Miss Seattle Whines About Weather and “Annoying People,” Criticized

(Original story at ABC News here.)

Apparently, Miss Seattle didn’t learn the lesson from Oprah Winfrey’s tweet. Better stick to sharing links rather than feelings on Twitter!

Mar 7, 2012 12:54pm

Miss Seattle Insists She Doesn’t Hate Seattle After Twitter Rant

The new Miss Seattle has had her crown for less than a week and is already apologizing for a Twitter rant about Seattle’s incessant rain and says she didn’t mean it when she carped about the city’s “annoying people.”

Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn was crowned Miss Seattle 2012 on Saturday night and since then tweets that the 22-year-old posted criticizing the city’s rain and its residents were unearthed by a local reporter, sparking outcry online.

In December Ahn tweeted: “Ew, I’m seriously hating Seattle right now.” She went on: “Take me back to az! Ugh can’t stand cold rainy Seattle and the annoying people.”

Ahn apologized for the tweets and explained to the local radio station that she had just moved from Phoenix back to Seattle and was still acclimating to the weather.

“I think I was just kind of in that down mode and it was a period…it was a culture shock to be back in Seattle,” Ahn, a Seattle native, told KIRO-FM.

“I apologize for the negative connotations towards the city of Seattle and its people or any other postings when I wasn’t in a positive place. Those tweets by no means reflect my actual opinions or views, I was simply having ‘one of those days’ and sincerely apologize to anyone who took those statements offensively.”

Ahn, also a former Miss Phoenix, posted the controversial tweets from her old account @MissPhoenix 2010 on Dec. 10, 2011. Since her win, she has taken down the tweets and changed her account to @MissSeattle2012.

Miss Seattle is far from the first who has gotten in hot water for venting about her lives on Twitter. But Ahn, who will compete in the Miss Washington pageant this summer, has learned a valuable lesson of the Twittersphere.

“I will vent to someone that I will call my friends or text them if I’m feeling down or want to complain about something,” she said.

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Engineer Exaggerates About Streetcar Project; Sued

(Original story at the New York Times here.)

And we thought the First Amendment protected our right to free speech. Looks like we can add “lying in political campaigns in Ohio” to the list of exceptions to the right of freedom of speech.

Was That Twitter Blast False, or Just Honest Hyperbole?

Published: March 5, 2012

WASHINGTON — Mark W. Miller did not think Cincinnati should be spending money on a streetcar project, and he said so on Twitter. He urged his hundreds of followers to vote against the project, which was on the local ballot last November.

Here was a typical Twitter message: “15% of Cincinnati’s Fire Dept browned out today to help pay for a streetcar boondoggle. If you think it’s a waste of money, VOTE YES on 48.”

Mr. Miller, 46, a mechanical engineer, said he expected a debate. What he got instead was a legal action from supporters of the streetcar project under an Ohio law that forbids false statements in political campaigns.

In the end, Mr. Miller’s effort did not come to much: voters rejected the effort to stop the project, and the election commission dismissed the complaint against him. But he said he had learned a bitter lesson.

“I’ve got to second-guess myself every time I sit down in front of a computer,” he said. “Maybe I should moderate my stance, so I don’t get involved in an expensive action.”

Last month, at a Supreme Court argument over a federal law that makes it a crime to lie about military honors, Justice Elena Kagan asked about laws like the one that had ensnared Mr. Miller. “There are more of them than I thought that there would be,” she said, though she did not say which ones she had in mind.

It turns out there are at least 17 states that forbid some kinds of false campaign speech, according to a pending Supreme Court petition in a case involving a Minnesota law. The lower courts are split about whether such laws are constitutional.

At the argument last month, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who was defending the federal law banning lies about medals, said the broader state laws are harder to square with the First Amendment because they “are going to pose a particular risk of chill.”

Mr. Miller said he feels the same way. His group, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, or Coast, sued the Ohio Election Commission, which hears complaints under the Ohio law, in federal court in November. The lawsuit seeks to have the law declared unconstitutional. “The very existence of this entity is chilling to free speech,” Mr. Miller said of the commission.

In court, the commission, represented by the office of Ohio’s attorney general, Michael DeWine, asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on procedural grounds.

But Mr. DeWine, a Republican and a former United States senator, filed his own brief, one that was at odds with that of his office. He acknowledged a duty to defend his state’s laws, and he said he had fulfilled that duty by instructing lawyers on his staff to represent the commission. But he said he himself could not stay silent.

“What really was the final straw for me,” he said in an interview, “is looking at what can happen with social media, with private citizens who all they want to do it express their point of view. It’s a town hall. It’s a public square, really.”

According to Mr. DeWine’s brief, the election commission has found violations of the state’s false-statements law more than 110 times since 2001. Such a finding is typically the end of the matter, but prosecutions are possible. “In a worst-case scenario,” Mr. DeWine said, “there is a six-month jail sentence.”

“In my opinion,” he added, “the law as it is applied and as it is written is blatantly unconstitutional.”

The election commission’s brief relegated the First Amendment to a footnote that cited decisions upholding the Ohio law. In 1991, for instance, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, said that “false speech, even political speech, does not merit constitutional protection if the speaker knows of the falsehood or recklessly disregards the truth.”

In 2007, by contrast, the Washington Supreme Court struck down a similar state law.

“The notion that the government, rather than the people, may be the final arbiter of truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment,” Justice James M. Johnson wrote.

The case about Mr. Miller’s Twitter messages is before Judge Michael R. Barrett of Federal District Court in Cincinnati, and he is expected to decide shortly whether the lawsuit can proceed.

Is it possible that some of Mr. Miller’s messages were false in drawing a connection between spending on streetcars and Fire Department “brown outs”? The complaint filed with the election commission said that streetcars and firefighters were covered by discrete sources of financing. Perhaps an accountant could sort it out.

Or perhaps the better question is who should decide truth or falsity in a democracy.

In 2009, at the second argument in the Citizens United case, Elena Kagan, who was then solicitor general, assured the justices that the government would not try to ban books about political candidates because the Federal Election Commission had never tried to do so.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. bristled when he heard that. “We don’t put our First Amendment rights in the hands of F.E.C. bureaucrats,” he said.

Mr. Miller said he had thought about who should decide which side is right in a political campaign.

“That’s the voters’ job,” he said.

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Homeland Security Monitors Policy Debates on Social Media!

(Original story at the New York Times here.)

For those of you who are worried about Big Brother spying on you, your worst fears have unfortunately come true!

Homeland Analysts Told to Monitor Policy Debates in Social Media

Published: February 22, 2012

WASHINGTON — Analysts for a Department of Homeland Securityprogram that monitors social networks like Twitter and Facebook have been instructed to produce reports on policy debates related to the department, a newly disclosed manual shows.

The manual, a 2011 reference guide for analysts working with the department’s Media Monitoring Capability program, raises questions about recent claims by Homeland Security officials who portrayed the program as limited to gathering information that would help gain operational awareness about attacks, disasters or other emerging problems.

Last month, a previous disclosure of documents related to the program showed that in 2009, when it was being designed, officials contemplated having reports produced about “public reaction to major governmental proposals with homeland security implications.”

But the department said it never put that category into practice when the program began in 2010. Officials repeated that portrayal in testimony last week before an oversight hearing by a House Homeland Security subcommittee.

“I am not aware of any information we have gathered on government proposals,” testified Richard Chavez, the director of the office that oversees the National Operations Center, which runs the program.

Still, the 2011 manual, which was disclosed this week as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, lists a series of categories that constitute an “item of interest” warranting a report. One category is discussion on social media networks of “policy directives, debates and implementations related to DHS.”

It is not clear whether the department has produced such reports. Matthew Chandler, a department spokesman, said Wednesday that in practice the program had been limited to “social media monitoring for situational awareness only.”

He also said the department would review the reference guide and related materials to make sure they “clearly and accurately convey the parameters and intention of the program.”

Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group that filed the lawsuit and obtained the document, argued that the manual shows that the monitoring may have gone beyond its limited portrayal by department officials.

“The D.H.S. continues to monitor the Internet for criticism of the government,” she said. “This suspicionless, overbroad monitoring quells legitimate First Amendment activity and exceeds the agency’s legal authority.”

federal statute cited by officials last week as the legal basis for the program gives the National Operations Center the authority “to provide situational awareness” for officials “in the event of a natural disaster, act of terrorism or other man-made disaster” and to “ensure that critical terrorism and disaster-related information reaches government decision makers.”

Officials have stressed that the program does not collect personally identifying information, like the names or Twitter account handles of the people making comments, and that it does not monitor, review or collect First Amendment-protected speech.

Still, the program also monitors articles and broadcasts by traditional media outlets. The 2011 manual says that analysts, in addition to flagging information related to matters like terrorism and natural disasters, should also identify “media reports that reflect adversely on D.H.S. and response activities” and collect “both positive and negative reports” on department components as well organizations outside of the department.

The manual includes keywords that analysts should search for. A list of agencies in the keyword section includes not only those in the department dealing with matters likeimmigration and emergency management, but also the Central Intelligence Agency, several law enforcement agencies in the Justice Department, the Red Cross and the United Nations.

At the hearing last week, lawmakers of both parties said it made sense for the department to use the Internet to gather information about emerging events, but they voiced concerns that if it went further than that, the program might chill people’s freedom of speech and willingness to express dissent online.

“Other private individuals reading your Facebook status updates is different than the Department of Homeland Security reading them, analyzing them and possibly disseminating and collecting them for future purposes,” said the chairman of the subcommittee, Representative Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania.

Mary Ellen Callahan, the department’s chief privacy director, testified that the program was interested only in events within the department’s mission — like disasters, attacks or continuing operational problems. As an example, she cited a situation in which people post to Twitter about an unusually long line at a particular airport checkpoint.

She also played down the use of keyword searches the program uses for articles and postings on social networks, portraying them as simply related to disasters — “you know, flood, tornado and things like that.”

The 2011 manual contains a fuller list. Many keywords are closely related to various disasters. But a handful are potentially more sweeping, like China, cops, hacking, illegal immigrants, Iran, Iraq, marijuana, organized crime, police, pork and radicals.

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