Last year, the government briefly blocked social networks after viral rumors and calls to violence, circulating largely on Facebook, appeared to provoke a wave of anti-Muslim riots and lynchings.
Government officials had repeatedly warned Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, that the posts could lead to violence.
Company officials largely failed to respond until the government shut down access, after which they promised to hire more moderators and improve communication.
And from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/21/world/asia/sri-lanka-expl...
Rather than trusting in Facebook and other companies to police their networks for hate speech or incitement that could arise as a result of Sunday’s attacks, the government was treating the platforms as too dangerous to remain online.
I know social media platforms can create mobs, but since when are we all scared that:
> That digital rights and press freedom advocates might now sympathize, if not agree, with Sri Lanka’s action.
This seems questionable to me, and problematic for people trying to find each other.
However, there’s a vast difference between targeted censorship of forbidden topics and a temporary blanket ban on certain forms of communication. This isn’t good, but it’s pretty mild. Temporary limits on fundamental freedoms during an emergency are pretty common, even in the good old USA.
What Facebook enables and optimizes for can hardly be called free speech. Articulation is not encouraged, merely the spreading of thoughts (both good and bad). Engagement has been optimized for advertising purposes. It led to banal agreement in the form of likes and reshares. There is hardly any discourse, people get silo-ed in echo chambers, and the extreme ends of the spectrum get magnified. Confirmation bias rules, and bad ideas aren't defeated by good ideas because they hardly come into contact.
So no, Facebook isn't enabling free speech, as much as they'd like to claim they are. At best they are a communication tool, nothing more.
Freedom of information flow isn't the same thing. Democracy works best with an informed electorate. Information flow without discourse is just indoctrination. And that's what Facebook (unintendedly) optimizes for.
Depending on your definition of "thought".
That's a rather strong opening to limiting free speech. Who gets to decide that my speech was without thought? Is there an approval process? Can I repeal the decision? Do I have to document my thoughts before I speak to prove later that I did indeed think before I spoke out against the people that make those distinctions?
I get why people are making excuses though. Pretty much no political systems in the world can actually exist with truly free speech, because they all rely on controlling free speech to function. And now that actual free speech got out of their control it threatens them and makes them push against it, promoting restrictions to free speech.
Now they can finagle around with it as much as they like, try to machine-learning this, machine-learning that, but it isn't going to get around that it fundamentally operates by hijacking people's limbic system. And people are ultimately more clever and dastardly than whatever machine-learning they are going to throw at it to try to sanitize the discourse.
It's probably easier to teach yoga/tai chi/meditation/whatever to all of Facebook's users than to fix Facebook.
Exactly. If people are rioting, for example because their football team won the Super Bowl (http://fortune.com/2018/02/05/eagles-win-super-bowl-riot-psy...), the city may impose a curfew to give everyone a chance to cool off. This just sounds like the digital equivalent to me, and while it's unfortunate, it seems like the best solution to the problem.
What the heck is this supposed to mean? What, I suppose that if people in China wanted democracy they could just go and get it? Oh wait, not really, they get silenced, arrested, and massacred... Is there even a place on Earth where a democratic transition was achieved not by force against the holders of power?
Taking power from a non-democratic leadership is incredibly difficult, risky and almost always violent. And non-democratic leadership very rarely self-democratize. Unfortunately, we don't know if much of the world wants democracy as it's aggressively stamped out in many places and illegal to pursue it.
While I agree with you, that it’s difficult, sometimes bloody, and elites almost never give up power voluntarily (isn’t that true even in democracies though?), one can see that it can be done.
Even in “speech,” there is a matter of quality — quality that has been taken for granted in much of the “free” world. It is this quality that is the responsibility of speech.
Now, on topic, another comment on this thread points out quite well that some of our social media platforms are not designed for quality. They were designed to be viral.
I agree with you on the short-comings of social media though, with their algorithms designed to push up the things that make people out-raged (those that go viral the fastest) and enable people to deepen and solidify their beliefs with very narrow curated feeds. These have led to hate crimes all over the world. There is definitely a dangerous element to them that people who harp on about 'free-speech' seem to want to sneer at.
The fact is, those countries where people "just don't care" happen to be countries that violently suppress opposition. The opposition does not necessary want fairness and freedom, but they want participation on power.
There is always mechanism for fighting out power and ideas - prison or election.
And if most poor people didn't want to be poor, they would have chosen to be rich. And if most homeless people wanted to live in homes, they would have chosen it.
Germany tempers it with the legal doctrine of "practical concordance", where a global maximum over all Basic Rights is sought, not just a local maximum for Free Speech, and all other rights lose.
It's also in the Human Rights convention.
In Europe a few counties has minor limitations on a few sensitive subjects. Don't confuse that for censorship, or free speech restrictions.
Why do not those "minor" limitations fall under censorship or free speech restriction?
(Copy pasted from web)
Forcing people to slow down in their ability to react to a massive amount of information/emotion, by letting them sit on for a while may not be a bad idea.
All too often a flurry of incomplete information leads only to a large degree of noise that organically sorts itself out inside of a couple of days.
Giving people time to think and force them to slow down is a proven method to prevent all out chaos.
What would happen if a US president were assassinated now? Several cities burned after Martin Luther King was killed. Lots of LA burned after officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted. And now, with social media? It'd be total chaos.
People have become less violent over the years and with social media responsible organizers have a better shot at preventing violence.
One deranged man not liberals in general. There have been numerous right wingers shooting up churches and mosques and planned parenthood buildings.
I'd say it's the people going "But not MY side!" that we really need to be worrying about here.
But it is hard not to see that extreme ideology drives the agenda of one or a few sides, while most sides are willing to compromise with reasonable, evidence-based solutions that the ideologists reject outright. It is irresponsible to say in that case that both sides are being unreasonable - that false equivalence promotes an unhealthy stalemate and gives cover to those who blindly delay progress.
Liberalism in today’s society is stuff like taxing people to pay for health care, or living wages, or supporting the right of workers to unionize.
The Weathermen’s stated political goal was to overthrow U.S. imperialism. That is not something I would lump in the same basket as liberalism.
So I would say that this isn’t an example of liberal thinking at all, whether from the 60s or any other decade. Just because it isn’t “conservative” doesn’t make it liberal, and trying to lump everyone into a false dichotomy is rather Fox News, in my opinion.
But maybe that was AIM, not Weather Underground.
People here are finding each other through traditional point-to-point comms -- SMS and phone calls. The social media blackout probably saved lives today and prevented a lot of retaliatory bloodshed.
Recent amplification of fake news and violence(30+ deaths attributed) on social media in India probably plays a big factor, as does last year’s anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka.
And in those moments, "everyone" is heads down into their smartphones. Just thumb scrolling and looking for anything that reinforces their beliefs.
This is not a new thing.
Morally, free communication is a basic human right.
Practically, having a bunch of churches/hotels attacked by an easily-identifiable group, followed by shutting off communications tools, would probably turn people from "death squad curious" into hardcore whatever the local version of hacking your enemies apart with a machete is (parang?). A reasonable but scared person might assume the attacks are of a larger scale, or supported or condoned by the government, or otherwise an ongoing event, rather than a tragic event which happened and is now over and could be left to policy solutions. I know if 9/11 or something like that had happened and then the USG had immediately tried to institute a communications blackout (except for state controlled broadcast media), a lot of people I know would be very on-edge.
They don't trust that Facebook has effectively neutralized a force that is tearing their civilization apart.
If Facebook created a monster that they can no longer control, what else should governments do to protect their citizens?
Who the hell advocatea violence? Let alone in such large numbers?! Sri Lanka has a deeper problem.
And it's most effective at amplifying negative ideas and emotions like rumor, gossip, fear and hate.
Of course the root cause is people. But before Facebook, the bad stuff was slow to spread, and geographically localized.
Facebook released an accelerant, a catalyst into the world. And Facebook has lost control of the monster it created.
Very few items could fill in this blank to make a true statement:
"Every human should be trusted with unrestricted and amplified _____________."
If you create a superhuman thing and release it into the world, you damn well better control it.
Initial misinformation, is usually quite widespread before any correction is issued, and even then correction usually get less spread ( mostly because people who have been spreading misinformation would not admit that they are wrong ).
Also blocking, muting and bubble effect contribute to wrong information staying in the same sphere.
But it’s my understanding that social media, specifically WhatsApp, has been accused of amplifying fake news and violence in India, resulting in reduced sharing limits to mitigate against malignant virility.
14 months ago there were anti Muslim riots in Sri Lanka and more recently major Bangladesh/Myanmar Muslim refugee crisis.
If I was running security in Sri Lanka I would also consider a temporary shut down or throttling of social media to mitigate the amplification of sectarian violence.
This is a real tragedy, especially when looked at in perspective with the incredibly violent, costly, and lengthy Sri Lankan Civil War.
When looked at thru the lens of having followed the Sri Lankan Civil War at a distance, the extreme violence(suicide bomber was “invented there) and urban terrorism was a near constant.
This is a horrible tragedy that I hope Sri Lankan can contain and prevent viral escalation.
So if the government knows that e.g. Henry Bemis is a known trouble-maker, it is easier to monitor his phonecalls, emails, SMS and find out what are his next steps of this bomber/terrorist/whatever. If Henry Bemis is using Signal, WhatsApp, Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, etc. it is easier to coordinate the next steps of an attack, awaken sleepers etc. without the government's security forces to be able to react equally fast.
Typical counter-terrorism stuff (or I just have a wild imagination).
> So if the government knows that e.g. Henry Bemis is a known trouble-maker, it is easier to monitor his phonecalls, emails, SMS and find out what are his next steps of this bomber/terrorist/whatever. If Henry Bemis is using Signal, WhatsApp, Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, etc. it is easier to coordinate the next steps of an attack, awaken sleepers etc. without the government's security forces to be able to react equally fast.
So in other words, the elimination of social media's primary value lies not in the fact that it stops speech that calls for violence, but in the fact that it enhances the government's ability to conduct population-wide surveillance. So your underlying point is that better government surveillance is what stops violence, and elimination of social media serves to enhance government surveillance.
I am never in favor of censorship. I am merely stating that I understand a potential use under these circumstances. I don't agree. I just undertand the reasoning.
You forgot to think about the people they don’t know about right now. I’m presuming they’re freaking the F out right now and are worried about unknown cells and their communications.
So... in the moment, decision was to make unknown cells communications more difficult by disabling low hanging fruit.
>Social media platforms build their businesses on sophisticated algorithms that serve up content that will keep users engaged. This favors posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger and fear, studies suggest.
I think governments, and researchers, are going to find that censoring social media doesn't have as large an effect as they imagine. Most of it is noise anyway. Buzz buzz.
I'd love a link to the most current review of evidence on social media and crime.
Surely there are some decent natural experiments by now. Is any jurisdiction doing RCTs?
On the other hand, I can understand short term temporary shutdowns to try to stop further violence, but that's not what Sri Lanka is doing in this case.
Government officials had repeatedly warned Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, that the posts could lead to violence."
Sri Lanka isn't trying prevent people from communicating with each other or censorship. Sounds like they've been bitten by social media-driven violence in the past, which wouldn't be the first country to see this phenomenon (Myanmar).
It's so easy to assume a corrupt government motive here, but we've seen ethnic violence perpetuated on social media in the past. What's a government supposed to do when that happens?
If people perpetuate ethnic violence through cell phones, does the government ban phones? If people perpetuate ethnic violence through speaking, will the government ban speaking?
Did they just nicely ask Facebook to geo-IP block their whole country, and Facebook agreed voluntarily?
Is there some legal process, where Facebook's under threat of having money/property in the country seized and/or employees in the country arrested if they don't comply?
Or are they doing it without Facebook's assistance? Do they have government-controlled routers that can blackhole specific DNS queries or IP address ranges? Or put their ISP's under threat of some legal process to implement the same?
How do we make the Internet more robust against the specific attack launched by the government? Or should governments always be able to shut down sites they don't like, when they judge it necessary?
Then again, this is wishful thinking. The only reason the Sri Lankan government has to resort to such a drastic and ham-fisted measure is that they don't yet have the clout or connection to call their friends at Google, Facebook, & Twitter and say "immediately shadowban this set of keywords" like the US and EU can.
I don't think it's hardly exploited enough!
I have served my country's army. I am always in favor to be targeted in a terrorist attack, that having unarmed, untrained civilians be targeted. Against me a 'terrorist' (burgler, gunman, etc.) has significanly less chances to survive. Attacking Churches (today), Mosques (a month ago) and shooting unarmed civilians is plain cowardness.
To make sure you get my comment. I am against all types of violence. But having served, and having been trained to kill and survive, I believe that someone armed, and in uniform is 'fair game' in a military conflict.
Unarmed civilians are never 'fair game'.
That's quite a claim. How many examples can you think of?
And yes, doing a quick Google search brings up a Christmas attack and another a month after Easter. As I said, attacks on churches are common enough that lots of info gets drowned out.
And yet they still feel the need to have thousands of security troops guard churches this year.
"Officials blocked the platforms, he said, out of fear that misinformation about the attacks and hate speech could spread, provoking more violence."
Good, a step in the right direction and finally officials are connecting the dots on this. I know HN hates to hear this but this is long overdue. It's my view that the executives in charge of these social networks should face criminal prosecution for their supreme negligence and wildly irresponsible behavior, allowing extremism to spread and hateful ideologies to flourish in the name of increasing quarterly engagement metrics. Free speech has little to do with this.
Social media is a fertile breeding ground for hate and a powerful recruitment tool for extremists. I doubt we're able to sort through all the FUD and misinformation, concerted and successful efforts to dictate public opinion and change narratives to suit whatever special interests or political agendas. We're truly in the post-truth era, with the power in the hands of a few SV elite and billionaire aristocrats. From everything I've seen I don't see mankind sorting this out before it's too late for all of us. Social media is the great filter.