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I just saw someone's profile blatantly endorse a political candidate. Is this even remotely acceptable? This is site's content. The site explicitly does not wish to be a social network. We are not talking about endorsement of a political position or a political point of view, or even a party.

It's an endorsement of a specific candidate. It's done anonymously. This site has no validation that its users are US-based. But the endorsement was of a candidate for President in the US. Without such validation, this maybe viewed as a direct interference in the US elections by the site itself.

  • Frankly if you want real attention to this, post on meta.stackexchange.com. The real SE rules geeks hang out over there. I don't know what rules really are for profiles, but there seem to be some; see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/339235/… for example. Or meta.stackexchange.com/questions/31197/… – Fizz Nov 30 '19 at 8:24
  • As you might have noticed, your question here is the first with profile-page tag... Unlike over there... – Fizz Nov 30 '19 at 8:31
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    I can guarantee I wouldn’t be writing questions like this if I were a Russian interferer. – Stormblessed Nov 30 '19 at 21:03
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    Actually, because you're being so aggressive over it, I'm considering adding an endorsement myself as a non-US national (Belgium) – Nzall Nov 30 '19 at 21:15
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    Your profile attacks the left (especially BuzzFeed, an American left-wing site which I admit is a somewhat shitty source)—couldn’t that be foreign interference by your logic if you’re not in America? – Stormblessed Nov 30 '19 at 21:26
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    @Stormblessed Leaving aside that I am a US citizen... even if I weren't, the answer would be still the same. it's illegal for foreigners to benefit a specific candidate. it's not illegal to do issue advocacy. Oh, and I am not a foreigner. There's been a number of questions about this on politics.SE. You may want to look through their answers. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 0:37
  • @Stormblessed there is nothing specific about Russia. It's illegal for non-citizens provide material support to a campaign of a any candidate. It doesn't matter of if the foreigner is Russian or Canadian. As long as they don't have a US citizenship or a Green Card, they can't provide this type of support to a politician's campaign. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 0:40
  • @Nzall I would consult with a lawyer before doing that. A number of foreign nationals have been indicted for their actions in attempts to advocate for Trump 2016. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 0:42
  • @Nzall BTW, personally, I think it's over the top for someone from Belgium telling Americans who they should vote for. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 0:49
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    @grovkin why? You said yourself that "it's not unusual for US-based political advisers to advise and even run campaigns of foreign leaders. For example, James Carville, who got Bill Clinton elected, also ran Ehud Barak's 1999 campaign against Netanyahu." So it's okay for Americans to weigh in on foreign elections but it's not okay the other way around? I'd say that as long as they aren't paid endorsements, they're volunteering and it's just a person expressing their opinion. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Dec 1 '19 at 2:31
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica I didn't say I liked it. I just said it's not new. I was answering the question which was posited. The question was whether there was precedent for US Presidents' to involvement in foreign elections directly. And I pointed to a previous occasion when it, by all accounts, happened. As to whether there is symmetry... well, that's not how the law works. If it's against the law, it's illegal.... it doesn't matter that it's legal for the US to do it to other countries. If no law forbids, it's not illegal. This isn't a moral judgement (good vs bad). It's a fact. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 2:50
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    @grovkin but isn't it upon you making the accusation to argue it actually breaks the law? You don't seem sure whereas others, including myself, are fairly sure it isn't, and certainly not at the level of Russian trolls who successfully deepened divisions already present in American society. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Dec 1 '19 at 2:55
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    @JJforTransparencyandMonica no. it just doesn't work that way. And I am saying this as someone who actually had to call the police on certain issues. You report facts. You can say that you think it's illegal, but you are not arguing the law when you call the police (unless you are a lawyer filling out a police report as a complainant or on behalf of a complainant). You can suggest to them that it is illegal, but usually that only works if you are trying to argue that they should investigate out of abundance of caution. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 3:00
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I think you're conflating the Russian social media campaigns of 2016 with general speech. In the case of those ads

  1. The ads were not meant as political discourse
  2. They were deliberately inflammatory

In this case we have something different. A user has put a political endorsement in their profile

  1. That is the political speech of that user
  2. Unprovable to be part of a sustained foreign campaign

Trying to police such a rule about political endorsements in user profiles is impossible anyway. If the user is using Tor or a VPN, there's no way to prove which country they are from. Furthermore, user profile pages are infrequently visited.

  • It's a particular type of political ad. This type of ad is called a "testimonial." They are very common and not unique to politics. We have no idea what the actual person(s) behind the ad think. The way to police such ads (if the site wants to police them) is to make them against site's rules to put all political ads in profiles. I don't know if it's currently against the rules or not. – grovkin Nov 30 '19 at 17:28
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I don't know about SE rules, but your suggestion that this is illegal seems to be wrong; see in particular the 3rd & 4th para from this Law & Crime 2018 article, penned by the American Bar Association Legal Fact Check team, based on an actual US court decision:

Congress has wrestled with questions of foreign interference with the U.S. electoral process for many years, including following the 1996 elections when the majority-Republican Senate organized hearings on Chinese influence in Bill Clinton’s reelection. The First Amendment allows some protection for foreign nationals to influence public opinion, but federal election law clearly prohibits political contributions to candidates by foreign nationals as well as candidates’ acceptance of anything of value from foreign nationals.

Six years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision by a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that Congress can ban individuals who lawfully reside in the U.S. and are neither U.S. citizens nor “permanent residents” from making donations or gifts related to any election. In that case, Bluman v. Federal Election Commission, a three-judge panel said the limitation was a legitimate tool for government to prevent “foreign influence over U.S. elections.” The decision specifically banned contributions to candidates and political parties as well as “express-advocacy” expenditures — those ads that clearly support or oppose a specific electoral outcome. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision without comment.

But the lower court said the ban “does not restrain foreign nationals from speaking out about issues or spending money to advocate their views about issues.” As an example, the FEC said foreign nationals can underwrite the broadcast of apolitical ads aimed at exposing the alleged political bias of the media. And this past summer, a pro-Saudi group purchased a series of anti-Qatar ads clearly intended to influence U.S. political opinion.

[...] The FEC has also determined that individuals, including foreign nationals, may volunteer personal services to a federal candidate or federal political committee without making a contribution.

I've also alerted the Stack Exchange staff through their contact page to this thread. They may want to run this by their own lawyers and perhaps post a response.

  • Can you, please, point out where I made the statement that this is "outright illegal"? BTW, the profile in question was a straight-out testimonial-style ad for Warren (for President). The profile has changed since then to exclude the Warren-endorsement part. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 23:23
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    @grovkin: You've implied it with your second para "maybe viewed as a direct interference in the US elections by the site itself" and subsequent comments such as "it's illegal for foreigners to benefit a specific candidate". You have also repeated the word "illegal" like seven times in your comments on this page. – Fizz Dec 1 '19 at 23:25
  • @grovkin: okay, so you're actually arguing it's a grey area, so SE should ban the practice to be on the safe side? – Fizz Dec 1 '19 at 23:31
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    I was asking if SE does ban it in order to be on the safe side or if it is willing to take the risk. I just wanted to know where SE stands. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 23:33
  • Okay, so contacting SE directly would have been the best course in that case. I've actually done that for your now. (To be totally safe they could just close down politics SE.) – Fizz Dec 1 '19 at 23:36
  • @grovkin: interestingly, running a site like politics SE seems bound to alienate some users, which seems contrary to some other goals, see meta.stackoverflow.com/a/298130/3588161 – Fizz Dec 1 '19 at 23:49
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I don't think it should be removed it, it's probably in compliance with the law, and there are many endorsements on the internet. To entertain your interpretation of the law is above our paygrade, so to speak, which is why I'd suggest bothering them with this (in my view ridiculous) proposal.

I should make it clear, based on comments, that I don't wish for the FBI to act against one of our users, but I don't think it's inappropriate for another user to inquire with law enforcement if something is against the law, ridiculous as I might find the suggestion.


If you think users here or the company is in violation of US law, it may be easier to contact the relevant US law enforcement agencies. Since you've asked about this before, may I remind you of the following answer by Fizz detailing how to do that (partial quote of that answer):

As you found out, the FBI has a Foreign Influence Task Force. I'm not really familiar with it. Its description page says of its goals:

Through the FITF, the FBI is taking a three-pronged approach to this serious threat:

  • Investigations and operations: The FITF works with FBI field offices across the country to counter the extensive influence operations of our foreign adversaries.

  • Information and intelligence sharing: The FBI works closely with other intelligence community agencies, as well as with state and local law enforcement partners and election officials, to ensure a common understanding of the threat and a unified strategy to address it.

  • Private sector partnerships: The FBI considers strategic engagement with U.S. technology companies, including threat indicator sharing, to be important in combating foreign influence actors.

On a subpage they give this contact info:

State and local election officials or campaign staff should report suspicious activity to their local FBI field office and also notify FBI CyWatch at cywatch@fbi.gov or 1-855-292-3937.

If you're serious about your inquiry then I suggest exploring the contact options at the end of the quote. After all, if you think there's a crime going on, it may be better to leave it to the professionals.

And as they say, the FBI is already engaged in private sector partnership, so if you suspect something fishy is going on, I really think the Bureau should be informed.

It's no coincidence the Department of Homeland Security has the following motto:

If you see something, say something®

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    I would first like to know if this acceptable use, from the company's perspective, or an oversight. I am not about to report it to the FBI or FEC if the company views it as rogue users going outside of the limits. I am pretty sure I made my question clear. Is this something the company allows and considers par for the course. Or is it an aberrant behavior. – grovkin Nov 30 '19 at 0:41
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    @grovkin you may want to change the discussion tag to the support tag then. And I'd even recommend asking it on the general meta site, though even there you're very unlikely to get a response from a staffer. You could try Twitter, they're active on that platform. Be nice though, some staffers have a personal goal of blocking people asking difficult questions. So yea, I think you're more likely to get a response from the FBI than an official reaction from the company. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 30 '19 at 0:45
  • @grovkin also, you may need to specify exactly which instance of support of a candidate you're referring to. I think we've had a user here for a while whose nickname was something related to Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for president again. Is that what you're referring to? – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 30 '19 at 0:46
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    I was wondering about stormblessed's profile. Seems like a blatant ad for Warren. – grovkin Nov 30 '19 at 0:51
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    @grovkin I'm fairly confident at this point that Warren will not be the Democratic candidate for president. Does that alleviate your concerns? – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 30 '19 at 0:53
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    I don't make the laws. – grovkin Nov 30 '19 at 0:57
  • @grovkin Senators do, if bills come to the floor. ;) – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 30 '19 at 0:58
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    @grovkin I am not trained in the law, nor am I a US citizen, but I don't think this is a violation of US law. From fec.gov: "Generally, an individual (including a foreign national) may volunteer personal services to a federal candidate or federal political committee without making a contribution. The Act provides this volunteer "exemption" as long as the individual performing the service is not compensated by anyone." – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 30 '19 at 1:03
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    It's not about being persuasive. Interference is currently being treated as a form of trespassing: it is unwelcome and guarded-against even if it is inconsequential. – grovkin Nov 30 '19 at 1:18
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    There’s a prominent user who has said they’re a “major MAGA supporter” on Sci-fi (and other accounts) for at least 9 months or so—that’s not apparently been a problem. – Stormblessed Nov 30 '19 at 21:13
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    If this kind of suggestion is acceptable, I don’t feel welcome to be on this site. – Stormblessed Nov 30 '19 at 21:28
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    @Stormblessed I think you're making too much of my answer. I'm saying that if people think there's a violation of election law, then they can take it up with the relevant authorities. It's a way of saying this is really above our paygrade, go bother them with this (ridiculous) proposal. I don't think you should have removed it, it's fine, there are tons of endorsements on the internet. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 30 '19 at 22:11
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    @JJforTransparencyandMonica oh, then I misunderstood. I don't think calling FBI for legal advice is what FBI is for. FBI's mission does not include providing legal advice. They exist for the purpose of investigating violations of the Federal law. If a person is not sure about legality of their own actions, or their potential actions, they are expected to consult their own lawyer. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 2:12
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    @Stormblessed please, do understand that this isn't a suggestion that what you did was unethical. I was simply pointing out that this type of thing may be treated as illegal in the current climate. While I do not welcome non-US persons telling me for whom or why I should vote, I don't think it should be illegal to simply talk. However, given the current legal climate and the fact that we ALL can become subjects of suspicion, as users of this site, I did want the site to clarify if this is outside of the bounds of acceptable use. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 2:16
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    @JJforTransparencyandMonica didn't Trump's lawyer plead guilty to some crimes? That seems like more than just a fine. Regardless of that, there is zero chance that SE lawyers are as good as Trump's lawyers. So I doubt they have been as careful as Trump has been in staying within the law. But I would like to know where SE stands before making up my own opinion on the topic. – grovkin Dec 1 '19 at 3:47

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