Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

‘Competition Policy Is Speech Policy’

Katie Notopoulos, Buzzfeed News:

The Great Deplatforming was a response to a singular and extreme event: Trump’s incitement of the Capitol attack. As journalist Casey Newton pointed out in his newsletter, Platformer, it was notable how quickly the full stack of tech companies reacted. We shouldn’t assume that Amazon will just start taking down any site because it did it this time. This was truly an unprecedented event. On the other hand, do we dare think for a moment that Bad Shit won’t keep happening? Buddy, bad things are going to happen. Worse things. Things we can’t even imagine yet!


Long before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were excusing their moderation failures with lines like “there’s always more work to be done” and “if you only knew about all the stuff we remove before you see it,” Something Awful, the influential message board from the early internet, managed to create a healthy community by aggressively banning bozos. As the site’s founder, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka, told the Outline in 2017, the big platforms might have had an easier time of it if they’d done the same thing, instead of chasing growth at any cost: […]

Ben Smith, New York Times:

This is the Oversight Board, a hitherto obscure body that will, over the next 87 days, rule on one of the most important questions in the world: Should Donald J. Trump be permitted to return to Facebook and reconnect with his millions of followers?


But the board has been handling pretty humdrum stuff so far. It has spent a lot of time, two people involved told me, discussing nipples, and how artificial intelligence can identify different nipples in different contexts. Board members have also begun pushing to have more power over the crucial question of how Facebook amplifies content, rather than just deciding on taking posts down and putting them up, those people said. In October, it took on a half-dozen cases, about posts by random users, not world leaders: Can Facebook users in Brazil post images of women’s nipples to educate their followers about breast cancer? Should the platform allow users to repost a Muslim leader’s angry tweet about France? It is expected to finally issue rulings at the end of this week, after what participants described as a long training followed by slow and intense deliberations.

That is certainly a range of topics, though one continues to wonder how much — if anything — can truly be offloaded to artificial intelligence.

Cory Doctorow:

[…] Our media, speech forums, and distribution systems are all run by cartels and monopolists whom governments can’t even tax – forget regulating them.

The most consequential regulation of these industries is negative regulation – a failure to block anticompetitive mergers and market-cornering vertical monopolies.

Doctorow calls this censorship; I disagree that what we have seen from tech giants truly amounts to that. Moderation is not synonymous with censorship. I do not think you can look at the vast landscape of publishing options available to just about anyone and conclude that speech is more restricted now than it was, say, ten or twenty years ago.

But Doctorow is right in observing that there are now bigger beasts that effectively function as unelected governments. They materialized because venture capital and regulators incentivized lower costs and faster growth. Our existing primary venues for online discussion are a product of this era, and it shows: Twitter’s newest solution for countering misinformation is adding comments from trusted users. It is such a Web 2.0 solution that it could have a wet floor effect logo and one of those shiny gummy-coloured “beta” callouts.

The way that we figure out how to create healthier communities is by trying new things in technology and antitrust policy. Ironically, I anticipate many of these new ideas will more closely model those from a previous generation, but necessarily updated for billions of people connected through the internet. It does seem unlikely to me that all of those people will be connected through the same platform — a new Facebook, for example — and more likely that they will be connected through the same protocols.