Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Tech and Liberty (stratechery.com)
198 points by feross 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments





The fundamental problem is the near monopoly powers enjoyed by a select few social media and tech companies. If Facebook and Twitter's social networks were federated like email, it wouldn't matter whether they refuse to propagate one opinion or another. Unhappy users or anyone who feels silenced could simply switch to a different provider.

The problem isn't that Facebook or Twitter are allowing or not allowing free speech on their private networks. The problem is that their private networks have become so central to public discourse that they have undue authority over public speech. No private company should be in a position where they can silence speech to begin with.

I'm not arguing that these companies be broken up, either. What I am arguing is that they open up their networks to interact with other services using an open protocol such as Mastadon or Matrix. By the government if necessary.


open up their networks to interact with other services using an open protocol such as Mastadon or Matrix

And here is where the two camps of Facebook-haters will go to war with each other:

* The decentralization mavens want open protocols and distributed control.

* The privacy mavens want to control information as it flows through the network, preventing friends from oversharing "your" data.

These two camps are mortal enemies, but they apparently haven't figured it out yet. You cannot share data with open protocols and still maintain control of that data.


It does not work like that.

If you have shared a bit of data, you have relinquished and lost control over it, passed it to someone else. This is what sharing means. If you want to keep a secret, don't share it, at least not with parties who are not legally required to keep your secret secret.

Privacy advocates ask for different things.

One desire is that entities who technically have access to someone's data, even in passing and partially, would stop snooping at these data and sell them. The primary way to do that is to encrypt everything end to end, rendering snooping useless. Simply not sending the data is also a popular measure where applicable, hence ad blocking and tracker blocking. Another way is seeking legal protection against over-sharing where concealing the data is impossible, like with medical or financial information.

Another desire is that entities with legal power to snoop and eavesdrop would have their powers explicitly curtailed. This is quite an uphill battle; powers that be don't want to yield a piece of the power.


There is only power in that information because our society imbues that power. Knowing someone's medical details (as an example) shouldn't be something that could be exploited for personal power and financial gain, but here we are.

Our information is valuable because it gives leverage, either by the knowledge itself or by the threat of being revealed.

You can do your best to keep your information to yourself, but it does slowly slip between your fingers. Information wants to be free, after all. You can't put something back in the box, once it has been revealed.

Interestingly, the ones who gain the most from other people's information, are also extremely guarded about their own private lives. They know how much damage they do, and are desperate for it to not happen to them as well.


>preventing friends from oversharing "your" data.

I don't think this is really what privacy advocates are typically after. At least I'm not, and I'd consider myself one of them. It's more about what data the provider has access to, not your friends.

If you don't trust your friends, uh... get better friends?


Every privacy advocate I've met seems to be most incensed at Facebook over Cambridge Analtyica. To recap: CA built a quiz app that recorded data that your friends shared with you; many users installed this quiz app and accepted the "share your friends' data" permission.

Facebook didn't share your data with Cambridge Analtyica; your friends did. Facebook was just the medium.

With a distributed social network, there's no feasible legal or technical means of stopping your friends from installing another Evil Quiz App. It's barely possible to stop with a centralized system - it's slowed down only because FB put enough friction in the process.


> Facebook didn't share your data with Cambridge Analtyica; your friends did. Facebook was just the medium.

Facebook shared data that people had shared with their friends with Cambridge Analytica. That's not remotely in dispute - both Facebook and CA have admitted that. CA used Facebook's API and Facebook's servers gave CA the data.

People's friends didn't share that data with CA.


A genie grants you one wish; <poof> Facebook has been replaced with a decentralized social network based on open protocols.

To your horror, your friends _still_ install insipid quiz apps and grant them permission to all of "your" data. And now there is nothing to stop it and no one to blame.

From a systems perspective, the fact that the medium is currently named Facebook is irrelevant. The primary actors in the Cambridge Analytica Scandal are your friends. You can remove Facebook and the same narrative remains - you shared data with your friends, and they shared it with someone you don't like.


I'm not sure why you think your hypothetical changes the fact that facebook actually did share the data with Kogan (and thereby Cambridge Analytica) in the real case, and blaming the "friends" avoids responsibility by the actors in this case who provided the medium and those who knowingly exploited it.

"We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. ...

Given the way our platform worked at the time this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data....

This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that." - Mark Zuckerberg as reported https://qz.com/1234956/read-mark-zuckerbergs-full-facebook-s... and elsewhere)

You could as usefully blame yourself for sharing anything with your friends - after all if you had not done so, they couldn't have shared it with someone you didn't like. "He who would keep a secret must keep secret that he has a secret to keep" as Goethe wrote.

It's certainly conceptually possible to design a system without facebook such that your friends share data they shouldn't. The real world also works in this way - people are indiscreet and share things which were told them in confidence.

In the real facebook/CA case, the friends did not knowingly share their network's data with CA, they did a personality test quiz set by a social science researcher. That quiz used the facebook API to grab data on the social network of everyone who participated which was then sold to Cambridge Analytica by the developer. Given that facebook's privacy settings have been the subject of studies in UX "dark pattern" design (eg https://fil.forbrukerradet.no/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/201... and elsewhere) it seems unreasonable to consider this 3rd party sharing to be consensual.


Facebook shared data with Kogan the same way that Google shares my email with people on the To list when I click the 'send' button.

A human being installed a stupid quiz app and explicitly answered "yes" to a dialog saying "would you like to share your friends' info with this app?" We can argue if the UX was good or bad or if users are dumb, but the actor in this situation is not Facebook.


I had not looked at it this way before..It is possible to be prudent with your data but once you share with other who are maybe not so prodent, who knows?

It didn't like, round trip through them. But people's friends did authorize CA to read that data; otherwise CA wouldn't have been able to use the API to get it.

That's not true. People's friends had no relationship with CA. They ran an app by a third-party (Aleksandr Kogan) which harvested the data and then he sold it to CA.

FreeNet would disagree.

Plus, from ActivityPub / Fediverse land there's a handful of folks looking at doing both by clever use of OCAP, encryption, and content addressing routing to have both privacy and an open network (sneakernet compatible too).

There's a whole history of peer to peer networking that died in the late 90's and early 2000's that most software engineers in the valley are too hip to learn and care about.


The privacy mavens are going to lose. Controlling what can and can't be shared is just like copyright enforcement. If they want privacy, the answer is to not share information at all or share only with trustworthy people. If some post leaks, all bets are off. There is nothing they can do about it and that's how it should be.

> If they want privacy, the answer is to not share information at all or share only with trustworthy people.

Living in the information age and not sharing information at all is like dancing in the rain and not getting wet. The cameras are always on and the gorgon always staring. It might be your friends post, their camera or a corporations.

It's worth considering that privacy wasn't guaranteed in the old days either, save for the laws people created to enabled it. In the past, if a tyrant wanted to find a thief, they'd search every home. This situation is unreasonable to a free people. So folks relied on laws then, as we must now, to ensure that a person's rights are protected.

If a companies tech is capable of tracking a person, selling it or making it available to the public unrestricted would violate their 4th amendment rights. Because government agents could also use the data unrestricted to peer into your life. All without having to break down the door to your home. So while it might be technically possible to know everything about a person in the information age, the right to that information belongs to the individual.


> copyright enforcement.

Ahh, but copyright won the last war, by moving to centralised platforms. The privacy mavens are going to lose, but they are going to lose to Big Brother, not to decentralisation.


They won by making services that are good enough for most people to not bother infringing, not by enforcing copyrights. Now they're getting greedy and fragmenting the market, making life needlessly difficult for consumers. I have no doubt lots of people will turn to "piracy" because of that.

There's an analogous difference between pro-censorship and anti-censorship factions.

This is still somewhat true today anyway. Companies archive tweets for the public record and users can take screenshots or copy paste.

Here's the thing. Are "platforms for speech" so important? Are they as important to our society as say, basic infrastructure? If they are, we should treat them like how we treat electricity and plumbing, housing and transportation, education and healthcare.

Imagine if our roads were maintained and monopolized by a tech company. Every driver would be a "user" to milk cash out of, either through subscription or through ads.

It's a bit of a stretch from your original idea, but maybe you're suggesting for government to run social platforms OR heavily regulate them instead.


I'm afraid that no innovation would come after that: there would be simply no incentive to improve the Internet as it would be, because eventually it would be "nationalised" so to say, and profit will max out for Internet companies.

I'm all for thinking of ways to tackle the issue with Facebook and Twitter's monopolies, which are a special form of one in the sense that the technology to build similar platforms is more or less open source, but the ability to gather together millions of people isn't.

But let's not kid ourselves and be led to unintended consequences out of it.


This. The internet is a basic service and should thus be ran by the people.

I consider myself pretty progressive, but I find the idea of forcing companies to "open up their networks" distasteful and problematic. I just doesn't seem piratical.

I've said it a few times before, I don't think the problem is the carriers, its that there are no penalties for telling a lie on the internet.

This is where we should start to fix this problem.


Eventually you'll run into the problem of defining a lie. How about a half-truth? Lying by omission?

The laws in most western countries allow for consequences in cases of slander and libel or where a person directly seeks to sow hatred and division against minorites for instance, defined as hate speech. Even that last part is somewhat controversial in regards to free speech, as some people think there should be no limits on speech at all.

I think the solution (or at least part of a solution) is to mandate open standards and transparency, especially when it touches politics. Provide federated social network standards that interoperate, instead of the walled gardens we have now.


> there are no penalties for telling a lie on the internet.

Some unrelated points on this:

People will believe you less if they find evidence against your lie.

This problem is a recent one that came about when the gullible masses started arriving to the internet in the 2000s.

I can concieve of no structured way of penalizing liars because I don't see any way of making a truth determining institution that would not be immediately corrupted.


For Americans, First Amendment protects telling lies (as long as there is no other crime such as fraud), so penalties for lying on the internet likely wouldn't stand up in court.

Well then, the problem is baked right into the first amendment. (But aren't most lies a kind of fraud?)

No, not every lie is fraud and everyone lies from time to time. What problem do you think this would solve? Frankly, I think it would have catastrophic repercussions for any form of communication. Try to complete a day with complete honesty. Wouldn't net you that many friends. Perhaps a few would think you are refreshingly funny. Probably people that are a bit angry with current aspirations to restrict content.

I see at least a few problems with penalizing lies:

1. Who is going to determine whether a given statement is a lie or not?

2. What about sarcasm and works of fiction? (And who (and how) determines whether a given post was intended to be sarcastic or not?)

3. What about a context? For instance, exactly the same wording of a message might carry a different meaning depending on the content of other posts in a thread. While I believe that this is somehow clear and obvious, what is not obvious is what makes a full context - is it just direct parent post, or whole thread or maybe even a larger part of a website? What if selection of context makes a difference (for example if I just use parent post as a context, the statement appears to be a lie, if I judge by the whole thread it possibly appears to be sarcastic). Now, who (and how) decides which context should be applied for analysis?

4. Transnational problems - which laws apply and how would you enforce it?

5. What problems would it actually fix? Lets say that from now on, I am not allowed to post on hackernews that Barack Obama visited my parents (he did not, it's a lie) - what problem it solves that I am not allowed to post that? (edit: formatting)


For 1 2 and 3 we rely on the courts. It's already their job to decide when somebody has broken the law or not. The courts need to decide if a reasonable person could tell if some writing is sarcasm or fiction, and if it was written to intentional mislead, then its a crime. 4 is just a hard problem we need to work through.

5. The problem that needs fixing is that people don't trust anything they read any more. Nobody knows what to believe and can't make a good judgement call about what is a trustworthy news source. This results in a polarised, ignorant society.

If you post online that Trump likes your mums cooking, nobody is going to take you to court because the damages done is almost nothing. If you post online that Trump wants to evict all Chinese nationals from the country, well that's a lie that could cause some real strife, and I would be happy if that was just not written on the internet.


Relying on courts seems to suffer one problem: given the scale and amount of posts I doubt that any judical system is capable to process that amount of cases.

Secondly, as it was already pointed in this thread, there are other ways to manipulate - for example by omitting some facts or simply rephrasing them.

To give you an extreme but real life example, recently in Poland there was news about Robert Biedron, left wing politician who rescued a two year old boy and his father from a burning car, then according to other media he just allowed them to wait in his car before police arrived (and I can't honestly tell which version is true - this kind of supports your point), but there was also a headline that translates to "Car crashed and burning with a 2 year old child on board. Robert Biedron involved". While this obviously gives a completely inverse impression on the viewer, technically this is not a lie - all the information in that headline is true and 100% correct. Penalizing lying on the internet will not stop manipulation. Maybe just make it a little bit harder forcing the manipulator to be a bit more creative


You don't need to lie to abuse a monopoly, the problem is the monopoly itself.

> The fundamental problem is the near monopoly powers enjoyed by a select few social media and tech companies.

That seems to be Stratechery's point as well:

> Facebook’s decision about ads wish the company would wield its power in their favor; my question is whether such power should even exist in the first place. Facebook can close Munroe’s door on anyone, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.


Ben Thompson has actually suggested exactly this in previous articles: https://stratechery.com/2017/why-facebook-shouldnt-be-allowe...

> I'm not arguing that these companies be broken up, either. What I am arguing is that they open up their networks to interact with other services using an open protocol such as Mastadon or Matrix.

This is essentially a 'breakup' though, of the sort that's actually effective. It's isolating the potentially-monopolistic, non-contestable part of the company - the "platform" standard - and making it accessible to others on an equitable basis. This is the model that any "monopoly breakups" should follow, whether simply "opening up to a standard" is viable or not.


We need an extremely easy way to communicate this difference in system to the public - ideally an image as simple a the food pyramid. If it takes too much explaining, it won’t go anywhere. They’re not invested enough to care. But, adequately proposed, they can be moved from saying “whatever” to “yes, that makes sense”.

It doesn’t seem moral to regulate a monopoly just because no one else has the chops to compete with it. (If the monopoly engages in anti-competitive behavior then it is fair game for regulation, of course.)

This describes precisely my own reaction to Munroe's comic.

I mean, it's certainly true that discussion forums benefit from moderation to remove trolls. However, Munroe myopically assumes that the only people being de-platformed are trolls.

Even if some of the people being de-platformed are provocateurs, the fact is that there's still a difference between excluding people from what is essentially a private club (as most online discussion forums are) and excluding people from the public square (which Facebook and Twitter have essentially become). In the broader social sphere, the differences between troll and Socratic "gadfly" are difficult if not impossible to discern.


Progressives of the past were all about the principle of free speech. Now that they have the power to control the public space, all they seem to care about are the technicalities of the first amendment.

Arguments like that in the comic revel in enforcing groupthink because the author thinks it will be used in a way he finds favorable. If you take a step back, it’s obvious that every censorious organization has very strong reasons for silencing badthinkers, and they use the same type of self-righteous language when justifying it. Just look at how The Chinese government talks about Hong Kong.

edit: Point being, either you uphold the principle of free speech, as argued in the linked article, or you end up with those who control the platforms dictating their own worldview. They will always come up with some smug justification for why society will fall apart if they don’t, and anyone who’s silenced deserves it anyway.


We cant have it both ways.

On the one hand, Twitter, Facebook, et al. are "basically" town/public squares - they are also private companies. So we either regulate and minimize private companies ability to silence speech as they see fit, which is their right - or we allow them to exercise their own rights, thus bending to the masses and appealing to the lowest common denominator through censorship.


Or we move on. Mastodon and the like seem to show promise. Reddit is around for something in between Mastodon and Facebook/Twitter, although it is ultimately susceptible to the same problems as the latter. Snapchat isn’t nothing, and while TikTok has problems stemming from its country of origin, it also isn’t nothing.

I would say we have a lot of choices of platforms. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn aren’t the end of all social networks and social platforms, they’re just parts of a larger ecosystem.

So maybe we can have it both ways. Maybe social platforms can regulate themselves into being the places they want to be, and we can move on when they don’t serve us anymore. Free markets are actually pretty wonderful in that way insofar as they provide us choices and we can take them or leave them.


What happens when there is collusion to exclude between all these supposedly separate platforms? I seem to recall a certain Jones guy who was deplatformed by nearly all the major social networks in a single day. Any holdouts (twitter) were thereafter hounded into submission by the media. The market aint working like it should I think.

Alex Jones.

He still has his radio show. He still has his website. He still has a Wikipedia page. I’m not going to go trolling through a bunch of social networks I don’t use to see if I can find the guy, but presumably he has a means of asserting an online presence somewhere besides his website.

I think his podcast was removed from the Apple Podcasts Directory, but if there’s a valid feed URL, then there isn’t anything stopping you from pasting the URL in to any podcast app.

That’s just online. Again, I don’t know the guy’s life, but there isn’t anything stopping him from having an active social life or a prolific writing career. I don’t like the guy, but are you going to tell me the guy has no options just because Facebook and Twitter kicked him out of their gardens?


What we have right now is due to a largely unregulated free market.

A large number of choices in how we choose to socialize online? I can post this reply to you as easily as I can text my best friend or mother.

The problem I have with these discussions is that we aren’t talking about it in a more nuanced manner. The problem with Facebook and Twitter and their kind isn’t their size, magnitude or shape on the public discourse. If it weren’t them, it would be partisan newspapers and newsletters and cable networks pretending they have integrity and objectivity that they don’t. I’m sure they have some measure of integrity, I’m sure they strive to be objective, but I vastly prefer when people And networks fess up to where their biases lay.

Well Facebook and Twitter destroyed what was status quo, fine, I have no problem with that. Have they contributed to negative polarization? That’s much less clear, but I’m leaning towards no. Negative polarization is near as I can tell, an old English tradition and near as I can tell, runs through Catholics, Protestants, Barkers, Quakers, Whigs, Jacobites, Revolutionaries, Loyalists, Federalists, Anti-Federalists, Federalists 1.5, Democratic-Republicans, Democrats, Whigs, Republicans, Unionists, Confederates, Progressives, just to name a few off the top of my head.

If there is a problem Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. it’s that they collect enormous amounts of data, not just directly but they buy and sell with data brokers and use that to confirm or reconfirm identities. This by itself wouldn’t even be an issue except that they are bad stewards of our personal data. That’s a problem, and one worth focusing on, but let’s not pretend they are anymore powerful than they are, or that they are a cause of our society’s rifts.

The splits in our society are real, but they are older than Silicon Valley. Technology will not fix them. Social media will not fix them. The only thing that will do anything about them, and only then, very slowly, is actual factual dialog between people like you and I, and the fact that you and I are even having this discussion is because we have a choice in how, when, where and with whom we would like to talk. This isn’t Facebook, and this isn’t the Post Office or the Forum in Rome and somehow we’re able to talk anyway.

I’d say that’s at least one point in favor of the free market.


I’m confused by your first paragraph. In what way do progressives control the public space? Republicans are far more powerful than progressives in all branches of government (and remember Democrat != progressive).

Corporations obviously dominate corporate space, which is a large sphere of life in the USA, and not at all “public space”.

So what’s left?


By “public space,” I meant the predominant avenues for public discourse (maybe not the best choice of words). Mainstream media, tech platforms, and universities are the specific things I had in mind.

Ok fine, but I hope it's now a little clearer that it's weird to refer to actually private, corporate space as "public space".

It's I'd venture a symptom of a culture dominated by capitalism and corporatism, such that the former two things become so dominate that their presence is invisible. Malls and Facebook pages become "public spaces" in the minds of citizens even though they are spaces, public regulation notwithstanding, controlled by the rich and existing in the main to profit them.


It’s just a confusion between two different valid definitions of the word public, not some indication of the state of the culture.

Public/private can refer to government vs commercial, or it can refer to “out in the open for all to see” vs “the privacy of your own home.” “Public space” is a common phrase that uses the latter definition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_space


The mainstream media is overwhelmingly owned by the rich elite, with deep connections to conservative politics.

The idea that the mainstream media is somehow overwhelmingly progressive is something conservatives like to parrot, but I've never found it to have any basis in truth. The "leftist" big media outlets are really centrist, at best.


As long as their politics is total control, their brand doesn't matter.

> The mainstream media is overwhelmingly owned by the rich elite, with deep connections to conservative politics.

I'm going to have to ask for a citation for that. Unless you are suggesting that supporting the interests of the rich elite is an essentially conservative position (a claim which both the rich elite and conservatives would deny).

If you look at the politics of all the people (executives and rank-and-file) working in the institutions of media, entertainment, and academia, you'll find that a significant majority are left of center given the generally accepted notions of left and right as they are used in contemporary American politics.


> politics of all the people (executives and rank-and-file) working in the institutions of media, entertainment, and academia, you'll find that a significant majority are left of center

Where is the evidence of this? I know of no surveying so broad as to include the executives and 'rank-and-file' in media and entertainment.

Even if your claim is supported, we have 2 problems. The first is basically the "vegan waiters at steak restaurants" retort, which is to suggest that below the top executive level of the hierarchy employees have increasingly little power over their organisation, such that those at the bottom are like vegan waiters at steak restaurants who have no power to change the menu despite their politics.

The 2nd problem is basically that "left of center" != "progressive". The majority of the ostensibly left-leaning medial is still broadly pro things that progressives are against. Some examples would include single-payer healthcare, animal rights, public higher education, the Green New Deal, and anti-imperialism.


Supporting the rich elite is literally the basis of the current Republican party platform. Along with a not insignificant amount of xenophobia and distaste for the poor working class.

All of the major media outlets (which is what I am talking about, not academia or entertainment) are owned by big backers of the Republican party. It's publicly available information, look it up yourself.


We usually call that whole complex "the Cathedral". It fits with progressives' historical origin in the gradual politicization of new religious movements of all sorts.

Who's "we"?

Well given the setting, I'd assume it's the royal we: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_we

Probably the Dark Enlightenment.

It's a good term though...


Media and entertainment. Leadership at social media companies (which control the current public square).

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

Which "principle" of free speech do you mean?

Absolutism: no speech is off-limits.

Maximalism: the range of ideas expressed must be maximized.

Those two ideals of free speech are incompatible. Variety of expressed views suffers immensely when people show up to attack all groups other than themselves.

And somehow, those people always show up.


Well said. There is certainly a place for the xkcd comic. It can be used to argue for the right of free association as well as corporate censorship. That progressives picked the latter as favourable shows a staunch regression in the quality of thoughts.

The end result of people following the Munroe idea is an almost perfectly polarized society where everyone who disagrees with the dominant idealogy of a location is ejected.

Almost every internet forum I've been on that allowed politics has in the last ywo decades gone from a lively mix of people of diverse political views debating each other to political monocultures that spend their time talking about how evil and stupid their political opponents are. This results in the inhabitants having basically no understanding of the beliefs, world views and motivations of people outside their bubble and near complete ignorance of any facts that might be evidence for said views.


> Munroe myopically assumes that the only people being de-platformed are trolls.

These are always the “I’m on the right side of history” people: they all change their tune as soon as they find themselves on the receiving end of an unjust cancel campaign.


What features make a private website a public square?

I often wonder: Would people feel differently if platforms were honest and direct about being a private club of some specific kind? If Twitter came out and said they wanted to be a private club for people with progressive views to discuss politics and sundry, would that dampen the criticism of censorship?


> What features make a private website a public square?

* The fact that that's what these sites bill themselves as (a place to connect everyone).

* Their user base cross-cuts most demographics (even if the samplings are always representative).

> Would people feel differently if platforms were honest and direct about being a private club of some specific kind?

Yes. You don't hear much about the government wanting to regulate Reddit, do you? It has roughly comparable number of monthly active users in the US as Twitter (26.4 million vs. 68 million) but it's built around the idea of independently moderated virtual clubs.

> If Twitter came out and said they wanted to be a private club for people with progressive views to discuss politics and sundry, would that dampen the criticism of censorship?

I think people (and advertising revenue) would move to a different platform.


> I think people (and advertising revenue) would move to a different platform.

That may be, but that's not what I'm asking, I'm asking whether they would still be criticized for censorship. I think probably so?

Your point about reddit is an interesting one. You're right that they don't get much grief from lawmakers on the censorship question, but I suspect that has a lot to do with unfamiliarity. They have certainly gotten lots of grief from denizens of the internet for their moderation policies over time.


>The fact that that's what these sites bill themselves as (a place to connect everyone).

Companies never lie or have false advertising.


One definition could be that you become a public square when you benefit sufficiently from the society in which you operate that you must correspondingly take on civic responsibility to that society.

In terms of Facebook: they rake it in because millions of us chose their platform, over many others, for posting our cat photos. Accordingly, Facebook must pay something back to society. (Though perhaps the “pay something back” merely needs to be covered by corporation tax, rather than anything more special.)

If the local pub becomes the de facto meeting room for the village club, and makes a killing selling them beer as a result, maybe it should be obliged to provide free parking?


I think if you have over a billion members, you shouldn’t be classified as a private club.

I don't know about the rest of the people, but I definitely feel differently when it comes to being honest about being a private club.

Here is my analogy: I don't mind mods on r/thedonald kicking out anyone who isn't fully on board with the agenda, just like I agree with mods on r/latestagecapitalism or r/communism getting rid of those with dissenting opinions. But I do have issues with r/politics positioning themselves as a "neutral" sub to discuss politics, while essentially being an off-shoot of r/communism and r/DNC.


It's quite funny how stereotypical American Ben's blog is. The most important idea that is made explicit in the post (but not justified) is that of the marketplate of ideas, or that 'connecting people' (Zuckerberg) provides meaning, and that speech and an increase in information is a means to mount resistance against the powers that be.

one alternative view was presented by Baudrillard in 1985, talking about the 'uncertainty of reality'.

>"[It] results not from the lack of information but from information itself and even from an excess of information. It is information itself which produces uncertainty, and so this uncertainty, unlike the traditional uncertainty which could always be resolved, is irreparable. … Overinformed, it [the masses] develops ingrowing obesity. For everything which loses its scene (like the obese body) becomes for that very reason ob-scene.

The silence of the masses is also in a sense obscene. For the masses are also made of this useless hyper-information which claims to enlighten them, when all it does is clutter up the space of the representable and annul itself in a silent equivalence. And we cannot do much against this obscene circularity of the masses and of information. The two phenomena fit one another: the masses have no opinion and information does not inform them"

His point being that it is not a lack of discourse but precisely our constant rehashed and fractured discourse and feedback loops between what is real and representations of the real that make either indistinguishable from another. Viewed through this lens speech is not liberation, it's merely participating and destabilizing truth and feeding the very system that it is supposed to criticize. Autocratic lone empires without resistance always fall down, real systems of control allow for their antagonists to persist within them, without of course ever accomplishing anything other than simulating resistance. Think of the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial.


This sort of bullshit is exactly why people despise post-modernism. Because most speech doesn't accomplish anything, it's ok if people aren't allowed to speak at all?

That's not what that means. But ironically, you appear to be demonstrating its truth.

That's a of an odd reading of an article that is going out of it's way to point out that the "marketplace of ideas" idea was (1) not the justification for the 1st Amendment and (2) that Ben doesn't view it as the justification for Facebook's move either.

> In fact, I would go further: Facebook’s stance is an essential expression of what makes American tech unique. Don Valentine, the legendary founder of Sequoia Capital who passed away last week, once said:

>> The world of technology thrives best when individuals are left alone to be different, creative, and disobedient.

> This is not a statement about participating in the marketplace of ideas, winning others over by the power of your argument. It is, rather, an affirmation of the absence of tyranny. Only when individuals are able to think for themselves can something truly new to the world be created, and the proof will be the success in the market for tech products and services.


A literal, and not uncharitable reading of your argument is that you arguing this point, on this forum, on the internet, is merely a participation and destabilization of truth.

Some of the details around how best to protect freedom of speech seem complex. That it is either an absolute ideal or near enough, seems rather obvious to many.

One thing you can always count on is some portion of people who, when their ideas and values are status quo, will argue for undermining speech in some way. I suppose it's a natural enough of a thought. Some people, it seems, would much prefer a world where they constantly preach to the choir (regardless of how mind-numbing that would be).


Oh yes, playing the game risks making it worse. But you can't not play, because otherwise others - you know, the people who are wrong on the internet - get to drown everyone in their information instead.

It's an interesting observation (and one which predates social media) but I'm struggling to see grasp whether you are suggesting that there is a practical implication for this debate. Is there a justification for censorship?

I don't think people who advocate for a market place of ideas are denying that there is often a low signal-to-noise ratio in such an environment. The point is that sometimes that chaos is the only way for the signal to be heard at all.


You're right that the marketplace of ideas is the weak point in the article. Because it's not a marketplace; it's many marketplaces, and different ideas have found their purchase in each places. Microtargeting, in other words.

The press, owing to its capital investment, was necessarily more unifying, more focal, than the media of today. Now, one can be bombarded with information from all angles, and if you're not travelling between marketplaces, you can get an odd idea of what the going rate for truth is. Information truly obfuscates, just like choice is fatiguing.


Well that is a rather fatalistic attitude that brooks no solutions.

"We do not lack communication. On the contrary, we have too much of it. . . . We lack resistance to the present" - Gilles Deleuze, 1994

>> It is information itself which produces uncertainty

I would argue, information is uncertainty. That is basically baked into its definition. Something that is lost on almost all of us about the information technology paradigm.

So, you have the paradox of the act of "connecting people" leads to people growing further away.


Or the Architect's speech in the Matrix correct? Where he reveals that the One is an accepted anomaly accounted for in the system.

I generally like Randall Munroe, and one thing he said was (essentially) "It's the conspiracy theorists who are the real optimists, because they are the ones who think there's someone in charge that actually has a plan and knows what they are doing".

The decision to run ads for money is itself highly political: it completely undermines the idea of free competition of ideas solely on their merits by heavily advantaging those ideas backed by money.

And if a lie can win out over the truth, this would be the mechanism that does it. It is certainly not coherent to complain about a "mob" "shouting" down an idea while trying to out shout them through money.

The points on monopoly are valid and serious. But the focus on a single de-facto monopoly, Facebook, undermines and muddles the point.

There are other de-facto and even real monopolies in broadcast media that are more influential and far more restrictive in content, Sinclair for one. I can not see how one could coherently oppose Facebook's de-facto monopoly while ignoring others that are actual monopolies, unless we make some arbitrary distinction on the technology used: radio and TV can monopolize but not web based technologies.

And lest one think that there are orders of magnitude difference between the TV/radio monopolies and Facebook, I will point out that:

1 We (the users of this site) are self selecting technologists and are much more focused on web issues while being far less dependent on non-web based media than the vast bulk of the population.

2 The intentional effects of broadcast monopolies on voting patterns are so large as to be easily measurable. Facebook's intentional influence, if it even exists, is certainly not obvious.

3 Twitter is in fact only read by a tiny segment of the population: The number of US man-hours spent listening to talk radio on monopoly owned stations vastly exceeds the number spent on Twitter where at least there is some possibility of accidentally seeing a contrary opinion.

So yes monopolizing is a serious problem and desperately needs fixing and it is vastly wider than web.


Its crazy how at the time, people argued that since there was no power given in the constitution to do something, that it would never happen (i.e. writing down that speech was protected was unnecessary since there was no power to reulate it). Its interesting how the system has figured out the "loopholes" in the document and used it to essentially control everything that wasn't expressly forbidden (and even have power over those things to some degree -- e.g. weapons, speech, religion).

I guess it turned out Hamilton was partially right, since it has eventually been interpreted as an implicit right of the government to regulate everything not explicitly given as a right. But at the same time, I can imagine without the "protection" ammendments, we'd probably still have even more rules and regulations (I doubt implicit mention of powers was the instigating factor).


Well the 10th amendment specifically says this: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

So we only delegate to the federal what is specifically enumerated in the Constitution. And the enumeration of certain rights does not preclude the existence of other rights not specifically listed.


And the interstate commerce clause had come to mean that the federal government can do almost anything.

The First Amendment was written at a time when the constraints of the available technology created "natural" boundaries as to what kind of speech could spread in a society. The very fact that publishing an opinion anonymously (edit: I should say without peer-review of any sort), at scale, was nearly impossible, prevented the development of many sordid, dark, and "evil" thoughts from reaching the point of public discourse. I would argue that this sort of "natural limit" on certain kinds of speech is a biologically evolved defence mechanism against some of the darkest capabilities of human minds - if we didn't have it, some of our darkest tendencies would go unchecked affecting the overall healthiness and survivability of the population. We are a social species, and our physiological wellbeing is deeply tied to social acceptance.

The unique problem of the internet is that it allows bad ideas to infect, fester, and mutate in the minds of others at a speed never seen before, without the natural safeguards that we've always had: peer-review and social acceptance. That leads to a spill-over of bad ideas into the public discourse which, in turn, resets society's definition for what kind of ideas are acceptable. A few rapid cycles of this, and we got our Post Truth World - it's not that truth doesn't exist anymore, but rather the speed at which the public discourse could verify, analyze, and accept ideas is simply not fast enough to keep up with the pace of new ideas that can reach the public discourse. In short, the immune system is overwhelmed, both at the individual and societal level, and we have a raging pandemic.

Yes, I am not an American, and I am arguing that the uniquely American religion of defending the "right" to "free speech" is misplaced in the era of the internet. This is one of the reasons I get a fall-of-Rome feeling in America.


> The very fact that publishing an opinion anonymously, at scale, was nearly impossible, prevented the development of many sordid, dark, and "evil" thoughts from reaching the point of public discourse.

I find it somewhat amusing that you say this in response to an article citing the Federalist papers.


The very fact that those papers made it to the publications means they were peer-reviewed and agreed to be redistributed by public institutions. Anonymous internet sites are not peer-reviewed.

Let's not call this "peer-review" as if it were some sort of scientific process.

What you're talking about is a social acceptability test. Now, that's fine, so far as it goes. Every society needs mores and norms to govern behavior (and speech) in order to function. But let's not suppose that suppressing an individual's freedom to express thoughts not pre-approved is going to result in a net win for truth.


>Every society needs mores and norms to govern behavior

What we are experiencing today are those new norms


These new norms are hardly universal.

Publishing at scale anonymously: isn't that exactly what pamphleteers have been known for ever since the time of Martin Luther?

100 pamphleteers probably couldn't reach the same number of people as 1 single person can do today without the slightest peer-review of any sort. And there are certain things that are hard to imagine could ever be spread by pamphlet: child pornography for instance.

The pamphleteers reached nearly every single living human in their time and successfully altered the entire course of human history, in a way that was considered apocalyptic at the time. Free speech in the "say what's on your mind on the internet" sense is EXACTLY what the first amendment was drafted for.

Point taken. However my argument about the the quality of the content of the speech still holds. Sure, pamphleteers could reach the ends of the earth, but the they couldn't publish anything they wanted. Child pornography could not spread by pamphlet.

I don't see why you keep bringing up child pornography. Facebook and Twitter don't allow people to spread it, and no one is suggesting they should. It's entirely a strawman.

As for whether "one person" currently has more reach that the pamphleteers did, I also disagree. A pamphlet is only spread if people are agreeing with its content. Likewise a tweet or facebook post. A billion people post inane content every day. We see a microscopic fraction of it. That is an equivalent form of "peer review" as your pamphlet distributors.


Neither could info on birth control or abortions (or in fact most things we'd consider part of "sex ed" today), but we generally regard those restrictions as having been a bad idea.

This is decidedly ahistorical. Anonymous publishing was rampant in the 18th century. Broadsheets, pamphlets, political screeds, and all manner of printings were published anonymously or under pseudonyms in the time period, not least because there were consequences for putting your name explicitly on subversive materials.

Those ideas were still subject to a much greater level of peer review before they could be redistributed. You couldn't get a broadsheet or pamphlet in front of millions of eyes without the implicit approval of tens of thousands of voluntary distributors.

You keep saying "peer review" but I'm not sure how it applies here. The main way information was distributed in the era of the Federalist Papers was through newspapers, and at the time newspapers were almost entirely enterprises set up by political activists to advance the line of their particular faction. The Federalist Papers were written by several prominent members of the Federalists (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federalist_Party), a movement that would go on to become the first real American political party, and published anonymously in Federalist-leaning newspapers. There was no "peer review" in the sense of any of their opponents reviewing them before publication.

If you want a good sense for what newspapering was like in the early American republic, I highly recommend Richard Rosenfeld's book American Aurora (https://www.amazon.com/American-Aurora-Democratic-Republican...), the story of a newspaper that opposed the Federalists and the price its editor paid for that opposition.


> There was no "peer review"

Further, social media posts like Tweets are _more_ “peer reviewed” than old-timey revolutionary pamphlets: you don’t have much reach on the platform unless people are re-tweeting and following you, so only popular (though not necessarily good) posts get any distribution.


How might we change/regulate internet communication in such a way that someone could anonymously get a message out on the scale of a pamphlet but not on the scale of a tweet or social media post?

Stated another way, my concern is that any changes to free speech might overcorrect and result in it being difficult to anonymously get an unpopular message out to even a modest audience.


>The unique problem of the internet is that it allows bad ideas to infect, fester, and mutate in the minds of others at a speed never seen before, without the natural safeguards that we've always had: peer-review and social acceptance. That leads to a spill-over of bad ideas into the public discourse which, in turn, resets society's definition for what kind of ideas are acceptable. A few rapid cycles of this, and we got our Post Truth World

This is precisely the same logic held by the Church during the Inquisition as they were safeguarding Truth from the Scientific Revolution and the evil of the printing press.


What are some of these "dark" "evil" "bad ideas" you believe are infecting, festering, and mutating in minds thanks to the internet?

One only has to look at which viewpoints get censored to get a pretty good idea which ideas the pro-censorship crowd thinks are the dark, dangerous and evil ones.

Given that the world-view commonly called "progressive" currently dominates, I'd expect the most "dark" views to be those which contradict (or seem to contradict) fundamental tenet of progressivism: the idea that everyone should be equally valued.

If that's the case, those ideas dominated humanity for virtually all of human existence and still dominate in many parts of the world, so it seems strange to suggest the internet is somehow responsible for them circulating today. Is the claim that absent the internet those ideas would have been wiped out by now?

It's interesting to see how Hamilton's arguments against a bill of rights hinges on the idea that the government doesn't have power unless the Constitution grants power to the government.

> Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?

The US constitution (like others) is indeed formally structured around enumerated powers. But such limitations are have been deeply unfashionable for decades -- and the great and the good have found various end-runs around it (such as the US commerce clause).

The anti-federalists were right not to trust Hamilton.


This affirmation of Zuckerberg's position based on the First Amendment makes no sense. The Zuckerberg position is that he chooses to censor everyone except politicians. Furthermore, it is he who gets to decide the veracity of everyone except politicians (and thus what to censor). He also gets to decide who is a politician.

He sure is powerful. It looks like he is mostly trying to maximize the amount of power he holds.


While this article was an interesting take, it doesn't really provide a clear path forward. It points out a variety of problems, contradictions, and dangerous assumptions, but the reasoning presented falls short of offering solutions.

For example, the section titled Fixing Facebook irks me. Where's the fix? It just goes on to point out more problems. The conclusion of both the article and section begins with: "To that end, the fact that this debate is even occurring is evidence of the problem..."

That's not to demean the usefulness of the article: it articulates a series of related issues and thoroughly explains why they are problematic. But I don't see any path to a solution embedded in the logic presented.

While I understand that the first step in solving a problem is to understand it, this is a very abstract, historically-anchored view of the situation in isolation, so its utility as a practical analysis from which solutions could be derived is questionable. This article serves an intellectual purpose, but I fail to see how it is likely to lead to a solution that will remain remotely tenable when other factors are taken into account. The only derivative solution I see here is that culture needs to change, rather than law--whether it be the values of our culture or a collective migration away from centralized, monopolistic communication platforms. While cultural change might be a good long-term goal, it's something that can only happen over the course of multiple generations, which makes it impractical when a short term solution is needed.


The whole point lies on the definition of what is a social media. In what it is different to everything that happened before.

The more I think about it, the more I find addictiveness to be a key component. It is contrarian to the assumption of free-will. It was also a problem for TV.

Will the next media make people even more look like zombies that can’t resist to consume ? Which form will it take ? VR headsets worlds ?


The people focused on free speech are missing the point. There is no market place of ideas. The premises of discourse in mass media are guided by corporate/government leaders. The ideas that align with the premise are allowed to circulate. Inconvenient facts are ignored or dismissed. This is accomplished by self censorship by leaders in mass media.

People are realizing that the social media is another lever of control. This is the game Facebook is playing. Liberty is just the post hoc rationalization for the masses.


Liberty: the quality or state of being free

This is where the Internet blurs international borders, meaning netizens are mingling with a mix of individuals and organizations that do not possess freedom or liberty.

Unless we know the source or the origin of any said content online, its just as easy to disregard the information/context, rather than parroting data placed on social media by bots, international PR firms, foreign governments or other unknown individuals.

When it comes to social media, it should be no surprise that compliance, filtering content and policing users will lean towards the lowest common denominator, since there are fewer individuals with liberty than without.

Perhaps we'll see a localized or domestic addition to the Internet in the future where, for example in America, it is assumed that an individual has not forfeit their liberty, freedom or privacy, meaning they have not had their rights compromised when using public platforms. Unfortunately, it seems like many US citizens have forfeit their basic rights for a few hand-outs and unfulfilled promises, so local platforms may be just as tainted.


For anyone interested in this, I recommend following the Center for Humane Technology. Their podcast (https://humanetech.com/podcast/) talks about many aspects of this in a very intelligent and technical manner.

I particularly recommend Episode 3 with Yael Eisenstat - https://your-undivided-attention.simplecast.com/episodes/wit... - w/transcript - http://humanetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/CHT-Undivid...

Short version - the algorithmic feeds that drive engagement should not be protected by CDA230 - storing and retrieving user data should be protected, but platforms should be liable for the content that they amplify and promote.


The principle itself is odd. It’s not clear how freedom to speak does not also cover that of association, and in turn, militating against the freedom of others. The threat of ostracization is essentially blackmail, and while not necessarily violent, there isn’t really a more succinct description. The right to blackmail probably wasn’t intended, but that’s what unpopular views are subject to today. It just didn’t scale before social media.

I'm confused by the initial comparison between Hamilton and XKCD

> Alexander Hamilton was against the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment. This famous xkcd comic explains why:

They seems to be saying very different things: Hamilton (as I understand it) is saying the First Amendment is unnecessary (and even dangerous) because the constitution already provides no power by which to regulate speech. XKCD, however, is saying the non-government groups have the power to criticize speech and even ban it from their own platforms.


It's important to remember the context in which the Federalist Papers were written.

The Constitution had been written but not yet adopted, and American politics was divided between Federalists, who believed that the Constitution was fine as it was and should be adopted without modification, and Anti-Federalists (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Federalism), who felt it gave too much power to the national government and should thus be rejected. The Bill of Rights was the compromise solution; it gave the Federalists their Constitution, but added specific protections against the abuses the Anti-Federalists feared.

The Federalist Papers were written by Federalists, with the goal of convincing people that the Constitution would work just fine as it was written, no modifications required. Hamilton was a Federalist, and his argument in Federalist 84 was part of that effort. In retrospect, however, given how much of what we today consider to be the genius of the Constitution is rooted in the Bill of Rights, it seems like in this case at least the Anti-Federalists had the better argument.


Yes, I realize that. I was merely addressing the first sentence: "Alexander Hamilton was against the Bill of Rights.... This famous xkcd comic explains why:"

Oh, apologies for misreading you then!

On that point, I think the problem is just that Thompson doesn't understand this context. He's treating Hamilton's objection to an amendment prohibiting speech as if it arose from a desire for broader protection of speech, rather than from a desire for no specific protection of speech at all.

Hamilton's argument that a specific protection for speech would be counterproductive strikes me as having been pretty comprehensively debunked by the last two centuries of American history, in which the First Amendment has repeatedly proved to be a critical shield for speech of all sorts of kinds. America today would look very different if Hamilton had won this argument.


"Demonstrates" would have been a better word choice than "explains".

The XKCD comic myopically references the 1st Amendment for the promotion of simplistic authoritarianism. Whereas without an explicit 1st Amendment, Freedom of Speech would have been forced to be held generally by society, rather than making for a legalistic red herring.

Alternatively, Freedom of Speech could have simply vanished. A good way of addressing that question would be to look look for rights that the Founders held as obvious, yet were not codified - how did they fare over time?

IMO the entirety of the Constitution suffers from the same basic flaw wherein the Founders did not foresee layered-complexity creating contradictions. This is understandable, given they preceded Gödel.

For example - "the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial". Yet by actually trying to exercise this right today, you mortally up the ante of your charges. To me, this seems like a failing test case.


Yes! I'm sick of "de-platforming." Free speech is a much bigger concept than the First Amendment can provide for. If we believe free speech to be an important "Good," it deserves more protection than the limited protections the First Amendment offers.

A powerful and provocative article. I love the quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes: "The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out."

I am a bit of a libertarian when it comes to civil liberties -- I flinch at any circumscription of speech, even when it is noxious. Still, for a very long time I was troubled by my readings of the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany. Weimar was a liberal democracy, albeit a very weak one, and efforts to repress the Nazis on the basis of their ideas were rejected as a infringement of their civil liberties. There is a part of me that is afraid of a patently false but persuasive idea gaining currency in a liberal democracy, when it ought to have been quelled in the cradle somehow. But maybe the lesson to be taken from the rise of Nazism is that it was not merely the ideas promulgated by the Nazis that propelled Hitler to power, but the cunning and brutal employment of paramilitary force -- that it was not just tracts, but truncheons that made Nazi Germany a real force.


You're describing Karl Popper's "paradox of tolerance": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance

> I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

For me, the clearest way out of the paradox of tolerance is the dictum that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact" (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Constitution_is_not_a_suic...). The price of admission to the sphere of tolerance established by the Constitution is (or ought to be, anyway) the willingness to extend the same tolerance to others. If your goal is to overthrow the Constitutional order and replace it with a dictatorship, a theocracy, an ethno-state, etc. etc. etc., you forfeit the right to shield yourself behind the document you're trying to tear up.


> forfeit the right to shield yourself behind the document you're trying to tear up.

The Supreme Court disagrees with you. They have taken on cases like this, many times. And they have ruled that one does not forfeit their rights, even if the person does not believe in those rights.


Be aware that Popper stepped away from many of his earlier positions.

He particularly reminded people that there is a conflict between freedom and equality after he became wiser and that could be quite an interesting topic in todays time.

Without a doubt he would be opposed to those using this particularly paradox to curteil free speech. He probably would hand out spankings left and right just for that.


> . If your goal is to overthrow the Constitutional order and replace it with a dictatorship, a theocracy, an ethno-state, etc. etc. etc., you forfeit the right to shield yourself behind the document you're trying to tear up.

No more free speech for communists?


This was the exact legal rationale accepted between Schenck v. United States and Brandenburg v. Ohio that allowed the imprisonment of people for advocating draft resistance and organizing communist parties.

When you consider how the common man behaved during the rise of Nazism, and even during the height of its power, you have to conclude that the truncheon really wasn't necessary.

As hard as it may be for us to accept today, there were normal, regular women who would swear out completely false statements against some poor woman down the street to get that woman a free trip to a camp. Normal, regular, everyday guys swearing out statements against a small business rival across town.

As horrible as it may sound, the system was convenient. If you wanted a woman gone, there was a surefire method by which you could do away with her. We have the archives. (The ones that weren't burned that is.) We know the names of both victim and accuser. And it all paints a picture of a people that were not physically beaten into submission. They weren't shamed into Nazism. In all honesty, they weren't even terribly political. The picture the archives paint are of a populace that was, in modern day terms, simply "petty". I think that's probably just human nature.

I still support letting people say whatever they please though. If a population mired in pettiness becomes enamored with Nazism? Well, their punishment will be that they have to live under Nazism. Just wish them good luck with that.


> If a population mired in pettiness becomes enamored with Nazism? Well, their punishment will be that they have to live under Nazism. Just wish them good luck with that.

The problem is that Nazism tends to hurt people beyond just those who chose to live with it.


Can you please point me to the references(books/online archives) please.

I see this happening in a few places in the world and have trouble getting people to understand that someone like a Hitler/Nazism doesn't rise unless the people are complicit in it.

"The people get a leader in their own reflection."


The Nazis got away with going around beating up opponents with truncheons.

The authorities turning a blind eye to that stuff was not an upholding of anyone's civil liberties, it was being complicit in shutting down other's free expression.


It's a complete falsehood to claim that German politics were peaceful, liberal, and democratic prior to the rise of the Nazis. Street violence between Communists, Freikorps, Stalhelm, and Iron Front factions were constant until the rise of the Nazis.

> There is a part of me that is afraid of a patently false but persuasive idea gaining currency in a liberal democracy, when it ought to have been quelled in the cradle somehow.

Anti-vaxxers come to mind from some points of view, although on the face of it it's not as odious as something like actual Nazis.

Anti-vaxxers are terrible though... they pile on social media to drown out opposing points of view. There is a local representative here in Oregon who was involved with a bill that said you had to have vaccinations to send your kids to public schools, and any time she posts anything online, dozens of those people come out of the woodwork to shriek at her and post their garbage science.


Anti-vaxxers are stupid but declaring them to be a large problem comes close. Some will always resist reason and sense, you will never be able to solve that. Instead of pointing fingers to satisfy yourself, you are free to advocate the advantages of vaccination.

I don't quite understand how one can laud Facebook for refusing to be the arbiter of truth in one specific instance, when their entire business is based in large part on filtering what information people do and don't see.

To me this is exactly what splits apart the argument in favour of Facebook not banning lies from politicians.

Corporations like Facebook have a lot of power to filter the content on their platforms, and they do it all the time. How and when they do that filtering is down to incentives and power. There is no free speech principle being upheld on Facebook.

A great example of how power and incentives influences corporate filtering, Twitter has a ban on inciting violence but publicly elected officials may be exempted. Twitter doesn’t like violence, but it doesn’t hold non-violence as a principle, same as Facebook not liking lies but not really being interested in honesty as a principle. Corporations like money.

Source: twitter’s ‘Terrorism and violent extremism’ policy


I feel that the biggest problem with social media isn't a matter of liberty but one of control. Individual consumers don't have enough control over what they see. For example, if I'd like not to see anything political whatsoever on my Facebook that right is often not respected. And it should be respected. It is my account. If someone says something I don't like or don't want to be affiliated with I should take steps to remove myself from that. If they come to me after doing this it's Facebook's fault.

Continuing from this, as they push content on you that you don't want to see, you become used to it. It's the same as getting used to a new musical genre; at first it all sounds like noise, but after the 50th or so hour you can hear the important parts clearly. Repetition legitimizes.

Harnessing that, they (Facebook, other advertisers) can push what ideas they want you to think into your mind, almost without your even noticing if you're not paying attention, and work to convince you you're the outlier even if you reject what they're saying.

You're correct, and the more I think on it the creepier it gets.


I don't see anything political on my Facebook, but it's taken probably over a full year of blocking groups and unfollowing people to get there. I wish I could get a list of the groups I blocked and share it.

The idea behind breaking up Facebook, is simply to have Instagram, Whats App, etc compete as independent entities which would create competition.

That is the check on Facebook's power and lack of accountability.


This discussion is pointless. All these social media platforms can do whatever they like on their platform. If you really care about freedom of speech and no censorship, build it into your technology from the ground up so that it is impossible for anyone to censor anything, and that freedom is guaranteed because it is a fundamental property and requirement of the system.

This is an interesting and important debate.

I'd love to see a round table with someone like this, and, say, the people behind Sleeping Giants, and maybe a few others.

Noteworthy: some guy filed paperwork to run for office in California in order to run false FB ads - and they won't let him.


Two points related:

One: Both platforms by providing a platform for public servants... cough-laugh politicians, there are good arguments to be made that in some cases they are public forums. I heard this argument put very well by a law podcast when discussing the "Trump can't block people on twitter" saga.

Two: Given the governments heavy involvement with these companies behind the scenes, I think there is also a compelling argument that that heavy involvement could change the view of the companies as purely private. (From initial funding via CIA VC In-Q-Tel to National Security Letters and other various entangling structures usually under the banner of "national security")

Great article, just wanted to add those two things.


so: internet technology used to centralize (or concentrate) information is basically a gateway to tyranny

in purely technical terms, internet technology doesn't necessitate that information be centralized, it works just fine when it's distributed (federated architecture).


Political discourse, in Mill's time, was a very different beast than it is today.

How so? And is it different in a way that invalidate Mill's points?

igammarays' comment says what I didn't have time to say: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21455211

I don't necessarily think this invalidates Mill's points, but Mill believed in exceptions[1], and the dynamics of discourse on social media today would likely give him pause.

1. https://asistdl.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/bul...


igammarays seems to be most concerned with "bad ideas" being spread by the recently unfettered access given to the common person to publish to the world at large. There was probably a similar grievance during the development of the printing press, and given that many people here would probably disagree with the "mainstream" ideas of even the recent past, it's hard for me to imagine how a renewed effort at gatekeeping will really solve the issue.

Given the quote from Mill listed in that article, I expect the biggest quibble Mill would have with the use of social media not the dissemination of "fake news", but with how outrage culture has been used to deprive people of their jobs (e.g. "dongle-gate") or how people have been "doxxed" and then harassed in person by lawless thugs (e.g. antifa showing up at Tucker Carlson's house).

Lastly, the Supreme Court decision cited in your article was addressed by the dissenting opinion quoted in the Stratechery article.


I only reference the article for its quote from Mill, in which truth-value is a concern in a situation Mill happened to think warranted the suppression of falsehoods.

Since Mill ultimately justified his beliefs in terms of utilitarianism, I do think the echo-chamber effect of social media and the proliferation of fake news would make him rethink things.

Of course, what matters isn't so much what Mill would think (we could speculate all day over what conclusions he would come to), but what the best social policy is. And while Ben cites the usual opinions on the subject, I don't think he's made a sufficient effort to grapple with the different media/discourse environment we live in today. That doesn't mean he must necessarily come to a different conclusion, but it's a mistake not to give it more consideration.


> I only reference the article for its quote from Mill, in which truth-value is a concern in a situation Mill happened to think warranted the suppression of falsehoods.

Mill's main reason for conceding an exception to the freedom of speech wasn't the falsehood of the speech, but the threat of mob action. I stand by my statement: Mill would be more concerned about cancel culture rather than fake news. Of course, the latter can feed into the former, but again the question comes down to whether we are looking at genuine incitement.

> And while Ben cites the usual opinions on the subject, I don't think he's made a sufficient effort to grapple with the different media/discourse environment we live in today. That doesn't mean he must necessarily come to a different conclusion, but it's a mistake not to give it more consideration.

I disagree? That's a difficult criticism to respond to given it's vagueness: like trying to put fog in a box. You could criticize Ben for his lack of originality, but I think there is value in reiterating a truth, even an obvious truth, in a clear and persuasive manner.

As for his thoughtfulness, are you perhaps just nonplussed that he sounds more certain of his convictions than you think he should be? Outside specific criticisms of his arguments, I'd have to say his position seems well thought out. I'd say that even if I thought he was wrong.


> Mill's main reason for conceding an exception to the freedom of speech wasn't the falsehood of the speech,

I didn’t say it was his main concern?

Mill’s reasoning ultimately rests on what principles he believes would result in the best outcome, from a utilitarian perspective. The point I’m making is that he wasn’t some free speech absolutist, but that an assessment of harm/utility undergirds his thinking, and that the different media environment would be something Mill would have to grapple with. And it could lead to an exception.

> I disagree? That's a difficult criticism to respond to given it's vagueness: like trying to put fog in a box. You could criticize Ben for his lack of originality, but I think there is value in reiterating a truth, even an obvious truth, in a clear and persuasive manner.

> As for his thoughtfulness, are you perhaps just nonplussed that he sounds more certain of his convictions than you think he should be? Outside specific criticisms of his arguments, I'd have to say his position seems well thought out. I'd say that even if I thought he was wrong.

You seem more concerned with defending Ben than thinking through what needs to be considered in this issue. Which is fine, I guess, but whether Ben has done an admirable job or not isn’t really what I care about.


> Mill’s reasoning ultimately rests on what principles he believes would result in the best outcome, from a utilitarian perspective. The point I’m making is that he wasn’t some free speech absolutist, but that an assessment of harm/utility undergirds his thinking, and that the different media environment would be something Mill would have to grapple with. And it could lead to an exception.

I suppose that's possible, but outside a specific argument as why Mill should change his mind, I'm hard pressed to think he would.

You're right that he wasn't an absolutist, but in my experience a sufficiently advanced utilitarian philosophy is virtually indistinguishable from a deontological one. This stems from the obvious limitations in human ability to perform the ethical calculations required by utilitarianism.

> You seem more concerned with defending Ben than thinking through what needs to be considered in this issue.

No, I'm trying to elicit a concrete criticism or argument that I can engage with. I happen to agree with Ben's position: so don't just tell me I'm not thinking about the issues, tell me why I'm wrong.


Best part of this article is the linked medium post by Pat Ker. That was a good read: https://medium.com/@patkerr/why-i-think-xkcd-is-wrong-about-....

Less 'XKCD is wrong and stupid!' and more 'its not the full picture'


The way that I tend to think of it is that democracy is a type of society not just a form of government. That is a society is democratic not so much because they vote but because they follow ideals such as freedom of speech and self determination.

That's probably more of a distinction between individualism and collectivism, than democracy per se.

"Liberty and justice for all" means that liberty isn't the only thing we should be talking about. We are in a time of great injustice in the US (and the rest of the world), perhaps even higher than during the Gilded Age and the robber barons because we have such extreme wealth inequality today. I'm of the opinion that concentrated wealth is the embodiment of injustice.

When we talk about Facebook and Twitter and free speech through the lens of liberty, then it's hard to come to any consistent conclusion about the best course of action. Yes I see the nuances of comparing speech and money, or speech and political speech. But there is no way to have censorship or no censorship and satisfy all parties.

I suggest that we add justice to the equation. Then, it's plain to see that Donald Trump was not elected purely democratically (he lost the popular vote), that there was evidence of tampering in the predominantly blue states that typically elect democrats (possibly by foreign parties like Russia), and that social media had an outsized role in the spread of propaganda (mainly Facebook and its laissez faire stance on fact checking free speech). I don't think that I'm stretching the truth here by any measure. And this dysfunction in our present-day system led to the improbable election of someone who was probably more interested in the publicity stunt of running for office than actually winning. I think we can also safely say that there are unhappy parties on both sides of the isle.

What does a just solution look like? Well.. it gets tricky. Typically that would be decided by the Supreme Court, but through a series of injustices (like Mitch McConnell blocking Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland), the court is potentially biased. This is not the first time that this has happened, as presidents and congresses have changed the number of justices in order to impose their own biases:

https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/why-does-the-supreme-cou...

So we are left with the court of public opinion, which is probably a good thing. So I'll put in my vote, that I think democracy is incompatible with concentrated wealth (injustice). Which means that I support the limiting of campaign funds to some agreed upon amount (roughly $2800 per person per candidate with several exceptions):

https://www.fec.gov/help-candidates-and-committees/candidate...

Which could be accomplished with an amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision:

https://movetoamend.org

And that I favor the public funding of elections so that the average person has similar publicity as someone with millions of dollars from PACs.

This limiting/balancing of dark money in politics would largely negate the influence of private social media companies like Facebook and Twitter and make all of this somewhat of a moot point. If it were to happen, then I would lean towards uncensored political ads (similar to what we've had in the past) while still leaving candidates and PACs open to libel lawsuits. I trust the dignity of the general public to make their own political decisions, regardless of their affluence or education or any other aspect of their demographic.


And when cancel culture starts threatening to burn down a building that hosts a free speech conference? (One that includes a black speaker that has deraticalized dozens of racist extremists.) Where does that fall?

edit:

Also, where is the line between journalism, opinion and platform. Laws protecting platforms are not meant to shield editorial opinion. There is already a concept of private space in public service, why are social media sites not considered similar here?

I'm okay with people expressing their opinions.. I'm quite fine with it and happy to see more of it. But there's a difference between that, and masked thugs showing up armed.


the only thing that seems certain is that thugs will burn things down.



Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: