“Travel Ban” Hearing

An overview of what’s happening at today’s hearing and what might happen next

We’ve been following the court cases opposing the “travel ban” executive order. Now, we aren’t lawyers, but we thought a review of where things stand might interest you, as it did us. Here goes.

Currently, here’s a nationwide “stop” on the order, which the Trump administration is appealing to the 9th Circuit court of appeals in order to re-start the ban. The hearing will be broadcast live today at 3pm Pacific (you can listen here).

Here’s Dara Lind of Vox on what’s happening  at  today’s hearing and what might happen afterward:

  • On Friday, federal judge James Robart… temporarily froze all enforcement of the order’s key parts: a 90-day ban on all entries to the US from people from seven majority-Muslim countries, and a 120-day ban on nearly all refugees…
  • The federal government is asking the Ninth Circuit to lift the freeze as quickly as possible…
  • But it’s unlikely to succeed. The court-imposed freeze will probably be in place for another week or two…

And here’s an overview article from The Guardian about the ban:

What are the basic lines of argument?

In its original complaint, the state of Washington (soon joined by Minnesota) argued: “The order is tearing Washington families apart. Husbands are separated from wives, brothers are separated from sisters, and parents are separated from their children.”

The states argued that Trump’s executive order was “motivated by discriminatory animus” and violated guarantees against discrimination in both the Immigration and Nationality Act and the US constitution. The states further argued that the order violated the constitutional separation of church and state and the constitutional guarantee of due process before the law.

The justice department has countered that the judge’s blocking the order “contravenes the constitutional separation of powers; harms the public by thwarting enforcement of an executive order issued by the nation’s elected representative responsible for immigration matters and foreign affairs; and second-guesses the president’s national security judgment about the quantum of risk posed by the admission of certain classes of aliens and the best means of minimizing that risk”.

What will the appeals court decision mean?

If the appeals court rules against the justice department, the federal government must then decide whether to appeal again, asking the supreme court to weigh in.

But to overturn the lower court, a 5-3 supreme court ruling would be required – difficult math for Trump, in the eyes of most court analysts. The White House might wait to appeal the ruling until Trump’s current supreme court nominee, judge Neil Gorsuch, could be confirmed by the Senate. Or the justice department could shift its strategy elsewhere.

This is all to say it’s unclear what’s coming next, which just adds to the anxiety a lot of us are feeling.

Who Googles Google? The Holocaust and Search Algorithms

Motivated users can manipulate search engine results

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Been going to Google for information about the Holocaust recently? You might have been presented with top results that include a white supremacist website.

As we posted previously, the idea that the internet is a neutral mass of information–and that search engines are neutral and unbiased–is one that increasingly needs to be challenged by students and readers of all ages.

Google results can serve as useful test cases to help students understand the inner workings behind what actually comes up in search results.

Fortune reports on the story in a short article appropriate for high school students.

The implications are alarming. Due to the search engine’s placement of the website, a young person unfamiliar with history, or a person seeking to validate a conspiracy theory, could easily get drawn into the Stormfront site as a jumping-off point for research.

The Guardian presents a more in-depth explanation of how Google’s autocomplete suggestions and ordering of search results can impact readers’ perceptions of an issue.

The increased scrutiny on the algorithms of Google – which removed antisemitic and sexist autocomplete phrases after the recent Observer investigation – comes at a time of tense debate surrounding the role of fake news in building support for conservative political leaders, particularly US president-elect Donald Trump.

Facebook has faced significant backlash for its role in enabling widespread dissemination of misinformation, and data scientists and communication experts have argued that rightwing groups have found creative ways to manipulate social media trends and search algorithms.

The Guardian’s latest findings further suggest that Google’s searches are contributing to the problem.

In the past, when a journalist or academic exposes one of these algorithmic hiccups, humans at Google quietly make manual adjustments in a process that’s neither transparent nor accountable.

At the same time, politically motivated third parties including the “alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US, use a variety of techniques to trick the algorithm and push propaganda and misinformation higher up Google’s search rankings.

 

Included in this post:

“How Google’s search algorithm spreads false information with a rightwing bias,” via The Guardian, 12/16/15

“A Top Google Result for the Holocaust Is Now a White Supremacist Site,” via Fortune, 12/12/16