Tobold's Blog
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Systemically important media?

In the aftermath of the Capitol riot, book publisher Simon & Schuster cancelled a book deal they had with Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who had cheered the mob on. Senator Hawley called that "an assault on the first Amendment". It is pretty obvious that he is wrong on that, the first amendment doesn't give you the right to a book deal. The right of the publisher to cancel the deal is only determined by whatever termination clause is written in the contract they had with the senator. And as Senator Hawley is now a lot less popular, part of the cancelation was presumably for non-political, commercial reasons.

Having said that, I am not feeling totally at ease with Trump's cancelation on Twitter. Not that I would feel sorry for the guy, he surely deserved this one sting he actually feels. But as an example how a private company can make a decision that has a huge impact on the balance of power in national politics, this one looks pretty bad. At what point does a media outlet become so "systemically important" that it loses the power to decide who is allowed to use it? Forget about Trump, what if the next time it is *your* favorite politician or activist who gets canceled? It is not as if e.g. Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aren't saying pretty radical stuff on Twitter sometimes, which could be construed as reason for cancelation if somebody more right-wing was in control of that company. Do we really want to have private companies to have that sort of power?

The only power Twitter and the other media corporations possess is the power they're loaned by the people who use them. If denying access to specific groups or individuals is unacceptable to the userbase, the users will nmove elsewhere or away altogether. In a year or three or five, Twitter may be about as "systemically important" as MySpace. If governments want to systematize these transactions they'll have to assume ownership of the media and lock private actors out. Otherwise we'll all continue to get back exactly what we give in a continuous feedback loop.

In the old-school media this shift already happened. Over here in the Netherlands we see it, but it's very obvious in the US. CNN and Fox are completely different news sources that have virtually no overlapping clientele. Over time you'd expect to see something like Twitter on the liberal / left and another platform on the conservative / right. However - the stuff that is going on with Parler right now does show that it's not going to be easy...

Trump is the President and has access to the worlds press and an entire press room at a moments notice. If he wanted to get a message out there he can.

Why are right wingers getting banned? They arent being banned to just for expressing political opinions. They are being banned because people are literally using these platforms to plan more attacks. Facebook is already seriously under fire because of not moderating its user groups that discussed killing Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence on the 6th.

Bernie Sanders and AOC may make "radical" comments in your mind but as of yet no one has stormed a government building and beat an officer to death over their tweets, nor do they ask their supporters if they are willing to die for the cause.

Any unmoderated platform quickly devolves into a cesspool. You can go look at the various 4 chan and 8 chan sites to see that. Moderation is beneficial to the company running it. That is why they do it in the first place. You yourself started moderating comments on your blog years ago Tobold.
Maybe I’m missing something, but as far as I can tell Twitter or other social media companies have a terms of service that they expect people to follow. If people don’t follow the TOS they could be punished up to and including limiting their access to the site. Obviously one could try to make an alt account or try a different IP, but if this new account was still tweeting rhetoric as unhelpful & as incendiary as Trump’s that seems like it wouldn’t last very long at this point, not that the Twitter Support people can respond in a timely fashion to every breach of the TOS or common decency.

Just, like, also, why are you assuming that these companies owe us anything? All they seem to want is to take our data & show us some (irrelevant) ads & crap... Despite the above paragraph, I’m not a fan of Twitter or Facebook at this point. I have some people I connect with on both, but I’d prefer to talk with people in person when it’s safe to do so. Or over the phone or Discord or something versus yelling into the void on a social media site. Writing piddly tweets that just further engorge a service I find non-useful for the most part is annoying at the very least...
I think there are some cultural differences in play between Europe and the USA. In Europe for example my employer wouldn't have the right to fire me for being suspected or charged for domestic terrorism, he would need to wait until I am actually found guilty with due process. In the USA, there is a lot more "vigilante justice" from private companies permitted. So Trump supporters have lost jobs, been put on no-fly lists, had their internet platforms like Parler taken away from them, etc.

It is not that I pity them, but I do feel uncomfortable with this vigilante justice lacking due process. And I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the less violent Trump supporters are going to be pushed towards domestic terrorism by these repercussions. I think due process is a more important value than revenge, as much as I understand that desire for revenge.
I think you're spot on on the fact that this is just vigilante justice brought online.
And I find almost amusing that the right wing, who has always been a great fan of vigilante justice, starts whining like everyone else when they discover that they're not the only ones dealing it, but they find themselves on the receiving end.
I think clear guidelines and reasoning are required, but I don't think any person should be above being removed. Inciting violence is one area I think should have zero tolerance. Companies have always had this power with print media - they could just not print what you wanted them to. Now where there is no content filtering we need checks and balances in place. The check is the company providing the service outlining clear steps that they will take a why. The balance is the host country making sure that those steps and the implementation of those steps are in line with the country's laws.

In the US we have independent media - I'd like to keep it that way.
I find it disturbing the ease by which people can be led to perform extreme acts today, such as the Capitol Building example. Is there a switch inside us that can be activated by constant, one-sided exposure to propaganda or supposedly factual information? I guess a simple look back at history can answer that question unequivocally. I think the fear of Americans, and rightfully so founded, is that an honest, bias free media has fled our democracy, so people feel compelled to "pick and choose" what they are exposed to in terms of news and information. But I think we all know the deleterious effects this can have on us all. If we can't find a way to restore our faith in news media, the problem will only get worse.
> It is not that I pity them, but I do feel uncomfortable with this vigilante justice lacking due process.

I also felt quite uncomfortable with the ubiquitous "Lock her up!" chants on the 2016 Trump election rallies. These people want due process rights only for them, but not for their enemies.
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