Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Section 230 weakening could get personal for me, but "battle" is just beginning

Debate on Section 230, particularly the proposal by states to remove the immunity to downstream liability specified in state laws, will heat up this fall, probably quickly.  And inevitably the point will come up that one of the main casualties of weakening Section 230 could be self-publishing, especially when done for “vanity” or “fame” purposes and when it doesn’t pay its own way. 

There was an industry called “subsidy” publication in the books business in pre-Internet days, but for the most part it was expensive, impractical for new authors, and did not have a good reputation.  

In the Internet age, the counterpart is called “user generated content”, and apparently its contribution to the bottom line of Silicon Valley is considerable.  But it doesn’t make much money for the writers as it does for the companies.   Advertisers apparently find that it provides an effective way to reach consumers, maybe more effective than traditional broadcast and print media. So, of course, many jobs and a lot of shareholder value is in the balance.  In the meantime, steady jobs in legacy media get harder to keep.  This isn’t just about piracy.  As we learned from the SOPA debate, it’s about new forms of no-cost competition, and a culture that values other things besides financial competitiveness which, in our system, you really need to be able to take care of “real” other people (like in families).

The First Amendment does protect “most” individual speech, but does it protect a “right” to low-cost global distribution of the speech?  That question became relevant once the Web 1.0 environment established before 2000 showed that previously unknown people could become “famous” with original content through free search engine exposure.  Previously (at least before the mid 1990’s), people had to go through competitive hoops to “get published” in a meaningful way.

 But was the “right” to “free” distribution guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?  I can be facetious and suggest that the question could be the subject of a “Reid.ing” or “Bill.ing” video.  (You know who I mean!  What in life is really free?)  The Supreme Court weighed in indirectly on these questions with the censorship portion of the CDA (Communications Decency Act) in 1997, and then COPA in various opinions (2002, 2004, and finally the district court trial settled in 2007).  The Court tended to accept the progressive position that it should be, because otherwise moneyed, economically privileged interests could control what is said publicly. 

There is, however, in conservative thought, a conjunction between “competitive success” (economically) and actually having responsibility for others.  There is some validity to this intellectual nexus. 

Once I had put my work out the way I did, “subsidizing” it with my own other resources, rather than expecting it to sell on its own, I started getting pressure in various ways.  One has been recent pressure from publishers to actually prove I can sell it (old as the books are) rather than just let people find it  (It was still common, fifteen years ago, for people to set up very simple websites to sell books and try to get people to pay.  I went the other way, offering the books free online in HTML for people who wanted to see it but didn’t want to pay. )  I’ve also gotten a lot of pressure to become involved in other parties’s personal matters to prove I can “take care of people”, participation that would have been completely unwelcome two decades ago.  Maybe self-publishing is like having babies.  It creates a presumption that you are accountable for others.  

Having done “what I did”, there is no going back, lifetime.  I cannot simply give it up and join one specific cause because that cause addresses real human needs, real and valid as they are for some people.  I cannot peddle or solicit for “other people’s causes”, however worthy.  Yet I understand the implications of that statement.  Society used to be predicated on people’s being willing to be approached by others to buy things.  Commissions were important.  Sales culture was part of a larger social structure where people were capable of working together and of showing solidarity against common dangers or enemies. Even libertarians like Charles Murray have written about the loss of “social capital” and eusociality among many people, as the culture has turned hyperindividualistic for so many people, to the point that it’s only “my message” in the media that matters, even to the point that popularity no longer matters.

I do have concerns about the “sustainability” of the presence that I have built up over the years, for a variety of reasons, but Section 230 issues certainly could become a big deal for me personally.   I’ll be giving more narratives about what strategies I intend as I approach publishing another book.   But “imagine” the message that seems to be “sent” to someone in my potential situation.  It is something like this. Earn “the privilege of being listened to” by providing for others first.  That loops back to the reality that I led the life I did, which was productive in its own way, without ever experiencing even “normal” personal jealousies, because approaching relationships in a conventional way (heterosexual dating leading to family and children) as humiliating, because I was non-competitive physically.   And I came to have a curious, paradoxical psychological investment in the “moral” interpretation of people (like me) who weren’t “making the team” in a conventionally competitive manner.  

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