Deplatforming, freedom-of-speech and tech monopolies

monopolisation
deplatforming
freedom-of-speech
#1

Note: This topic is about the concept of Deplatforming and its implications, and NOT about politics and religion! Discussions about specific examples of deplatforming are undesirable and will be moderated.

An important article was recently written on the blog of EasyDNS, about a phenomenon you hear more and more about these days: Deplatforming

Deplatforming is the concept where certain individual or groups of people are thrown off a platform, or otherwise censored, because their opinions and ideas are too much on the fringe, extreme, or unpalatable and therefore deemed outside the norms of what should be allowed on the platform.

If you believe in those norms, then you fully agree with these actions, and when you are in the fringe group, you feel your rights to freedom of speech is severely violated.

I will not try to explain the ins and outs and the dangers that come with deplatforming, but rather point you to the article first, which I highly recommend you read first, before reading on:

Article: A Heretics Guide to Deplatforming

Heretics Guide to Deplatforming

Quoting the author Mark E. Jeftovic :

The phenomenon of deplatforming in the internet age, which includes the component of publicly expressed outrage that impels companies to act to remove objectionable content, provides ample fodder for getting all kinds of things wrong against the backdrop of people wanting to put things right.

To that end I see three distinct themes around it:

  1. We run the risk that the act of deplatforming can become as extreme as the hate speech it seeks to banish.
  2. While it’s within the purview of every private (and by that I mean non-governmental) company to do it, those who do typically undermine their own long term interests. And,
  3. On our present course, we’re headed for a balkanized social media landscape

[…]

The problem with deplatforming is nobody can give you an objective, rule-of-thumb based guideline that can answer the question:

“Where does it stop?”

[…]

The traditional argument “if you’re doing nothing wrong don’t worry” doesn’t hold.

Maybe today, that means “if you are a social justice minded progressive you have nothing to worry about”. But people forget that pendulums swing, history has certain cycles of mean reversion and then overshoot. […]

What happens when everybody on the “safe” side of the narrative today is no longer considered acceptable tomorrow?

Personally I think it’s more pernicious than a mechanical back-and-forth struggle over control of the narrative. Left-vs-right is a false dichotomy. The real battle, the important one, is between those who would seek to decide what is acceptable for other people to think vs those who would rather think for themselves. It is centralization and consolidation vs decentralization and diversity. (emphasis mine)

And there will be a counter-reaction. The censored fringes will go underground:

The next wave of disruption will not look like the last wave, the incumbent [tech] giants are not impervious to assault. […]

The truly fringe discourse, the stuff nobody normal condones will all go underground, where it will be harder to find and monitor and where it will revel in it’s inscrutability

So, some truly important things to think about. Deplatforming - as applied now - may not be a Humane Tech practice, even though it may seem that it is. The Deplatforming itself may lead to something desirable: the break-up of tech monopolies that have become too dominant, and the rise of a more decentralized and free internet again. But the topic itself is a can of worms.

On Hacker News there is a great discussion on the topic, and some more important things brought up. Here is the discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18365851

One of these points is this: Platform owners are private companies that are in theory free to decide what they allow on their platform and what not. But with our tech monopolies or oligopolies, the policies of deplatforming and censoring are an immensely powerful tool, that rivals the power of governments to steer public opinion into what is acceptable and what not. It all depends on the people leading these platforms.

Food for thought.

#2

Thanks for pointing out this article. I have seen a lot of deplatforming on Twitter, Patreon and many other places.
It is a HUGE problem because when sites become well established, and even though they may set up Terms of Use claiming the right to deplatform for any number of vague reasons, when sites start to deplatform to enforce a political agenda it needs to be stopped. I don’t like the idea of gov’t intervention/regulation… but that is where it is headed.

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#3

My thinking about this has certainly changed over the last decade. Allowing inhumanity to fester is not a humane principle.

Looking over the solutions that CHT proposes I notice they are all about adding friction to certain things. Getting rid of smart phones and social media may help, but things like turning off notification and setting your phone to greyscale allow a balance of the benefits of both worlds. By deplatforming people you make it slightly harder to be exposed to certain opinion, but those opinions are still accessible online. You are adding friction to certain ideas.

Many people seem to believe that freedom of speech is an end to itself. But it’s actualy a means. The benefits of freedom of speech are that one can express their truth (even if distasteful) and one can push new ideas that raise all of human existence. For this reason we should be very careful about stamping out speech. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put friction on certain types of ideas. Deplatforming is a way to add friction without stomping out such speech. And I would say ideas that have been discarded like flat earth and scientific racism as well as calls for geneocide and forced relocation are the types of ideas that once discarded should be in the category that we add considerable friction to.

Why? Because I love ideas. I want a maximum flow of ideas. But if we welcome or invite people who attack others, demean others and make them feel unwelcome that removes perspectives and ideas from public conversation. So yes, I think we should be unwelcoming to those who are unwelcoming to others. It’s called the paradox of tolerance: in order to have a free soceity you must add friction to people arguing against freedom. Yes, to have freedom you must erode the freedom of those who oppose that freedom (bigots and fascists) or would degrade the goal of the flow of ideas (jerks).

To have a free exchange of ideas we must not champion or protect the people who question the value of others. People with ideas shouldn’t be afraid to speak out or made to feel unwelcome because of who they are. And so we should add exactly that kind of friction to the people who make others afraid or feel unwelcome by the ideas they express.

TL;DR: Never deplatforming is probably as bad as deplatforming too much. Some ideas need friction or they take over the conversation and aren’t productive or can lead to great suffering.

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#4

Deplatforming groups or individuals or ideas that espouse harms, genocide, murders, mass prejudice and dehumanization etc., which throughout history and at present cause so much untold sufferings and death of people, should not be given platforms especially on popular web sites. They should not be given microphone of their despicable and evil thoughts and ways.

#5

Recently facebook ban hate speech that promotes and supports white nationalism and white separatism. This is a significant move. This policy will helps prevent another New Zealand mosque like massacre to happen. Human life, dignity and worth are more important than the right to free speech.

#6

Yes, I agree @richard1 in these kinds of clear-cut subjects. But these are the easy cases, where most people naturally draw the line.

The problem arises where you draw the line, especially if you are a commercial platform - maximizing profits - with billions of users. In such a large user base there are always large groups of people offended by controversial things posted - and deemed uncontroversial - by other large groups. Do you allow that? Do you weed out those that intentionally seek out the lines?

BTW, deplatforming raises similar issues to applying (self)censorship - ‘deplatforming’ of content. Netflix avoiding controversies in their movie content to adapt to widest applicable aidience, and Google working on content filtering search results to gain access to a big new market, i.e China.

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#7

Some are complex issues really. There are no clear cut answers. There are factors to be considered.

#8

Other question is if it will be sufficient to prevent this kind of horrible and absolutely unforgivable acts. I do believe that proper and cultivated form of free speech needs to be supported simultaneously otherwise more and more people will be living in their bubble without possibility of hearing opposite opinion with hopefully possible correction of their point of view based on reasonable arguments (but unfortunately this is valid only for people with minimal brain function, any creature who is willing to intentionally kill innocent people is out of this range).
I think it is worth to ban clear hate speech in order to prevent spread this kind of insane thoughts, but I am not sure if it will help improve situation when those creatures will be isolated in their sick bubble and their frustration level will be increasing silently and out of any control. More active approach would be desired. Restrictions and prohibitions has own limits.
Well, wiser and more powerful people than me should definitely pay attention to this and try to find better and long term solution…

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