The Community Standards, the First Amendment, and the Gaussian Kernel

Posted by Yuling Yao on Oct 08, 2019.       Tag: zombie  

I mostly only write statistics stuff on this blog. In part it is understandable why sparsity is desired – such that we only have statistics in our life, and no more worries about how to boom fund raising, where to have lunch, administration, politics, climate change, one’s 401K account, or congress’s section 301 sanction – in an ideal universe.

Well, Bayesian does not believe in a point mass, and life is not that sparse. This morning I was disturbed by a news broadcast, another reflection of the recent simmering US-China rivality. I don’t even need to repeat the whole story as such prototype is now even an abstracted workflow: an otherwise random person in county $i$ says something random, based on their perspective and interpretation, and country $j$ suddenly gets offended and the conflict in between is amplified – I on purpose use the notation $i$ and $j$ in this narrative to emphasize that they are almost exchangeable.

The first time in 1960s when Henry Kissinger visited Beijing, the then mysterious city that was under the iron curtain, he pointed out that Washington was closer to Beijing than to Tokyo, in the metric of realism-orientated foreign policy. He was right. He observed the return of China to the global community, and he did not see too many seppuku performance on the street.

But the world is not stationary, making such assertion shading in this era. A nationwide boycott towards a sports association merely due to a personal twitte from a team manager is not the most practically calculated foreign policy from a considerate administration, neither is the threat to delisting all already-publicly-trading companies from the other country merely under the looming concern of national security.

Of course, we cannot practically calculate all consequences of our behavior as a result of the uncertainty in decision making. I would be shocked if anybody is not a little bit hesitant to post a personal twitte if they could have already seen the consequence of an economic loss in the order of billions, no matter how enthusiastic they were in the first place. That being said, I am still writing this blog discussing sensitive issues at the risk being boycotted or repatriated at the airpot – the enthusiasm wins, sometimes.

The cross-culture misunderstanding is nearly inevitable, at least before the establishment of the Tower of Babel. It is cheaper to attribute every misunderstanding to the lack of information, or brain washing, or irrationality. But just as if we cannot interpret all data points as outlier in a regresssion, there is some more intrinsic mechanism under the superficial explanation of information gap. Humans are not identical, and even given the same knowledge, the same the consciousness, the same sigma filed filtration, there would still exists different collective behavior.

It is probably much easier to appreciate the Pekin duck than to fully understand why a county will be collectively outraged by a personal tweet, and it is likewise more challenging to figure out why the freedom of speech is the center of the social value from the the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

What is the boundary, if any, of the first amendment? Again in the ideal situation we can always vaguely say the freedom of speech should be taken face value as unconditional freedom with full protection from the constitution and the root this country since day one. Nevertheless in a more practical and realistic point of view, the first amendment itself has certain restrictions. One of the controversial rule, if not the most, is the Community Standards [aka Miller’s test, see, e.g. ]. In Miller v. California (1973), the Supreme Court stated that the jury must determine whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the speech in certain work taken as a whole: appeals to the prurient interest; depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. The focus here is to acknowledge the divergence among different local community standards, as written by the Chief Justice Burger, the First Amendment did not require that

the people of Maine or Mississippi [to] accept public depiction of conduct found tolerable in Las Vegas, or New York City.

Is it legit for some certain community to argue that some certain tweets on the Internet, even though otherwise sound not too terrible, are still offensive given the local standard and should therefore be considered as hate speech?

Here is an open problem: the definition of local community is vague. Given the unlimited spread over Internet, we can no longer assume the locality is merely spatially distributed, and definitely not as smooth as a Gaussian kernel. Furthermore, in a high dimensional space, the average per se is indeed not so representative of the typical set, and indeed what does average even mean for a potentially heavy tail distribution?

I think the balance between the local community and the national standards is a hierarchical model type of analysis. A local community might has its own perspective but are not supposed to be too extreme, the extent to which they are allowed to depart should be in principle examined and extracted by the nationwide divergence across communities. Of course in this particular example the situation is even not even more complicated with the existence of a higher level hierarchy of International standard, and the extent to which we have to fall into agnosticism relies on some other non-checkable assumptions, in particular whether we are talking about a Rome or a Sparta, Machiavellianism or Mccarthyism or actually both. I am trying not to be overoptimistic.

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” Churchill was not completely wrong, before his solid gold toilet was stolen. But it was also not optimal to enforce a manmade spatial discontinuity along the border if we still afford to construct a more general and more amiable hierarchical model, if that is the balance we can achieve between a (no pooling) Utopia and a (complete pooling) Hobbesian Leviathan– though such hope itself is quite utopian.

To put the discussion in a more concrete context, I end this article with two quotes:

The Atlantic Jan/Feb 2019 Issue:

But the term (LGBTQIAA+) has become symptomatic of the parochialism that is alienating white, straight, male America from the claims of the civil-rights movement. Every time lesbian and/or gay and/or bisexual and/or transgender and/or QIAA+ activists demand the recitation of a string of initials, they implicitly tell a story about seeking equality and betterment for groups, not for individuals, and not for that other set of initials, U.S.A.

FAQ in Columbia Emails:

No. Under recommendation from CUIT Security and the Office of General Counsel, CUIT does not provide the VPN access that would allow CU affiliates to visit Western sites while in China. Although it’s an inconvenience for Columbia users, CUIT does not want to knowingly help our community members break the laws of another country.