Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/08/size-matters.html
Inside the triumphant Alex Jones banned everywhere story is a worrying nuance about free speech and platform dominance
Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/08/size-matters.html
What, precisely, is the argument here? That because platforms have dominance, they should or shouldn’t make decisions, except when the shouldn’t or should?
The people are fickle motherfuckers, as I believe Albert Einstein once said. You really don’t have to, as a big platform, piss people off too much before they migrate to somewhere else, and as Mr. Doctorow has previously pointed out, the value of a network is based off of its number of connections. You blow up your connections by handing out bans too frequently, and suddenly you’ve impoverished yourself.
If anything, their extreme reluctance to ban central nodes betrays not a strength, but a weakness.
This is a valid concern, but the answer is anti-trust legislation or (less preferable and practical) common-carrier licensing. Social media networks may not take advantage of their semi-monopoly status to price-gouge users in cash but the effects of that status are still deleterious in a number of ways, including this one. The state’s conception of what makes a monopoly hasn’t kept up with the times.
The other option is for FB to change its business model from an ad-based one to a subscription service. Once user engagement for data mining purposes is no longer priority #1 they can get out of the news aggregation and promotion business (and attendant hassles like this) entirely.
Either way, people who want to partake of Alex Jones’s lunacy will always have access to his site, and any platform that doesn’t want to give his hatemongering “news” items publicity and wide exposure won’t be obliged to do so, as is their right.
I think there shouldn’t be monopolies on platforms like this but I want to point to an article which apparently where the last straw for Youtube that got him his original temporary ban (source: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/08/06/facebook-deletes-infowars-alex-jones-hate-speech-lgbt-racist-hate-speech/). He literally said they should be burning drag queens all because of a stupid cartoon being floated by RuPaul and company. There’s no way to say this is acceptable behavior because if I started inciting violence on here or anywhere else I’m sure pressure would come from on high to have me banned my IP address passed to law enforcement if it seemed like I was a credible threat speaking in detail as to what should happen to a person or persons in this regard.
But therein lies the rub as I see it. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube…these are theirs. Its their platform. They own it. And they can do with it as they please…no?
Most if not all of the reasonable people can agree, fuck Alex Jones…he sucks…world is better off without him.
It never jumped into my head the idea that “OMG could I be next for facebook to kick off/out?” Well, no. Because I do not post violence inducing, lunatic racist ramblings like Jones. So I feel like I’m safe. And even if they did…well…ok, its their platform! I’ll just stop using it!
Except by all accounts that’s not what happened here. The CEOs of Apple, Spotify and FB decided to manually pull the trigger on this one after continuing to allow Jones long after he could readily have been accused of violating their TOS. While I agree that this is a fantastic opportunity to discuss what we’re willing to cede control of in our public discourse, he’s never been a part of credible debate on the subject. Not addressing the fact that he was cynically allowed to continue his ascendancy unchecked misses the fact that a very real problem that this exemplifies is the arbitrary enforcement of community guidelines as secondary to revenue potential.
Ha! Fat chance! We’ll be hearing from this buffoonish rage-toad for quite some time to come.
The analogue analogue of this argument was had in the 1920s and 1930s. It went something like this:
The answer was “No, they cannot. Not anymore.”
The digital analogue of this argument was had in the 1990s. It went something like this:
And, again, the answer was “No, they cannot. Not anymore.”
Is there a slippery slope argument that Netflix should be forced to carry my vlog?
You’re correct, but what Cory is pointing out is the outsized power and lack of accountability of platforms that are virtual monopolies. From that point of view, the goal is to get Facebook and Twitter out of the news aggregation and promotion business so that lazy-minded fools who use those platforms as their only source of news will be forced to make choices about their information diets on their own.
Not really, because Netflix is not a generic video distribution service like YouTube or Vimeo. Similarly, Netflix shouldn’t be forced to carry feature-length pornography because that’s not its business mission, either.
Therein lies part of the problem with Facebook and Twitter, which are at their core social networks rather than news agregators/promoters.
The problem has always been selective enforcement, especially when it comes to pre-existing shitty things like InfoWars which had a following entering into services that demand eyes on pages to gain revenue. InfoWars is not a victim of nebulous terms of service in the way marginalized groups have been and continue to be, he is the closest those sites have come to equal enforcement.
Corporations don’t directly wield power. Governments do.
But we worship corporations and today, therefore, allow corporation to do what they do.
Reign in the government to the reign in the corporations and things MIGHT get better… But nor while Apple et al rule the roost.
As relates to censorware and peacefire.org, will the sites who have kicked Jones off also ban posts that link to where his content can now be found?
Outsourcing restrictions on freedom of speech to private companies is a very, very bad idea, regardless of how reprehensible the speakers are.
The only ‘worrying nuance’ about this whole situation is still trying to impose some gauzy marketing utopia over the reality of the internet; it has always been, best case, a free space for moneyed dudes built within the purview of state power. The tension has always been between the desires of moneyed dudes (expression, consumption, destruction) and the needs of the state that maintains and regulates the material construction of the internet.
From what I gather, everyone’s proverbial racist uncle will still be able to post links to the Infowars Web site to their Facebook “friends” but Facebook itself won’t be hosting his Web presence in the form of an account or including his articles in their newsfeed. Youtube and the other services (except the feckless Twitter) are taking a similar approach as regards their offerings. Which is fine but doesn’t address the larger issue of services like FB being virtual monopolies.
Whatever. I’ll take my silver linings where I can get them.
So I appreciate everything you said and do not wholly disagree. In the end I’d still err to saying yes. Social media is not a utility service. It’s an internet based pulpit. I do not need social media to communicate to people around me. So I’m not fearful of them over stepping their bounds in that department.
The part you mentioned which is OMG THIS THIS THIS is the get social media platforms out of the “news source” business. so much that. I find twitter’s “here’s what’s happening today” to be a useful additive to my news intake. But it should not ever be a replacement. And Facebook is horrid for that for many people.
Exercising judgement is hard. Transgender person existing or guy who invites a shooting in a pizza shop and made false charges of a felony child sexual trafficking ring? That’s a hard one?
As a trans person- I’ll take the risk.
Thing is, you and I are exceptions. There are billions of people who, at FB’s urging, do use it as an exclusive way to communicate with people they know and to get their news (among other things). Given what happened during the 2016 campaign season, that affects us all.
Agreed. Which is why we are definitely nodding heads at one another on a big portion of your post.
- Voting is compulsory (may force a few more people to self-inform better - a pipedream, I know)
- Anyone whose internet/online history shows more than 33% of time being spent on Facebook (or any other single social platform), has their voting rights removed until they have achieved a better ‘balance’ in their lives.
- For avoidance of doubt BoingBoing is classified as not a social platform
Yes, I am a budding idealist liberal democratic socialist cynic benevolent tyrant. A real happy mutant?
Seriously, though, FB urgently needs regulating, or else being mandatorily cut down in size and reach.