Wednesday, March 20, 2019

No, platforms should not ban particular ideologies from being discussed

Should discussion of or at least promotion of certain political ideologies be off-limits?  Particularly, should social media or even hosting platforms ban them even though theoretically as private companies they have the legal right to do so? 

We seem to be heading toward a space where some people with any recognizable connection, however indirect, to the “alt-right” are supposed to be banned.  OK, this is part of the backlash against Trump.  

OK, some people think that if you talk about conservative principles with any objectivity, you’re “supporting” white nationalism at least indirectly (You aren’t).  More seriously, if you talk openly online and then personally distance yourself from people whom you see as “second-handers” (Ayn Rand’s term – later it was “moochers” and “looters”) your speech automatically gets regarded as hate speech.  

You could say that this debate whittles down to the idea that Hitler has to be considered worse than Stalin (or than Pol Pot, Mao, or Kim Jong Un). 

The most extreme factions of the alt-right (as shown in the documentary “White Right”, reviewed last night on my “cf” blog) do favor the establishment of ethno-states and the deportation or persons not belonging to the “correct” race or ethnicity.  Short of that, there is this “blood and soil” populism.  Is this a genuine political threat to minorities?  This cannot happen in the United States because of various constitutional amendments (including 14th especially). But I do understand that in other parts of the world, where rights are in “laws” but not constitutionally guaranteed, it could be more of a threat (take Hungary, for example) – and these companies are global platforms. 

It’s generally been acceptable to present “communism” as a discussable ideology – even though by definition, communism properly justifies the use of violence for expropriation. There is one difference: in theory, there is no preferred race or religion to start.   The threat to people is forced expropriation of unearned (especially inherited) capital.  In practice, extreme leftist states turn out as badly, often worse, than extreme right states, and generally wind up attacking unfavored groups anyway – particularly (when it comes to Russia) with regard to nationality.  (For the debate on Hitler v. Stalin, Stanford has the most objective piece that I can find ) 

Indeed, remember after Charlottesville, Trump was called out for not condemning the violence from the right more than that from the far left  -- as if the most violent elements of Antifa can stay in circulation. 

Today, the extreme right is more likely to become an existential threat to LGBT persons than the extreme left, but historically that has not generally been true in the past. 
One argument against “free speech” online is that the practical context today is that “speech” tends to become the “dark money” of power over historically maligned groups – especially by race.

But if you stop free individual speech, you force people to take sides and join up in opposing groups to be heard at all.  That indeed sounds like what the far Left today wants. 
The far Left argues, for example, that free speech facilitates police profiling by race, or keeping PoC from getting to a level playing field. I’ve been asked if I’ve ever been targeted or beaten up for who I was – if I were, I’d want the legal system to give me some reparative protection.  Well, it’s complicated – yes, I was treated “unfairly” with the William and Mary expulsion of 1961, but I was privileged enough economically (as white) that I managed to outflank the whole thing and lead a fairly productive life as an individual,  But not everyone has the chance to get that far as a “spectator”.  

So, I noticed that Westboro Baptist Church is still allowed to have its domain (by Cloudflare), and there is a marginal chance that sometime in my life, my life could be taken (or “sacrificed”) because that site incites someone. I had visited Pulse a year before the shooting there.  But I could have been there that night in 2016. 

But I could have been at the Boston Marathon in 2013, or in Paris in November 2015.  Or in the WTC on 9/11.  Or in the Murrah building in OKC on 4/19/1995.  You get the point.  
I did one time cancel a volunteer assignment because it would have entailed driving my car into a particularly dangerous are in Washington DC.  I have less exposure to unpredictable risk than less well off people – and this gets back to the skin-in-the-game idea. 
It’s also true that allowing homophobic speech could increase the political threat to my rights.  In practice that isn’t likely (even under Trump and Pence) because constitutional protections have gotten much stronger.  Even so, I am reminded of comparable discussion about women’s rights and Kavanaugh. 
So it’s a little mixed.  But my own speech is worthless if I can’t be objective and talk about anything in the news if it comes up – even the staging of Christchurch.  I can't stay online if I have to yield to the idea that covering the ideology of someone who commits a horrific act only entices others to do the same in the future to get others to pay attention to them.  Yet, that real-world potentiality does create a marginal, although very low probability risk, to my own safety, and of those connected to me -- an asymmetry or Black Swan that Taleb associates with his "skin in the game" moral theory.  If it simply an inescapble consequence of mathematical logic. So, in the past, was the possibility that I could be drafted into combat.  
(In the video, note what progression at 4:50). 

On one other matter, Facebook has agreed not to show certain demographic indicators to advertisers, to reduce discrimination.  This is said to be bad for some small businesses (Tracy Kan, Elizabeth Dwoskin, link

Update:  Wednesday, March 27, 2019 

Vice Motherboard (Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler) reports that Facebook now treats "white nationalism" and "white separatism" the same as "white supremacy".  Perhaps an "ethno-state" would be, by definition, exclusionary and therefore supremacist (as a matter of intellectual logic).  But Facebook was driven by influence from civil rights groups and probably left-leaning Academics.  But as an intellectually principled matter, that would mean that pro-Israel support would be banned (although Israel is not "exclusionary" so it's hard to say). 

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