Censor This.

It is our intention to return to “regular” posting after this post. On September 26th, we brought attention to a series of demeaning and profane Facebook comments that were posted by leftist academics in the wake of the Swinburne controversy. Instead of condemning these disgusting comments by their colleagues, the left’s response has been to (1) attack us for posting them and (2) ostracize us by refusing to link to our posts, even going to far as to scrub the hyperlink from our names when commenting on their sites. Their reason? They said they think we have violated peoples’ privacy in posting screenshots of the offensive Facebook comments. Jon Cogburn, for instance, has issued a public statement calling for us to take down the screenshots, and Justin Weinberg, editor of the popular philosophy gossip blog Daily Nous, has said much the same.

We must be forgiven for suspecting their concern for privacy, styled as a ethical concern, is a little disingenuous, given that we have offered a reply to the concern that has not been engaged. Now one would think that a philosophy professor like Cogburn would surely at least attempt to engage with the substance of our argument. But for someone who gets paid to reason for a living, Cogburn doesn’t seem at all interested in reasoning. You can imagine, then, why the ethical concern comes across as little more than intentional selection bias wrapped nicely in sanctimonious virtue-signalling.

How disappointing! This may explain why the concern now seems to have shifted to a legal one. Cogburn has called for his readers to engage in a mass email campaign to our website host to complain that we have violated their terms of use by posting “private” Facebook screenshots. The purpose of all of this is not only to get the offending post taken down, if not the whole blog, but also to reveal my identity as the blog’s main administrator. And if this doesn’t work, Cogburn is proposing a petition and even litigation as a “nuclear option.” In other words, they are resorting to the standard leftist tactic of attempting to censor one’s opponents without debate.

Nice try, Cogburn, but your bully tactics are not going to work. I have received word from BlueHost that posting Facebook screenshots is not in violation of their service agreement. Indeed, they informed me that there are no grounds for a takedown. And why would there be any? There is no reasonable expectation of privacy on Facebook statuses and comments. End of story. The images will remain online for the entire world to see.

So, how about an actual response to the substance of our post, Mr. Cogburn? Stop hiding behind silly legal threats. It’s definitely clear that we’ve touched a nerve here. Rightly Considered was started to provide a dissenting voice for conservative philosophers in academia, an it’s obvious that the tolerant and inclusive left doesn’t want our voice to be heard. But our impact so far has already exceeded all of our expectations, and we routinely get emails from closeted conservatives thanking us for our work. We will continue to expose the hypocrisy, abuse, and bully tactics from leftists in academia.

Now that we have that out of the way, we will address the substance of Cogburn’s legal accusations head on (a compliment he apparently will not return). We take the charge that we have violated peoples’ privacy very seriously. Whether it is styled as an ethical charge or a legal one, the charge depends on the following empirical claim:

Claim: Rightly Considered is publicizing private Facebook posts!

That some Facebook statuses or comments are “private” in any serious sense is quite dubious. Anything you post on Facebook could be seen by people you do not know, or by people you know but do not want to see it. For example, if you comment on a post that had its custom settings limited to, say, ten friends, the user whose post it is could, at any time, change the setting to “public” and the world could see your comments. As a commenter, you would not have any legal or policy grounds on which to object. Frankly, it is naïve to think your posts and comments are “private.” This may be why court after court has repeatedly ruled that you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when posting or commenting on Facebook. You ought to proceed as if hundreds of thousands of people can see your information at any time.

So, we at Rightly Considered deny the claim that we have posted screenshots of “private” Facebook posts because there is no such expectation of privacy. That aside, let’s consider the screen shots we posted in the Swinburne post. The majority of screenshots were from posts marked “public.” We included two posts (plus some comments on those posts) that were not set for “public” but for “friends” and “custom.” We will address those two screenshots respectively.

Kate Abramson: Abramson’s post was ostensibly set to “friends.” This Facebook setting dictates that all of your friends will see the post. However, Abramson, pehaps unwittingly, used a Facebook workaround that temporarily nullifies this setting. In her post she “tagged” Jason Stanley and Kathryn Pogin. Doing this ensured that her post was seen not just by only her friends, but all of Stanley’s and Pogin’s friends too. In doing so, Abramson invited over a thousand people, the vast majority of whom she did not know, to view her post. The leftist narrative has been that Abramson wanted an intimate safe space to share her feelings with a few close friends, and we invaded that safe space. That narrative is false.

Elizabeth Barnes: This seems to be the only post our critics could reasonably point to as a violation of privacy, but we deny that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy here, too. Barnes’ post was set to “custom.” This setting allows you to customize who sees your post. Such a setting does not entail that what gets posted is intended to be private. For example, you could make your Facebook post viewable to literally everyone on Facebook except your crazy ex-girlfriend, and the post would still be marked “custom.” It is noteworthy that in the post in question, Barnes actually declared a “party” on her wall, inviting “progressive Christians” to celebrate in their heresy. Hardly a Tupperware pow wow among intimates. So the claim that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy is silly, and has no basis in legal fact. Moreover, we received this screenshot from a third party, which is relevant to the legal concern. The law has held that if the police are given information in a Facebook post from a third party, they would not be in violation of the person’s Fourth Amendment rights. These rulings have been held up in appellate courts as well. Therefore, while Barnes may not like the fact that we posted her comment, we violated no policy or law in doing so. However we adjudicate this, at the end of the day it appears that the entire dustup only plausibly involves a single, solitary screenshot. What a let down!

Natural Lawyer

Natural Lawyer is the lead editor of Rightly Considered. He teaches philosophy somewhere in the southwestern United States.

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Ronnie Raygun

Ronnie could impress leftists by citing publications in top ranking philosophy journals. Instead, he wants to anger them by pointing out that he and his wife are creating many children and teaching them to be conservatives, and also has a job doing useful stuff and making money.

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60 Comments

    • “The real problem here is that our colleagues were falsely portrayed as hating traditional Christianity and Christians, when in fact the real target of their anger was 1) those who made a queer colleague’s professional life miserable because of beliefs about sexual orientation similar to Swinburne’s, and 2) people who were acting like cursing was less civil than Swinburne’s disability claim”

      “Falsely portrayed as hating traditional Christianity.” You’re suffering from a serious delusion. Go back and reread.

  1. Hi natural lawyer,
    I guess opinions differ on your moral defence. I don’t buy it for the reasons set out on a previous post. Setting that aside, I disagree with the strategy of trying to get the site shuttered. I think it’s amusing playground stuff but silly since you’d just open up shop again.

    I think there’s a moral argument that you should consider. Im guessing that you are tenured and I know that some people on here are not. It’s only a matter of time until people get exposed. Rumours are flying around and I think some people who know who they are are on the fence about exposing authors because they think that the reputational harm people would suffer if identified is great and worry about their career prospects. (Even I share that concern and I have nothing but contempt for the lot of you.) Do you think exposing authors here is fair game? Do you think these junior people have thought through the consequences and should assume responsibility once identifies? Do you feel a duty of care to advise them of the serious risks they’re incurring? Hope you had a serious chat with them before deciding to be the lead editor of this outfit. How will you feel when someone rats them out or identifies them by putting the clues together?

    • Hi TinyJ,

      We all knew the risks when signing up. But thanks for reminding us (again, and explicitly!) of the great risks involved in being a conservative in philosophy thanks to people like you and the leftist cabal you represent.

      • I was thinking exactly the same thing, Fidelis the.

        The very stated reason this blog gives for its existence has been amazingly, shockingly, hilariously proven in the short time since it’s birth.

        All the more reason to soldier on. Kudos!

      • I hope fideist is aware of how many of these risks have been worsened by the authors of this blog. You couldn’t have done a better job of harming Christians and conservative philosophers if you’d been working as part of the cabal you lament. Cheers!

      • John, speak for yourself, please. We’ve received praise from dozens of Christian philosophers (including very prominent ones), both private and public, for what we’ve done.

      • Really? _This_ blog? Given that this brouhaha is a national media story, with dozens of news outlets reporting on this, and given the fact that Georgetown Academy published Kukla &co.’s email addresses, not us, just how are you coming to your causal conclusion in the face of a vicious “many hands” argument?

  2. Leftist academia is simultaneously an expansive intellectual wasteland and an echo chamber. Creating such a paradox is no small achievement.

  3. I take it you meant risks involved in posting with a pseudonym to a toxic blog that even many conservative Christians have criticised for repeated moral lapses but thought that would take too long to write out.

    • Hi C!

      Yes, we all know the risks. We all fully expected to be outed if your ilk discovered our identities. So you can drop the intimidation tactics. Oh, before I forget, do you happen to have links to these “conservative Christians” who have criticized us for moral lapses? If they give good arguments, we will certainly take them into consideration. As you can see, we have been handling the arguments against us so fair with relative ease. Perhaps conservative Christians would represent a better challenge than the weak sauce you have been serving for dinner?

      -T

    • Clayton,

      Thanks for your comment. Of course we wouldn’t expose the identity of someone who was operating under a pseudonym, unless their crimes were so egregious that not exposing them would bring about a more serious harm. Nothing we’ve done is even remotely comparable to this, in my view. If the comments were posted were posted pseudonymously, and we know their actual names, we would’ve posted the comments without revealing their true names (at least I wouldn’t). So, no, I don’t think it’s ‘fair game.’

    • This is now the second time that I have heard the you’re-so-wrong-but-I-don’t-have-time-to-say-why claim.

  4. Not a threat, but I think it’s fair to warn people that they’re doing something very stupid. No potential upside but some could end any chance of an academic career by playing with you guys. Like I said, some of you are probably immune but not all.

    • If professional philosophers are so eminently rational, unbiased, and altruistic, then why would they end the careers of people within the discipline who have different opinions?

    • Listen to what you’re saying. Does it not sound outrageous to you that some bloggers find the need to hide behind fake names so that they can express conservative viewpoints?

      It’s not as if these bloggers only now decided to use fake names, with the onset of the Swinburne issue. They knew even before this issue that offering conservative viewpoints would land them in trouble with the ideologically exclusive liberal arts culture, and so they felt the need to hide their identities.

      Think about that.

      • Hi Hulk,
        I understand the need for a pseudonym and I know that certain conservative views (including some that aren’t beyond the pale) are a professional liability. Some people think (me but not just) that a line was crossed by the way screen grabs were released. There’s a difference between being a conservative and. Wing a conservative who is using social media to monitor and expose others for what they say or think.

      • Hi, Clayton.

        Consider what you’re talking about. You’re not focusing on just those who published those photos, but noting that even those who “play” with these guys risk their academic career. That should strike you as objectionable; it is also something that should not be evaluated apart from the larger marginalization of conservatives in the liberal arts, for what you’re talking about is the harm to the careers of persons who are associated with this site.

        Privacy issues aside, the latent or explicit hostility toward traditional Christians, such as that found within Stanley’s post and a few others, needs to be publicly discussed. For not only is this needlessly inflammatory, hostile and immature, it erodes the preconditions for free enquiry and discussion about what is true. Yet, to do that is just to abandon the project of western philosophy.

      • Hi Catholic Hulk,
        I agree with much of what you just said. I never said it was fair or right for people who post here or are part of the blog and had nothing to do with the screen grabs to have their career prospects ruined, but we both must agree that that’s the likely outcome. (Fwiw, I also think the harms that the grabbers will suffer won’t be proportional. It’s one reason why I don’t think there’s a clear case for identifying the responsible parties even if I could.)

        It might not seem like it, but I don’t think I have much hostility towards traditional Christianity per se. (I don’t think being a conservative Christian requires or amounts to being a bigot or any such thing.) I do know people who subscribe to these kinds of views and get on with them perfectly well. It’s the wannabe James O’Keefes that I don’t like (and the people who think it’s fun to be part of their merry little band).

    • I thought speaking “truth to power” is a good thing. Isn’t it considered “brave” and “empowering”? We all know what being a Socratic gadfly means, and that’s an honor, a noble ideal to chase. The fact this blog has already ruffled feathers so early on its existence, in my minds, shows we’re doing something right not wrong or stupid.

      Really, what’s more outrageous:

      1) The fact we uncovered politically correct rot in a Christian academic setting
      2) The fact there is politically correct rot, a cancer antithetical to both Christianity and academia, in a supposedly academic Christian institution.

      I don’t know your political leanings, but if you indeed are on the right and a Christian but worry about 1) over 2), perhaps you need to reconsider your priorities.

    • Says the guy who hold socially en vogue views and runs no risk for maintaining views that might disgust some on the other end of the social spectrum.

  5. You guys realize that you can’t actually tell if a post was shared with friends, if it was shared with all friends of those who are tagged, or if it was shared with a subset, or if people were blocked merely from the “friends icon” showing up on the post, right? I can’t tell if you’re as ignorant about facebook settings as you appear or if you’re being disingenuous.

    I also can’t tell if you realize that not everyone who is criticizing you is a leftist.

    • Oh dear, this is embarrassing. If the “friends” icon shows up, we know who is included—all friends, plus the friends of anyone tagged. If one modifies the audience, then the “gear” icon is what shows up. And we made this point regarding the “gear” icon.

      Here’s from Facebook:

      The audience selector lets you choose a specific audience when posting. Your options may include:

      Public: When you share something with Public that means anyone including people off of Facebook can see it.

      Friends (+ friends of anyone tagged): This option lets you post stuff to your friends on Facebook. If anyone else is tagged in a post, then the audience expands to also include the tagged person and their friends.

      Only Me: This option allows you to post stuff to your Timeline that is visible only to you. Posts with the audience of Only Me will appear in your News Feed but not your friends’ feeds. If you tag someone in an Only Me post, they will be able to see the post.

      Custom: When you choose Custom, you can selectively share something with specific people, or hide it from specific people. You can also share with specific friend lists if you’ve set them up, such as Family or Best Friends, or hide posts from your Co-Workers list. Custom also provides the option to share with groups or networks you belong to.

      And again:

      What does the “Friends”/”Friends (+)” privacy setting mean?

      The Friends option in your audience selector lets you share things with your friends on Facebook. If anyone else is tagged in a post, it becomes Friends (+) because the audience expands to include the tagged person and their friends.

      If you don’t want your photo or post to be visible to the friends of the people you tag, you can adjust this setting. Click the audience selector next to the story, select Custom, and uncheck the Friends of those tagged box.

    • They explained everything just how it is and your reply is “you don’t understand Facebook”. Egad! Laughable and embarrassing! He just described everything there is to know about it but apparently you think he doesn’t know about Facebook? Then tell us, honey, what is he missing

  6. Yeah, again, facebook settings are more complicated than you are apparently aware of. Which, you know, is fine. I get that social media and technology in general is difficult for some people — but, if you are going to justify your actions when people are accusing you of moral wrong, or write condescending replies to folks trying to talk to you about that harm, you might want to understand how privacy settings work better than you do right now.

    • Honey, stop. Go to your Facebook. Set it for “friends.” Write something in the status update box. Tag someone. Then click on “friends.” Notice it tells you the post is now visible to your friends and the person you tag. Then click on “custom” Exclude one person, say, a friend of the person you tagged. Then note that your “friends” icon will change to the “gear” icon once you have made this adjustment.

      • Ask one of your friends to put you on a restricted list, then ask a mutual friend to tell you if their posts still show the friends icon. Block someone, post something, then screen shot it and post it on your blog to see if they can see it now. Play around with creating lists, alternate the sizes of the groups, and see if you always get the custom icon.

      • Hi!

        I quickly checked. I see a gear on one of my friend’s FB page who tagged me in a post. But even if there is some obscure exception to the general rule, Abramson did not do that–and we both know that. It is highly unlikely that she searched through all of her, Stanley’s, and your friends so that she could exclude all of your guys’ rock-ribbed conservative friends. But even if she had, that would be like, what, a half dozen or so out of more than a thousand? But even if there were more than a half dozen, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. So your whining is just so much kicking up dust into the air.

      • Since I’m friends with Abramson, I’m pretty sure I know better than you do what she does with her facebook settings — so, no, we don’t both know that because whatever knowledge involves, truth is a necessary condition, and it isn’t met in this case.

      • First, we *know* that she didn’t exclude all mutual friends because the person who sent us the screenshot isn’t one of her friends, but only a friend of one of the people tagged. Second, it’s implausible to suppose that she went through the hundreds of people on the friend lists of both people tagged and excluded all known conservatives (we know this didn’t happen because one sent it to us!). So hundreds of non-friends still saw the status. No. Reasonable. Expectation. Of. Privacy.

      • Yes, obviously she didn’t exclude all the persons she would have needed to in order for her privacy to be appropriately respected since a “friend” of mine or Jason’s shared it with you. But, as someone who actually cares about the importance and meaning of having relationships with those who don’t share your world view, about having conversations with those who disagree with you, it’s really quite disheartening that the proposed solution here is that Jason and I go through our friends list, and start excluding conservatives.

      • That may be sad, but we here are happy to have put the silly “violation of privacy” charge to bed. Onward and upward!

      • Oh, no, not really. My comment was strictly as a matter of pragmatics, not a normative assessment. In order to ensure that I am never lied to, I would need to never speak with another person. But it does not follow that I have no presumptive entitlement to honesty from those who speak to me.

      • Oh, yes, really. In _this post_ (i.e., the one you are commenting on) we addressed the legal and policy-based questions of whether we have, in fact, violated a right to privacy. We utterly buried that charge. We did not address the charge of whether we _ought_ to think of comments shouted from the social media rooftops as “private,” but such a claim is, I think, utterly silly. And this is why court after court, appellate or otherwise, has ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. Furthermore, in a previous post we argued that even if there ought to be a _presumptive_ expectation of privacy, it is not an _all things considered_ right.

      • I just want to note the oddity of a conservative suggesting that the legal is coextensive with the moral. We’re a long way from Reagan!

      • She didn’t say the ‘legal is coextensive with the moral.’ She refuted the silly argument that there was a violation of terms of use. She also asserted, accurately, that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy as a matter of legal fact. This post is a response to Cogburn’s attempt to get us taken down for violating *terms.* We’ve already addressed your very weak moral concerns in a previous post.

    • Tell us what he has wrong about the Facebook settings then. Don’t just intimate that he is clueless. Actually, you know, point out what you know that he doesn’t.

  7. A partial quote from an author of another blog that succinctly captures the modus operandi of leftists and their ilk:

    “But in reality, [they] are hardly victims. To the contrary, they are aggressors using victimology to camouflage their militancy. They aren’t weak, helpless, and defenseless. Rather, the power elite has issued them a license to kill. They unwittingly demonstrate why it’s dangerous to empower them. They shamelessly abuse their power.”

    One side benefit of the leftists usurping the power structures is that it’s made them soft in the head. Fat, lazy, shallow. They slop at the trough of academic largesse and swell themselves on the teat of liberal mother’s milk, and have lost their edge.

    They deploy intimidation and threats to silence their intellectual opponents instead of engaging them good faith arguments. I think they probably *can’t* argue in good faith because so many of their positions are plainly indefensible and immoral.

    Rather than deal with the issues they play the victim card and demonize their interlocutors. Shout them down. Try to shame them into silent submission.

    This is why conservatives have the advantage. They’re the actual victims. They’re the hunted. The underdog. They have to survive by their wits and instincts. They’re lean and hungry and wide eyed and wary.

    They have to win on the merits of their arguments because they don’t have the power elite establishment backing them. So liberal leftists shouldn’t be surprised when the predator becomes the prey. Pack animals will surprise you. Hungry dingos will take down a lion in a scrape.

    Put up or shut up, but stop whining.

  8. Conservatives are the new radicals on campus, like leftists were in the 60’s. For many of my students I am a cool, clean, exhilarating breath of fresh air. They have never heard tired leftist dogmas questioned in their classes before.

    • I can see that. I’m a TA and I really don’t let my views show very much at all, but I can tell they know that the lefty prof is biased and they like it if I raise objections to the views he puts forward.

    • Hello Clayton,

      I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. We have decided to ignore you. You are irrelevant. Go “work” on some unimportant puzzle in epistemology.

      best,

      RC

    • Milo is crazy though. That’s just my opinion, but he seems it. He’s very uncivil and uncharitable. And supposedly pocketed the money he raised for a scholarship that was supposed to be given to others.

      Your point is still valid, though, that the classification of people into victim groups is (ironically) hierarchical, and that membership in “victimizer” groups will weigh a person down who would otherwise be the subject of solidarity by the left.

  9. A note to the admins, and maybe you can’t do anything about it, but the way the replies continue staggering to the right of the page until they’re practically a column of 1 or 2 letters stacked on top of one another is something less than “reader friendly”.

    Just sayin’.

  10. I’ve not seen the liberal outrage arise yet over recent fallout over the violation of privacy of Donald Trump and Billy Bush’s private conversation, but I’m sure it’s coming.

    I would imagine many of the same intellectual luminaries who have elucidated the unethical nature of the Facebook screen shot matter in the Swinburne Controversy are already finalizing their final draft public denunciations of this latest moral outrage wherein a private discussion between two individuals has been immorally publicized, right?

    Holding my breath on pins and needles!

  11. There are a few reasons why the Trump case is different: (1) Trump is a public figure, and the philosophers whose comments were publicized are not; (2) Trump is an extremely powerful figure, and the philosophers in question are not; (3) Trump is a danger to the Republic (at least from liberals’ point of view), and the philosophers in question are not; (4) What Trump is caught on video boasting about doing is objectively immoral, whereas what the philosophers in question were saying is not only not immoral, but is positively a good thing (at least from liberals’ point of view); at the very least, even if what those philosophers did was immoral, it was not *as* immoral (at least from liberals’ point of view). I don’t expect you to accept (3) and (4), and there’s a good case to be made that (2) is irrelevant, but I think (1), at least, is prima facie plausible.

  12. Leftist say really nasty things and instead of discussing those really nasty things, they shift the discussion to Facebook screen shots. The reality is that the left isn’t interested in any discussion; they simply want to destroy the opposition. Now they got the opposition back on defense.

  13. Privacy is an interesting topic for philosophy and for public policy generally. It’s curious, because the basic idea is that disclosure of true evidence may be a bad thing. That’s quite possible, because, for example, if people think their statements will be disclosed, they will say less, which may be a bad thing, so disclosure of the truth can in the end result of less truth being known. On the other hand, if there are things we believe never should be said, then the loss of those statements is a good, not a bad.

    I haven’t been following this current controversy, so I don’t know if the screenshots fall in that category. Rather than just saying “They were expected to be kept private”, though, we need to address whether they should be kept private or not. The legal question is of course quite separate from the ethical question, though the practical situation is that disclosure is legal, since it’s too expensive to litigate to end disclosure.

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