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The Internet and the Third Estate (stratechery.com)
182 points by theNJR 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments

> “China is building its own internet focused on very different values, and is now exporting their vision of the internet to other countries. Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values. There’s no guarantee these values will win out. A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top ten are Chinese.”

(Quoting Zuckerberg)

I’m pleasantly surprised to hear Zuckerberg articulate this thought. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the past decade or so. At one time it seemed investable that key American values like free speech would become universal. We thought our engagement with China and the Middle East would hasten adoption of our culture and values. That future is far from certain now. Americans need to think really hard about what kind of world they want their kids to grow up in.

I think a lot about how culture is sometimes forcefully changed from without. For example the western values that we hold dear were not really appreciated by indigenous people of all the places colonized by Europe. Most colonized people didn’t think “oh I’m so glad we have fiat currency now, we’ve been waiting for it to come along!”[1]

Only when your own values are under existential threat do you realize that ways of life are precious to those living them, both the good parts and the bad parts. But once the zeitgeist has arrived, there is no going back.

I really do appreciate the values upon which the US government is supposed to be founded. On the other hand, US citizens being worried that another country will subvert their values and bully them into change is a deafening irony.

[1] not exactly an academic source: https://youtu.be/m56H4E5bZLk

> For example the western values that we hold dear were not really appreciated by indigenous people of all the places colonized by Europe.

“Indigenous people” often can recognize a good idea when we see one. The constitution of Bangladesh was written by a lawyer educated at Oxford and Norte Dame: http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/research/bangladesh-constitution.pd...

The text,[1] is immediately recognizable to any lawyer familiar with the Anglo legal tradition. It rings with ideas and phrases dating back to John Locke and the Magna Carta. This was not an externally imposed constitution. This was the founding document that Bangladeshis themselves adopted for their new country!

There are many people from former colonies that “appreciate” the institutions and values their countries inherited (without white washing what was taken). Fareed Zakaria, for example, has written eloquently about this: https://slate.com/culture/2006/10/the-best-case-for-india.ht...

> But India does much better in its micro foundations for growth. It has a real, broad, and deep private sector, populated by thousands of enterprising firms. They use capital efficiently (because they get much less of it than China), and they understand capital markets, branding, and sales. The banking system is clean and efficient, secured by British law. That’s why, despite being much smaller and slower-growing as an economy, India has many more world-class firms than China. India will do well because its growth is bottom-up, organic, and spread throughout the country. It is not the product of commands, special zones, and sweetheart deals to multinationals.

Even if we think colonialism shouldn't have happened, reversion to indigenous modes is neither possible nor desirable. Maybe the French can afford to faff about and translate everything into their indigenous language, but Bangladeshis cannot. We don't have the time or resources to rip "equal protection of law" out of the constitution because it's an American import and, figure out some organic, indigenous replacement. We have to plug into the world that exists now. The question is, what kind of world is best for all these developing democracies? Is it a world where China makes the rules and establishes the norms? One where Saudi does those things?

[1] The constitution provides for both English and Bangla translations. Although the Bangla version is the “official” one, the text was debated and drafted in English. It was then translated into Bangla before being officially certified.

But you only got that constitution because the British had to retreat, literally centuries after Locke wrote. Entrenched power had no intentions of giving your people rights before that.

Related, the British ran Hong Kong for over a hundred years. Why wasn't it already democratic, prior to handover, if their values are so great? The limited democracy they have was introduced in the 1990s as the clock was running out.

> But you only got that constitution because the British had to retreat, literally centuries after Locke wrote. Entrenched power had no intentions of giving your people rights before that.

What difference does that make? The fact that the British denied us the “rights of Englishmen” isn’t a reason to deny them to ourselves! That is cutting our nose off to spite our face.

Also, what is the alternative? We go back to Mughal law? They were foreign conquerors too!

I totally agree, I think we're talking about orthogonal things.

You're saying that a good idea should absolutely be taken, whichever culture it came from, which I totally agree with -- I was saying that Western powers (all powers) tend to go after their interests first, and any talk of 'promoting our values abroad' should be greeted with skepticism, given the record. Not that I disagree with the values.

> At one time it seemed [inevitable] that key American values like free speech would become universal

Unfortunately the world is increasingly becoming polarised in all aspects of society (eg Hong Kong). Such as: even the ideas of free speech is being 'counterbalanced' by other ideologies, such as political correctness, or 'family value' protectionism. I can easily see many 'great walls' being built for each country, especially those with a strong cultural identity. I know Turkey had lots of censorship when it comes to an 'open' internet (circumvented with a VPN of course). I feel the social media aspect will only be restricted as time progresses. Of course, I doubt the US will do this, but I suspect my country, Oz, is already entertaining such ideas (without proof)

It’s in his interest to make the US government believe Facebook needs to be big to counter China.


What the best interest of us all is to realize that all not hate speech, especially politically related, needs to not be burdened by restrictions on such by any government.

the only entities too big are the Chinese and American governments and both for the same reason, they are very willing to suppress speech which does not further their goals as countries or that of their politicians.

In the US that means they have to resort to scare tactics because our freedom of speech and assembly are protected if not heralded at times. so they have to scare you into believing the democratic process is threatened, that elections are threatened, that your very way of life is threatened, unless you of course give them power to suppress speech they claim meets those requirements. Fortunately courts would stop most attempts but politicians truly think the court of public opinion can be used to influence the courts too.

So yeah I get it, the fad is to hate of Facebook but I would take multiple companies the size of facebook before I let any politician tell me what speech is acceptable when it comes to politics or the like. putting a muzzle on facebook opens the door to muzzling all blogs and sites and that is something the press and politicians would love to have, control over the message again.

edit: just blundered into this story [0] - while more dire than what we are discussing one must understand that China isn't far from what Venezuela is now but for the people there this is what they gave up when they allowed the politicians to control the message and what is and what is not acceptable

[0] https://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2019/10/20/my-so...

With respect to the current US political situation, a good deal of it can be traced back to the last major upheavals of the late 1960's to early 1970's. The preordained approach to and discourse around economics, race/ethnicity, and feminism(and likewise many sacred cows of the computing culture) all have some birthing around these dates, and their post-hoc developments have tended towards intensification rather than realignment, a thing which has become more jarring and explosive over time and is likely to precipitate our next political era(or perhaps the current one depending on how you see it).

And this goes for how we talk about and express "free speech" as well, since the era prior had just seen the Red Scare, various forms of media censorship, military drafts, and a "government man" approach to solving all sorts of problems. Everything moved in the direction of libertarian, market-driven ideology, and Facebook is an ultimate result of that.

My suspicion is that the "compete with China" narrative is actually the most powerful thing shaping this discourse. The authoritarian end of US politics will seize upon it as a way to take power, but will always suffer the handicap of their solutions being "too much like China". When combined with the free speech principle it animates arguments for allowing free speech on Facebook and throughout the Internet, while simultaneously also fueling arguments for breaking up the company and decentralizing its functionality in the "users have a right to privacy and should own their data" sense. In that sense it's like the motives that produced the Apollo missions, and a politican who approached it that way, as a "defense of our digital property rights requires the investment of our brightest minds" kind of issue would probably be very successful.

>When combined with the free speech principle it animates arguments for allowing free speech on Facebook and throughout the Internet, while simultaneously also fueling arguments for breaking up the company and decentralizing its functionality in the "users have a right to privacy and should own their data" sense. In that sense it's like the motives that produced the Apollo missions, and a politican who approached it that way, as a "defense of our digital property rights requires the investment of our brightest minds" kind of issue would probably be very successful.

People have a tendency to conflate Facebook's privacy lapses with the calls for antitrust action.

GDPR isn't meant to punish big tech companies like Google or Facebook, it's literally meant to protect individuals' privacy. That's it. It's not a Rube Goldberg machine to punish Facebook or address competition concerns. GDPR isn't even limited to the tech industry, it applies to every industry.

Governments already have antitrust laws to deal with monopoly power. The reason the calls for antitrust action are heating up is because of actual anti-competitive behavior. Antitrust also has nothing to do with free speech no matter what opportunistic politicians say to conflate them. The First Amendment protects private corporations to make any moderation decision they want. Section 230 lets them do it while also immunizing them from any liability.

I agree with you, but that won’t stop Zuck from trying to sell Facebook-the-big-corp as an anti-China counterweight.

This is very naive.

In addition to suppressing speech, there are foreign intelligence operations posing as domestic actors influencing political campaigns. This is illegal under US law, for good reason. It distorts the entire process if no one can tell who the speech is coming from. Foreign lobbyists must be publicly identified for this reason, and its interesting that multiple Trump administration persons have been found guilty of "not registering as a foreign agent".

Many fake US organizations and persons were created by Russians to influence the 2016 campaign, in clear violation of US laws. It seems the Chinese are not far behind. And because they are foreign actors, this falls squarely under the purview of counter intelligence and foreign policy towards hostile actors.

I do not think the US Founders vision of free speech included massive foreign propaganda campaigns.

> It distorts the entire process if no one can tell who the speech is coming from.

Not if voters are rational. Rational voters will weigh everything they see and hear in terms of the track record of the source: how well has this source done at telling me the truth in the past? Obviously an unknown source--still more a source that refuses to identify itself and has no track record at all--will simply be ignored. In an environment like that, hiding the true origin of speech is self-defeating.

This doesn't scale.

Even investors and economic agents can't be said to behave this way, and their incentives to put in the effort are much more immediate and explicit.

Few people have the time, resources, patience, persistence, and expertise even figure out whether any single thing a single source said is true. (Imagine someone makes a single claim backed by a mountain of "true" data, but ignores some problematic data. Time, a little domain knowledge, and patience might suffice to validate the ground-level truth of what they did cite, but I'm not sure anything short of domain expertise will be able to view it in light of everything it didn't cite.)

> Few people have the time, resources, patience, persistence, and expertise even figure out whether any single thing a single source said is true.

First, the amount of effort you invest should be proportional to the extent to which you care about whether the thing is true. If you care a lot, you should invest a lot of resources. If you don't care much, you shouldn't invest much. If you don't care at all, you should not invest any resources and you shouldn't have an opinion at all.

Second, for most things where you actually need to know what's true in order to live your everyday life, you can test things by direct experience. And for most things that you can't test by direct experience, you don't actually care about what's true; expressions of opinion one way or the other are signaling, not actual commitments to the truth of the opinion expressed. This is easy to see because most people don't actually govern their actions according to, for example, the political opinions they express.

And third, the only alternative solution to figuring it out for yourself is finding some third party that you can trust to do the work for you and truthfully convey to you the results. But then you have to decide which third parties to trust, and that just puts you right back at the same problem: few people have the time, patience, persistence, and expertise to actually evaluate the track record of truthfulness and accuracy of third parties. And every shortcut to that process can be, will be, and has been gamed.

More importantly, voters need to have skin in the game. If they can vote themselves unlimited benefits without themselves being personally liable for the costs, then republic will fall.

My solution: you only get to vote if you paid net tax for the year, less wealth transfer payments.

Sure. But voters aren't rational. We've just gone through that with economics - the homo economicus is bull - and I suppose we need to repeat that for the ultrarational libertarian crowd.

This is not how this works. This is not how any of it works. Humans are vulnerable to emotions. To lies they want to believe. To subtle influence just outside their daily cognition. To cheap dopamine hits from cheesy entertainment.

Believing that rational voters and some sort of speech attribution system will help solve all ills is beyond naive.

> voters aren't rational

And if that's the case, we're screwed, because no system of government can produce good government if the people don't know it when they see it and aren't willing to vote for it or against the lack of it.

Education is a semi-decent counter. So is complete deplatforming of people attempting to radicalize other people.

But yes, unrestrained capitalism + unrestrained privatization + unrestrained speech + democracy is not a combination that sustainably works, the way it looks.

Humans are not rational, and it's naive to believe that they ever possibly could be.

Governments need to be at least as big as the corporations and the other governments they seek to regulate and defend against, otherwise things get squirrelly and dangerous.

> Humans are not rational, and it's naive to believe that they ever possibly could be.

If this is true, we're screwed, because governments are run by humans.

I don't really think it's all that useful to think of even individual humans as rational or irrational, but in any case:

Governments (much like cities, markets, neighborhoods, societies, companies, social networks, "the media", political parties, academia, unions, religions, etc.) are "run by humans" somewhat like flocks are run by birds.

Yes, studying the nature of individual birds can teach you a little bit about flocks, but you've zoomed out to a level where it's more useful to talk about systems and dynamics. Can't see the forest for the trees, as they say.

This amounts to saying: we humans can't really predict the behavior of entities like governments. That just makes the problem I was pointing at worse.

No, it doesn't.

It amounts to saying that different rules and dynamics govern higher-order systems. It's not that the ir-/rationality of individual participants isn't a factor--but multiple interacting systems and feedback loops are creating the weather that those actors have to make decisions within.

Governments have a couple of safeguards in place to deal with irrational humans running the show. Some of them are division of power and checks and balances.

These safeguards are the reason why governance is sometimes slow and sometimes bulky but also why, by and large, governance doesn't fail entirely when it happens to be unjust: it can recover from most injustices (one argument against capital punishment is that there's no recovery from that).

And all that is rooted in a distrust that humans do the right thing all the time - without that assumption you wouldn't need these mechanisms with all their overhead, you'd just appoint a philosopher king.

[edit to add: One problem is when some of these powers aren't doing their job. Checks and balances break down when (for example) the legislature devolves into playing the executive's yes-men instead of directing its activities.]

All of these safeguards depend on people being rational--at least rational enough to watch whether the safeguards are working. If people aren't willing to do that, the safeguards break down. For example: the US Congress has something like a 98% re-election rate for incumbents and an approval rating in the single digits. That means important safeguards are not working.

Does that mean democracy is unsafe?

It means a democracy in which voters are unwilling or unable to hold elected representatives accountable for maintaining the safeguards is unsafe.

Fair enough - we need to limit the vote to the responsible voters only - for the safety of the people.

No. We need an educated populous, and not just educated in rationality but in spirituality as well.

Not religious dogmatic mechanistic ritualism corrupted for selfish motives, but open one-with-all selfless spirituality that seeks to promote future generations instead of stealing from them for the goals of the ego.

We should protect voters from all this confusion by eliminating democracy!

He's just restating the tech industry's ideology from the 90s (A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace) even though time has shown it to be entirely bankrupt exactly because of the China example.

His real concern isn't China but all the other countries in the world, like in the EU or India, who have legitimate democratically elected governments but don't have America's free speech protections. He's not even really concerned about the principle of free speech, just that's it's really good for internet businesses.

If you have to police content to prevent genocide in Myanmar, or Nazism in Germany, or mob violence in India, that costs a lot of money. Mark Zuckerberg would really like it if the US could go back to exporting the US way of doing things (most directly via including Section 230 in trade deals) to other countries so he doesn't have to spend as much on low wage contractors, and fully realize the infinitely scalable, zero marginal cost (but plenty of externalized costs) promise of being an internet business.

Every time Zuckerberg makes the case that Facebook needs to be big to counter the threat from China, governments have better tools to do that than blessing his monopoly. The US is already doing that with tariffs, CFIUS being able to block investments from China, and the potential for sanctions that can straight up block all trade with China.

> I’m pleasantly surprised to hear Zuckerberg articulate this thought.

I'm pleasantly surprised that people are waking up to this problem, but disappointed as hell that what they are waking up to is not the problem - but rather, the disruption of the status quo.

To the rest of the world, American values, media, culture, etc, being the dominant shaping force on the internet (And before that, through literature, television, film, etc) was cultural imperialism, that has shifted discourse, starved local culture, and, in short, was Americanizing the world. [1]

Americans now feel threatened by China's cultural weight being thrown around in this space. Okay. You don't like China using the same mechanisms that you used in the past, to broadcast and spread your mono-culture.

But instead of taking a moment to self-reflect, about whether it is good for the world to have an 800-pound cultural gorilla warping discourse, culture, and media around the world...

... We are upset that we stopped being that gorilla! It's more than a little hypocritical and peevish.

[1] Talk to a Canadian sometime, and ask them about Canadian culture, versus American culture - in the media sense. You'll find there to be very little of the former left, despite the government's best efforts to promote, and develop it.

The difference is that with American cultural values the freedom to criticize them remains. The option exists to say "I don't care for the US's culture or values".

I fear the concept of an internet where posts are censored and police arrive at your door for the wrong opinion.

The option also exists to say "I don't care for China's culture of values", you just have to not worry about selling your media there.

You're speaking from an incredible position of privilege - from the point of view of a net exporter of culture. Countries that were net importers of culture never had this concern.

Nobody in Germany would care about this sort of thing, for instance, because, I am sorry to say, nobody outside of Germany consumes German culture. Nobody in Germany needs to tailor their speech to not offend China, because nobody in China cares to listen to what they, their films, or their sports teams have to say.

This whole thing is uniquely an American problem - and you're discovering what it feels like to have your culture be shaped by the orthodoxies of a foreign set of values. It sucks, but that's how the rest of the world has had to operate for a long, long time.

It's not just America's problem, it's everyone's problem. It's a problem for people in the developing world who will be dominated by Chinese and other influences. I'm from Bangladesh, where we have some high-minded, western ideas of freedom of speech and press baked into our constitution. It's a good start, but our implementation has been less than perfect to date: https://www.dw.com/en/is-bangladeshs-media-freedom-deteriora....

I had long assumed--hoped--that the arc of history would point in only one way: closing the gap between practice and ideal in the direction of more freedom. But what now? Bangladesh is beset by forces that don't value liberty. Wahhabism from one side and Chinese Communism from the other. Neither is the path to enduring liberty and prosperity for Bangladeshis.

Who will fight those forces? Europe long ago abdicated any role in evangelizing its own ideas. Americans are the only westerners left who believe in their hearts that their values are universal, and that means the world need America more than ever. The last thing they need is for America to equivocate, pull back, or, worse, start dismantling its own framework of liberty.

nobody outside of Germany consumes German culture

Everyone in the world that listens to electronic music would like to disagree with you.

House and Techno are from Chicago and Detroit respectively.

Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter would like to have a word with you.

electronic music != house or techno. kraftwerk early stuff does not sound like house or techno.

> I don't care for China's culture of values", you just have to not worry about selling your media there.

Ok, so then you agree that the America system is more free, and better?

Because in America you can say that you don't like America, and you are not going to have your right to sell in America taken away.

No, but let's not pretend that there aren't incredibly powerful forces that very much constrain what you can say in media... If you ever want to make a living off it.

Consider: Why are artists criticized for selling out? Why do they do it, regardless? Why does, for instance, counter-consumerist media get co-opted into consumerist messaging?

This pressure is not done via law. It is done by basic economics. Well, guess what, basic economics of a foreign country are now putting pressure on media producers. Welcome to where we kept the rest of the world, for the past ~60 years.

There seems to be a pretty big difference between customers voluntarily choosing what to buy and not buy, and the government making the decision for consumers, and not giving them a choice.

The country is taking away rights that the consumers deserve to have.

to broadcast and spread your mono-culture.

America is, and has been, the polar opposite of a monoculture.

Thompson has recently been on a tear. Two of his recent articles (this and China Cultural Clash [0]) are some of his best writing yet. Actually, I'd say they are some of his best thinking yet.

Whether you agree with him or not, I think it is clear that he is asking the right questions, at a time when most people are not. More than even asking the right questions, I think he is seeing much more clearly, and forwardly, than is common.

I'm not sure I agree with all of his framing. For example, I'm not sure I agree that the invention of the printing press directly lead to nation states 450 years later. However, there is definitely more than a nugget of truth in his framing of the future, here. I think hindsight will judge him quite well, in more than just technology.

[0] - https://stratechery.com/2019/the-china-cultural-clash/

Another great piece. The world is changing, in the same way that the printing press caused change, people to break away from the control of the church. For many years it has been American views of freedom of the press that had a lot of sway in the world.

> And then China is building its own internet focused on very different values, and is now exporting their vision of the internet to other countries. ... There’s no guarantee [American notions of free speech] ... values will win out. A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top ten are Chinese.

> We’re beginning to see this in social media. While our services, like WhatsApp, are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, on TikTok, the Chinese app growing quickly around the world, mentions of these protests are censored, even in the US.

Scary to think that China can force censorship here via TikTok. I'm not a tiktok user, but that's terrifying. Hidden, defacto commercial censorship.

(edited to remove the > on the last thing above, that was my comment)

There is hidden and overt censorship. I actually find it absurd that we allow our children to use social media software developed by a hostile foreign power.


If you post like this again we will ban you. Nationalistic flamewar is not welcome here, let alone this kind of slur.


This is the sort of thougt-terminating cliche that western Sinophobia enables. If you simultaneously believe that Chinese people are just as capable of critical thought as Americans and that they often support their government, then you need to engage with that support in good faith and try to figure out why it'd be the case.

Instead, I think we often look at this as 'if p and q then X; certainly not X; probably q; therefore not p; QED'

For a nation that is overwhelmingly okay with (often vocally supportive of) our own actual concentration camps, we're weirdly obsessed with the faraway 're-education' camps of our main economic and socio-political rival.

(I do want to say that I think China is, really, objectively worse when it comes to human rights violations than the US itself is. I just find the unanimity of our criticism vs that of ourselves or, say, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Brazil, or other US-aligned states to leave a sour taste in my mouth.)

Edit: I forgot to tie this back in to the originally linked article. Basically, when we engage in criticism, we should in turn be critical of the interests of those whom that criticism serves. Zuckerberg wants us to believe in a Fifth Estate, of, for, and by the masses. We all probably know that this is double-speak aimed at protecting his own personal power and bottom line, but that narrative enables and supports external criticism, focused on his rivals the scary Chinese, rather than the already vast power that Facebook wields over us.

Americans are pretty unanimous in criticizing Saudi Arabia. The government often ends up on their side for geopolitical reasons, but the vast majority of American citizens and American media agree Saudi Arabia is a bad country doing terrible things.

I think you're right about SA actually. While we all sort of forgot about it quickly afterwards, nobody was really in favor of what happened to Jamal Kashoggi, for instance. There are better examples I could have used there, especially if I were to go back into recent history.

I understand it's more complicated than that, however you are just saying "what about the US?", "what about Saudi Arabia". Sure we can have conversations on all of those issues as well, however, China is, imho, on a different level. There are billions of mainland Chinese, and somehow they are ok with how they are being treated. Compare and contrast to almost any other country that has human right violations... with exception of some Muslim countries (which keep their citizens in fear like China), you can clearly see citizens fighting for more rights. Brazil has civil unrests all the time. China somehow, even after thousands of years, has managed to keep a government that basically owns their people. Most other modern countries have had their people's revolution, especially in the west. I think this is what it boils down to. Chinese don't see their government as an institution as much as an extension of their own identity it seems.

> Chinese don't see their government as an institution as much as an extension of their own identity

An interesting hypothesis, specific to a group of states under the China umbrella. It'd be worth exploring more, maybe.

Of course what you actually said was "brainless sheeple asian values", which is very different in ways that I'm not particularly keen to get into.

Sure, that's not the best wording and was borderline trolling to make a caricature to keep it short. Didn't mean any offense to anyone as I'm not thinking of any particular people, but rather whatever behavior that is going on in mainland China that allows the government to do anything they want.

So it seems this behavior is condoned by the people somehow. If this is completely voluntary, then those people are as bad as the government, and if it isn't then I can only conclude they turn a blind eye to avoid punishment. It's just hard not to also blame the people here, and somehow just blame the government... after all they are the ones to make this equivalence of how the government of China IS the people. If they blur this line, then why would we re-draw it?

Thank you for saying this. Scholars are still trying to untangle the complex socio-cultural factors that kept the Soviet regime in power. Some of the newer theories concern language and value when trying to understand the relationships between Soviet citizens and the state itself, Soviet citizens among each other, as well as one's inner perception of themselves within the context of the system and the people within it.

It's even harder when we don't have the benefit of hindsight when we have to analyze the present.

>For a nation that is overwhelmingly okay with (often vocally supportive of) our own actual concentration camps, we're weirdly obsessed with the faraway 're-education' camps of our main economic and socio-political rival.

This is the only point I think I disagree with. I haven't met any Americans in favor of the detention camps at the border. The big difference is that, in the Xinjiang province, the Uighur population is being detained and "re-educated" due to their ethnic and religious identity, which to Americans, sounds barbaric and Nazi-like.

> I haven't met any Americans in favor of the detention camps at the border.

What is the alternative? It's not like I'm in favor of keeping people locked up, but what is the actual alternative? People are voluntarily and illegally coming to this country when there is a giant line of people waiting to enter legally.

I've also lived in several parts of latin america, and can say with confidence the majority of illegal immigrants aren't in any kind of danger where they're from. They really just want a better life, but in my opinion the legal immigrants are in line for this and it makes no sense to allow them to cut in line. So then what alternative is there but to detain them and then send them back?

I don't know about that. There are plenty of people within the Trump base that are pro-detention centers; I don't expect you'd run into a lot of them in day to day life if you're an HN frequenter but not all of them advertise with crazy bumper sticker fiestas. I think I saw a ~41% approval in a WaPo article once, for instance. I've got some family in rural areas and their communities hold very different values to mine (and, by extension, maybe yours).

As to the detention centers, they almost exclusively target the Hispanic (okay, and sometimes middle eastern) populations in areas; or do we think that the percentage of white Europeans in those centers is reflective of the number of invalid- or expired-visa, or otherwise illegitimately in-country European people?

"brainless sheeple asian values"?

Many people would say that e.g. citizens of Taiwan are at least as critical thinking as citizens of the USA. Some would say even more so. Even within mainland China, you're understating the amount of free thought going on.

As far as Western values go, you only have to go back as far as 2003 to see a nation whipped up into a hysterical rage against some imagined enemy, to the point where that nation bombed the shit out of that country and caused the deaths of half a million people.

Right, I'm only talking about mainland China. It seems to me Taiwanese people are more/less on the same side as Hong Kong, in that they both dislike Chinese government. This is precisely what I'm talking about. What is it about mainland Chinese that either approve of all these human rights violation or turn a blind-eye. Either way they are siding with the Chinese government, and it seems that is how they see themselves, as an extension of the government. So then the question is, why would we also not blame the people who are basically saying they are part of the government, or at best they will not hold their own government accountable?

If there's lots of "free thought going on", but none of it can be expressed due to iron-fisted suppression by the government, does it matter?

Re: brainless sheeple asians

Consider how easy it was to get you to believe cartoonish generalities about a billion people you've never met.

Who's the sheep?

proc0 28 days ago [flagged]

I can't think of any other explanation why so many people condone China government to that extent. When was the last Chinese protest? Why is it so many countries have citizens protesting all the time, yet I bet this never happens in China. I'm just making some observations, granted I didn't choose the best words.

I appreciate the engagement.

I'm not Chinese and either way I wouldn't speak for 1.6B people. I'll just note that there have been way more revolutions in China than in America over any timeframe, and they were all terrible. Things are going great for average Chinese people right now, and they have living memory of revolution, bloodshed, starvation, etc. Why fuck with it? Lock in the economic gains, and slow-march towards democracy.

Xi is trying to move things in the wrong direction on the freedom front, and that's bad. The solution here is alliance with Chinese intellectuals, not opposition to 'China' that forces them onto their people's side.

Sure, fair point on siding with the people. I'll just add there is an element of holding the people accountable for what their government is doing, which is also why Americans got some flak during the Iraq war. I'll try to read more on this though.

Ben Thompson continues to amaze. Pointing out the pointlessness of controlling the impact of tech by limiting Facebook's influence is important. Authoritarian China's biggest advantage is its ability to pick winners and multiply their impact by leveraging how decisive their decision making can be. Where this fails is at finding local maximums. The winners China picks will be the best of what's available right now, which for a while has often been a Chinese clone of what's working in America, adapted to local preferences.

America's startup culture and competitiveness is our biggest advantage, and so I wish the US and EU would do more to force tech. companies to fight it out instead of picking winners by regulating the industry and controlling what Facebook and Google can do. Instead of just putting cumbersome regulations like the GDPR around user data, also dictate companies above a certain size have to have open APIs and easily exportable/programmatically accessible user data. Obviously this must be balanced by granular controls, but how can upstarts be incumbents when the data moats are so large. The APIs of Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. are pretty abysmal and continue to become worse with no punishment. Yet, that programmatic access to data is probably the only way an upstart could compete outside of a complete paradigm shift.

> America's startup culture and competitiveness is our biggest advantage

It's not an advantage against China though when they can do both of:

- Block US apps from the Chinese market - Encourage wholesale copying of the best features from US companies

If I were to start a FB clone of <insert any social app> in the US, it would fail miserably. China can ban the US version and simultaneously fund a clone for the Chinese market. Combined with the fact that Chinese networks (e.g. TikTok) have full access to the US market, this makes competition very asymmetric.

The "fifth estate" usage as referencing bloggers long predates any recent social media apologia.

Wikipedia article history shows the reference already by 2009:


It cites Stephen D Cooper (2006). Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate. Marquette Books. ISBN 0922993475.

It's possible that there are yet other estates to be discovered:


And of course there was the 2013 film of the same title:


Generally I think Zuckerberg is correct, Facebook is very powerful no doubt. But that power is vested upon by it's users.

There clearly was a lot of misinformation going around during the 2016 election and at some point we have to look back on ourselves and ask: "why are we so gullible"? There is a balance between Facebook moderating it's platform and controlling speech and I think we are near that line.

Labeling articles as misleading or doing some fact checks along with making sure that there are no bots and extreme hate speech is near the limit of my expectations of what a platform should do in terms of moderation.

> Europe’s Three Estates

Wikipedia says the same in the context of the press as the fourth estate, and I think it's wrong, at least from a German point of view.

While it is correct that the medieval Estates (or "Stände") were the nobility, the clergy and the people, nobody has ever called the press the fourth "Stand".

The press is the fourth "Gewalt" (or "Power"), and that is a clear reference to the three powers in the state: the legislature, the executive and the legislature.

It's interesting how those two trinities mix with the press in different languages and societies.

> nobody has ever called the press the fourth "Stand".

Because unlike in the UK, the press as a Gewalt in a political system with Gewaltenteilung (division of power), appeared only after the society divided in estates (Ständegesellschaft) ceased to be. It's a timeline issue.

and judicial

I find it incredibly ironic that Mark Zuckerberg claims that the 5th estate he helped create has no gatekeepers. In fact, Facebook finds itself the largest gatekeeper of speech the world has ever known. How our society deemed it fair and prudent to allow a private corporation to 'moderate' and prioritize billions of communications a day... that I'll never understand.

There's a glaring issue with Ben Thompson's essay, in that so far as I'm aware there is no independent US tradition of "estates" independent of either Continental or British European formulation. Rather, there are the three Constitutional branches of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial. One can find informal references to fourth (and occasionally higher) branches of government. But not "estates" as such, within the US.

Otherwise, you will find frequent usage of "fourth estate" in the traditional European sense, almost always referencing the press.




I'm trying to decide if this is a major or minor flaw with Thompson's essay. Either way, the claim without reference suggests a sloppyness or lack of diligence, which calls into question his larger points.

And there are certainly questions to be asked. The claim that the so-called Fifth Estate is free of gatekeepers is specious, as Jon Evans pointed out at TechCrunch (posted yesterday to HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21306086): Facebook isn’t free speech, it’s algorithmic amplification optimized for outrage.

Whether the gatekeeping is one of blocking specific types of content, or amplifying others to the point that unwanted messages are completely drowned out really doesn't much matter. Attention, individual or collective, is finite, and whatever means are used to deny it, the end effect is the same: a message is lost.

That's an excellent read and gives me much to think about. In particular, I need to reassess my understanding of Facebook's role in political discourse.

>It’s also a framing that is, appropriately enough, uniquely American; in the United States, the first three estates are commonly thought to be the three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial.

The author of this article may have misunderstood it this way but I guarantee that this is not commonly thought in the United States.

In the US, the press is occasionally referred to as the fourth branch of government (after the legislative, executive, and judiciary). Occasionally others are proposed: lobbyists, special interests, the intelligence services.


That's a different term used to mean entirely different things.

My point is that Ben Thompson seems to have confused the terms "fourth branch" and "fourth estate" in his essay.

Which is not among his better ones.

The usage of "branches of government", the three Constitutional ones (leg, exec, judicial), and various others generally posited as a fourth, or occasionally higher, branch. See:


I'm entirely unfamiliar with a notion of estates in the US independent of Continental or British traditions. That seems to be a novel creation, or mis-remembering, of Thompson.

DDG finds nothing aside from the European usage under fourth/fifth estate, specific to the US:


Estates are real and they aren't branches of government - more like divisions of society. I agree regarding the confusion in the essay.


The discussion of the press reminds me of the propaganda model of media https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_model

> The third concern is what has dominated the news cycle as of late: Facebook’s decision to not fact-check any posts or ads from politicians. This is largely being framed as aiding President Trump in particular, which is probably both true and also an unsurprising complaint from the Second Estate used to having monopoly control over fact-checking.

Does he mean the American second estate, i.e. the legislative branch? Or does he mean the Nobility?

And what does he mean by Monopoly Control?

And what is he trying to imply with the word "unsurprising" here?

I think he means the European second state, the one after the church-backed monarch state, i.e. nation state. (I also think his use of the nth-state analogy is slightly is confusing).

I think he is referring to the media establishment's (i.e. TV news) monopoly over fact checking. and it's unsurprising because of course they would like to keep that same power they had before the internet

Isn't the media the fourth estate?

I can't find any way to interpret this excerpt such that it makes sense.

How does anyone have "monopoly control over fact checking"?

And I also can't think of a way to favorably interpret that statement, given that I consider fact-checking to be an integral component of any information dissemination system.

Like many of Ben Thompson's articles, I find his ideas here compelling, but I also find myself feeling like he's an industry apologist and it clouds his thinking/makes him myopic.

I think he made a logical leap based around the US political parties and wealthy elites' influence over the fourth estate - sanctioned political debates on CNN, sources of information with perceived authority such as Fox News, etc. While I also think it's explained poorly, there may be a connection here to his point about the largest advertisers (politician and large corporations) who fund the media which is meant to check them.

That seems like a lot of hand-waving to me.

> this was the context for Edmund Burke’s remarks in 1787 that “There are Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sits a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

There's this quote early in the article about the Fourth Estate being the most powerful, and yet by the end I'm supposed to assume all these things to accept this claim that "monopoly control" of the Second Estate exists on fact-checking?

What I actually see is an article where someone started with a conclusion (that some sort of free-market/libertarianism/lassaiz-faire/whatever brand of let tech companies do whatever they want is The Way) and then spent a lot of time thinking about how to reach it.

TFA spells out the estates being referenced in detail:

In Europe the first three estates are a reference to how society was organized throughout the Middle Ages: the First Estate was the church, the second was the nobility, and the third were the commoners....

Fourth is the press. Fifth has been variously attributed, but here is being applied to online activity generally. It was ascribed to bloggers specifically in 2006.

I think he is actually referring to the Press (ie, the fourth state). I can't make sense of it any other way. It might just be an error.

If he means the Fourth State, then "unsurprising" would refer to a gate-keeper's desire to maintain their position. Ie, the Press has a lot of power because of their position in deciding what people get to hear. It is unsurprising that they would seek to preserve that power.

It's possible he meant the Fourth Estate, but he seems to be blurring the lines between Fourth and Second and trying to make this point about how the Second only exists because of the Fourth, so I'm not sure.

But even if it is just an error, what are the words "monopoly control" doing in there?

And is it even useful to think of "The Media" as a entity with an agenda? When he's talking about the editorial board at the New York Times it's plausible, but then suddenly he's talking about this nebulous "estate" concept and attributing motivations to it like it's acting as an individual.

And then once he's done that, he's taking a criticism of Facebook and attributing the criticism to his nebulous concept and saying "of course they would say that," in order to make me feel like the fact that the criticism is true is less relevant?

> The third concern is what has dominated the news cycle as of late: Facebook’s decision to not fact-check any posts or ads from politicians. This is largely being framed as aiding President Trump in particular, which is probably both true and also an unsurprising complaint from the Second Estate used to having monopoly control over fact-checking.

> The broader issue is that the third concern and first concern are so clearly in direct opposition to each other. If Facebook has the potential for immense influence on politics, why on earth would anyone want the company policing political speech?

Maybe because they're fact-checking lots of other things to promote themselves as a platform you can find facts on? I don't know, I'd think if there was any ostensible non-partisan shared value in a democracy, it'd be a desire for factual information. Spun and biased, sure, but fundamentally factual. (In reality, I don't think this is true anymore, at least from the head of the executive branch and his sycophants, but this shared value is not irreparably broken nationwide.) If Facebook isn't going to fact-check anything, then that's one thing, but if they're going to fact-check some things, it's far from unreasonable for them to fact-check political ads.

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