Monday, December 17, 2018
Post Patreon debacle: should platforms opening push a political agenda and only be open to certain publishers, if they tell everybody first?
Okay, I’m having to spend a lot of time on this festering issue, who gets to have a brand on the Internet.
First, a little good news. Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin say they will work on creating another patron system and even another payment processor (to supplement Paypal) if they need to. Not to support a political viewpoint, simply to restore free speech.
And now, let me just mention a worldview that seems to be gaining traction among “populists”, especially on the Left. It’s a version of (Nicholas Taleb’s) “skin in the game”. Speech for its own sake, even open intellectual inquiry, is no longer OK. The world is so unequal that everyone must get on board to prove they can live within groups and actively court connections with those less well off. Speech must always generate local action.
But of course, in a modern society with “democratic capitalism” you need the rule of law and you can’t force psychological socialism or (Frankfurt) cultural Marxism (egoless “New Man”) on everyone. Separate communities, even tribes, can enforce this on their own members. That’s even one reason that tribes, to some extent, as conservative writers from Carlson or Mero to Senator Ben Sasse point out, are good. They provide a localized environment where real needs can be met when people are otherwise literally unequal.
But on the Internet, individual platforms could try to enforce this idea if they wanted, and if they were open and consistent about the rules that go along with their own “brand”.
That isn’t very practical when (as a result of the tech consolidation in the 2000s after the Dot Com bust, leaving us with a handful of powerful companies) most platforms set themselves up as public utilities (using Section 230 protection) and then start culling their users with algorithms to make money – and we all know the trouble that has led to, most of all for Facebook. And even in the “patronage” industry Patreon, for example, was getting powerful; likewise in the payment processing world, Paypal, Master Card and Visa don’t leave a lot of room for competition. When you don’t have very many companies and they talk to each other, activists with a “social justice warrior” agenda can try to influence them.
In the case particularly of extremist Leftist activism (reaction formation to Trump) they do have a point. Some communities have been, as groups, marginalized and oppressed in the past. Some groups, on the other hand, want to recover the power and prestige that they thought they had in the past. So people in some groups arguably are in more danger. Slopes get slippery pretty quickly. Slurs may be perceived as triggering unstable people into violent attacks and endangering people in the groups. But it’s more than slurs. It’s getting to the point that even being seen as associated with people in (more extreme right wing groups) means that speech coming from your own mouth could be perceived as a threat to others.
Platforms have been banning people not just on content they post on the same platforms, but in some cases on associational behavior. (It’s almost like how the military gay ban worked, in the gays before Bill Clinton, ironically.) The far Left feels that to protect its base, it must get the tech industry to purge anyone with even a hint of connection to the far Right, as an indirect matter to protect its own security. This is “Milo-dangerous”. But it is not very different from the attitude of authoritarian dictators who claim they cannot permit any dissent because the dissent can be dangerous for someone.
Now, I can imagine, as a thought experiment, a world where many platforms are community and brand specific. We talked about the idea in workshops at the Future of Online Speech forum at the Newseum on Dec. 7.
So, you might have a payment platform open only to “socially responsible publishers”. Let’s say you make some requirements. You have to demonstrate community service. You have to have to prove that you really have something to sell and have a minimum support base in a certain time. Maybe you can’t discuss politics at all; only consumer goods. Or maybe you can’t discuss an issue unless you have something to sell to address it (that is the way Facebook acted when it wouldn’t boost my post on EMP – they wondered why I wasn’t selling Faraday bags). That idea creates a real problem, though, if you want to talk about self-defense or the Second Amendment.
But it is true that groups have limited platforms all the time. Political parties can have them for their own activists. There is at least one self-publishing company that invites only “Christian” books. But that is fine with me; they tell you up front, and there are plenty of other companies who don’t. (Think Masterpiece Cakeshop.) I’m fine with all this, although you could get into issues with public accommodations.
It would be interesting to see someone try to expand on this idea, however, to see how far it would get with the public.
I’ll supplement all this with Tim Pool’s video on the Patreon mess, today.
One other thing. It’s been very important to me to control my own message, not to be hired to transmit someone else’s views (although I once might have helped someone else with another book on gays in the military) and not to let any partisan publication become “my voice”. Michael Nedelman. Roni Selig and Arman Azid explain how Juul contracted a blogger, Christina Zayas, to promote e-cigarettes. No, I wouldn’t want to do this, but the idea is even deeper, being hired to promote someone else’s ideas.
Let me also mention Alice B. Lloyd’s “last lines” in the last issue of The Weekly Standard, right out of the mouth of Scarlet O’Hara.