Via America’s Lawyer: Several tech companies have been accused of aiding foreign governments who are attempting to stifle dissents in their countries. Mike Papantonio & Farron Cousins to discuss more. Plus, several attorneys general push to regulate social media platforms, alleging they are manipulating free speech. Legal journalist Mollye Barrows joins Mike Papantonio to discuss.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             Several tech, tech companies have been accused of aiding foreign governments who are attempting to stifle dissent in the countries. This, this is awful. This is the worst. I mean, this is the worst I think I could say. Twitter, you take the story. Twitter.

Farron Cousins:                  Yeah, a Twitter employee who left back in 2015, but for several years had been working, being bribed essentially by the Saudi Arabian government, because they had come and done a tour of Twitter headquarters. They met this guy and they worked out an agreement with him through emails and secret phone calls for him to provide information on political dissidents, anyone criticizing Saudi Arabia, this guy who worked at Twitter, he has dual US and Lebanese citizenship.

Mike Papantonio:             He was given.

Farron Cousins:                  I’m searching for his name because it’s very difficult to pronounce.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, $300,000. Well, the point is he was given $300,000.

Farron Cousins:                  Right. And he would send a here, here’s their location. Here was their last IP address. So that the government could do, I don’t know, maybe whatever it is the Saudi Arabian government has been known to do.

Mike Papantonio:             Well.

Farron Cousins:                  To dissidents.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah.

Farron Cousins:                  And that is terrifying and this employee of Twitter, aided and abetted it. He’s now facing 23 criminal counts.

Mike Papantonio:             Emails, addresses, phone numbers, data over everything that’s being transmitted by, by these dissidents. And you don’t think the Royal family is going to deal with that? You know that, Twitter cannot, Twitter cannot sit back and say, it’s okay.

Farron Cousins:                  Right.

Mike Papantonio:             This is one hell of a lawsuit and somebody needs to pull that trigger because this, matter of fact, the Yahoo, the Yahoo case is a, is another example. Yahoo is the same thing. Yahoo, a friend of mine is actually handled that case, a guy named Mark Lanier, a very good trial lawyer and he’s going to bust them up. Tell, talk about this story.

Farron Cousins:                  Yeah, this one it’s very similar. You had survivors of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, who had been criticizing the Chinese government outside of the country. Yahoo comes in and says, hey, China, we want to be allowed in your country. You don’t allow us right now. So what if we give you the names of dissidents? What if we tell you where these people are in exchange for being allowed to operate in China? China says, okay, that’s a great idea. Yahoo starts feeding them all of this information about these dissidents. This one in particular, he was rounded up, driven 50 hours.

Mike Papantonio:             Black site.

Farron Cousins:                  Deprived of sleep, torture, all kinds of horrendous actions because Yahoo made it happen.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, well there’s no question Yahoo actually had a deal. What they were trying to do is expand, it was all about money, Farron.

Farron Cousins:                  Yeah.

Mike Papantonio:             It’s all about money. We’ll help you, China, if you will help us expand. We’ll help you, China, if you will do A, B and C. There’s an arms length transaction and the folks, the leadership, the very top, the owners, the CEOs of Yahoo said this, we’re going to allow to happen. This guy spends two years in prison. He gets out of prison. They arrest him again. They burn his house down. They threaten his family. They take a couple of them off and threaten them. This guy’s brought a lawsuit, I just can’t wait to see the result. Bodily, you know, he has a loss of bodily functions. He has disfigurement. The damages are huge in this case and I don’t, you know what, I know the players involved here. I know Mark very well. He tries cases with me. He’s gonna, he’s gonna rock their world and maybe, maybe somebody will get it. Huh?

Farron Cousins:                  Well, you know, these social media giants have been going through all these extra steps to try to label people that they think are somehow affiliated with foreign governments when they really need to be looking inside themselves.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah.

Farron Cousins:                  Because these are the people who are legitimately working for foreign governments to get people killed.

Mike Papantonio:             Right.

Farron Cousins:                  That’s the bottom line.

Mike Papantonio:             Right. Thank you for joining me, Farron.

Farron Cousins:                  Thank you.

Mike Papantonio:             Social media has been under fire for silencing conservative voices and now several attorney generals are joining Trump in a push to regulate these online platforms. I’ve got legal journalist, Mollye Barrows with me, Molly, who are the AGs that are jumping in on this? Because I mean, this, as I look at this, this has potential to be a, a real big problem for social media.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes, it’ll be interesting to see how far this particular petition goes down the line. Now going back to the AGs, there are four AGs that are supporting this petition that Donald Trump has asked the commerce department to file, basically to put regulation of what, to make it more transparent, the regulation process that social media companies use when they are either taking down tweets or telling people that, you know, whatever social media posts they put on there to make it transparent about why they have regulated a certain bit of information. But it’s for Republican AGs from Louisiana, Texas, Indiana and Missouri, and they are supporting his bid to potentially put this underneath the SECs regulation to hold these basically different social media accounts, providers accountable for whenever they take steps to regulate. Of course, all this came after.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, yeah.

Mollye Barrows:                Twitter cracked down on Trump.

Mike Papantonio:             I, let me tell, let me tell you where I think this heads. I don’t think it just heads where the, where the end of this process is they have to change the way they do business. I think these AGs understand that if they find, if they can find something to penal, to penalize them, to come up with a, you know, you owe us this much money.

Mollye Barrows:                You’re responsible from now.

Mike Papantonio:             They’re, these, these guys aren’t going to do this for nothing.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             They’re not going to do it simply because Trump’s asking them to. What they’re seeing is they’re seeing some penalties that at the end of this case, they think they’re going to be able to put together. That would be my, my guess. And they have, they have the ability to use criminal investigations.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             Because they’re, they’re, they’re the attorney general. So they have the right to use criminal investigations to get to material that ordinarily we might not be able to get to. So I see this as a lot bigger threat to the tech companies. What, what’s been the response by the FCC in this, I mean, what’s the FCC saying about it?

Mollye Barrows:                Well, you know, the chairman is Ajit Pai and he has been associated with a number of.

Mike Papantonio:             Complete jerk, by the way.

Mollye Barrows:                That’s a good way to put it.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, absolutely.

Mollye Barrows:                You know, he was in the pocket of a number of high powered media companies, if you will.

Mike Papantonio:             Right.

Mollye Barrows:                When they were looking to bend the rules. It used to be that only a certain number of stations could be owned, for example, by a company in any particular market. And he was instrumental in having some of those rules changed so that particular media companies could own more than one outlet in the market.

Mike Papantonio:             His, his, his goal just, Pai’s goal is just to make it impossible for somebody that has a social media platform to compete with MSNBC, CNN, all the big networks.

Mollye Barrows:                Okay.

Mike Papantonio:             If you go now, just to tell you the impact of it now, if you will go now and look at some of the stories that are coming out from just a, you know, a credible social media platform, you will see underneath those stories covered up with MSNBC, CNN, ABC, all the big networks. Pai brought that about.

Mollye Barrows:                Interesting.

Mike Papantonio:             Because of the way that he’s maneuvering these.

Mollye Barrows:                Well, he’s not commented on this in particular. He’s basically going to put it up for public review. Typically the FCC doesn’t regulate. He has said before that they’re not in a position to necessarily, it shouldn’t be their job to regulate social media platforms.

Mike Papantonio:             But they will.

Mollye Barrows:                And I don’t agree though. I think it’s a threat to the exact opposite of what this man who talks about fake news. I feel like it’s the exact opposite. He is empowering whichever political office happens to be in power at the time to basically say, hey, you you’re going to take down my tweet.

Mike Papantonio:             No, you’re right. You’re right.

Mollye Barrows:                I don’t like what, I don’t like it. I’m calling you fake news, when he’s the one that is the biggest liar of them all. I mean, if his pants were on fire, they’d stay that way.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. So, so the point comes, the point is though that you, you can’t ignore the, the danger and see, I think is what you’re saying.

Mollye Barrows:                And I do agree with you on that. Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             You can’t ignore, you can’t ignore the danger of democracy is built on an open discussion.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             Whether you agree with it or not Mollye.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes, 100%.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, you might, you might totally hate everything he has to say.

Mollye Barrows:                But he has a right to say it.

Mike Papantonio:             He has a right to say it.

Mollye Barrows:                We had the same right with the debate about Penthouse magazine.

Mike Papantonio:             Exactly, and why is it the we, who, who are the people that judge the ideology and say, no, this is not acceptable and this is acceptable?

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             Look, you’ve had so many writers talk about the dangers of having these gatekeepers that make a decision what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.

Mollye Barrows:                And that’s very true.

Mike Papantonio:             The market takes care of itself.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             If you put it out there and it’s so crazy that the market rejects it, that’s part of the process.

Mollye Barrows:                Well, and part of the process too, is when the market accepts it, that’s how we got this guy in the White House.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, okay. But, but, okay. So that, but that is how we work in a democracy.

Mollye Barrows:                You’re right, it’s still up to the individual to decide.

Mike Papantonio:             We put ideas out. And as much, you know, I don’t have any love for this guy at all.

Mollye Barrows:                Right, right, right.

Mike Papantonio:             I mean, zero, but I do have love for the democratic process.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes, yes. I agree.

Mike Papantonio:             I have love for the idea that journalism requires an open discussion.

Mollye Barrows:                Well, and then you’re right. And they have outlets to hold accountable, these outlets who put out misinformation deliberately and it’s, you know, liable lawsuits and the like.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah.

Mollye Barrows:                So I’m with you though, whether it’s good or bad, I don’t think that regulations on free speech is good.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. This is, this idea of shutting down speech is very dangerous.

Mollye Barrows:                Right, agreed.

Mike Papantonio:             Thanks for joining me, Mollye.

Mollye Barrows:                Thanks Pap.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.