Thursday, November 21, 2019
Big tech is no longer as interested in "peasant speech" as it once was, because of risks and because it can't pay for itself
A couple days ago, on the Movies blog, I embedded and reviewed Glink’s short film “The Golden Age of the Internet Is Over”.
I have to agree that the “wild West” days are past, as individuals, parents, tech companies, and democratic countries have to deal with the unpredictable chaos that sometimes results from the asymmetries when a whole western world can reach anyone else instantly without gatekeepers, and with the help originally just of search engines but not recommendation algorithms.
One problem is that the free speech advocacies have tended to focus on just one issue at a time in seeking donations and “take action” behaviors. The real problems occur when you inventory all the issues in combination.
Let’s run through a few of them quickly.
The Loss of Network Neutrality regulation, when Trump took over, was touted as an existential threat, provoking protests which I filmed. But generally telecom companies have not tried to charge providers for connection to lawful content.
More serious, at the outset, was Congress’s passing (and intensifying at the last moments) FOSTA-SESTA in the spring of 2018. Many online services which facilitate hookups or even dating, or help sex workers screen customers without running the risk of violence in the streets (most of all PoC and trans) shut down. Section 230 was weakened.
Then in May 2018 the European Union suddenly became very determined to and in fact did pass very draconian copyright laws, which will (as implemented by country) will apparently require upload filters of all filters and link taxes. (The GDPR and “right to be forgotten” had already gotten attention.) This was the EU Copyright Directive and notorious Articles 11 and 13. It’s obvious that EU politicians don’t believe private citizens should take up journalism on their own without being employed by large and unionized media companies. Media reporting on this problem in recent months has dropped off, but the problem provides a backdrop for all the other issues that YouTube is having now.
From the middle of 2018 through especially last winter, social justice warriors got many conservative speakers “de-platformed” and in a couple of cases with bank accounts canceled, based on unproven (and questionable) accusations of association with white supremacy. What’s so disturbing was that the tech companies were so easily persuaded by mob justice, although the problem started right after Charlottesville in Aug, 2017 with the very worst “offenders”.
But gradually the public has come to understand that free-wheeling self-publishing platforms have become a vehicle for foreign exploitation and become infected with a malignant risk of inadvertently spreading right-wing radicalization, which has something to do with the way algorithms work, but also with the particular sociology of right wing “ethnic” tribalism, as compared to the more diffuse extremist tribalism on the far Left (Antifa). But the far Left is also trying to promulgate a Marxist, identarian communitarianism which is filled with its own moral contradictions and which resists all individual speech (Marcuse theories).
And big media companies started going after independent creators because they think the indies and newbies lowball their guild-paced economic models, resulting in layoffs. Result: big media plays the clickbait game, and gets caught with sloppy work by the indies (like the Covington kids).
Congress, in the meantime, doubles down with more questionable law, the CASE Act, making it easy for established corporate interests and celebrities to sue indie providers in an administrative small claims court, inviting copyright trolls like Righthaven in the past, unless very carefully set up.
And a judge in the Second Circuit threatens the “server rule” with regard to who can be chased for copyright infringement. This could become significant for blogs that do "news consolidation" as they might be perceived as taking traffic away from media sources who want to monopolize consumers with their paywalls (but offer a few articles free -- you could see more HTTP-403's when linked from blogs).
The latest flap concerns the recent YouTube changes in terms of service, taking effect officially in December. At first, speakers were alarmed by language that suggested YouTube might, after service changes, remove channels who were not commercially viable (who would present outrage if they were monetized, or possibly too small in volume to every be monetized). But the hooker exploded then about COPPA, which has been widely discussed here before. The latest idea is that YouTube should install an “age gate” for users who don’t have accounts the first time they sign in, and that could work.
There had been similar issues about minor verification with the CDA and its successor, COPA, which was finally struck down in 2007.
But there is definitely a trend that over time, “gratuitous” speech (by individuals, outside of conventional organizing and activism) might be even more unwelcome. I can imagine a time when you won’t be able to have a channel or your own site unless you’ve earned “social credit”, maybe by proving you can raise money for somebody else. That sounds very corrupt, but only to individualists.