May 14, 2019

Horse 2543 - Facebook Is Perfectly Entitled To Ban Whatever It Likes

I won't link to the article which appeared in the Murdoch-Propagandrag this morning but suffice to say it was about the deplatforming of Alex Jones and Infowars, Milo Yianoppolous and the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and the supposed free speech implications therein.
Now obviously this is about the Murdoch-Propagandrag trying to protect its own patch because they themselves have suffered a massive loss of advertising revenue over the past decade or so and so doing a hit piece on a commercial rival seems perfectly rational to me but they do this from a place of rank hypocrisy.
However this piece isn't to rail against the Murdoch-Propagandrag because I think that they are rationally self-interested and entitled to be hypocrites in this domain. The reason why I think this has to do with the contextual architecture of so-called free speech and the implications which follow.

Firstly it must be said that the Murdoch-Propagandrag engages in exactly the same sort of thing as Facebook. As a daily newspaper with full editorial control over what goes to print, it exercises that control with an iron fist, a velvet glove and a sock filled with custard.
The Murdoch-Propagandrag almost never publishes letters to the editor which are voices of dissent with its orthodoxy, it will occasionally publish people who represent the enemy of its political wing but only as evidence that they are right in whatever they've suggested or as the spark for more propagandising, as well as its usual grandstanding. This is in addition to the normal stream of Two Minutes Hate segments from various Murdoch-Propagandrags on Sky News and the increasingly Soviet-era Pravda like Sky News After Dark. The conceit that it is a news organisation is kind of looking a bit empty these days.
And yet having said all of that, I think that they are perfectly entitled to go on their merry way.

The difference between the Murdoch-Propagandrag and Facebook is that the former generates its own content while the latter does not. As a result of the latter not generating its own content, its business model relies upon its users doing that for them. As a result of that, some truly hideous stuff has been posted on Facebook, including hate speech, nudity, sexual content and indeed rape, as well as the live broadcast of an act of terrorism in Christchurch.
Faced with that, Facebook quite rightly realises that irrespective of what the law actually says, it has at least a societal duty of care towards the people who use the platform; and that that duty of care is governed by its own community standards, which might be more strict than the law.
Since the sheer volume of traffic of information is beyond the ability of any meatbag human to police, that function has to be automated; which means that the algorithms which are stupid because they are machines, can only do any policing on the basis of what they have been told by meatbag human users of the platform.
When those same meatbag human users demand that Facebook does more with regards policing, it responds. Regardless of what you happen to think about the moral implications of the context of the content posted by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, you can not avoid the fact that it looks a lot like the kind of content which Facebook has been told to police elsewhere.

There are several grand issues here.
Firstly we have the problem that so-called free speech never is. The philosopher Karl Popper wrote about the paradox of tolerance; where if you tolerate everything then only the intolerant will have the floor. Freedom in order to be able to function as anything useful, actually requires that it is hedged in by reasonable law. There will of course be argument surrounding what is and what isn't reasonable, which is exactly where this whole discussion sits but the fact remains that if you let all the monsters out to play in the field, then after some time you will only have monsters left as they will have eaten everyone else. The right to free speech can not and should not be absolute.
Secondly there is the easily forgotten fact that just like the Murdoch-Propagandrag, Facebook is a private entity. Private entities are almost never bound by common carrier regulations. Common carriers are bound by law to allow free passage through the system. This kind of concept started to be talked about when people started sending letters to each other in the mail. The question of whether or not the postal service is a common carrier is in most jurisdictions around the world, settled in that it is not. We trust that the postal service isn't going to open our mail but it still needs to be able to because nefarious people sometimes have habits of posting anthrax through the mail. Just like the Murdoch-Propagandrag which also isn't a common carrier, Facebook is allowed to set the terms of service and deny service to people who violate it. Is that a free speech issue? Absolutely. Guess what? See previous.
Thirdly and I know that I'm going to offend lots of people by saying this but users of a platform, ought to be able to follow the rules of that platform. I can only guess that Alex Jones and Infowars have violated the rules because in all honesty when I listened to the only episode of the Infowars podcast that I have ever listened to, I thought that it was indistinguishable from satire. My guess is that Milo Yianoppolous must have violated the rules because having heard what he has said in the past and his longish record on this sort of thing, he almost certainly violated the rules. As for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and you openly admit that what you are posting has nudity, then irrespective of the context or the intent, if you know that you are going to fall foul of the rules then don't post the thing. That might sound harsh and even stupid but the rules exist because the users of the platform demanded it. Is that a free speech issue? Absolutely. Guess what? See previous.

Despite what the Murdoch-Propagandrag says, free speech can never be absolutely free and they are a fine object lesson in proving why. I support their ongoing fight to exclude voices of dissent from their publications as much as I do Facebook's ongoing responsibility to police their own rules.

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