On the problem of giving everyone a voice in the public square
"Of course freedom of reach is freedom of speech."
From an originalist perspective, it's really not. In the founding era, without real-time communication over distance, actual speeches - standing up at a meeting or on a street-corner and talking to all those within the sound of your voice - was one of the major modes of organization and proselytization.
By contrast, there were only something like 50 printing presses in the colonies in 1775, and while the presses and their owners were made free by the Constitution to print what they wanted without fear of government imposition, they very much did not grant the public the right to common access of printing services. (Interestingly, no major historical work, to my knowledge, has been done on the ideology of printers as a class in revolutionary America, or whether any publication bias may have resulted).
Unfortunately, modern communications technology has collapsed the two categories - now the only way people meaningfully communicate is via distributed micro-presses (by analogy), which still remain in consolidated ownership. The conflict in visions over how to handle social media is really caused by that change in the scope of relevant political discussion and organization.
Never argue for content moderation policies that you wouldn't want enforced by someone who thinks you are a complete twat.
Yishan's twitter thread could be summarized as "some people think we have implicit bias but really we are just trying to run a business here."
There was a point about "actions online will lead to actions offline", without any exploration of the question of "does censoring people on your platform do anything to _increase_ bad behavior offline?"
Good analysis. I believe the essence is less about isolated posts (who cares) and more about what is trending (many care). As we will no doubt uncover with sunlight, trend multipliers are set by "moderators" based on political objectives and supporting narratives. Using laughably obvious methods, they either kink the oxygen hose that feeds the trend or give it rocket fuel, thereby appropriating an absolute concentration of power. And since twitter has an outsized influence on lazy journalists, the impact is wide and long lasting.
And that is the clear danger to free speech.
Just keep going, Antonio. Truly great paper. thank you, could not agree more. But this also goes for the European union which is fully into the trip of extensive content moderation. As Thierry Breton, European commissioner tweeted threateningly, in response to Musk's takeover: "There are rules Elon!" Damn the European Commission for that and with it, all the European governments who agree with what it is plannning to do.
Even 4chan has never had the content moderation that its often accused of. It had sub-boards with their own moderation rules, which vary across the boards.
This same comment probably applies to many criticisms of Alex Jones and other people who are deemed "censorable", where what they've actually said and done is not the same as what they're accused of.
Really enjoyed this post, Antoino. DALE!
Benjamin Franklin would definitely have had 2 twitter accounts: 1 for public-facing and 1 anon wisdom and shitposting.
"Freedom of speech is now a continuous spectrum, a reach knob adjusted by algorithms and tweaked by the companies where speech happens and the audience is”
I'm having a hard time squaring this claim with ordinary definitions — at least, the definitions before content moderators and fact checkers rewrote the dictionary.
That is not free speech. At least not in the US, where free speech has a definition: It is what is permitted by law, which imposes only a set of narrow restrictions. That does not mean that any sequence of words or any media is permitted. It does, however, have a definition. And it permits an awful lot of speech that is not permitted on these private platforms.
Yet these platforms aren’t open about what they’re doing. When their censorship is applied only to one political camp, when they don't acknowledge their uniform loyalty to the the dictates of Team Blue, then we are dealing with a false promise and false pretense of neutrality. The brilliance of this arrangement is that these companies implement government-desired censorship on critical topics — a practice that’s been been openly demanded by the administration, which cannot itself act as the censor:
"Nice business ya got there. Be a shame if something happened to your right to operate."
This new system goes beyond the inhibition of political opinions. It also makes advocacy of positions not held by the federal bureaucracy impossible, even as those positions change over time. Today we’re at war with Oceania, tomorrow with East Asia. Experts and fact checkers agree.
This contributes not just to suppression of politically undesirable content, but also acts as a means of suppressing the process by which facts are established. Facts are not a government product, to be enforced by its political allies. Facts are established by analysis, argument, refutation and data-backed discussion . You note that the turnabout on Covid lab leak theory, yet dismiss other now-dismissed claims as conspiracy theories. What gives you the confidence to make this claim? The lab leak theory was been subject to investigation. Yet it could not be discussed in respectable venues until a Team Blue allied media organ looked into it -- after the political danger had passed.
This is how facts are suppressed and science is transformed into declaration-by-authority. Now the same suppression occurs on any politically sensitive subject.
The claim that social media is somehow different in kind from anything that preceded it, and that free speech (in its definition long-established in the US) doesn't apply, is merely a self-serving and politically-driven assertion.
We're now seeing free-speech conventionalists (not "absolutists") being called "free speehchers". It goes along perfectly with “freedumb”, because when it comes to speech, freedom is now slavery.
This rewrites reality and represents a fundamental change in American society. No one voted for it; it is not widely supported. But you'd never know if your view of reality is set by what’s permitted on these platforms.
If the platforms had confidence in their positions, they’d be open about their political allegiances and constratints, what topics they censor, and why. Instead they portray what they do as fair and merely protective of the vulnerable… by which they mean the ignorant masses who don't run in their social circles and can’t think for themselves.
At this point Team Blue seems to have elevated censorship to part of its religion, and suddenly the censors on are the right side of history. The safe bet is that there is no turning back and that speech will be further constricted using the tools of government, on or offline, with our without a change in law. We are already at a point where expression of opinions that lie outside the range permitted by Team Blue result in unemployment. “Speech has consequences”, they say. Yet somehow these mortal sins didn’t exist just a few years ago.
We know where this all leads, based on clear historical precedent. Should be an interesting ride. Too bad we won’t be permitted to have an open debate about it.
You are too kind to DiResta. She tried to deplatform me for saying things that turned out to be true, but marked me as not-a-political friend (not even an enemy!). She was the first person I heard use the phrase “freeze peach” which is exactly as mocking and contemptuous as it sounds. Her worldview is simply to leverage power to silence her enemies.
Good article! You just stick to the facts of pointing out both perspectives. As a greedy reader, it's felt too long since you posted.
Anyone can say anything on the internet until it’s not good for business. So are we governed by laws or money? Most people could care less about Twitter. The people who care are the media, politicians, activists, and eccentric billionaires. A very small population of users who think what they say is important. Twitter could disappear tomorrow and most Americans would not blink about it vanishing.
What are your thoughts banning based on behavior rather than speech?
I found Yishan's thread here very interesting on the matter - https://twitter.com/yishan/status/1514938507407421440?s=20&t=OdgHZBhHa_fRlwYx14R9WQ
I think the reason that the right often falls afoul of content moderation is because there is a certain joy/elevation on the right towards badgering/bullying or deliberately outrageous content that does not exist on the left. I don't feel like I find the same good faith debates like these on the right - https://twitter.com/Sifill_LDF/status/1519418028445900801
Enjoyed the post!