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Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech (2019) (knightcolumbia.org)
646 points by ege_erdogan 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 269 comments



>a workable plan that enables more free speech, [...] That approach: build protocols, not platforms. To be clear, this is an approach that would bring us back to the way the internet used to be. The early internet involved many different protocols—instructions and standards that anyone could then use to build a compatible interface.

As I've commented before[1][2], discussing protocols and advocating for them is a popular topic but it does not make progress.

The real issue is funding and trying to make humans do what they don't want to do.

If HN is overrepresented by vanguards of decentralization and free speech, why are a lot of us here on HN instead of running USENET nodes and posting to a newsgroup such as "comp.programming.hackernews" to avoid being moderated by dang?

If most of HN knows how to set up git and stand up a web server, why do most of use Github instead of running Gitlab on a home pc/laptop/RaspberryPi or rent a Digital Ocean vps?

It's because "free & open protocols" weren't really the issue!

A lot of us don't want to run a USENET node or manage our own git server to share code.

[1] the so-called "open" internet of free protocols: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20231960

[2] free & royalty free protocol like Signal still doesn't solve the "who pays for running the server" problem: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20232499


I think what many don't realise is that it is precisely the "unfree" parts of HN that make it attractive. And by that I don't mean centralized technical or organizational structure, but rather stuff like a culture of downvoting destructive, inflamatory or snarky comments, a good and mostly invisible moderation, a strong focus on certain topics etc.

To have a good discourse it totally helps if that one guy over there isn't screaming at everybody that has a slightly different opinion while he is shitting onto the table in front of the rest of us. It helps if everybody agrees what goes to far.

Federated, decentralized and free plattforms need to deal with this their own way. What if the free plattform you are hosting is used by a ring of child molestors and pedophiles? Do you accept that freedom for all also means freedom for them? Or do you enforce your own law on your own turf? While this is an extrem example, anybody who tried to run such a thing in a meaningful way had to ask themselves the same question. I am btw. aware that child molesters are a common scenario used by politicians to justify yet another crack down on encryption.

The question here is, what kind of plattform would you want to run? One where the discussions enrich the lives of a thousand people, show some of them perspectives they never had? Or rather the lawless zone where everything goes and the stronger person with the louder capslock and the meaner insults wins? Or something conspiratorial?


And on a related note, the ability to browse forums with vastly different themes, cultures, and tolerance has always been there. The big networks solve a discoverability problem for end users (and get accused of being the problem when they [don't] stop certain things being discoverable). Moderation complaints have revolved around the platform companies promoting or refusing to promote stuff to their widest possible audience even though other websites exist, and I don't see how the biggest 'filter' providers don't run into the same issue (with the existence of niche and manually customisable 'filters' failing to be a 'solution' in the same sense many people are unhappy with being able to reach Gab followers but not Twitter ones)


> To have a good discourse

...is not the primary purpose of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Which may be a better way of stating the root problem than focusing on either protocols or platforms.


> it is precisely the "unfree" parts of HN that make it attractive ... stuff like a culture of down-voting destructive, inflammatory or snarky comments ... a strong focus on certain topics etc.

Cultures of upvoting/downvoting are completely orthogonal to whether protocols or applications are free software or proprietary. Neither does the subject matter focus on a news aggregation site.

> What if the free platform you are hosting is used by a ring of child molestors and pedophiles?

Guess what? The telephone network is used by "rings of child molesters and pedophiles". And strangely enough, nobody expects the phone companies to "deal with this". Same goes for a decentralized instant messaging and chat platform.

Also, the government and corporate opponents of privacy routinely inflate the prevalence of rings of supposed terrorists, pedophiles etc., because bringing them up instills excessive fear and clouds our judgement. You write that you're "aware" of this, but apparently you're fine with it, as you're making that the center of your argument.

> Do you accept that freedom for all also means freedom for them?

Your question is phrased ambiguously, to manipulate us into believing that a free decentralized communications platform means that we agree that people are "free" to molest children, whatever that means.

Well, you should be free to pick up the phone and call whichever number you like, without having to first prove you're not a child molester. And the same goes for putting up some flyer on a neighborhood notice board. And for putting up a website.

> One where the discussions enrich... or rather the lawless zone...

If-by-whiskey: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If-by-whiskey


Let me rephrase your argument, so its tractable.

The risks are overblown, and so its ok to create places with decentralized freer speech.

Firstly- I removed the parts where you stated that this is like the phone network.

Phone calls are temporally limited, once you are done with a call its over. You can't hear that voice again, or relive that conversation, except through memory.

Text on a forum combines the worst of phone calls and books.

Not only is it easy to create and respond in real time (Like a phone, and unlike books or letters), but it is also persistent so people can read and participate in that moment of emotion repeatedly (like a phone call).

These are great and greatly bad depending on how they are used, but they are dramatically different from the way a phone call impacts human beings.

Which brings us to the second point - it isn't only the information, it is the emotion, or in combination the "content" of speech on forums/social media that matters.

Having actively tried to push for free speech and then managed speech, I can guarantee that without moderation, forums/social spaces collapse. They fall victim to our neurology, and the scale of people on it.

So you can't avoid the use of force here, the question is the amount of force being used, and whether it is commensurate to the specific event it is being used to mitigate.


Fair point regarding the difference between phone conversations and textual forum/group discussions.

However - I disagree with your bottom line. Perhaps on the level of the _individual_ forum/channel/board you may be right. But not on the level of the _platform_. Specific forums/spaces/channels etc. which collapse - collapse, that's a problem for their founders and members.

In that respect, I'll make a different analogy: Mailing lists and newsgroups. Also not a perfect analogy, but - a mailing list or NNTP server does not have to police anything, but individual lists often need to set up some sort of moderation to avoid collapse into flame-wars etc.

So you can't avoid the use of force here, the question is the amount of force being used, and whether it is commensurate to the specific event it is being used to mitigate.


The last line of my comment was a quote, after which I intended to comment:

The mailing list might not be able to avoid the use of force (maybe). But the platform can avoid it.


The telephone analogy is a good case against your position.

The modern equivalent of the telephone network is the internet, specifically the cables, routers and switches that allow us to communicate.

The owners of said equipment are not liable if child pornography is send through their wires.

That is not a problem, we don’t close roads because child pornographers use them.

But the end point is a totally different matter.

But to the point: moderating the (tone of) the discussion, is essential for a good discussion. You can’t have the trolls interfering.

I think moderation and thus limiting free speech somewhat is actual fundamental essential for a good debate or discussion.


The crowdsourcing of moderation via the downvoting mechanism has a pitfall however that I won't get into here except to say there are mobs of irrational, bias, and laziness that get their fix of dopamine by clicking a downvote arrow rather than having the cost of time/effort to add something qualitative to discussion.


Yet it did work quite well in the older net. Wasn't perfect, but it was working for many. Was it just the entry barrier and limited demographics? I don't know.

I think strongly moderated places always develop some form of echo chamber, even the interesting ones. So I don't believe in the dichotomy of lawless zones and unique perspectives. On the contrary, I think strongly moderated communities will more likely develop orthodoxies.

Easy answers are often popular, but that phenomenon is true in almost all communities.


> Was it just the entry barrier and limited demographics?

Also possibly the difference in sheer volume of content and people. It's much easier to moderate when you have at most a few dozen people discussing a given topic. HN is dealing with thousands of people who sometimes, during really heated discussions like the GameStop ones, post literally at the same time and make more content than a single moderator or even a team of moderators is capable of reviewing, even with community help in form of reports or flags.


> I think what many don't realise is that it is precisely the "unfree" parts of HN that make it attractive. And by that I don't mean centralized technical or organizational structure, but rather stuff like a culture of downvoting destructive, inflamatory or snarky comments, a good and mostly invisible moderation, a strong focus on certain topics etc.

I'm over it. I see many comments that politely present the opposing view get downvoted to oblivion. It isn't just the "inflamatory or snarky" comment. Dissenting opinion is censored on this platform.

I made the mistake of reacting to it the other day and was punished for commenting on moderation. Fair enough, I guess, but the reason for the comment was exasperation at the downvoting of opinion.

And it bites that downvoted comments just fade away, so later readers can no longer consider it, or respond to it. Remember that I am talking about unpopular opinion, which may sometimes be objectively wrong, but not rudely presented. It's common for such additions to the thread to be obliviated through moderation. (I know about showdead, but only learned about it recently).

That's the thing about free speech: we often don't like what other people say. The price we must pay for that freedom is to be exposed to speech we do not like. It's a cost, that we must pay because we are imperfect. We make mistakes, we think incorrectly from time to time. So I say, let it all ride. On HN at least, the culture of thoughtfulness and intellectualism serves to curb the worst rudeness, but let us be willing to expose ourselves to views that we don't agree with. Let's be prepared to have the argument, and possibly be persuaded.

So the next time someone says "You know, I think Trump was an alright president, for <reasons> .. ", curb your outrage. Let it ride, and engage with the argument.


I don’t think I would visit HN if the voting system worked like this. I like hearing the popular opinion, but I also like hearing the popular contrary opinion and very often - like with your comment - the popular contrary sits right below the popular.

What I don’t like reading is “zinger” comments - stuff like “X is bad and people that think X is good are dumb”.

From what I’ve seen - these are the comments downvoted the most. I don’t dislike these comments because they cause me outrage, they just don’t make me feel the same way that well thought out comments - popular and unpopular - make me feel.


Can I comment on moderation since this thread is about censorship and free speech? I guess we'll find out.

Seems I've lost a point. Someone took exception to what I said above. Not sure how I went wrong, but if enough people feel similarly, then my post will fade away. It will be censored. Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: I've got a point back since I wrote this comment. I won't keep editing this comment each time my comment is voted for or against. It's enough to say that people sometimes downvote when they don't like an opinion, or the way it's expressed at least, even if it is not rude.


Although it does seem a little meta, I'd like to do you the favor of telling you why I downvote every time I see someone complain about their downvotes or their post being grayed out.

It's boring. It doesn't make for good conversation. It's not falsifiable and there's nothing to be said about it. You're just unhappy about it, and it just bores me.

Maybe you feel like you're being censored, but really there can only be so much noise amidst the signal. And really, truly, an overlong and doubly updated comment where you are telling us to have our way with you is the least signal you could possibly have generated.

There are lots of complaints to be had about HN, but this is not one of them.

And to be even kinder and open to changing my mind, I thought I might see which comments you were unhappy about having cast into the gray. Would I see some glittering gems worth rescuing?

Unfortunately (predictably?), said comments employ double question marks or otherwise read angrily, or otherwise are simplistic and disagreeable and bring very little insight to the table. (And, you have a number of comments that have not been downvoted, so it's not like this is complete randomness or an inability on HN's part to accept basic facts. There is a correlation to be observed, one that perhaps you're ignoring.)

HN isn't perfect, but I think you doth protest a bit much.


It's not my comments I'm arguing for.

I don't think I'm that hard-done-by. I'm referring to gray comments that don't seem to be particularly hostile, but are just, say, conservative (for example) in nature.

Perhaps I've forgotten, but I don't think I've complained about being downvoted. Today doesn't count. It's not a complaint, just an observation in a thread about free speech and censorship.

Thanks for the feedback.


I've heard people 'just ask questions' or 'make observations' or similar a million times before, and you most certainly have comments that fit the profile of what you've been arguing in favor of. It reads like a deflection, as a result.

Moreover, this is kind of what I mean by comments that aren't falsifiable, that don't really add anything. You're not giving me anything to work with when you gesture vaguely to theoretical comments rather than specific examples. All I have to go on are yours. And yours make for very good counterexamples.


At the risk of flogging a dead horse, and in the interests of honesty, [1] is a comment that I thought was an example of one downvoted unfairly. It wasn't the first one I've seen downvoted where I thought "Why? It seems they just don't agree." And it probably won't be the last. But it is the first and only time where I've questioned the downvoting in a comment [2].

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25737065 [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25739135


I appreciate you coming back to the thread to give an example. However, the comment appears to no longer be downvoted or flagged.

This illustrates a common misconception about HN's propensity to vote one way or another. Your reply came less than two hours later, whereas the voting isn't complete for a while longer and so the score still has plenty of time to change as the audience continues to process it. This phenomenon (and related handwringing about "is HN reddit now?") can be observed as far back as 2009, and likely even further[1].

You might notice that the comment you replied to (which I would argue is actually demonstrably factually wrong in a few ways, and yet) recovered from its time in the depths beyond. This is likely owing to the fact that it was at least tactfully written, so replies could be written without having to work around the expletive content of the original comment; yours did not, arguably because it was not.

Anyway, this all sort of sidesteps the fact that comment karma was never intended to represent the value of a post or how worthy it is for distribution. It's more like a temperature gauge allowing you to perceive honestly how your comment makes others feel. And disagreement is a feeling too. In the words of 'pg, downvotes have always been used for disagreement.[2]

My first reply to you originally earned one downvote. And I figured it would, from at least one person, but I said it anyway because I believed it should be said. And you have that same ability too. Don't let the numbers get to your head. Just try and have normal conversations with people and the points take care of themselves. (As an example of this, I broke even on my original reply after some time, and gained more in my second reply.) It's rare that people with the ability to read a room and at least attempt to be agreeable in some way end up censured.

Thanks for coming back to this thread! I feel like this became a little more substantive than it was when it began.

1: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=721455

2: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=392347


"You might notice that the comment you replied to (which I would argue is actually demonstrably factually wrong in a few ways, and yet) recovered from its time in the depths beyond. This is likely owing to the fact that it was at least tactfully written, so replies could be written without having to work around the expletive content of the original comment; yours did not, arguably because it was not."

Yes, I did notice it had been upvoted. The fact that is was no longer gray caused me to question whether it was the comment I was referring to. :-) But it had to be, of course. And so I take your point.

I obviously went off "half-cocked", as I have done a couple of times lately. :-)

Generally speaking I appreciate your points, and I like HN.

Below your [2] link (the PG comment) is one [1] by a petercooper. I think I share petercooper's concerns about downvoting being a means of registering one's disagreement. If your opinions drift too far to the edges of the Overton window, then you stand to be downvoted. I don't like that.

I do take your point that comments that are polite and well formed (so to speak) tend not to be penalised in the long term. I'll watch for that in future.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=395197


You're both right in a way, inane comments complaining about downvotes aren't substantive, but I also see a lot of thoughtful and frankly poignant comments bite the dust because they're just slightly outside the decidedly narrow Overton window of HN discourse.

At the end of the day, on a smallish platform like this, the downvotes do also hurt. Some days it seems more users feel like downvoting everything than upvoting anything and unlike reddit, very few downvotes immediately result in censure.


That's fair. Comments on HN don't have a permalink, do they? If so I would have made reference to one that I actually commented on the downvoting of.

Regarding your assessment of my comments, I'm beginning to wonder if your looking at mine and not someone else in the thread. I went looking for the "twice updated" one where I tell you all to have your way with me. I went right through my comment history and can't for the life of me figure out to what you are referring.


every comment here has a permalink. tap on the timestamp.


So they do. Thanks. :-)


Maybe they're just collapsing/folding the comment and sub-comments, not really mean to downvote ?


In all cases ILLEGAL speech can’t be allowed to remain on platform.

There needs to be a high tech system for logging and reporting Illegal Speech to government. And a means for government to take efficient and prompt action.

Disliked speech is not illegal speech and this article states the unique definition that each person has and poses some solves to allow people to use systems that filter out what they dont want to hear in addition to what is illegal.

The issue we are facing is what to do about the legal but disliked speech and whether to forcibly prevent people from hearing or seeing it.

The spirit of of our first amendment is very much the opposite. It is to protect your ability to speak. Our public forum is now virtual, privatized and highly centralized and we didn’t prepare for that as a society.

As they say “...Defend to the death your right to say it.”


The end goal is to make sure "ILLEGAL" speech can not be suppressed. If you can block "illegal" speech you can block legal speech any protocol designed to be immune to censorship will have to make that sacrifice; I am very much willing too.


> In all cases ILLEGAL speech can’t be allowed to remain on platform.

On the contrary. In most cases, it is imperative that illegal speech remain on online platforms. It's bad enough that governments censor criticism, alternative viewpoints (including ones we may abhor), and leaked information using the police, the judicial and prison systems, and their close ties with large media companies.

> Disliked speech is not illegal speech

Not so. There exist all of:

* Well-liked, illegal speech

* Disliked illegal speech

* Well-liked, legal speech

* Disliked legal speech

It seems like you're assuming the law, everywhere, is just and fair and should be not just followed but upheld.

> our first amendment

Most people don't live in the US, you know. In fact, less than 5% of people do. Not that I would agree with you had I lived there, but online content is not a US-local affair.


Private speech is necessarily something that the government cannot monitor. When choosing between ubiquitous surveillance and "illegal speech going unpunished," opposing the former is more important than preventing the latter.


I think this is the right set of questions. I can add my own anecdotal experience. In the past, I ran voice chat servers, IRC servers, forums, rsync and sftp servers. I gave people a way to have their own small communities that were mostly free of censorship provided they were not breaking the laws of my country. For a while, those things were popular, but as the big centralized sites came along, they designed their UX to be low friction and high endorphin reward. They added more discoverability and ability to have bigger communities. People preferred this over what I could give them. With time, my IRC servers lost favor for things like Facebook messenger and Discord. Rsync and SFTP were "too hard" and everyone moved to Dropbox and related sites. My remaining SFTP server is now just hit by bots, very confused bots. I shut down the last voice chat server because people would only use it when Discord was offline. On top of all that, internet trolls have evolved beyond psychological warfare. Now they are good at scripting uploads of bad content and auto-reporting their own content to take down domains and servers regardless of how fast response-driven moderation is. This means I would have to set up forums to require every message to be screened, or use some expensive machine learning and that gets into a whole mess of privacy problems. It's just not worth my time and effort to play those games, especially given the lack of interest in using smaller communities.


> If HN is overrepresented by vanguards of decentralization and free speech, why are a lot of us here on HN instead of running USENET nodes and posting to a newsgroup such as "comp.programming.hackernews" to avoid being moderated by dang?

Because the point isn't to have no moderation, it's for the power of "moderation" not to be vested in a small number of oligarchs pressured by angry mobs spurred on by media companies with bad incentives to want to damage their political opponents and market competitors.

Also notice that you're using a web page delivered via HTTP over TCP/IP over Ethernet, resolved via DNS, secured via TLS etc. These are all standard protocols. But Facebook isn't one and that's at the root of the problem.

> If most of HN knows how to set up git and stand up a web server, why do most of use Github instead of running Gitlab on a home pc/laptop/RaspberryPi or rent a Digital Ocean vps?

The network effect.

> It's because "free & open protocols" weren't really the issue!

It's because "free & open protocols" are an important thing but not the only thing, and their importance relative to other things was until recently not under the spotlight.


> Because the point isn't to have no moderation, it's for the power of "moderation" not to be vested in a small number of oligarchs pressured by angry mobs spurred on by media companies with bad incentives to want to damage their political opponents and market competitors.

This is not a statement many people who have been angry recently would agree with.

Trump would've gotten himself banned from any of the forums I hung out in from 2000 to now. Not for being conservative, for being an asshole.

The "only remove illegal content" crowd has a problem with that. I don't.


>This is not a statement many people who have been angry recently would agree with.

Well, what "angry people would agree with" is a pretty strange basis for an argument, anyway...

>Trump would've gotten himself banned from any of the forums I hung out in from 2000 to now. Not for being conservative, for being an asshole.

And that would be neither here nor there, cause your forums are not so massive as to shape public opinion and influence elections and news.

In smaller, disperse and diverse, discussion platforms, you would be entitled to think that he should be banned for "being an asshole" and even ban him from your forums, while others would be entitled to ban others that say the same or worse things from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

When one side, in a major public-opinion-influencing service can ban a whole side of the political spectrum though, and even the sitting president, that's a problem.

It's actually analogous to election influencing - same as if 9 out of 10 channels in TV only carried the views from one party and not the other(s).


> It's actually analogous to election influencing - same as if 9 out of 10 channels in TV only carried the views from one party and not the other(s).

Thanks to the Reagan administration, that's fine, yes? It would violate Twitter's free speech rights to force them to do otherwise?

This is an ancient argument and Twitter neither "banned a whole side of the political spectrum" (the asshole Trumpian wing is hardly all of conservatism) nor did anything new to US history.

The reason Trump is pushing for the "public square" aspect is because in a decentralized world, his crowd would still be pushed to the fringes because it's expressing fringe (but loud) views. 90 out of 100 forums would have issues with him. So instead, he wants to have access on his terms.


>Thanks to the Reagan administration, that's fine, yes? It would violate Twitter's free speech rights to force them to do otherwise?

Well, I don't particularly care for a corporation's free speech rights. I think it's better for citizens to have free speech rights, not corporations. Besides, I don't think Twitter's free speech rights are in danger or would be in danger if they were forced not to censor people. They could still print whatever message of their own (Twitter's) they want, exercizing their free speech. They just wouldn't be able to exercize censorship.

Same way I want net neutrality from ISPs, I want it from social media.


>And that would be neither here nor there, cause your forums are not so massive as to shape public opinion and influence elections and news.

Maybe assholes shouldn't be able to use these platforms to shape public opinion and influence elections and news. Maybe having a Twitter account is a privilege, and not a right, and that privilege is correctly granted on the precondition that one will not use the platform to act like an asshole.

Then again maybe we shouldn't elect assholes President to begin with, but that's also neither here nor there.

>When one side, in a major public-opinion-influencing service can ban a whole side of the political spectrum though, and even the sitting president, that's a problem.

Except the "whole side" of the Republican, conservative, or even pro-Trump spectrum hasn't been banned. I don't know why people keep repeating this when even a cursory look on any popular social media site will show that there's still plenty of that speech active online.


>Maybe assholes shouldn't be able to use these platforms to shape public opinion and influence elections and news

And who judges who is the asshole objectively?

For example, in my book a president who actively bombed 7 countries, continued wars he was elected to stop, under whose terms ICE deported more people at the border than Trump (wall or no wall), gave Wall Street a "too big to fail" bailout, enlarged surveillance and hunted several whistleblowers and threatened journalists, is more of an asshole (and a danger) than another who is just a crass business/tv personality that wrote mean tweets and that rednecks liked. That's whether the former has had more political experience or is a smoother talker, and polite company.

But that's just me, and neither is even my President, so...

>Maybe having a Twitter account is a privilege, and not a right, and that privilege is correctly granted on the precondition that one will not act like an asshole.

No, I'd say that having an account to social platforms above some population reach level shouldn't be a "privilege" but a right (that is, subject to due process/law, not up to the whims of the company).

Else, those who control said platforms (where the majority of the public frequents and where most of public discourse happens), also control the public dialogue.


>And who judges who is the asshole objectively?

If Obama, or any other President, had acted the way Trump did on Twitter, I'd have no issue with them being banned, either.

>No, I'd say that having an account to social platforms above some population reach level shouldn't be a "privilege" but a right

And who judges what is a "social platform" objectively? Because you've just granted the government the right to use its monopoly on force to remove fundamental rights like freedom of speech and association from the people running any website which meets some arbitrary "population reach" threshold.

To me, that's a lot scarier than platforms fact-checking statements or banning racists and people calling for violence or spreading misinformation.

>(that is, subject to due process/law, not up to the whims of the company).

Companies aren't anarchist collectives, they are subject to due process and the law. You just disagree with companies having the right to choose with whom they do business, and with Twitter and other big social media platforms being able to moderate content and ban people. But they're still doing so within the framework of a state and its laws.


>And who judges what is a "social platform" objectively? Because you've just granted the government the right to use its monopoly on force to remove fundamental rights like freedom of speech and association from the people running any website which meets some arbitrary "population reach" threshold.

Actually it's the opposite: I "granted the government the right to use its monopoly on force to ENFORCE fundamental rights like freedom of speech and association from the people running any website which meets some arbitrary "population reach" threshold".

And the arbitrary threshold wont be that arbitrary if it's legally defined. We have lots of such thresholds in law (from "age of consent" and "21 to be allowed to drink", to "statue of limitations").

>You just disagree with companies having the right to choose with whom they do business

They can pick their vendors (whom they do business with), but not their users, same way a grocery store can't (and doesn't in a civilized country) just send you away ("refusal of service").


> Because the point isn't to have no moderation, it's for the power of "moderation" not to be vested in a small number of oligarchs pressured by angry mobs spurred on by media companies with bad incentives to want to damage their political opponents and market competitors

I mean, or that the angry mobs don't like violent insurrections being encouraged and planned openly on these platforms. Is that what you mean by "damage their political opponents?" Phrases like that make it sound like the "opponents" are some innocent little scared children who did nothing wrong. If demanding that calls to violence are stopped is political for you, then ok, sure.

As I've said and will keep saying: those most vocal about protecting the 'freedom' of domestic terrorists to terrorize are the ones most certain they'll never suffer from that terror.


Forcing your way into the capitol and taking over a police station are both illegal and should not be done. They both meet the formal definition of "violent insurrection" and they both happened over the last year. The media response has been asymmetrical.

Also, people are being excluded who have never called for violence. What "violent insurrection" was Discord suppressing by /r/WallStreetBets?


The reason people don't run nntp servers is the same reason I don't go to Antarctica to socialize.

The reason people use github is because it it there.

> It's because "free & open protocols" weren't really the issue!

Why do VC funded startups build platforms? Because that's how you get the gate-keeping function. Protocols do not get funded because they do not let you exclude.

Chiding others for not making progress on hard problems against well-funded opponents doesn't make one look wise.


GitHub is an interesting example, because if I push code to GitHub, I still have my local source, and being an open protocol I can easily push it elsewhere as well.


Which is fine if you're only managing code and not using all the other functionality like bug tracking/feature requests, documentation, pull requests.


There's no conflict between these things. You can run your own private/semi-private repo, mirror to github and use github for the public facing features you're mentioning. That doesn't stop your own repo from continuing to exist (whether or not it is considered canonical or not).


Can an open source repo contain illegal speech commented in the code itself? What happens then?


A secret police knocks on your doors?


One of the ISPs in my home town runs a nntp server and it is very popular among locals, not even tech-savvy ones. It’s been around for at least 16 years and last time I checked it was still very active. I think the point is - nntp is still acceptable if the community is large enough.


I think a very important reason why people don't run their own USENET node or Gitlab instance is because it's not easy. In fact, it's the opposite of easy. It's extremely difficult in the long run. If using your own server was as easy as using an iPhone, then we would see way more people doing it.


It will never be easy. People should understand that and take the hard part as a fun part or as a price to pay for their digital independence.


That's not true. There's no reason why hosting a server should be hard. This is a UX issue, and an eminently solvable one at that. Imagine a self-hosted, easy-to-install Heroku-style server platform with a public repository for application images.

It's not hard because it needs to be hard; it's hard because no one has invested the time and money to make it easy.


It doesn't matter how much you invest in making it easier. It will never be as easy as doing nothing, which is what the competing alternative provides.


It’s hard the same reason I can’t put a ton of solar panels on my roof and pump large amounts of electricity into the grid. The upstream infrastructure is not sized appropriately. It’s not that running a server is hard but that most internet infrastructure is designed to consume and not produce.


I can tell you why I stopped using USENET: because so few other people were using it it was no longer worthwhile. I would go back to it if enough other people did. I use Reddit now, and Reddit is just an inferior USENET.


> it does not make progress

FUD. Making statements like this totally discounts the healthy and vibrant communities that exist today making use of open protocols. Either your head is in the sand or you have an interest in stalling those systems from taking root.

I got news for you though. The genie is out of the bottle, and there's no putting it back inside.


Github is a hosting service built around git. Likewise, gmail is a service built around e-mail protocols. It's fine for services like these to exist because you have a choice of whether you want to use them or not to facilitate the use of the underlying protocol (you are free to set up your own e-mail server if you want, and doing so does not prevent you from communicating with users who choose to use gmail).

I think rather the big issue is, for instance, the use of Facebook Messenger for IM. If everyone I know uses it, I have no choice but to use it too because there is no underlying protocol behind it.


> don't want to run a USENET node

I would love to run a Usenet node, I just suspect my hosting provider would shut me down after too long.


You do not have to carry all newsgroups, and the last time I used a free Usenet node they explicitly did not carry any binaries (too much traffic and too much liability). The reason nobody uses Usenet is that unmoderated newsgroups were taken over by nazis and trolls, and moderated newsgroups have no particular advantage over forums as far as "free speech" goes.

(Though I take issue with the idea that moderation somehow implies less free speech. It is hard to express an idea when you are buried under a pile of off-topic trolling and nazi conspiracy theories.)


> The reason nobody uses Usenet is that unmoderated newsgroups were taken over by nazis and trolls

Some of the sci.* hierachy was taken over by the mentally ill and crackpots. They aren't hateful or intentionally trolling with their insistent claims that they have discovered free energy, come up with new insights into the evolution of human language, etc., but the effect on fruitful discussion was much the same.


At some point, trolling becomes indistinguishable from mental illness and crackpottery.


only in sufficiently advanced civilizations.


Moderated forums and moderated Usenet groups both have the characteristic of not being subject to the whims of a central platform. Contrast Facebook groups and subreddits.


Except for alt.hackers. It was a moderated newsgroup but there was no moderator. How do you post? That was the point. It was a fun group.


>If most of HN knows how to set up git and stand up a web server, why do most of use Github instead of running Gitlab on a home pc

You missed the point of the article. It wasn't advocating for everyone to run their own servers. git is a protocol, github is a site that wraps the protocol with its own rules. There's nothing wrong with that. Github is like the Gmail example of the article. Facebook is not.

It also wasn't advocating for zero moderation.


> why do most of use Github instead of running Gitlab on a home pc/laptop/RaspberryPi or rent a Digital Ocean vps?

Well, for me, it's because GitLab is still too heavy for the Pi.

And even if somehow it became light enough, running it still couldn't help you if your goal is to have a better portfolio for a better job or/and reputation. GitHub is more of a community than a platform, and building a community is way harder than building a platform.

So it's more than just the founding.

Also, sure, you can setup your own website and post contents there, but nobody is going to read it before somebody discovers it. And discovery is really hard.

What those "Big platforms" really got right, is that they've found a way to efficiently deliver the contents created on the platform to their users, and allow the user to give timely feedback about the content. This feedback loop itself is more valuable than the tech behind it.

If decentralization movement want to be successful, it must also create this feedback loop. Otherwise people will just get bored and disconnect.


You're exactly right that funding - or rather adequate effort - is what's missing, necessary to enforce and guide people along a protocol that will need to evolve as we learn how to better, more efficiently guide people towards calm rationality and reasoning; helping to open people's hearts and minds, healing whatever past unhealed/unprocessed trauma they likely have - along with helping them work through whatever blocks they have, whether misconceptions, emotion, or from an unhealthy body, nervous system.


> avoid being moderated by dang?

Maybe we like being moderated by dang? Maybe he’s a key feature of the “hacker news application” that runs over the open protocols ...


Decentralized doesn't have to mean "everyone self-hosts": it just means there's more than one offering on the market.

I pay an email provider because I don't want to deal with configuring Dovecot, but I don't use Gmail because I don't want the risk that some algo deletes my account, and I'm glad that's (so far still) an option.


Thing is, I don't think most people want to replace subreddits, Facebook groups or HN. The issue is that for two of these three communities, they are hosted by a company that has a large amount of power over the communities. It doesn't make sense to replace HN with some federated/p2p alternative, because HN is already independent.

And not everything needs to be a decentralised system, that's just a false dichotomy. If GitLab.com deletes my repos or stops offering the features I like, I'll just move elsewhere, I could even move to another GitLab instance. It's much harder to move a group of people.

Besides, not everyone needs to run a server in a federated environment. As long as it's a possibility, one rogue actor can't take over the whole network. Most people don't host their own email/Matrix server, and that's okay.


Yeah. Recommendation systems, like HN, are attractive to people and difficult to replace with open protocols.


I don't know, HN isn't much more than a focused subreddit (no offense meant!).

I could imagine some kind of federated Reddit where HN could be a community fully managed by dang et al. according to their own needs/wants.

Then you just subscribe to each community as you like. Much like you can unsubscribe to all the default subreddits and only subscribe to the subreddits that interest you, only this time you don't have Reddit 's commercial interests/standards hanging over your head with the power to shut you down.

Granted I'm not sure of the value (other than censorship resistance) vs. a set of fragmented, specialized forums we had way back when.


Lemmy is Mastodon for Reddit, so it lets you have a instance with a set of subreddits, basically, from a user can also subscribe to other instances' subreddits. I'm not involved with the code or anything, I just think it's neat. https://lemmy.ml


Thansk for the heads up, will give it a look!


I don't think dividing sidewalk ownership among many companies is enough to achieve free speech. We need something more.


ON the contrary, I think HN is a good example of the open web, a protocol based around pages hosted in all manner of places and links between them. HN is one of many places you could go to find recommendations for content hosted elsewhere.

Hosting comments is platformy, but other than that HN doesn't try to get people to host content on HN, and while dang can decide that HN won't recommend a particular piece of content, he cannot remove that content from wherever it's hosted (except by recommending it too much and hugging the server to death).


Peer-to-peer communication with sparsely decentralized data storage is the answer.


For me the issue is more that communities as they grow seem to be bound to become either burning dumpster fires or turn just uninteresting and boring as they converge on the lowest common denominator of interests/opinions.

I have self hosted IRC, forums and git servers in the past, but honestly what the point if free speech is not really an issue where I live and it’s just maintenance cost for me? So far I found mob mentality and self censorship within communities much more worrysome than anything imposed by government and big tech.


Exactly this. I can't run protocols. And I can't afford to open anything I run to the general internet, because I'm not a sysadmin, I don't know how to be a good sysadmin, and I don't want to be a sysadmin. It's a respectable job I just don't want to do, and attempting it as a dabbler will mean I get pwn3d basically immediately.


I still think it's quite strange how peer-to-peer systems are dismissed offhand these days. At one time the idea was quite popular. I believe it will come back into popularity again.

One thing that probably will affect that dramatically is rollout of IPv6.

But the author also addresses another aspect of it which is the economics. Cryptocurrency can help with that.


You are exactly right. And you can see the same thing with the Internet as a network as well as with Bitcoin.

Both of those can, by design, be run by individuals and independent entities. However, in the end most people end up preferring to delegate the administration of their share of the network to someone else, either out of ignorance or convenience.


> A lot of us don't want to run a USENET node or manage our own git server to share code.

Yeah. See how well it goes when everyone takes the comfortable approach?


> A lot of us don't want to run a USENET node or manage our own git server to share code.

Now you're suddenly making me feel alone :(


Well said. Free and lazy over freedom and work.


Economies of scale and specialization. Same reason not everyone is fabbing their own chips, running their own power plant, digging for their own oil and growing their own fruit. Aside from people living in complete isolation from the rest of the world, we all put a price on freedom at some point.


I think we are here because of PG and YCombinator, not because we don't want to run our own servers. Many HN users probably do run their own servers, even discussion servers.

The real problem is how to attract the right people. YC is a fascinating case, actually. WHY are we here, and not on some reddit forum?

Even though it seems PG is not very active here anymore, it seems the seeding community has stuck to some extent.

Of course they also have their theory of how to maintain a community and did some coding and moderating to try to maintain it.

To my personal taste, they have overdone it, and ruined it in a way, but I haven't found a good alternative yet.

The next iteration of online news and communities will perhaps take more than dedicated servers, it may require a usability leap. Maybe some convenient way to filter messages, that is not centralized (Twitter/Facebook algorithms don't optimize to my benefit, but to the benefit of their owners).


"After a decade or so of the general sentiment being in favor of the internet and social media as a way to enable more speech and improve the marketplace of ideas, in the last few years the view has shifted dramatically—now it seems that almost no one is happy."

10 or 15 years ago people looked at web 1.0, saw many good communities and valuable conversations and said "we need to protect free speech".

Today people looks at Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Reddit, see mismanaged cesspools and declare that we need centralized speech control.

This is understandable, but highly reactionary and irrational. Speech control is facilitated by big tech at their own discretion. Advocating for more of it means you're advocating for giving more power to the companies who fucked up the system in the first place.


I remember watching a very strange segment on American news about a man who owns a mattress and pillow company who was banned from Twitter because he continuously expressed his disbelief in the legitimacy of the election result of 2020, and was organizing various events along this theme.

From what I recall the 2016 election was frequently attributed to some vague accusation of hacking from Russia but the same standard was not applied at the time, nor is it applied today. The people espousing this view were eventually proven inconclusive in all the different inquiries into the matter, and they were far more influential than a man who sells pillows.

There seems to be a very disproportionate level of enforcement towards offenders on the social media platforms, and this seems to stem from the personal politics of the people working there.

If the employees at these companies had the opposite politics, I am quite sure the rhetoric around this issue would be framed in terms of authoritarianism. Are you not allowed to criticize your government anymore in the USA? I find that to be quite incredible.


Maybe it also stems from the global diversity of the employees in said companies.

To the European eye the idea of allowing any and all public utterance feels like a free ticket to disaster.

Deliberate and carefully crafted representation of "reality", and indirect communication via various "trusted channels" is part of winning elections anywhere.

The carefully and orchestrated use of mass media in the 1920s and 1930s, skillfully crafted to lead the electorate to certain political choices, was later used to even accept certain political atrocities (internment camps in the beginning, war and industrial mass murder later).

So to protect the electorate (!) from being grossly misled, many European countries in the aftermath of the 1940s decided to counterbalance the freedom of speech with rules what is not freedom of speech.

And yes, the details are tricky and courts have to decide.

Is that ever in the public debate in the USA? Reasonable limits to free speech?

Here is a fairly straightforward example from the German penal code:

https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_stgb/englisch_st...

https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/stgb/__130.html


> The carefully and orchestrated use of mass media in the 1920s and 1930s, skillfully crafted to lead the electorate to certain political choices, was later used to even accept certain political atrocities (internment camps in the beginning, war and industrial mass murder later).

This is true. However, the part nobody wants to talk about is that it didn't just happen in Germany.


>So to protect the electorate (!) from being grossly misled, many European countries in the aftermath of the 1940s decided to counterbalance the freedom of speech with rules what is not freedom of speech.

That's a very generous way of looking at it. In the West, I would say that it would be more accurate to look at it through the lens of the cold war, though. Communism and radicalism were to be prevented and so freedom of speech was necessarily curtailed. In the East, it was likewise curtailed, ostensibly to 'protect the youth' and 'prevent disinformation' but with more potential for immediate consequences.

>Is that ever in the public debate in the USA? Reasonable limits to free speech?

Sure. It's been debated a lot, actually. Laws have changed significantly over the last hundred years, almost entirely to the expansion of free speech side.


Here in Canada, we have laws which don't originate from cold war paranoia. They're just attempts to cool the heatedness of elections. For example, you can't campaign before the official election season begins, and there are limits on how much you can spend, and how much people can donate, there are limits on polling close to the election, it's illegal to reveal early results in the eastern parts of the country (where polls close earlier) to the western parts until all polls are closed, and so on.

Many Western democracies have laws like this, which would be incompatible with the American First Amendment, but which are basically intended to foster democratic health, and aren't particularly authoritarian.


There are limits on campaigns like that in the US as well. That's the problem with the Citizens United ruling - it broke some of that for us.

The rules he was talking about though are more to do with the limitations on speech that can be considered insulting, transgressive or hateful. They also include constitutionality of political parties in general, disparaging the president, and many other things.


Few people if any ever seriously alleged that Russian hackers intervened in the administration of the 2016 US federal election. Rather, the assertion was that Russian agents spread disinformation on media platforms, and that was found to be largely true.

Dishonest claims about the legitimacy of the 2020 US federal election are a lot more dangerous, as is obvious from the Jan. 6th terrorist attack on the US Capitol.


Well there was the attempt at violent overthrow of a government... That's one difference.


Personally I think it's a security problem that Pillow Man's LARPer mob constituted a credible threat to our National Security. This doesn't seem like cause to restrict speech. (Of course, Twitter is technically a private platform, but it's also the de facto public square as I discussed elsewhere in this thread, and the property we ought to care about is that free speech is protected in the public square).


I think the Free Speech problem is really a problem of automatic amplification by platforms that have motivations sometimes opposed to the well-being of the speakers or listenrrs.


Maybe, but even then the "free speech problem" should never have become a "national security problem". National security aside, free speech works pretty well when the public square isn't privatized by a handful of entities with the same general business model (using outrage to sell ads), which is perhaps your very point.


Seemed like one of the poorest attempts I have ever seen, is it really being treated as a serious one?


I suppose when you want to smear half of the population you use what you got


The defenses were so poor it was a coin flip whether it would succeed.


What would success have looked like? Stealing the original copy of the constitution and using whiteout to change the bits they didn't like?


Success for them would have looked like apprehending the legislature and coercing them into throwing out the votes of states that didn't go to Trump. And this is charitably assuming that their chants of "hang Mike Pence", along with the gallows they erected out front, might have only been for show.


My version of editing the constitution is vastly more likely to happen than whatever fever dream this is.


Perhaps you're so naive that you think that a murderous mob successfully overthrowing an elected government is unprecedented in US history? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_insurrection_of_189...


Ah yes, Wilmington NC 1890, the place I go to when I need to imagine what could possibly happen in DC not 130 years later.


If oblivious sarcasm is your only recourse for when you have nothing left to contribute to an argument, then I accept your concession.


Yelling at the top of your lungs that cosplayers are a real danger to the biggest superpower on the planet makes you either dishonest or insane.

Either of those precludes a good faith argument.


While I agree, one predictable counter-argument is that Twitter et al are private organizations with a legal prerogative to ban whomever they like (freedom of association). This is true, but we should think about how this was intended to work and the property that this was designed to protect: the original idea was that you had a decentralized network of communities that could individually excommunicate whomever they liked (freedom of association) but any individual was still allowed to participate in the broader network, the public square. Now, social media has become the de facto public square--a small group of social media companies hold dominion over an overwhelming amount of our speech--worse, these companies coordinate with each other to behave as a single large entity. We shouldn't get distracted by the fact that Twitter is a de facto public square and not a de jure public square, because we want to protect the functional property. We can do that either by regulating Twitter like we would regulate the public square, or we can do it by breaking up this powerful trust of corporations (I favor the latter).


I am curious as to whether the predictable counter-argument of "private organization with prerogative" will shift in the wake of the recent Robinhood fiasco.


Twitter has a monopoly on things that work exactly like Twitter. That's all. I'm a lot more sympathetic to arguments about how Google and Facebook have a worrying degree of control online, because services owned by them are used by an absolute majority of English speaking people.

Twitter is only used by 22% of Americans as of 2019 [1]. If Twitter banned me I wouldn't even know about it for several months because that's about how frequently I log in. It's important to a certain kind of "very online" person but from my POV it's as inessential as Pinterest or Twitch.

I think that Twitter's perceived importance has been exaggerated beyond its actual user numbers because the previous US President used it so heavily. It was also an easy, cheap, reliable way for other publishers to churn out content. "Trump Tweets Something -- We React" was a daily staple for TV and written publications for 4 years. But 78% of Americans get along just fine without using Twitter itself.

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/10/share-of-u-...


> Twitter has a de facto monopoly on things that work exactly like Twitter.

No, Twitter has a monopoly on people who use Twitter. If you decoupled the users from the technology (e.g., by way of some common protocol that allows human communication networks to span social media platforms), Twitter would probably vanish overnight (surely losing out to a competitor with an "edit" button).

> Twitter is only used by 22% of Americans as of 2019

In what world is it okay for one company to monopolize much of the communication of 22% of Americans? Especially since Twitter isn't some neatly isolated system, but rather its effects spill over into the outside world; consider how often traditional media cites Twitter (not only with respect to Trump's own Tweets) or even Twitter's role in BLM protests/riots and the Capitol Hill riot. Twitter's reach pretty clearly far exceeds its own user base.

Moreover, Twitter and other social media giants often act in concert, so it's not "just Twitter" or "just Facebook" that we need to be concerned about, but also these giants acting in their mutual interests.


> From what I recall the 2016 election was frequently attributed to some vague accusation of hacking from Russia but the same standard was not applied at the time, nor is it applied today. The people espousing this view were eventually proven inconclusive in all the different inquiries into the matter, and they were far more influential than a man who sells pillows.

Your recollection seems at odds with reality. There has been a Senate inquiry with conclusions at odd with your recollections. The Mueller report came to conclusions at odd with your recollections. A reminder: that report, while not indicting the president or his team in anything in particular, found what it considered incontrovertible evidence of Russian interference designed to favor the election of Trump. The Senate report came to the same conclusions, even more strongly stated.

As for your claim that the people espousing this view being "far more influential than a man who sells pillows", I think you'd need to establish a metric for "influential", since it is far from clear precisely what you mean.

Furthermore, the sense that some people had regarding Russian interference in the 2016 elections never resulted in violence or death (certainly not directly). Nobody claimed that the election had been "stolen" (that's a direct quote from a large number of people regarding the 2020 elections). There was just a sense of unease and disquiet that the election may not have been fair but the result was accepted anyway.


I was referring to the fact that none of those findings concluded that the outcome of the 2016 election was affected. That is the standard that's being applied for 2020 so I was applying the same standard.


The standard for 2020 is whether the alleged fraud actually took place at all. There is no court-worthy evidence that it did. Some would say there is no evidence at all.

The standard for 2016 is therefore whether or not Russian interference occured, which two high level US government reports have confirmed took place.


I watched some testimonies from folks who were at the counting centers, many were quite convincing. Some Indian American lady named Hima pointed out quite a few attempts to make the process less neutral.


One need not prove fraud to substantiate the claim that it was stolen. It could have been stolen, for example, if laws were bent or broken to dramatically increase the number of mail-in absentee ballots, while at the same time decreasing the scrutiny given to those ballots as required by law.

In fact, this is exactly what was alleged in many court cases. These cases were not allowed to move forward, however, because of procedural issues, not the merits of the case (standing, mootness, and latches).


People keep saying this.

If it's true, where is this evidence? It hasn't been on Fox. It hasn't been on OAN. It hasn't been on Newsmax. What's been presented has been uniformly debunked in ways that I find completely convincing. If this is as big as it's claimed to be, you don't shut up just because a judge says you don't have standing.

I haven't found a statistical summary, but I've just surveyed the status of all the cases on several neutral sites (ABA, Ballotpedia and others). I don't see how it is possible to draw any conclusion other than a deeply incompetent legal team with no convincing evidence failed to get a single in-place ruling that supports their wild claims.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-election_lawsuits_related...

and ctrl+f "standing" = 16 results (6 cases).

Bowyer et al. v. Ducey et al.

Wood v. Raffensperger et al.

Pearson et al. v. Kemp et al.

Feehan et al. v. Wisconsin Elections Comm'n et al.

Texas v. Pennsylvania et al.

Gohmert et al. v. Pence

ctrl+f "laches"

Tyler Kistner et al. v. Steve Simon, et al.


> Your recollection seems at odds with reality.

Their recollection matches my recollection of events.

> There has been a Senate inquiry with conclusions at odd with your recollections.

The results of that inquiry weren't released until 2020.

> The Mueller report came to conclusions at odd with your recollections.

That report wasn't released until 2019.

That means there were at least three years of unverified allegations, swarming around - espcially prevalent on social media - sans ban hammers, censorship, etc., etc.


This is a pretty biased take on what's been happening.

The 2020 election's fraud claims were thrown out by courts. They were entirely evidence-free. Even Lindsey Graham gave a concise speech on the night of 1/6 explaining precisely how false those fraud claims were.

The 2016 election involved Russia hacking the DNC and leaking their emails, which became a centerpiece of the election debate ("Hillary's emails!"). It also involved Trump publicly asking for Russia to leak the emails, and then (once elected) firing the head of the FBI and saying in an interview with Lester Holt it was because Comey was investigating any possible ties with Russia.

The response to 2016 was the Mueller investigation. The response to 2020 was an attempted insurrection. One of these is not like the other, and you're attempting to paint a false political logic behind how the two have been treated.


There were nationwide protests against the election result in 2016. They blocked the highways here in california. People also disrupted confirmation hearings back then.


Those protests mostly fizzled out with a week or two of the election results (even before all state results were certified).

"Disrupted confirmation hearings" seems fairly different to me from "smashed windows and doors to gain entrance to the US Capitol while hundreds of people chanted "Hang Mike Pence!".


Different in some ways, of course, same in others. Ultimately I'm just seeing the same news with one side one-upping the other. They weren't even the first armed group to try and defy the government in the last year, though perhaps the most ambitious.


In what ways are these the same?


I do think there are stark differences between 2020 and the 2016 elections BUT I still agree with everything you said.


At what point did those who made the "vague accusation of hacking" storm the United States Capitol in a coup attempt?


Do people really believe that it was a coup attempt though? I see people framing it that way but always assumed it was political exaggeration


What term would you use for an event, even if if doomed to fail, that involves at least hundreds of people outside (and then inside) of the building where the vice-president is present, chanting "Hang Mike Pence" ? Do you think it's just some of kiddie protest party? Do you think they didn't mean it? Do you think that because it wasn't 100,000 people it doesn't count? Do you think that because they didn't have the army on their side, it can't be an attempt at a coup?


"Coup D'etat: a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics"

That doesn't fit the captiol protest very well. Sudden? Decisive? Exercise of force?


>"Coup D'etat: a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics"

>That doesn't fit the captiol protest very well. Sudden? Decisive? Exercise of force?

Tell that to Brian Sicknick's[0] family.

Or did you miss the part where five people died and dozens were injured?

Or the smashed windows to force entry into the Capitol building, with some explicitly saying they were there to overturn the results of the election.

Let's see. A mob overpowers the assembled security without warning. That's sudden. Check.

An armed group stormed the Capitol, assaulted police and other folks, and by their own claims, wished to injure, take hostage and/or kill elected officials. Exercise of force. Check.

That same group did so, again based on their own claims, to overturn legally certified election results. Political motive. Check.

So please tell me, what doesn't fit the term "coup d'etat"? Or in this case, attempted coup d'etat?

Note that just because it didn't succeed doesn't change the facts or the intent.

If I walk into a bank and demand money, I'm still a bank robber even if I don't actually get any money. The analogy is fairly exact.

[0] https://ktla.com/news/nationworld/what-we-know-about-the-5-p...


It is unclear how the "alternative outcome" of January 6th might have gone. I'm a little skeptical that there was a carefully thought out and plausible "alternative outcome", but the sort of thing that some people have suggested was that the trump supporters would have taken control of the certification process in some important way (with or without actual violence towards various existing government members). This would have then led to Trump declaring some kind of emergency, the certification process would have "finished" with a different outcome, and a new winner of the election would have been declared.

As I said, I am not sure I buy that anyone with half a brain thought that a plan could work, but there seems to be some supporting evidence that something like this had been imagined by at the very least some of the people at the protest. How far into the Trump administration that might have gone, I don't know (or if went into it at all).

Had something like that happened, it would definitely have been a decisive, sudden show of force in politics.


The term LARP comes to mind


Here's a definition I like: "A sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force." (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/coup-d-etat).

Start before the election with attempts to suppress Democratic voting (I did not know this, but apparently mail-in ballots are known for leaning Democratic---"Red mirage and blue surge" or something.), then attack the legitimacy of the election, both in the legal system and in public statements (increasing the latter as the former failed), further make semi-covert calls for illegal actions on the part of various officials associated with the election, and finally call for and support a protest (specifically including the more extreme supporters) at an event that is largely a formality. Yes, I think the whole course of events satisfies the definition of a coup.

Not a competent one, of course. A competent coup would have called in National Guard or military forces to suppress the rioters and at the same time sequester the members of the House and Senate in an undisclosed location for their own protection. Then declare a national emergency, place National Guard or military forces in state capitols and large cities---at that point violence becomes inevitable and the coup self-sustaining. (This isn't exactly a genius mastermind plan; it's how it's done all over the world.)

That does require the cooperation of the military, which Mr. Trump never really had, though.

Some of us are still wondering, though, why there were only Capitol Police at the Capitol. It seems likely that had the protest been another group, significant riot control forces would have been in place.


The dominant strains of consternation about 2016 were that social media had been abused to propagandize voters into voting for Trump, that the electoral college was a problem, that democratic politicians needed to listen to rural white voters and target them more, and that Clinton was a we-should've-seen-this-sooner hugely flawed candidate.

The vote count being fraudulent, the idea that fellow citizens had stolen the election, wasn't an ongoing discussion in December 2015, January 2016, etc...

It's curious you think that people claiming Russia hacked the vote totals in 2016 were "far more influential" than the people who've been shouting "stop the steal" when only one of those groups of people convinced folks to march and riot to try to "take back" the election. The message against Trump after his election was "resistance," a message which accepts that Trump won the election, but sought to keep people engaged to try to minimize what he could do.

I challenge you to find those people you think were continually organizing events to get Trump's election overturned.


Technology shapes conversations and changes in the way technology works has changed the way the conversations have happened.

> 10 or 15 years ago people looked at web 1.0, saw many good communities and valuable conversations and said "we need to protect free speech".

Look at how the conversations happened. They were in places like forums and forums were often around topics. I belonged to many forums on topics and the general conversation was around those (with some water cooler).

This is worthy of protecting. Just this week I ended up in a forum on a topic because I was trying to figure out how to repair something and there was discussion around people on it. Very valuable.

> Today people looks at Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Reddit, see mismanaged cesspools and declare that we need centralized speech control.

These are general conversation channels with the exception of Reddit. They are also paired with targeted ads. They tend to be short form. In a forum I see all the things and navigate it. In Twitter/FB/etc I see what they put in front of me. They control the flow of information.

The platforms the conversations are happening on are shaping the conversations themselves. This cannot be discounted.


Going unremarked in this nostalgia is that those old forums were still moderated, sometimes heavily, and the #1 tool was the ban hammer. It was not a free speech love-in. Hell, Something Awful would automatically replace your post with "yams" if you merely hit a trigger word, if you weren't ejected outright.


This is an interesting point. But being banned from a small forum feels like disassociation. Being banned from a huge central platform—the de facto public square—feels a lot less like free speech.

Maybe a better way of thinking about this is that “free speech” on the Internet is about decentralization of small communities even if many of those communities themselves skew authoritarian? If you are banned from a small private gathering, everyone’s practical speech rights remain in-tact. You aren’t banned from the larger system.


And, one might add, unmoderated fora like Usenet were cesspools also back then.

Of course, Usenet was mostly techies and there were no teams of data scientists optimizing for clicks.


Bringing up moderation is a good point. But, it isn't so simple.

Moderation isn't something that's changed. Forums and modern social media both moderate. They do it to varying degrees.

Social media moderation comes in multiple forms. First they will choose which posts people see in their feed. This is a form of moderation. It's easy to have topics and even people just not show up. What shows up is based around engagement and money.

There is also moderation about content. People can be labeled or removed from visibility.

Then there is banning where banning isn't on the topic but the whole system. And the systems are tied to other things (e.g., banning on FB impacts your Oculus ownership).

Old school forums were based on topics and were different systems. They were moderated, if they were, for that system. The moderation was typically around content you posted. They didn't control the flow or order you saw it in. It was the content.

When banning came up, it was just for that form. So, if someone is banned from a jeep owners forum they are just fine interacting in a forum on web design.

I say this to note that the way the technology is developed has an impact on the way people act.

For example, these days there are people who don't want to speak out on some topics because they are fearful they will be banned or negatively impacted globally.

I'm not suggesting how the technology should be built. I'm trying to point out how the system design impacts the way people think and behave. Older systems were designed differently and had a different impact. It's worth noting these things.


I think the problem is that most people use mobile phones, rather then computer workstations. In the 90's everyone had a proper PC workstation. But now people have touch screens instead. You wont type long blog posts or participate in lengthy forum discussions using a touch screen. If you would put a graph with PC sales vs pads and phones showing the last 30 years you would see where it shifted from creating/consuming to passive/consuming. There are still normal PC users, it's just that the number have now grown much, while the number of touch screen users has grown exponentially.


I've read that there are books composed in the form of text messages. People like the short style. The impact of this is that people who read that way end up with lower literacy. Full length books are hard for them to read.

The shift in screen size is an interesting one. The technology influences the content and even the way we think. It's not a passive element.


I look at it this way: 10-15 years ago many of us were complaining the web was being turned into TV.

I think that was basically right, and now social media is rediscovering the other things that made TV work, which is that you can't just continually show the most upsetting/titillating media 24/7.

And with the benefit of hindsight, I don't believe Twitter/Facebook have the obligation to be the venue where we exercise our freedom of speech. They tried and it turned out they were very bad at it.

It's time to move on and use those services for keeping in touch with old classmates or whatever they are good at and develop platforms that are good for holding serious conversations.


> It's time to move on and use those services for keeping in touch with old classmates or whatever they are good at and develop platforms that are good for holding serious conversations.

The challenge is, there's no money in that. The money is in serving ads, which depends on serving up upsetting/titillating media 24/7.

Paywalls can't work because the barrier to entry keeps you from getting a sufficient network effect. You can have a small community that way, but you can't do a global "connecting everyone" thing. Such services will simply be outcompeted by the Facebook model.

I think the headlining article's point on open protocols might be the only way to square that circle and I'm not even very optimistic about that working. I think the real disjunction happens when we merge news with a general social feed of every random person's opinion. If you stream your facts and porthole into the broader world through the same framework that you stream advertizing and deranged soapbox rants, then you're conceptually putting all those things in the same box and blurring the lines between them. News articles present themselves more like ads (e.g.". . .and you won't believe what happens next"). Conversations start to resemble ads too, with people throwing out provocative statements to get attention and likes instead of engaging in a more genuine/1to1 way.And the ads start to try looking like news or advice from a 'friend' (read: influencer) to slip past your "this is marketing BS" filter.

The context collapse is what's unsustainable. In the olden days, when forums ruled the web, people got links and memes shared in forums, but the people sharing those things were getting them from other forums or they were finding them in blogs or pages via an RSS reader or just a daily roll of bookmarked sites they would go through. This maintained some cognitive difference between when you're seeing a blog written by an irascible and opinionated shock jock versus a piece in The NYTimes. Even if the person sharing had the point of an article go over their heads or ends up 'eating the onion' on something whatever harebrained aspect of it remains sequestered in whatever subforum they're in if it doesn't get fact checked there. The collapse makes the consumer stop being aware of the distinctions, and it cuts off the small-scale testbeds these things have to go through before they go truly viral. It also drives the producers to not care. So now the NYTimes hires irascible shock jocks as editorial columnists too because nothing matters anymore.


> You can have a small community that way, but you can't do a global "connecting everyone" thing.

But they already have a giant global community. They now need to sustain it, that's a very different task and one better served by moderation. They are already being out-competed on how extreme a community can be by the various newcomers.

They are the incumbent now, with the incumbent's advantages. What remains to be seen is if they will move to take on the incumbent's responsibilities (which they have done here and there, and seem to be doing more of) or if they'll shirk it (which they did for far too long). In the long term they will make more money in a world that isn't on fire.


If the incumbent erects a paywall, free challengers will come up and they won't be the big player for long.


Who said anything about a paywall? They may do some premium features like Google which gave amay Gmail and Drive and then slowly got users to start paying for them.

It's been a long time since there were three TV channels but ABC, NBC, and CBS all exist and even still broadcast their programming for anyone with an antenna. Between then and now their growth slowed, they tried different ventures, they were fused into sprawling media conglomerates, all things that are probably coming for Facebook and Twitter.


> 10 or 15 years ago people looked at web 1.0, saw many good communities and valuable conversations and said "we need to protect free speech".

But these places almost all had "speech control". The exceptions were (in)famous.

It was decentralized, which has a lot of benefits compared to having fewer, huge platforms, but the control existed and was essential.

The "don't let platforms moderate anything but illegal content" argument is extremely disingenous. That's not how you get back to the "good old days" - or how you keep current smaller places like HN alive.

If there are problems created specifically by the big platforms being too big, target their size specifically. Regulating advertising and privacy and data tracking might be one way to start, reduce the incentive and rewards for being huge; but I think more likely, you'd want specific taxes, fees, or actions, based on userbase size.


Reactionary perhaps. Irrational is unfair, I feel.

We, anyone who knows what an article titled "Protocols, Not Platforms" is probably about... our discussions have failed to have enough impact outside of niche. People see there is a problem. "Marketplace of ideas" is somewhat of a hard sell . As you say... mismanaged cesspits, but also monopolies. Also, "marketplace" is more euphemism than metaphor when referring to a handful of click-optimizing algorithms.

I'm on the fence, but don't tend to think whatever the current politics does give more power to those companies who fucked up the system in the first place.

Facebook and Twitter were already in an uncanny valley of free speech. It has been, Free speech at their discretion all along, and this wasn't a theoretical problem. At least now it is clear what we are looking at.

In any case, this post in on point. It's disheartening that decades into this discussion we have not had enough impact that politicians even know what the hell we are talking about. Twitter doesn't need to be regulated. It just needs to die. Twitter does not need to be a company. It's already basically a protocol. Free the protocol. Discard the company. They are not needed.


Basically, we've learned that the current laws against threats, defamation of character, slander, fraud, false advertising, etc. fail catastrophically at handling those crimes/torts when they occur in large decentralized online communities.

Governments have no idea how to tackle the problems, so it's either private corporations that directly host these communities do it or nobody does. And that means going more years with a growing population that is getting radicalized by the above false information.


> Advocating for more of it means you're advocating for giving more power to the companies who fucked up the system in the first place.

You mean that in the current framework right? Because in the proposed framework in the article more speech does not lead to more power to the companies.


I'm shocked (/s) that Silicon Valley's brand of libertarianism led to five companies dominating everything and then pulling up the ladder behind them by abandoning open standards in favor or proprietary silos.


"Pulling up the ladder" - thanks, that was the metaphor that didn't come to me as non-native speaker when I was last criticising the modern web and the process leading to its overcomplication by which browsers vendors shut the door behind them. With folks standing by and cheering, and self-proclaimed puppet "standardization bodies" in for job security.


Expect to be down voted for speaking such heresy on HN.


It's the sarcasm, not the heresy.


Yup. Ivory tower circle jerk HN.


> 10 or 15 years ago people looked at web 1.0, saw many good communities and valuable conversations and said "we need to protect free speech".

> Today people looks at Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Reddit, see mismanaged cesspools and declare that we need centralized speech control.

...In other words people are completely taking all the amazing things we have today for granted.


Or perhaps realizing that those amazing things really aren't all that wonderful.

Very few things are an unalloyed good.


Someone views a glass as half empty, I point out it can be viewed as half full.

Your someone-is-wrong-on-the-internet counter is that, no, it is half empty? Thanks for the contribution.


If you look at it that way, then what Facebook was advocating for starts to look noble. They wanted ultimate transparency so that if anyone said anything stupid, it would get instantly knocked down, preventing the spread of misinformation, but obviously they failed really badly.


I don't think they failed at all. They also realized that this "stupid" conversation was very profitable, and the more they pushed it to other people, the more money they made.

If there is a failing, it is that Facebook is still claiming the moral high ground while they have ground our public discourse in to the manure.


The problem is that this speech control isn't just used for cleaning the cesspool but is now demonstrably used to protect the elite. Just this week we have escalated from just blocking hate speech and violence to blocking people who are inconveniencing Wall Street.


The left wing is still not wanting to rise up against censorship because they believe it's still benefiting them, since BigTech (+M5M) is their leftist ally...for now.

What they need to realize is that once you give Tyrannical Control over to your leaders (governments, or BigTech censors), because you consider them benevolent today, it's foolish because they won't be benevolent forever.

Our founding fathers knew power corrupts, but today's 20-somethings seem quite unaware. They think we can create a system where all forms of "bad" speech are stopped. But the problem with that is you end up having to define "bad". My definition of "patriotic speech" might be your definition of "mean speech", so unless you appoint power-wielding dictators to make the final decision, the only solution is to just say everyone is free. Once you allow dictators they'll always become corrupt and self-interested.

The left thinks they're in a war against evil and meanies, but really the only opponent they're fighting is freedom itself.


> Our founding fathers knew power corrupts, but today's 20-somethings seem quite unaware.

The government has to be able to actively respond to the problems of the moment, and those problems will constantly change. A handcuffed government only benefits the already-powerful.

The dirty secrets of the "but the founding fathers!" argument are that (a) they knew they weren't creating a perfect set of rules in the Constitution, and planned for us to be modifying it as we learned new things and the world changes, and (b) it's failed anyway. Abstract principles listed on a page don't "protect freedom," bad actors can find ways to sneak things through (sometimes in plain sight, like that whole slavery thing that took a century to get figured out, or the followup forms of discrimination that are still with us).


Our founding fathers and subsequent forefathers fought wars to protect our freedoms, and sadly the current generation don't value or even want to preserve that freedom. Good times create weak men, and weak men will happily surrender to Tyranny.


Some of that "subsequent" group actually even fought a war to prevent some of our freedoms!

There's no weakness in challenging the storybook fable-ized versions of history.


Well as long as you're on the side if freedom, free speech, small government, capitalism, and patriotism, you're one of the good guys.

I think the biggest "story-telling" that's going on lately is in our schools by our socialist educators.


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>>lately it seems that "the right" remains undecided about whether or not it is acceptable to threaten the lives of politicians who refused to overturn the results of an election>>

This isn't even remotely a representative sentiment of the 70+ million people that are not on the "left".

>>"The left" is for democracy>>

Again, I don't think we would find this accurate if data were collected. Both sides are "for democracy". I think what you would find is something slightly more refined: that one side appreciates that democracy alone is flawed and requires a strong constitution to guard against its propensity to oppress individuals. The other side finds a constitution that limits democracy too constraining.


> This isn't even remotely a representative sentiment of the 70+ million people that are not on the "left".

Probably not, but it’s a pretty accurate summary of their leadership.

The facts are the 45 and the Republicans attempted to throw out the results of an election.

You can argue that most people on the right do not agree with this, but they should really stop voting for these people then.


"...45 and the Republicans attempted to throw out the results of an election."

Do you mean that 45 Republicans voted against ratifying the electoral college votes? My understanding is that that vote is largely procedural and that the losing side voting against it as a protest is common in every election. If you take away that context it makes for a great narrative in this election (the whole histrionic overthrow theme), but context often matters.

My understanding could be wrong, though. I couldn't quickly put my hands on the historical voting record. Or maybe that's not what you're referring to.


> My understanding is that that vote is largely procedural and that the losing side voting against it as a protest is common in every election

No. The only times prior to 2021 that an objection in proper form to trigger a debate and vote on any state’s submitted electoral votes since the modern process was adopted in 1887 were in 2005 and 1969 (the latter over a faithless elector), both addressing only a single state, and the 2005 example was explicitly stated to be an effort to draw attention to electoral system issues rather than alter the outcome; there weren't members who voted for it stating on national TV the expectation that who would be President was in doubt based on the action the way, e.g., Sen. Hawley did in regard to the challenges this month.


Your understanding is wrong.

Voting against result certification is occasionally used as a protest against certain specific irregularities. It is absolutely not common to vote against them, and not in these numbers (i.e. not as a lone congressperson or two drawing attention to something they see as a problem).

[ EDIT: added known historical examples ]

Specific examples: 2016, 11 Democrats rose to object to certifying Trump's results; none of them had obtained a Senator's cosignature and so all were dismissed immediately. Objections were based on reports of Russian interference, subsequently confirmed in the broadest sense by the Mueller and Senate reports, though their findings would not have likely invalidated any actual results.

2004: 1 Senator and 1 Representative raised objections to results favoring Bush from a single state. They both stressed that their objections were not intended to change the outcome of that election.

2001: on the order of 15 Representatives raised objections to the Gore/Bush result, which had been decided by the SCOTUS. No Senator joined them, and Gore himself dropped the Gavel on their protest.


Ok, only 40% wrong. So protesting that the election was flawed occurred in 60% of the elections in the last two decades, which more than supports my point that without such context the overthrow narrative loses a good deal of its exaggerated effect when one learns that this election was not unique on that point.


I think that scale matters. The number of house members and their coordination with 6 senators in my mind makes what happened this year different in so many important ways. Obviously, YMMV.


No, "45" was a reference to the last president.

>the losing side voting against it as a protest is common in every election.

Really? That would be news to me. Do you have a source for that?


I think I addressed that in my last paragraph.


The world is not divided into two camps, not should it be. Some people are neither with nor against you; they've got their own things going on.


Labels can be divisive and tribal when used against individuals, to smear them by saying they're guilty of the bad actions of a few in a group. However language itself is built on "labels", so they're required.

It's impossible to criticize bad ideas without some shorthand label for those kinds of thinking and ideologies. The fact that whole entire groups hold those same ideas necessarily is a critique of the entire group, and is necessarily tribal. But labels are nonetheless also necessary for the discussion to take place.

Democracies can only thrive when there's an educated population free to discuss all ideas, and allowed to strongly criticize or even ridicule those they disagree with. Yet people like Jack Dorsey think it's their duty to step in as a referee to make sure everyone's polite and behaves according to his personal political views. He needs to be put back in his place, because no one elected him, and he just fell backwards by accident into a power position over millions by pure luck.


You implied that “the right” means everyone not on “the left” – but I thought “the right” and “the left” were labels for political ideologies.


To me "The Left" means the set of beliefs more than it means the set of believers, but you can't have a belief without a believer.


From this description, I can't tell which side you're characterizing as which. That would generally imply it's more of a platitude than a real realization.

Also while that may be true of individuals (I don't think it is), it clearly isn't true of party leadership.


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> literally ushered into the buildings by security

Are you serious?

The fact that some cops eventually decided that 20 cops could not stand against 1000 violent protestors smashing through windows and doors, after at least one cop had been dragged out of his position and beaten senseless by the mob, and another cop killed, and so decided that the safest thing to do was open the doors, doesn't mean that all of a sudden they were peaceful protestors. Give me a fucking break.


> actual peaceful protestors

They killed a Police Officer, chanted "Hang Pence", and tried to stop the democratic process of verifying votes for the new president.

Now of course you will likely argue that they were a small minority, but I don't see you making that concession for those on the "other side" so I'm not sure how much weight it'll have.


Since no one else mentioned it,

"The entire summer long while buildings burned, and entire cities looted by violent murdering thugs..."

Could you provide some evidence for "entire cities looted by violent murdering thugs"?


Well, if you watched the M5M you won't really know about any of it. lol. Thanks for helping make my point!


M5M? https://m5mfoundation.org/? Do you mean "main stream media"? If so, no, I don't tend to pay attention to QAnon, OAN, InfoWars, or whatever those who use "main stream media" as a slur watch. Prefer the Beeb, actually.

I still can't find any actual evidence of "violent murdering thugs" "looting entire cities".


The MSM has only themselves to blame for their record low levels of trust by Americans. You're right that the term MSM is basically a slur at this point. Great point. Thanks again for helping me make my points.


Do you have a source to the "ushered into the buildings" thing? Like, are you saying they didn't intend into storming the Capitol but were guided/leaded there by the security staff?

Also I think you're being unfair by ignoring the causes of both of the protests, as (IMO, feel free to disagree) one of them was directly supporting democratic and liberal interests and the other was directly against them. I don't think you can discuss the protests without taking into account what they were protesting.


It took me a while to place the cognitive dissonance, but I found it eventually: you've made stuff up. Buildings weren't burning all summer, “violent murdering thugs” weren't called peaceful, “politically organized rally” doesn't mean anything…


I read, and re-read the article and I am yet to understand how a protocol will help what the author describes in the first few paragraphs. (BTW very nicely walked around that hot bowl of mess!)

First, Usenet was just as much of a dumpster fire as Reddit et al. in some branches (alt. I am looking at you). The rest (comp. soc. sci. etc) were heavily self moderated.

Second, I am not sure the author is clear on what is the primary product of social media, as I see it. We, the users are the product. By moving to a protocol, there is little to no opportunity to capture private information about the product. (Not complexity, too big, or filter bubble.)

Why would a platform give up such income stream?

Am I misunderstanding what the author means by protocol here?


I don't think zero-moderation is possible, at a minimum you'll have to ban bots and spam. The larger problem is concentration of communities in 3-4 big providers, there was heavy moderation before, but it was easy to move to a different community if you didn't like it.


The whole idea of protocols instead of platforms is that there's no central owner to turn evil or foot the bill (having to make money to scale up to user growth can create a conflict of interest). Users aren't as locked-in as they would be on a closed platform.

I wrote about this in detail last night: https://seirdy.one/2021/01/27/whatsapp-and-the-domestication...

Users aren't necessarily the product in social media; this is only true of mainstream centralized networks.


What is to stop the inevitable roll up from a protocol into a platform?

The protocol is presumably quite open, searchable and crawlable. Any platform would simply start with a client, then improve upon it and eventually users would orbit the platform rather than the protocol.


Long comment ahead. TLDR: This is a really good point; I'll need some time to think about this issue, and might even make a follow-up to my WhatsApp blog entry addressing it.

---

It looks like there are two ways this can happen: 1) transformation and 2) migration.

1. Embrace, Extend, Extinguish: keep adding proprietary bits on top of the protocol until everyone's using what is essentially a proprietary platform.

2. A full migration. This is what happened to IM platforms that were once built atop Jabber/XMPP, like Google Talk.

I think the best way to keep this from happening is to make the open protocol robust enough to cover others' needs, and to get a large user base using different compliant client/server implementations to connect with each other. This is what's keeping Google's grip on email from growing more than it already has, and what prevented Microsoft from doing an EEE on the Web through Internet Explorer.

When diversity drops, an open platform can grow closed and allow domestication. Independent email providers must reckon with Google's spam filters, and non-Chromium browsers (Gecko-based, and to a lesser extend, Webkit-based browsers) are often treated as second-class citizens.

I might expand this into a follow-up article. While this article was an attempt at raising awareness and getting people to change their decision-making process when choosing platforms, my next article could be a call to action in which I encourage technical users to try clients/servers outside the mainstream and recommend good ones to their friends/families.

Thanks for your feedback, and for possibly inspiring my next post.


He's advocating for the users to move away from the platforms, not for the platforms to change (or surrender) their business model.


I always thought Google missed a perfect opportunity when they released Google+, they should have created a new open protocol for social media instead of another platform, something like RSS feeds for blogs. Then people could host their "pages" anywhere they want and still own their own data. The protocol would allow the aggregation of comments, likes etc. Google has a vested interest in keeping the web open to protect their indexing/search business and they have the industry weight to force new standards. Instead of course they opted to create another platform...


Going this route makes sense if you think you can't win in a centralized manor. Of course I suspect the people in charge of Google+ were sure that they could win so why bother with the centralization?


100% This is why phone and internet work together. Imagine if AT&T said Verizon couldn't call its customers or couldn't connect to other websites? Yet Facebook doesn't have a way to connect to Twitter, meaning they own the whole sandbox ....


I talk about this more in my blog post [0], but I think that the only viable way out of this mess if anti-trust laws ensure that social network companies who have more than X users need to use open and decentralized protocols. This would be much easier to achieve than trying to break up companies (not saying we shouldn't break them up).

0: https://canolcer.com/post/social-media-decentralized-by-law/


> social network companies who have more than X users need to use open and decentralized protocols

The problem with this is that a corporation can claim that its protocol is open and decentralized, while in practice making it hard for others to implement. Remember how Microsoft managed to make .docx an ISO standard, even though Microsoft Word was the only application that would be able to read and write it 100%?

Also, once an open protocol is widespread, embrace–extend–extinguish is possible because the dominant player can claim that while it still supports the protocol as written, the world moves on and it needs to add some new functionality that its peers won't be able to implement in at least the short term.


Yes, good points. I understand that it's not that simple in practice. But at least such laws would lay a foundation and then the details can be discussed better. Anti-trust laws are never black and white, but I would argue that we are better off for them.


There is some irony in using centralization to break up centralization.

Consider the benefits that the governments have in only dealing with a few platforms rather than the headache of a protocol. I don't disagree the anti-trust sentiment, simply that the motivation won't be there at the end of the day.


Reading the comments I think most people misunderstood the point (which is probably the author's fault).

I don't think he was saying that they're should be zero moderation, or that moderation is wrong at all.

I think his point was that there should be open protocols and then services that use those protocols with their own rules.

Examples of this IMO are HTTP, the telephone network and email. If you don't like your internet provider you can move to another one and you know that every single webpage will still be accessible through HTTP. The same way you can call any phone number, regardless of whether the person you're calling has the same phone company. The same way you can send an email from Gmail to Hotmail or any other email provider. The same is not true for Facebook or Whatsapp. Signal cannot message to Whatsapp.

The point is somewhat similar to the Adversarial interoperability EFF article.


Certain events that have taken place over the last few days and weeks will drive decentralization forward like never before.


Let's hope it also works for the platform economy (e.g. UberEats, AppStore, YouTube, ...)

Companies should not own or regulate entire markets.


I think fast cryptocurrency transactions is going to help a lot. I am really hopeful about Ethereum 2.0 because I think it has the right technical approach, leadership and will have the momentum to get widely rolled out.


Speaking from experience, I’ve been on internet since 1990. Even back then there were censorship. Moderators that took away your post if it was irrelevant or wasn’t on topic. You couldn’t store specific types of images (porn) etc.

I’ve never believed that internet was about “free speech” but more “grouping of specific type of speech”. If you were interested in something you either created that or hang out with others that thought the same. For me it has never been about free speech, just a way to reach stuff. Free speech in IRL is another thing.


We have RSS, if only the people could use it for simple stuff like they do in Facebook.

Unfortunately people thought of blogging of something difficult, something that needs thought and not something that could just express themselves.

Imagine that you can create a blog post within your RSS feed, add comments to the displayed rss items and simply own all of your data.


What if the problem with free speech on the internet is not technological but rather anonymity? In the Ender's Game sequels, they have two different networks. One that is anonymous and a wild west and another that is only accessible with a verified identity.


"In a protocols-based system, those who have always believed that Jones was not an honest actor would likely have blocked him much earlier, while other interface providers, filter providers, and individuals could make a decision to intervene based on any particularly egregious act. While his strongest supporters would probably never cut him off, his overall reach would be limited. Thus, those who don’t wish to be bothered with his nonsense need not deal with it; those who do wish to see it still have access to it."

Somebody has very different memories of USENET than I do.

It does not seem possible for a technological solution to work as long as it is trivial and without consequence to set up new online identities.


What I think we need is Interoperability, not just protocols. What I understand by interoperability is what a mature (spoken) language provides. Although its body of words remains pretty much fixed, it offers a wide range of expression. I think that what we need is a language of the internet to achieve this type of interoperability. So, in a way, a language can be seen as a communication protocol and, with such a language, two systems can talk and discover and consume each other's services. This language shouldn't change too much, but it should be complex enough, to start with, in order to allow a high degree of expression and, ultimately, interoperability.


Discoverability is a fundamental part of protocol design. Here's a list of service discovery protocols:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_discovery

We could use a C-3PO (protocol droid, fluent in over six million forms of communication) for interop.


I'm not talking about a zillion protocols with discoverable services, but of a single language of the internet that allows service discoverability and concept sharing dynamically between peers.


You mean like HTTP? Isn't Google already doing this?


I do some research with some people on a dead simple new low level encoding for new protocols called Tree Notation.

It's all public domain.

I plug it a lot here when I see something relevant, which this post is (and I've long been a fan of the Knight orgs and supporter of them).

Anyway, always happy to chat with people about how this stuff could help a new generation of simple open protocols:

Homepage: (needs a refresh) https://treenotation.org/

Demos: (also needs a refresh) https://jtree.treenotation.org/designer/


How would you encode a protocol with Tree Notation?

If you specify the fields and hierarchy with Tree Notation or YAML or JSON or EBNF or whatever, that's a starting point which can help with implementation the communication and data storage part. But you still need to write code for each language and each protocol right? Or can we encode the protocol-handling code using Tree Notation also?

I have always felt like web assembly was missing a well-defined system for extending the API and also a strong external module system. Or even if you could not extend the API much, if WASI had UDP, and there was a good WASM module distribution system, that seems like a way that one could distribute protocols.

But also Ethereum 2 seems like a decent way to distribute protocols.


> How would you encode a protocol with Tree Notation?

I am not 100% sure I understand your question because the word "protocol" can mean slightly different things in different contexts, but one possible answer is that there is a grammar language (called Grammar—https://jtree.treenotation.org/designer/#standard%20grammar), in which you can define new languages/protocols.

> But you still need to write code for each language and each protocol right?

Today, yes. And this is a very good question because something that is coming up a lot more now. Increasingly I am getting messages from people building new Tree Notation libraries in different host languages. The problem is people quickly get the basic structure done (pretty much just nested spreadsheets), and then are like "okay what next? how do I add support for the higher level tree languages". So that is becoming the top priority to figure out. Do we make a universal Grammar language that then is implemented in all host targets (JS, C, C#, Kotlin, Swift, GoLang, Java, Closure, Haskell, Python, etc) so that people can define a language (or "protocol") in this Grammar language and then generate get parsers/compilers in any of those community supported host languages? That seems like a likely path, but a lot to figure out there.

> I have always felt like web assembly was missing a well-defined system for extending the API and also a strong external module system.

I agree! I've been wanting to write a Grammar for a simple Tree Language that compiles to WASM for years but just haven't found the time (https://github.com/treenotation/research/issues/7).

If anyone wants to explore that space, happy to help!


When you look at the state of things, you should realize that things evolved to be this way _for_a_reason_.

What specific reason or reasons might not be clear, but those reasons and forces nevertheless exist.

Calls to return "back to roots" are quite naive, for example, "let's abandon governments and have private police!". No, we have what we have for a reason.

Same with the state of the Internet. "Let's all go back to protocols! Remember gopher? Let's all do that!".

You cannot "unroll" progress. You cannot go back and live like the Amish. Well, you can, in a tiny weird closed community, while the rest of the world continues to march on.


The same could be said about decentralization of information sources. And big tech seems to be trying to contain it rather than embrace it. Maybe not because they want, but because they get political pressure.

If big tech can't embrace those new decentralization currents because of political pressure, people will look for them somewhere else.


Afaict, the missing piece that undermines this is a mechanism to uniquely identify users.

I don't mean that more than one entity needs to know a user's name (in fact, you could probably create a system where nobody can realistically retrieve a user's name), or personal information.

If you don't know whether you've seen an account before, though, how can you effectively deter bad actors? Not much of a ban if someone can create a second account and resume the same unwanted behavior.


> missing piece

But it's not a missing technical piece. It's just that FOSS is terrible at paying experts to do the work necessary to design a service usable by non-technical folks.

In other words, I think people look at the problem you've described and assume that it must be open research because no unpaid dev has posted a hobby project to Github to solve it. But that wouldn't be an accurate conclusion-- in fact everyone has used Google's annoying hairball of sophisticated, hidden techniques which solves pretty much this problem (and probably other problems as well).

You wouldn't need anything as sophisticated as that. But you do need to pay experts the going rate to design, implement, test, and tweak such a service.

If any FOSS orgs had the foresight and funding to do this, I believe it would reveal that all commercial social media networks including Reddit haven't "solved" this problem simply because it isn't in their financial interest to do so.


> Moving us back toward a world where protocols are dominant over platforms could be of tremendous benefit to free speech and innovation online.

Let's say I agree with this, what's the next step? What's the "call to action"?

> It would represent a radical change, but one that should be looked at seriously.

Okay. Looked at by whom?

I would say we already have the protocols (Napster was founded in 1999, P2P protocols are old enough to drink.) Then what?

(My own cynical reaction is that people like what they have and deserve what they get. But I recognize and admit that that is not a productive area of discussion.)

Given that pirating movies is unfashionable now, what could some P2P protocol offer that would entice people away from FAANG? (Assuming that that would be a net benefit to humanity and the world is itself more of a hope than something you could prove one way or another. Does anyone have any sort of science that could even begin to predict the results of any of this?)


"build protocols, not platforms"

When something (in this case technology) becomes a problem, I'm not usually in favor of trying to add more of that same thing to solve the problem. Similarly, if a platform is going to control speech, I don't see the point of adding more control to control Facebook's control. I think this is a structural rabbit hole that constantly repeats itself in our institutions.

And even if "we" did apply more technology, who exactly is going to lead this effort? If we drop solutions with n more protocols in the market, the same 3 companies will end up owning the content on them. And through some remarkable defiance of probability, all of those companies will act in identical lockstep when it comes to behavior and policies. Of course, there's no evidence of collusion, they just happen to be culturally identical in every way. And that is reasonably believable given how few actual people are involved in running the organizations.

"Some feel that these platforms have become cesspools of trolling, bigotry, and hatred."

Some? I'm assuming (possibly wrongly) that this sentence is intended to express one particular side's feeling about the other particular side. But I think everyone feels this. Both sides make arguments (some more data driven than others) that show how the other side is motivated by hate. In fact, the prevalence of the conviction that love, compassion, and morality exist exclusively on one side appears to be a large part of the problem.

There are over 3000 counties in the US and if you colored them by their political and cultural sentiment and look at the map of the country, you would see the full diversity and distribution of ideas - at least geographically. The lack of this level of resolution on Internet platforms is the problem imo.

Maybe there can't be 3000 platforms. But there can be more than 3-5 groupings of capital that control them all and they can be more culturally diverse. Not sure about the value of being more protocol diverse.


Free speech is not a technological issue. It cannot be solved with technology. You need men and women with principles to ensure our rights. Unfortunately we seem to have a lack of those today. Without them, we will continue making protocols and platforms and laws and regulations, and keep circling the drain.

Each one of us must realize the absolute importance of free speech, and must speak out even in favor of protecting the free speech of people we despise.

Realize that the entire point of free speech is to protect unpopular/despised speech. There are no conditions on free speech, by definition. The answer to the question "Is this considered free speech?" is always a resounding "YES", regardless of context, or who is speaking, or who may be trying to censor it.


The reason Reddit is a better user experience than usenet is 1) voting on posts and karma, and 2) continually polished user interface.

Design a decentralized protocol that can handle voting/karma, while also incentivising developers of clients. The problem is that this is not easy.


> voting on posts and karma

I agree that this is Reddit's main feature. However it isn't necessarily good. It is basically an amplification of "interest" whether that is good or bad. Assuming that votes represent general quality is a dangerous mistake.

> continually polished user interface

Ok, this must be a joke.

> Design a decentralized protocol that can handle voting/karma, while also incentivizing developers of clients.

In order to do this in a decentralized manor you need to choose who's votes you trust. This is a very interesting problem and solving it may be helpful even in the context of a centralized network.


> Assuming that votes represent general quality

Maybe but if we let voting/karma/moderation be "perspectives" of the content rather than lossy filters, then it won't matter much.

> you need to choose who's votes you trust.

If users can freely choose their "root" in a trust tree, then it might be interesting. Each upvote confers trust and "karma".


Design a decentralized protocol that can handle quick incremental tweaks as it scales.

AFAICT there's no consensus model for federated or distributed services that can go fast. So you'd better get your design right the first time around to minimize tweaks and changes. That requires domain expertise, and FOSS is famously bad at paying what it costs for that.


When you realize Twitter, etc are media companies their actions make sense. They are places that frankly cater to a certain audience or way of interacting with content. It was always perhaps naive to think such places could stay neutral free speech havens, in the same way we can’t expect that from a newspaper or tv media company.

I do wonder about hosting providers though, like AWS. Should a utility be deciding who gets electricity because of what happens in a business or home? I feel this is much less defensible.


This philosophy is whas has been driving our work at planetary.social, building out protocols and tools for public sphere managed by the participants instead of the platforms.



It's a vast smörgåsbord. Choose the things you like and avoid those you don't. And if you're feeling adventurous or are simply curious, perhaps try a dollop of the odd or unfamiliar. You are perfectly at liberty to accept or reject the advice of others about your choices, as are they of your mutterings on the subject. Everyone ends up with a different selection of delectables and, most importantly, everyone eats...


I did think the InterPanetary File System was promising: https://ipfs.io/


> In short, it would push the power and decision making out to the ends of the network, rather than keeping it centralized among a small group of very powerful companies.

This only creates that same echo chamber effect we are trying to avoid.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echo_chamber_(media)


This is a related article: https://graymirror.substack.com/p/tech-solutions-to-the-tech...

The first part is about politics, if you only care about the tech part, you can jump to the following headlines:

- Encrypted clients

- Protocol extraction and unauthorized clients

- The secure personal server

- Technology is hard, actually


We need more than protocols. Software that implements them needs to be as user friendly as the current social networks:

https://qbix.com/blog/2021/01/15/open-source-communities/


Maintaining healthy communities is, unfortunately, a human endeavor. Tools can help, but they cannot do it for us.


Social media, as search engines and maybe other handful of things, became basic social infrastructure such as roads, goverments will have to pay for the servers where these "open protcols" run and they should be moderated from The Constitution itself.


I totally agree with the OP, check out the protocol I am working on since 2010: https://github.com/gioblu/PJON


> in which the marketplace of filters is enabled to compete

Well, that's a nice thought, but the goal of deplatforming is to remove somebody entirely. Nobody was forced to follow Trump on twitter - he had tens of millions of voluntary followers. If your goal is to get rid of Donald Trump, you have to centralize the decision.


This isn't exactly right. Part of the debate was that Twitter is the platform and the platform should not censor. This left Trump without any authoritative criticism other than the sea of response tweets.

In a decentralized systems, you would have many platform providers, many decentralized features and also many filters. In a decentralized system, the filtering/curating holds less ethical baggage (ie just choose another filter you like more!). Curators are free to curate more heavily.

If there was one single email platform, every spam marking would be a political and ethical hill to die on. Instead its a non-issue.


It's worth separating two goals

1. I don't want to hear Donald Trump, and I don't want to associate with anyone who likes him, or hear their ideas in my feed: this is solvable by distributed systems like Mastodon where node operators can just blacklist the Trump-aligned servers, and apply rules on their own.

2. I want Donald Trump to be silenced and not be able to say dangerous inflammatory things that rile his supporters up into violent attacks on democratic processes: this is going to require a centralized decision and really probably would work best if it was a law.

Deplatforming can partially work by demanding all reasonable node operators block the person. But then you get the ones whose niche is to be a haven of scum and villainy, like Gab, and they refuse.

This may be enough, though, if it isolates awful people into inaccessible backwaters.


This take is inaccurate and a myopic understanding of free speech.

Moderating social media, and the internet is in fact, doable, and absolutely necessary. This has nothing to do with "censorship".

The debate is actually easily settled if you understand what is happening with free speech online.

What typically happens in conspiracy-circles, is that people are radicalized because the disinformation is simply not challenged. It may be that a few users will dispute various claims, but their valuable, fact-based input, is typically drowned in a flood of spam, personal attacks, and claims unrelated to the claims that are being discussed in a given forum- or comment thread.

The problem with "unmoderated free speech" is that informationterrorists can abuse "free speech" to repeat the same disputed claims over and over, without ever addressing the fact that their claims have been disproven. This is also what I would label as "flooding the discussion" or "drowning the facts"; it is so effective that everyone who conducts themselves properly and respectfully are drowned in this flood of disinformation; this actually results in a "suppression" of free speech. When only one side is really heard, then we effectively do not have free speech.

Instead, what we have is a conversation that is dominated and suppressed by a few bullies that are shouting the loudest.

In addition, you would really hate to have governments influence the fact-checking processes on social media platforms, since governments have ultimate power, they are also the largest threat to free speech. Ideally fact-checking should be done 100% transparently by independent fact-checkers, and the facts that lead to a conclusion has to be tediously and transparently documented so that everyone can trust the processes. People who think the conclusion of a fact-check is inaccurate should take it up with the relevant fact-checkers, or possibly take it through the courts.

This "ideal" of "unmoderated free speech" has never really worked. It did not work in the real world, and surely will not work on the internet. The problem with this idea is that anti-social individuals will just try to control the narrative by spamming or repeating disproven claims (shouting), making new false claims, pushing disproven conspiracy theories. Etc.

A common technique I see used by malicious sources, is to release one claim, have people debate- and disprove it, only to release another, unrelated, claim without ever acknowledging the fact that their first claim was false. The result is that even old and disproven claims are circulating in an endless loop. They use this technique continuously with countless of subjects, both old and new — you would think that people will eventually reject claims made by known informationterrorists, due to their lack of credibility and history of publishing falsehoods, but that does not seem to be the case.

I am not a fan of banning people permanently from social media, as it just seems too merciless — there has to be ways to get un-banned — but, as a minimum, we should have fact-checking on profiles with large followings; and of course, groups and profiles used primarily to spread disinformation should be deleted.


[flagged]


Please follow the site guidelines, which ask you not to post like this.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

The GP comment is no longer in a downvoted state, let alone "oblivion". Meanwhile comments like yours linger on as uncollected garbage even after they have been falsified. The thing to do instead is to give a corrective upvote and move on. Most often, fair-minded readers do enough of that to restore thoughtful comments to a non-negative state. In egregious cases, you can always give us a heads-up at hn@ycombinator.com.

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=corrective%20upvote&dateRange=...


I appreciate the feedback, dang. Please feel welcome to replace it with "[removed]" (I'm not able to.)


No need! It's just good to keep in mind for the future. Thanks for the kind reply.


We need freedom of speech as much as we need freedom to not hear. We need community-moderation blocklists for speech.


This article made no specific proposal, or did I miss something?


> Rather than relying on a few giant platforms to police speech online, there could be widespread competition, in which anyone could design their own interfaces, filters, and additional services

To me this sounds something like "less walmart, more supply chains, warehouses, and storefronts." I agree in spirit, but it's the reverse of how capitalism usually works. The few giant platforms were built off the work of people who built their own interfaces, filters, and additional services. Why would we expect new/improved protocols (crypto or otherwise) to be any different?


[flagged]


> the censorship apologists in HN's usual go-to argument

Please don't make spurious generalizations like this one, which is obviously false. Instead, please familiarize yourself (I don't mean you personally, but all of us) with the cognitive biases that lead to these false feelings of generality [1]. Yes, a lot of people make the argument you're mentioning—and a lot of people also make the opposite argument. I don't know if it's evenly split (no one knows that), but it's close enough not to matter.

It's important that this community get educated about this so we don't tear ourselves apart—which is what the fantasy of being an embattled minority, surrounded by enemies and demons [2, 3], will lead to. In reality, there's a range of views here, more or less homomorphic to the range in society at large. That's what any sufficiently large population sample converges to.

[1] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&sor...

[2] https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&so...

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23308098


I apologize, dang. I understand how my phrasing can be taken as a generalization of everyone in HN, but that was not my intention.

I wasn't trying to say that everyone in HN was advocating for censorship (if anything, I always feel a little better when I read people defending free speech, they're what keep me coming back, at least to this type of posts); I was talking about what those in specific who speak in favor of censorship say.

I'll edit it to make it less ambiguous. Thanks.


I agree. In fact, I'm not aware of any context or venue where leftists have supported freedom of speech (for non-leftists). They're failing every test. Campuses, disinviting speakers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or even Condi Rice – don't know if the latter was successful). Twitter. Facebook. Any action to remove apps from stores because they lack the vigorous and extremely expensive censorship infrastructure of the big leftist corps line FB and Twitter. Even removing apps and services from web servers, like Amazon did, which was breathtaking. Any infrastructure-level censorship/sabotage like Cloudflare has done at various bizarre points (I think one was an alleged Neo-Nazi website, and the other was merely one of the chans, apparently for the sin of being used by a killer; I have no idea if Prince has tried to censor more, but I found it too depressing to dig into further).

I thought we had a deal, but clearly we don't. I assumed that everyone understood and could predict their own future motives and emotions toward a desire to censor speech they disagree with or find "offensive" (if you're the kind of person who chronically experiences that state of being "offended" – I'm not).

I assumed we all knew that we couldn't possibly trust ourselves to censor dissent from our own views. I assumed that we all knew that our initial impulses toward that would have to be dismissed out of hand, given everything we know about human fallibility, cognitive biases, how incredibly easy it is to be wrong, and the obvious arbitrariness of this time and place – that is, the time and place we happen to be alive. Leftists seem to not be accounting for any of these factors. They think they're right. Well, they know they're right. And they apparently think there's no way their ideology could be mistaken or unwise or harmful in any serious way, or that any of a dozen or so discrete beliefs/narratives/dogmas could be wrong. They for some reason believe that early 21st-century American leftist ideology is airtight, mostly complete, the first complete and totally true belief system in human history, and it's not a huge coincidence that it happens to be the one that's sitting there when they happen to be alive.

And that their whole framework and dogma around their preemptive marginalization of outsiders with the idiosyncratic usage of the word "hate", and an associated set of evidence-free abstractions like "privilege", and a bunch of -phobias that don't actually exist, at all, to the knowledge of serious scientists... well that whole package is of course completely true, just like everything else. No only is it true, but they'll recursively use that sort of immune system package to justify censoring non-leftists, much like how Scientologists tag people as Suppressive Persons (SPs).

This is bad news. Their epistemology is terrible. It was always the elites who were the vanguard defending freedom of speech. It was never expected that regular Joes could be counted on to grok the epistemic and psychological facts that motivated a principled commitment to freedom of speech. It was the intellectuals who understood how easy it is to be wrong, how ideologies can blind us, how our own subjective sense of the certain truth of our beliefs was completely irrelevant to their objective standing, how so many humans in history have had that subjective experience of certainty, with mixed results. Now we face an awkward situation where intellectuals have let themselves stumble into a cult, a cult that has conveniently constructed arguments and rationalizations that purport to justify censorship. So now they can just skirt on past the many robust reasons to defend freedom of speech, if they ever knew them. Because, "hate" obviously. That's all they needed to abandon something so crucial to human progress and growth. Just use an arbitrary human negative emotion word in contradiction to its actual, dictionary meaning, applying it to a huge swath of outsider/non-cult speech, even encompassing someone noting that humans are a sexually dimorphic species. Boom..."hate". Something huge is falling to something very small.


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