Here is an interview about censorship and social media (this is the old Section 230 discussion that I, for a long time, could not make sense of). You have to get past a (pardon me) sexual organ joke in the prelude. The URL above skips all that.
It was perspective changing for me to watch. If this post is too long, and you want to focus one single thing – watch this interview please. I’ve watched it twice.
If you want to jump straight to the policy prescription, here is a good proposal.
In a (lot of) more detail:
Guest is Matt Stoller, a book author on monopolies. The problem, he says, is not that Facebook, Google, Twitter should ban speech – but that their business model, based on advertising, is causing siloes of like-minded people. He is interviewed on the Taibbi and Halper unedited podcast, Useful Idiots.
These companies derive revenue off sowing division in society – not unlike cable news deriving revenue off Anna Nicole Smith type stories, or Nancy Grace type shows.
Sen. Markey wants Facebook, Twitter, Google to chase after bad actors, and take down their accounts (when these actors are not political allies). Rather, this should be a story of monopolies and advertising models encouraging worst tendencies, while deriving revenue from it.
Four years ago Trump was getting free cable news coverage for saying outrageous things. He got elected – and cable news made bundles in advertising.
Jeff Zucker had been producer for The Apprentice, then oversaw CNN, as president. SNL was happy to host Trump, mere days after he attacked Hispanic immigrants as rapists and murderers. That episode drew the best ratings in years.
Since Trump was silenced, cable news advertising revenue has dropped in half.
It was known since a year ago that advertising algorithms polarize users. Facebook had internal research looking into that.
It is instructive to read Mark Zuckerberg’s opening testimony in Congress on Mar 25th. Facebook attempted to address this polarization – with an oversight board, a private Supreme Court of sorts, that directs advertising behavior. But they can’t really do it. They are captive to their own business model.
Also read Glenn Greenwald’s opening testimony from March 12th. I’m quoting a point he’s making, because it’s counterintuitive (but, I think, he’s right about this):
“[Glenn Greenwald:] Critics of Silicon Valley power over political discourse for years have heard the same refrain: if you don’t like how they are moderating content and policing discourse, you can go start your own social media platform that is more permissive. Leaving aside the centuries-old recognition that it is impossible, by definition, to effectively compete with monopolies, we now have an incident vividly proving how inadequate that alternative is.
“Several individuals who primarily identify as libertarians heard this argument from Silicon Valley’s defenders and took it seriously. They set out to create a social media competitor to Twitter and Facebook — one which would provide far broader free expression rights for users and, more importantly, would offer greater privacy protections than other Silicon Valley giants by refusing to track those users and commoditize them for advertisers. They called it Parler, and in early January, 2021, it was the single most-downloaded app in the Apple Play Store. This success story seemed to be a vindication for the claim that it was possible to create competitors to existing social media monopolies.
“But now, a mere two months after it ascended to the top of the charts, Parler barely exists. That is because several members of Congress with the largest and most influential social media platforms demanded that Apple and Google remove Parler from their stores and ban any further downloading of the app, and further demanded that Amazon, the dominant provider of web hosting services, cease hosting the site. Within forty-eight hours, those three Silicon Valley monopolies complied with those demands, rendering Parler inoperable and effectively removing it from the internet (See “How Silicon Valley, in a Show of Monopolistic Force, Destroyed Parler,” Glenn Greenwald, Jan. 12, 2021).
“The justification of this collective banning was that Parler had hosted numerous advocates of and participants in the January 6 Capitol riot. But even if that were a justification for removing an entire platform from the internet, subsequent reporting demonstrated that far more planning and advocacy of that riot was done on other platforms, including Facebook, Google-owned YouTube, Instagram and Twitter (See The Washington Post, “Facebook’s Sandberg deflected blame for Capitol riot, but new evidence shows how platform played role,“ Jan. 13, 2021; Forbes, “Sheryl Sandberg Downplayed Facebook’s Role In The Capitol Hill Siege—Justice Department Files Tell A Very Different Story,” Feb. 7, 2021).
“Whatever else one might want to say about the destruction of Parler, it was a stark illustration of how these Silicon Valley giants could obliterate even a highly successful competitor overnight, with little effort, by uniting to do so. And it laid bare how inadequate is the claim that Silicon Valley’s monopolies can be challenged through competition.”