Saturday, August 24, 2019

Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor enable self-publishing online; do "woke" activists realize this?

Elliot Harmon, from Electronic Frontier Foundation, has an opinion piece in The Hill, about Section 230, which he calls “The First Amendment of the Internet”, link
He refers to a Gizmodo op-ed by Dell Cameron. 
Yes, if Section 230 (and the companion Safe Harbor of the DMCA for copyright torts) were eliminated, users would not be allowed to reach the world on their own online.  Gatekeepers would chose who “gets published”, and this is very likely going to be the case in much of the EU soon because of the Copyright Directive. I worked a lot with literary agents before finally self-publishing my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book in 1997, so I know that “getting published” even twenty years ago had a psychological meaning to authors that has been lost to social media recently, as today’s generation no longer “gets it”.

Harmon makes the case that a compromised, yet still partially effective 230 (rather like a moderately effective vaccine) still allows most mainstream persons online but shuts out marginalized communities, such as sex workers (usually intersectional minorities) because of FOSTA, as well as people wanting to hook up online.  Ironically, that may be good for bricks and mortar businesses again, like gay bars.  But Facebook, because it is big enough, wants to go back into the dating business.

I am indeed concerned about the (“woke”) idea that Internet self-publishers like me must share some of the moral responsibility for the crimes of others because the infrastructure they use tends to accelerate radicalization of young men who have been left behind in an increasingly competitive. hyperindividualistic culture (let alone arguments that tribal behavior is hard-wired in most people). 
After all, we didn’t have self-publishing that was significant until the late 90s, so shouldn’t we give it up now for the safety of minorities threatened by right wing violence?  Of course, there was plenty of right and left wing violence (Patty Hearst’s abduction, and Charles Manson) before the Internet.  And as we have seen in the past few days, people are getting caught by giving away their fantasies online, so that law enforcement can stop them. There is somewhat of a parallelism with the gun control problem, where gun shops and even lawful gun owners are held morally and maybe legally responsible for the crimes of the few, because the results (like Parkland) are so horrible.  David Hogg communicates that with so much passion, without realizing what it means in other areas what it means if we have to protect everyone from harm of the few. (I do think the plan he proposed on AC360 recently is a reasonable one, and I can imagine him in office in the coming years if we don't destroy ourselves first.)
There’s another notion that has entered the discussion, that an NYU law professor recently articulated on David Pakman’s show.  That is, the “freedom of speech” in the First Amendment (and at least informally by Internet paradigms for free speech) is anchored in part by the sequence in which other freedoms are exercised: individual speech should be willing to accommodate subsequent support of direct group action, assembly and petition.  I can even see how this can support ideas like supporting "woke"  intersectionality.  I have not often been personally willing to follow up my speech with actual joining in with others in the way they expect, and I might have to.  
I have no answer for this right now. A lot of this has to do with the limits of individualism, and the fact that personal values (for how we personally regard other people) tend to gravitate into political effects, including unwittingly encouraging authoritarianism (hence we elected Trump).   
The practical reality is that (given today’s populism, tribalism and anti-intellectualism) I no longer have a lot of confidence that the freedom to self-publish can be sustained a whole lot longer.  At age 76, I have to think about what the priorities at the end of my life will be. Maybe focusing on getting my music performed will work now.

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