Monday, August 20, 2018

Can We Stop Being Quite So Gleeful About This

Look, I don't like Alex Jones. He's the human embodiment of that feeling you get when you reach up and realize that a bird just took a particularly vile shit on your head. I don't like his websites. I don't like his particularly vile brand of insanity. I didn't cry when he was booted off of Facebook, Twitter and every other social media platform out there.

No one has a right to be on a social media platform. You voluntarily sign up, click the little box to agree to the term of service and there you go. If you violate the terms of service, then you get booted off. It's a pretty simple formula. It's also why you don't rely on one social media platform to promote whatever it is you do- whether it's double scoops of crackpot conspiracy theories with a drizzle of lunacy on the top or just you photography business or writing. It makes you too vulnerable- if you build a business on Facebook and Facebook alone, you're one tweak of a line of code away from being wiped out. It's why all these people decrying the deplatforming of Alex Jones are missing the point: he knows all this. He's going to be just fine.

Is this a free speech issue? This is where it gets murkier to me. No one has a right to a megaphone. No one has a right to a platform. So where does the muck come in?

To me, one of the largely unexplored problems in this country is the nexus between government and business. It's getting hard- in fact, it's been hard for quite awhile now to tell where one ends and the other begins. At a certain point,  we need to start asking the question: is corporate censorship okay? Right now, it might be easy to say, "well, sure. It's their business and their platform." But if you go back to those messy ties between business and government, it gets slightly uncomfortable. How easy would it be for the President to make a quiet phone call to the Zuck and get someone shut down? How easy would it be for Congress to pressure Facebook to do the same thing- all through 'perfectly legal' means? Sure, the First Amendment says clearly that the government can't infringe on your right to free speech, but in an environment where the lines between corporations and government are getting blurrier and blurrier when does a corporation 'enforcing the terms of service' of their social media platform become a tool for the government to shut down speech it doesn't like?

Too much consolidation of information platforms allows for control of a large portion of the information we see by fewer and fewer companies who get to set the rules (obviously) as to who can see/say/post on their platforms. It's a trend that I'd like to see reversed and instead of crackbrained plans to take over the Internet, it would be great if Congress could step in and break some of these tech giants up a bit. I don't know if breaking up some of these companies would completely solve the controversies surrounding corporate censorship and deplatforming, but it would at least turn the wheel of the car left so we don't head down a road where three of four big companies can effectively censor content on the major social media platforms that the majority of us these days use. (Or at the very least, it would slow our progress down that road. I'm not naive enough to think that it would stop progress entirely- but it's something to hope for.

The other thing to consider (and to be cautious about.) It's one thing to cheer when this sort of thing happens to people you don't like. It's very easy to wallow in schaudenfreude about Mr. Jones, because well, he richly deserves what he got and as I mentioned earlier, he's going to be just fine. When all the big social media platforms and the FCC get together and kick you off their platforms, it just feeds a certain amount of twisted truth into his Strategic Petroleum Reserve sized stores of paranoia. This is an early Christmas gift for Mr. Jones- because, after all, it's not paranoia if they're actually out to get you.

So it's easy to cheer about Mr. Jones and his troubles. But people (especially on the left, I've noticed, but not exclusively) need to stop and think: would I be okay if this happened to someone I like?* Companies merge and get brought and sold all the time. If a billionaire buys up Twitter or Facebook and starts shadow banning progressives and liberals because 'they violated the terms of service' would you be okay with that? If the answer is no, you wouldn't, then maybe stop being quite so gleeful about this.

*This sentiment should be carved into walls everywhere: if you're going to change the rules of the game, ask yourself if you could deal with your new rules being applied to YOU. (Because people who change the rules to benefit themselves never think it's going to come back to bite them.) If the answer is no, then don't change the rules. 

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