Only when the Government does it

Definitions are a funny thing sometimes. It’s important to define things properly so that they can be pigeonholed and categorised. However sometimes definitions get distorted, particularly when language allows the use of hyperbole. The particularly troubling case I see recently is the argument about the removal of Alex Jones from prominent platforms like Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Apple’s stores.

This is not a post to agree or disagree with these companies’ actions, but rather to speak about how the concerns are dismissed.

Also this post isn’t to suggest that I seek to defend Alex Jones and his frankly outrageous opinions.

Those who are concerned with his removal from these platforms – and along with those sympathetic to him – have used the word “censorship” to describe the actions. However, the retort to the claim is that Apple, Google, Twitter, Facebook et al are well within their rights to remove him and his message from their systems. Also, the further reply is that only the Government can “censor” citizens.

I can see the points from both sides, and I can do so without explicitly endorsing Alex Jones. I do not care for the crazy man.

However, for all the talk these days about “conversations” and “having a discussion”, I feel that this does warrant further investigation to hash the issue out. To be outraged and demand boycotts is equally as troublesome as being snidely dismissive because the definition of the word “censor” doesn’t apply.

One can be concerned about the suppression of speech while also condemning the individual who is speaking. Voltaire quote and all.

Review the world of today. Take a good look at how information is being broadcast and shared. When using the internet, it is typically the dominant method of spreading oneself and their words. News sites will frequently feature tweets from celebrities and regular individuals in their stories. If you’re applying for a job, employers will actively scour your social media for telltale signs of your behaviour to ensure your character is one befitted their organisation.

If you want to build any kind of public persona, it is through non-Government means. You need these platforms today. Even hosting a website, or a blog like this, is beholden to non-Government controls. That private companies can exercise supreme control – and especially in seemingly such a coordinated fashion in the example of Jones – I don’t see how people can be so cavalier about dismissing concerns.

While it may not be “censorship” by definition, is could be argued that it is by action. I have used this expression in other instances, but I feel that it’s often the best way to frame what it is that I’m talking about:

What if it’s someone you admire being removed like this?

What if it were Colin Kaepernick? What if it were Linda Sarsour? Pick any well-regarded political activist with a large platform, and ask yourself if you’d be happy with these companies huddling together to prevent them from spreading their message.

There is also the matter of Alex Jones being removed for “Hate Speech”. While I am not entirely aware of what specific examples this regards, although I am familiar with his disgraceful words around the Sandy Hook school shooting. Were they disgusting? Yes. Would they cause harm? Undoubtedly. Would I support him? No.

Yet the ownership of his words are his. Not Facebook’s. Not Apple’s. Not Google nor the rest of the cabal of networks. I have the same feeling toward Louis Farrakhan, who has also said egregiously hateful things, but oddly remains on the social media public square.

People could point to Alex Jones’ followers and say that they are inspired to do harm because of his words. However, Bernie Sanders remains unscathed despite one of his followers shooting up a Congressional baseball game, nearly killing Steve Scalise.

I am not expecting these companies to host whoever wants to help themselves to their technology. However, I do expect them to apply their policies equally, which is where I think much of this concern about “censorship” stems.

Sure, by strict definition, it may not be censorship. But for all the harm this kind of arbitrary application can provide, in that it can deny “troublesome” (or whom these tech companies think are troublesome) speech, I think this shouldn’t be dismissed so easily.

Giant corporations ruling the world through controlling what speech is allowed, I feel is the kind of dystopic nightmare movie that many of these dismissers might be horrified by.

And if these people are still to see justification in what is happening and want to deny further conversation, then I offer the following:

Today it’s these companies who are able to define hate speech and deny people a platform. However, if MySpace, Friendster or similar are any indication, these networks won’t be prominent forever and something will eventually take their place. And that thing might have sympathies that do not align with your own, and they might be able to define your words as hate speech.

Will you worry about censorship then?

Advertisements

If bad can, no one can

There’s this odd propensity to push for the removal of a thing, if that thing can be misused by bad people. Social media, in particular, has had to adjust and wrap their platforms in order to protect the few from the fewer bad apples. Twitter has taken steps to actively police its users, and has established a totally-not-Orwellian-sounding “Trust and Safety Council.”

The gun debate in the United States often takes aim at removing guns from the majority of responsible gun owners because of the few people with instability issues.

This recent think-piece on Australia’s “Rendezview” site further encapsulates this thinking, lambasting Facebook for its new dating product. I am not familiar with the product itself, but the thrust of the article is that the endeavour is foolhardy because bad people could potentially abuse it.

It seems to overlook the idea that if bad people want to do something bad, they will find ways to do it. This isn’t to suggest that Facebook has no ownership of ensuring its users’ safety – they do – but any tools that people create are always going to be imperfect.

Give people a system, and they will game it.

I am somewhat unsurprised to see that the article digs at Facebook’s supposed role in allowing Russians to create chaos in the 2016 United States General election – which has so far offered zero evidence that the meddling had any influence on the outcome. I don’t think that Russia didn’t play around with the election – just that there is little evidence to date to suggest that the Trump campaign colluded with them, and that the result would’ve been different.

And they dig at Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica revelations? Is the author not aware that data mining is what Facebook is about, and is how they monetise their vast platform?

I feel that Facebook is facing this vocal backlash, not because they were blind to interference, but because Facebook doesn’t do enough to suppress wrong-think. Their recent announcement that they will be ranking news outlets based upon “trustworthiness” just screams of passive-aggressive partisanship. Even the softest cynic will wonder how exactly they deem sites trustworthy, and whether or not the outcome will lean one way or another.

And conservative sites are already looking at previous outcomes of Facebook’s algorithmic dalliances.

The media’s pressure upon Facebook appears, to me, driven to push Facebook to become another outlet for one side of the political debate. The coordinated masses want their ideas promoted first and foremost, and dissenting views silenced, mocked and ignored.

And competing social media platforms that promote free speech (such as gab.ai) are then smeared as “alt right” and “nazi”. I haven’t used Gab.ai, and cannot speak as to its sympathies, but I do worry that any platform that indicates that they won’t coddle their users, and silence any speech is smeared as a haven for Nazis.

We don’t need policing of speech. We need impartiality and honest debate without the horrific labeling of opposing views. And certainly we shouldn’t base policies on whether bad people can misuse them.

The 2020 race and Facebook

According to “buzz on the internet”, which for me these days says “what the media wants people to think others are talking about”, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is planning to run for President in 2020.

My post from yesterday seems rather timely, then.

This is one of those Elephant In The Room moments. Does nobody see the problem here? Nobody?

In the wake of Clinton’s shock loss, there were myriad news stories trying to find out what went wrong, or more importantly who they could blame. Immediately Facebook was in the firing line for permitting the spread of “fake news”, with Clinton herself using those very words about stories about her on social media.

Zuckerberg was then in the unenviable position of having to refute his network’s influence while simultaneously peddling his network’s efficacy to potential investors. To say that he was between a rock and a hard place is an understatement. When the eyes of the most powerful people in the world are implying your being complicit in their downfall must be unnerving to say the least.

Very recently, Clinton has named Facebook specifically in promulgating fake news which led to her poll defeat.

But back to that Elephant.

If Facebook is as effective any many had posited, do they not see the problem with Zuckerberg running for President? Do they not see how the person who has the finger on the buttons that can approve and deny people access to information which could sway their decision? Facebook is the number 3 site on the internet, behind Youtube and Google’s homepage. To a lot of people, Facebook is the Internet. They never go beyond that page.

The idea that a Presidential candidate can control that flow of information just flat-out concerns me. Equally concerning is the lack of other peoples’ concern about this. Are we just going to let someone whose company is (according to former employees) manipulating and suppressing viewpoints that didn’t befit their organisation or their political buddies.

I’ve linked to Gizmodo above, and now I need a shower – although I don’t think there’s enough soap in the world that could cleanse me of the ick.

My previous post talked about how sites which are the most popular should consider their positions one of responsibility rather than partisanship, which is why I don’t accept the “It’s their site, they can do what they want” bollocks. We wouldn’t accept it if the tables were flipped, so we shouldn’t accept it now.

If Zuckerberg decided to run for President, he would need to appoint independent auditors to Facebook’s premises to ensure that no tampering of counter viewpoints occurs. Or he could do what many other power brokers on the planet do;

Buy a puppet.

Further to censorship semantics

Below is a 22 minute video from user Mister Metokur, which covers something I mentioned in a previous post relating to censorship and major social platform’s willingness to quietly direct people away from hearing “problematic” content.

I don’t endorse this user and his content, however in this instance I feel he explains my fears about prominent websites controlling what it is that people see, and they’re doing it hamfistedly. It’s not enough for videos and their creators to organically grow and build reputations, but they also need to have the right views.

You can argue that no one is being hidden, and that people just need to search for specific content, however it’s difficult to find challenging views if you are being railroaded into the “correct” viewpoint.

I would take an uncomfortable truth over one that is deemed acceptable by the Google Gods. Besides, if peoples’ beliefs are so true, then they should be able to withstand opposing viewpoints. That is what debate is, and debate is how we reach the truth, or at least find a compromise that benefits most.

To reinforce my point, Google, Facebook, Youtube and Wikipedia are the 4 most popular websites on the planet right now. I am uncomfortable with these organisations trying to herd their users into what they want them to know.

And this is not because I disagree with the views they’re pushing.

It’s because I don’t want information suppressed. It shouldn’t happen to anybody of any stripe. If these big four sites decided tomorrow that their best interests lie in conservatism and that they should start silencing left views, I would be here on this blog, again decrying the filter.

Because corporations are not your friend. They do what serves their agenda. They will turn on you the moment you stop benefiting them. This is why we all should decry and be fearful what Google, Youtube, Facebook and Wikipedia are doing. It might benefit you now, but what if the next great technological marvel that changes the way the globe distributes and consumes information was created and run by a conservative idealogue?

If you endorse or otherwise hand-wave what Google is trying to do, then the rich people are laughing at you.

 

Censorship semantics

It’s long been my own personal lament that news online seems to only pass a wandering eye over an issue before moving onto the more important aspect. I am, of course, talking about How Social Media Reacted.

In the face of something even remotely controversial, or something which happens to challenge current popular convention, news stories (at least in this country) mention the issue in passing before opening another paragraph with “Users on Twitter…”, followed by descriptors of how they lost their collective shit.

I’ve long held the view that Twitter posts are not news, however it seems that news organisations largely disagree. Something odd happens, or Trump utters a sentence, and news stories emerge with celebrity comments, sharp barbs and randomly picked nonsense that seems funny to those whom lean a certain direction.

Okay, so I am clearly on the outer with regards to Twitter comments being non-news. Fine. Sure. Let’s run with that. If people want to have their voices heard, then Twitter is often where you go to have people listen.

Except, Twitter now controls who and what is said. They control what is trending. Same as Facebook, who will bury something which could have grown completely organically. Youtube (ie the premier platform for viral videos, political punditry, peanut galleries and cooking shows) is also rigging their system to shaft those who publish “controversial” content, or as others would suggest, “Views That Are Problematic”.

So, on one side you have people complaining about censorship. On the other, people claim that Youtube, Twitter et al can do whatever they like. It’s their platform. They don’t have to host it.

I’m firmly in the middle of most issues, but I can’t help but lean toward the former than the latter. Are Facebook, Twitter and Youtube private companies? Yes. But they also have in their possession a place that multiple news sources lift news from, and are the go-to for most people to obtain their information. At some point, the dominance of a platform (or in this case, platforms) requires a certain level of responsibility.

Sure, Youtubers can go to other platforms such as Dailymotion or Vid.me, but with that they lose a lot of eyes. Those disillusioned with Twitter can go somewhere else as well, but I cannot recall any time when something went viral from Gab.

Many people would surely disagree with me on this, however my immediate response (as always) would be “What if it was stuff that you were saying being demonetised?” At this point the silencing is happening to those who disagree with a lot of what The Left says, but what if these platforms were built by those from The Other Side? Would the gimping of revenue streams for Leftist creators be accepted with a shrug and a forlorn trudge to an alternative network?

I sincerely doubt it.

My other response would be, “What about deplatforming?” A number of conservative speakers have attempted to talk at college campuses, or on television shows, and the reaction from social media has been to pressure the venues for hosting such hateful figures. When Milo Yiannopoulos was booked to appear on Real Time with Bill Maher, there was much gnashing of teeth, insults at Maher and a panelist dropped out.

But Maher can book whoever he wants, right?