submissions of questionnaires after 5 p.m. ET Tuesday. But that could be the end of this, with advance notice to no one. What a pathetic denouement.

As Sotomayor put it, “The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years.”

The Commerce Department has the constitutional obligation to conduct a complete and accurate census. The Supreme Court just gave Commerce license to conduct a political one instead.

— New York Daily News

Facing facts

While the world continues to battle a biological pathogen, two dangerous information viruses just got a big, albeit belated, setback: Facebook has announced it will no longer tolerate QAnon conspiracy theories, or people denying the historical reality of the Holocaust of 6 million Jews, or paid advertisements from anti-vaxxer groups.

The moves are welcome signs that the online community, with nearly 3 billion members, is finally taking more seriously its responsibility to exercise its judgment and deem some ideas so false and hateful and toxic, they have no business helping them spread.

Over the years, Mark Zuckerberg’s company has stumbled repeatedly in trying to determine when it should be a self-regulating free-for-all and what kinds of communications it should seek to root out from the top down. Pornography and extreme gore have long been banned, at least in theory; so too, terrorist incitement.

The thorniest section of the briar patch regards truth and lies. We wouldn’t want Facebook to start deciding, for instance, that astrologers or Scientologists or Santa Claus enthusiasts can’t trade content, or to require a five-person team to prescreen your claim that you’ve just grown the biggest tomato in the county.

So too, the vast majority of disagreements between politicians should be hashed out between candidates and campaigns. If Donald Trump says that Dr. Tony Fauci used to staunchly oppose mask-wearing or Joe Biden says the trade deficit with China is higher than it was before _ both misleading or false claims _ it’s not for Facebook to play arbiter. With hundreds of debatable claims in thousands of races, that would untenably hinder speech.

But lies designed to undermine the election itself should be verboten. And when the Trump campaign circulated an ad with false image of Biden wearing an earpiece, Facebook should have swiftly struck it. Deep-fake videos of either candidate must also be disallowed, especially when Facebook is profiting off promoting them.

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Not all lies are created equal. Algorithms are horrible at telling the difference. Humans at Facebook must.

— New York Daily News

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