When the law of unintended consequences comes into play: from the Texas border to Taylor Swift

In a typically American way, the law of unintended consequences came recently into play – in two totally dissimilar matters. As is wont, since things American always overflow to the whole world, we may well witness renewed unpleasantness spreading.

First take the events unfolding over the fight over the Texas border and the fencing of migrant passages from Mexico as well as the mustering of forces needed to stem increasing migratory flows. The US Supreme Court recently voted (5 to 4) that the federal government has sole control over the US-Mexico border; the Biden Administration holds the position that the use of concertina/razor-sharp wire at border passages is unacceptable – especially insofar border protection officers are thus prevented from going down river banks to save migrants, or else crossing migrants are caught in the wire and are in danger of life. Texas (“Lone Star State”) Governor Grey Abbott – a Republican hardliner as might be expected – refused to comply; instead he announced Texas would proceed with laying more wire in border areas – and that National Guard forces would be used for border control. (The National Guard is ultimately under Federal control, but usually takes order from State Governors). Moreover, more than twenty U.S. State Governors made known their support to G. Abbott: migrants crossing the Texas border end up anywhere in the U.S. – from New Hampshire to California, so the issue is not perceived as a local one. As expected, Donald Trump joined the fray…

The legal/institutional twist in this State-Federal confrontation is even more pernicious. Texas invokes language in Federal/State constitutional texts (the “invasion clause”) which would assimilate crossing migrants to foreign enemies – thus empowering State authorities to exercise direct control.

If one goes back to the images of S.E. European countries closing their borders – one after the other, with concertina wire spreading all along the Balkan Corridor in 2015-16 to stem the Syrian refugee flow – one gets immediately an eerie feeling of déjà vu. More relevant to the current debate over migration in Europe – with Greece in a “Texas situation”? – is the legal language (and public-opinion reflex) that likens unwanted migrants to foreign enemies of the state. Not long ago, we had in Greece self-appointed vigilantes “guarding” the crossings over the Evros river, along the Greek-Turkish border.

Meanwhile the migration issue has gained a central role in the seemingly irresistible rise of the extreme-Right throughout Europe in the wake of the June Euro-elections. How long before the Texas experience becomes contagious?

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In a totally unrelated context, we are all tracking the on-going debate (and the rising concern) over the wildfire-like spread of AI uses in social life, as well as the ways in which diverse juridictions try to regulate it. From the Section 230/US internet legislation liability for AI-generated content to the UK AI Safety Summit convened by Rishi Sunak or the debate at EU level about a forthcoming AI Act, it was quite clear that economic as well as political hurdles abound. And then…

…Then came along the Taylor Swift graphic/ “unappropriate”/explicit naked images, AI-generated fakes as it soon transpired. As this sort of material spread throughout social media, and as “X” (formerly known as Twitter) rules proved quite inadequate as protection, a whole “Protect Taylor Swift” movement surged. Since Swift’s fans are really a force to be reckoned with (“who is Taylor Swift”? a 34 year-old American singer/songwriter/producer-cum-influencer, with more than 200 million albums out and currently worth some 1.1 billion USD) the social media universe went into frenzy. Calls for a wider crackdown on AI-generated invasive material surged, as did proposals for clear indications and/or disclosures for such material to be legislated – pronto!

As one influencer (who else!) was quoted at Rolling Stolen “she likely has enough power to get legislation passed to eliminate [such unpleasantness]”.

So, at the end of the day, the Taylor Swift mishap may well achieve more than the US Congress and the EU Parliament were able to legislate on their own.