American Conservative laments market concentration and private property as bad for free expression


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/10/inequality-and-speech.html


#2

“Freedom of the Press” has ALWAYS meant Freedom for the people that owned the presses. There was a short period of time, when free access to the internet was a new thing, that people thought this would be a new world without the same gatekeepers on expression. And now, just as with most revolutions, we simply have new tyrants playing essentially the same game. Mark Zuckerberg rather than Randolph Hearst.


#3

People on the left are understandably relieved that Alex Jones has lost much of his ability to torment innocent people with disgusting lies that sell bogus vitamin supplements. But they’re letting that glee blind them to something that the right – ironically – is more and more aware of: that letting corporations get as large as they want, allowing them to operate in service of profit above the public good, and having no publicly owned alternative to concentrated commercial giants is terrible , and it bodes very badly for anyone with unpopular political beliefs and not much political power.

I don’t think you’ll find many people on the left actually arguing that companies like Google and Facebook continuing to concentrate and expand their power over the internet is a good thing. That’s, like, kind of diametrically opposed to the ideological underpinnings of what leftism is about. Only in the context of centrist, establishment Democrats and technolibertarian Silicon Valley does the notion that unchecked capitalism is an unquestionable good have any sort of foothold in “leftist” politics.


#5

I think the central argument here is a bit weak; in societies where alternatives can exist (so not China), big platforms are loath to boot people, especially popular voices, because they have a “pull” effect. One or two big voices kicked off a platform isn’t enough to cause a mass exodus to a new platform… But there’s a critical mass there.

Big platforms, at their true core, are beholden to two masters: selling ads and selling user data to advertisers to make better ads.

The corollary is that nobody really wants to advertise to old and late-adopters. Everyone wants the 12-34 demo, and of them, the ones that tend to be influential in selling stuff to their network, AKA the early adopters with social leadership-type traits.

Hey, guess who are the first to GTFO of a platform that doesn’t serve them anymore? Oh yeah, exactly those people. Which is why FB is dying, because the “cool kids” bailed out. It takes a while for the middle wave and late wave to follow, but they always do eventually.

That’s why it took a while for cord-cutting to catch on, for example, but now you see tons of people doing it, and now practically anyone under 40 that’s not totally out of touch is either off traditional cable or planning to get off of it, or if they have it they don’t use it, and that lack of advertising revenue is why TV is dying so fast. FB is starting to crumble exponentially quicker, and the market is getting better at recognizing and reacting to the “fall of the Titans”.


#6

But then he goes off the rails.

Was there ever any doubt? The American Conservative isn’t the worst media outlet of the lot, but it wouldn’t be called that if it didn’t traffic in intellectual dishonesty.

Also, before the brand-new “First Amendment absolutists” show up here to display their ignorance and black-and-white thinking, let me direct them here first:

As to the argument, we’ve been through this before. Facebook either: changes its business model to a subscription one that makes them a few billion less every year (but eliminates a lot of the existing problems and associated costs); allows itself to be turned into a common carrier (with all the regulation that implies); or gets broken up by a government that internalises a new understanding of what constitutes a monopoly. American conservatives of all stripes, though, are generally unwilling to accept any of those as solutions.


#7

Where do you direct people who don’t want corporations colonizing public discourse and dictating what speech is acceptable and what speech is not? I’d prefer if he was prosecuted in a court of law because then there is recourse, there is the promise of equality at least, and there is a public record of deliberations, of decisions, and someone to blame and mechanisms to act on that blame.


#8

And, in the process, limits participation in public discourse to people who can afford to pay, in a society already riven by inequality, where an ever-increasing pool of people have a negative bank balance that gets more negative every month.

That’s not how you fix democratic discourse.


#9

And also because, y’know, everyone expects free platforms these days. You’d be left with like 50 people on FB.


#10

To separate discussions about anti-trust law and common carrier status and business models that don’t rely on mining user privacy and creating toxic feedback loops of engagement. The Freeze Peach thread is a better starting point for the Libertarian newcomers who always show up here whingeing about the First Amendment.


#11

I agree, which is why of the three options I support the anti-trust approach first and common-carrier status as an admitedly impractical fallback.* But I also have to offer one option for those who see any intervention by the state as evil.

Not that they’d take it. As noted above, even the option of a $12/year subscription to Zuck’s wondrous walled garden (which, yes, would still exclude many) would be anathema to all the Galt Jr’s out there because heavens forfend that a tech tycoon feels pressured to leave one dime on the table (even if it ends up costing him $100 in the process).

[* people switching to decentralised and federated FOSS alternative would be the ideal scenario, but that’s a longer-term project]

All of them racist uncles. Don’t taunt me with dreams.


#12

This reminds me of a routine from Laurie Anderson:

William F. Buckley, Jr., Mr. Private Property, planned to give a little talk, a political speech, in a small town in Illinois. His advance men discovered that the center of town had disappeared, and that all the commercial action was out at the mall. When Buckley arrived at the mall, he set up his microphone near a little fountain and began to hand out leaflets and autograph copies of his latest book. Just as a small crowd of shoppers gathered, the owners of the mall ran out and said: Excuse us. This is private property, we’re afraid you’ll have to leave …

Laurie Anderson, “Private Property” (ca. 1984)


#13

Watching MAS*H just now, on a UK cable channel which I guess has a very (VERY) small share of the available eyeballs, my jaw hit the floor when I saw a TV advert by/for FB. Yes. Really. Some shit about how it is going to get better at helping us something or other. First time I ever saw a TV advert for FB.

So what population segment could that possibly have been aimed at?


#14

cold cash war cover


#15

Mid-late middle age to elderly, most likely (although I do love me some MASH, in no small part because I was in the modern equivalent of one in Iraq).

Elections are coming - the only time that particular demographic of eyeballs are valuable - and FB is freaking out at the moment about how to pull old voters back in for long enough to let political parties (and whatever Cambridge Analytica is calling itself these days) re-radicalize them.


#16

You’re probably right re demographic. But this was in UK so spending ad money here aint gonna impact FB’s eyeball sales numbers for US elections. We have no elections upcoming here (well, none scheduled, which is not quite the same thing in the febrile atmosphere here at present).

I think I’ve seen most MASH episodes at least 3-4 times - originally when broadcast in UK, repeats on terrestrial TV, cable repeats in the '90s, and again since I discovered it was occasionally on when nothing else was worth tuning to even today. It never gets old.


#17

That’s true, but Geocities made us think one day soon we would all own a press - and it’s true. You may not have unfettered access to every platform; but Alex Jones can still have Alex Jones dot com, and Google will still tell you how to find it, and he can announce the URL every day on his radio show.

90% market share may be monopoly to the FTC, but if you want to get your voice heard, you can get heard. If your views are extreme, you won’t be heard by soccer moms - but is that really what a radical wants? You can talk radical on radicals dot biz or whatever, and then soft-pedal your message to get past the gatekeepers and talk to the soccer moms. Facebook may ban hate speech, but the internet is not monolithic.

Is that unfair? Should every radical be able to shout in the face of every soccer mom? We never had that freedom before, did we?


#18

Sorry, should have been more clear - the UK is in a state of extreme political volatility right now re: pre-Brexit, and pretty much anyone can predict the strong probability of snap elections and other crazy shit happening in the very near future. There will be elections, and lots of money to be made on those elections, and FB wants their cut.


#19

Ah - we agree re ‘febrile atmosphere’ then. :wink:


#20

What is the media atmosphere like there at the moment? “Fever pitch”, or “Calm before the storm”?


#21

Well I was once told by a marketing specialist that if I didn’t read the tabloids, how could I know what the ‘common man’ was thinking and how to reach him. I demurred and still do. So you’re asking the wrong person. I think in the grey tabloids (Mail, Express) it is anti-remainer hysteria as usual. The red-tops are probably the same but the Mirror sometimes bucks the trend. But the Beeb and the Grauniad seem to be getting a lot of eyeballs glued to Westminster and associated shenanigans. I think febrile covers it. But fever pitch cannot be sustained for that long, it tends to become BAU and I think this is where we are - just like the US, I guess.