Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Gresham's Law, On the Intertoobs

I've seen bad commentary and bullying tactics drive good and thoughtful people away from blogs (who needs that shit?). Same thing happening on Twitter, where Trump is given carte blanche because he's a public official (many expect that to end on January 21, 2021).  The argument at reason.com is basically this:

If it sounds like censorship is once again proving itself to be a losing proposition that threatens the free exchange of ideas without making the world a better place, you're certainly right. Instead of the impossible-to-achieve identification and suppression of awful thoughts, what we're seeing is moderators targeting ever-more mainstream speakers in their search for forbidden speech. In the process, they're also driving conspiracy theorists and flat-out loons to take refuge in ideological hot houses where their ravings go relatively unchallenged.

"Removing radical actors from mainstream platforms can, on the one hand, significantly reduce their audiences, but it can also contribute to increased feelings of resentment and victimhood, forming a breeding ground for even stronger discontent," warns Klein.

But that kind of discontent is always breeding somewhere.  The reason the nation sees it now is not because somebody turned on the light and found the kitchen floor covered with so many cockroaches they can't all scurry out of sight.  It's because the chief loon has been in the White House for four years, giving them legitimacy.  Proud Boys marched in the streets of D.C. because Trump called them out.  That's the price we pay for allowing a boob like Trump into the Oval Office.  His ideas and conspiracies have been challenged in courts of law 59 times at least, and yet he still clings to them.  Far from being "relatively unchallenged" he's faced challenge at every turn, especially since Election Day in November.  And yet the Proud Boys marched on D.C. in December.  Challenge is not the issue.  Policing boards so ordinary people can talk, is.

In the days of my feckless youth, I discovered "Table Talk" at Salon.com.  They had moderated boards with discussions of topics from politics to flower arranging (I exaggerate, but it was about that wide a range).  The other participants on Table Talk considered "Politics," and especially it's subtopic "White House" (this was the Clinton era, we were all partisans) to be the neighborhood you didn't want to find yourself in, and if you did you locked the doors and didn't stop for red lights while you drove the the exit ramp back onto the freeway of rationality.  We liked it that way; but nobody wanted our attitudes in their discussions.  It worked well, but it was a tiny subset of the internet and it soon lost out to larger platforms.  Little did we know "Table Talk" was an authoritarian regime.

Importantly, and unmentioned by Klein, the spread of such muzzling beyond "radical" targets is not always an unintended consequence. Authoritarian regimes have eagerly adopted "hate speech" restrictions as weapons against political dissidents. "In a review of more than 40 recent hate-law arrests, Reuters found that in each case, authorities intervened against Venezuelans who had criticized Maduro, other ruling party officials or their allies," the news service reported last week.

If tolerating a range of ideas—good, bad, nutty, and indifferent—on diverse new platforms is the price we must pay to deny authoritarians easy means for suppressing their critics, then so be it. People always find ways to speak their minds in defiance of those who would control the conversation, and that's a good thing.

The argument seems to go off the rails here, trying to eat its cake and have it, too.  I have nothing against "diverse new platforms" like Parler (I even know it's supposed to be pronounced "par-lay," au francais, you know, which amuses me because I still remember "freedom fries").   I'm happy for them to exist, so long as they don't put Twitter and Blogger out of business.  I regulate comments here just to keep the porn bots away, but happily delete offensive comments when they occur.  It's my blog, and it's my arbitrary and capricious rules that...rule.  I'm even happy for people to speak their minds, but sometimes those "who would control the conversation" are the rest of us in the conversation.  If I went on Parler and started posting my considered progressive and even Christian social justice ideas, I have no doubt I'd be hounded by everyone else there, who would be aggrieved by my "trolling" (is "trolling" still a thing?).  They would probably do everything they could to drive me away.  Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

All I know is, it ain't a suppression of free speech.


  1. "Reason" magazine is a magazine for people who you thought were assholes in 7th grade, only adults.

    1. We never outgrow high school. Or junior high, for that matter.

  2. Wondered what happened to the hall monitors...

  3. The average election related Yahoo News story in 2016 had 5,000 comments. That number dropped to zero in 2020. Four years ago I'd read the lead and go straight to the comments, trying to guess what percentage of the comments were Russian bots.

  4. I never give bots the consideration they deserve in this discussion.

    Too few other people do, either.