Law, recent, Spotlight, Tech, Who Controls The Platform?

A Single Global Standard for Internet Content Regulation Is a Recipe for Censorship

This is a contribution to “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com.

“If governments are to retain a firm hold of authority and not be compelled to yield to agitators, it is imperative that freedom of judgment should be granted, so that men may live together in harmony, however diverse, or even openly contradictory their opinions may be. In a democracy…everyone submits to the control of authority over his actions, but not over his judgment and reason.”

So wrote Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza in his Theological Political Treatise of 1670. At the time, most rulers and thinkers believed that a policy of free speech would lead to bloodshed, sedition and atheism. Spinoza, on the other hand, argued that freedom of conscience and speech were necessary preconditions for pluralism, tolerance and liberty. The Portuguese-born Jewish philosopher wasn’t blind to the potential harms of free speech, but thought that they were outweighed by the benefits. “I confess that from such freedom [of speech], inconveniences may sometimes arise,” he wrote. “But what question was ever settled so wisely that no abuses could possibly spring therefrom?”

But in this online age, with free, instant global communication available to all, trust in the benefits of uninhibited speech has eroded—even amongst those who benefit most from these freedoms. In particular, the apparent unwillingness of tech companies to resist demands for a “safe” internet, free from all “harmful” content, is a recipe for the repudiation of the free-speech legacy that first began to take shape in the Enlightenment. In some cases, it may even lead to new forms of digital McCarthyism.

In a much-discussed Washington Post op-ed published in March, for instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explicitly invited governments to regulate online content, writing that “lawmakers often tell me we [companies] have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree. I’ve come to believe that we shouldn’t make so many important decisions about speech on our own.” According to Zuckerberg, “internet companies should be accountable for enforcing standards on harmful content. It’s impossible to remove all harmful content from the Internet, but when people use dozens of different sharing services—all with their own policies and processes—we need a more standardized approach”

To be fair, massive social-media platforms such as Facebook do face hard questions when it comes to the governance of online speech. Facebook has tried to meet this challenge by producing evolving content standards enforced by an army of thousands of moderators, who apply opaque rules running to some 1,400 pages. The result has too often been arbitrary content deletions and user bans, fueling accusations of political bias. Call it “moderation without representation.”

The recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand, part of a marked increase in deadly white supremacist attacks, have only exacerbated existing concerns over far-right extremism. Accordingly, Facebook has moved to ban even non-violent expressions of “white nationalism,” in addition to “white supremacism,” which already was prohibited. The most recent purge resulted in a permanent ban of a number of right-wing conspiracy theorists and provocateurs, including Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, as well as the leader of Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Yet Facebook still allows Hizb-ut-Tahrir, banned in Germany, despite its leaders’ advocacy of a global caliphate that would substitute Islamic law for secular democracy. Advocating revolution and the forcible subjection of one socioeconomic class over another also is kosher on major online platforms. Antifa, a loose network of far-left groups, which sometimes incite, glorify and engage in violence at rallies and demonstrations, also is allowed to organize protests on Facebook.

These paradoxes exist because Facebook´s cobbled-together censorship regime tends to reflect the moral contradictions that already were embedded in so-called WEIRD intellectual spheres—i.e., the concerns of people who are Western and Educated, and from Industrialized, Rich Democracies. In WEIRD societies, the promotion of anti-discrimination has become a guiding value, reflecting both traumatic historical experiences and a modern spirit of genuine idealism.

This is exemplified by American college students´ attitudes toward freedom of speech. The majority of such students value free speech highly in the abstract. But they also typically think this freedom sometimes conflicts with diversity and inclusivity. And when conflicts occur, most favour the latter over the former. When it comes to hate speech, a full 68% of students think social-media companies should be responsible for limiting such expression. The WEIRD values underlying Silicon Valley censorship regimes are embedded in Twitter´s rules on “hateful conduct.” They emphasize the protection of “women, people of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual individuals, marginalized and historically underrepresented communities.” Specific examples of hate speech include “deadnaming” and the misgendering of trans people.

So unlike in dictatorships such as China, where censorship is a tool of authoritarian state control, WEIRD censorship generally is borne out of good intentions. But it still has negative consequences for free expression, since it serves to value the speech and dignity of groups differently. This not only creates a new form of discrimination, it also encourages the classification of human beings as members of specific ethnic, racial or religious groups—as opposed to treating people as individuals who may hold different views and have different thresholds for offense and emotional hurt. In fact, research suggests that multicultural policies of emphasizing racial and ethnic differences may increase popular beliefs in “race essentialism.” Such effects are difficult to square with any principled defense of freedom of expression, or even cultural pluralism, especially since group essentialism can express itself as tribalism.

By noting the problem of “hate speech” on digital platforms, Zuckerberg himself seems to have implicitly conceded that any future system of government regulation should not be based on robust First Amendment principles. That’s because hateful speech generally is protected from censorship in the United States, except in such cases where it would have the intended and reasonably foreseeable effect of inciting imminent lawless action. Of course, Facebook isn’t governed directly by the First Amendment, which constrains government, not private citizens or companies. But there is an important difference between Facebook adopting restrictive community standards (a) on its own initiative, and (b) as a means to comply with a universally applied government standard that governs all major platforms and even has extraterritorial reach.

One problem is that the WEIRD values that inform the community standards of Facebook and Twitter are, themselves, far from universal. In 2015, a Pew study surveyed global attitudes toward free speech in 38 countries. It showed that Americans and Western Europeans (in that order) are much more tolerant of speech that is sexually explicit or religiously offensive than people in most other nations—especially survey respondents in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Both Facebook and Twitter ban speech deemed to be hateful on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In countries such as Russia, Uganda, Egypt and Singapore, however, censorship is used for the opposite purpose—to “protect” traditional values from the supposed “moral corruption” of LGBT influence. Facebook, like most popular social media networks, has users all over the world. But there is no one set of global norms that can satisfy both the demands of the LGBT community and homophobes claiming to be harmed by displays of “deviant moral practices” or “gay propaganda.”

Religion poses a similar problem. The rise of anti-Muslim bigotry in the West has led to a crackdown on hate speech, which sometimes now includes even blasphemy. In particular, social media companies have sometimes removed content from atheist and ex-Muslim groups critical of Islam. But in many Muslim-majority countries, non-Muslim minorities, secularists and atheists are openly discriminated against, including through nebulous laws that prohibit the criticism of Islam. And so it is difficult to imagine, say, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia on one hand, and Denmark, Canada and The Netherlands on the other, agreeing on global content standards in this area.

In other words, if we are to realize Zuckerberg´s idea of an internet that is “safe” from “harmful” content, we will have to choose which groups get to enjoy a digital safe space. Ironically this could pave the way for a weakening of progressive-friendly censorship regimes in cases where global attitudes toward women, the LGBT community and secularism differ sharply from those found in the WEIRD world of Silicon Valley.

Globally binding standards also could serve to make free-speech protections less robust in the aftermath of a crisis, when national-security concerns and moral panics induce democracies to compromise their citizens’ civil liberties. Such would be the case with the EU proposal that tech companies be required to remove “terrorist content” within an hour of being notified, or face huge fines. France´s law against “fake news” provides another example. Facebook already has taken the unprecedented step of allowing French regulators to “embed” within its moderator corps, increasing the risk of collusion between private companies and government. Following Germany´s far reaching NetzDG law against fake news and dangerous agitation, Facebook has fallen in line by hiring more than a thousand new moderators. And on April 8, the UK government presented a “White Paper” aimed at “mak[ing] Britain the safest place in the world to be online,” giving its regulators new wide-ranging powers to force tech companies to remove “harmful” content or risk harsh penalties.

Some might insist that these initiatives constitute an attempt to strengthen rather than weaken democratic values. But increasing government control over the Internet sets a dangerous precedent. Had Facebook been operating in the 1950s, Zuckerberg’s censorship-friendly attitude would have played into the era’s worst McCarthyist tendencies. And how many of those in favor of the assertive French model of regulation would feel comfortable if the Trump Administration were armed with the same powers to snoop and censor American users?

If the countless terabytes uploaded to internet platforms every second were to be policed by human beings, even the most restrictive and detailed content standards would be unenforceable—much as the Catholic Church´s Index of Censorship couldn’t keep up with the flood of “heretical” texts inspired by the Reformation, Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment. (In the words of a 16th-century censor, “what we need is a halt to printing, so that the Church can catch up with this deluge of publications.”) That may be one of the big reasons why the internet is now as free as it is, in fact.

But things may be changing, thanks to the possibility of cross-network (and even cross-border) censorship protocols, and new artificial-intelligence technologies. As Mark Zuckerberg himself put it, “building AI tools is going to be the scalable way to identify and root out most of this harmful content.” Even now, the vast majority of porn uploaded to Facebook never makes it on to users´ feeds, as it is identified by algorithms and automatically deleted. When it comes to hate speech, around 50% of such content is flagged by AI. The algorithms are always getting better, and democratic governments are likely to seize on such models since they can be implemented at relatively low cost.

It’s also notable that the EU’s new copyright directive includes provisions that hold internet hosting services responsible for copyright infringements on their platforms. As UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye warned, this development “appears destined to drive internet platforms toward monitoring and restriction of user-generated content even at the point of upload.” Such innovations may move us uncomfortably close to the reintroduction of pre-publication censorship (also known as “prior restraint”), the abolishment of which was one of the most important victories for Enlightenment ideals. In regard to the English Licensing Act, whose prior-restraint provisions finally lapsed in 1695, John Locke wrote to lawmakers: “I know not why a man should not have liberty to print whatever he would speak; and to be answerable for the one, just as he is for the other, if he transgresses the law in either. But gagging a man, for fear he should talk heresy or sedition, has no other ground than such as will make chains necessary, for fear a man should use violence if his hands were free, and must at last end in the imprisonment of all who you will suspect may be guilty of treason or misdemeanor.”

Perversely, tech giants such as Facebook and Google may actually benefit from online censorship, which may explain why Zuckerberg seems willing to compromise the freedoms he relied upon to build his empire. The enforcement of a standardized global content regulation scheme would create a formidable barrier to entry for potential competitors, as compliance would require either armies of censors, or large-scale software systems, or both. Zuckerberg has admitted as much, albeit not in so many words. In his testimony to Congress, he noted that “when you add more rules that companies need to follow, that’s something that larger companies like ours just has the resources to go do and it just might be harder for a smaller company just getting started to comply with.”

This would hardly be the first time in history that market incumbents with a monopoly on communication technology lobbied for censorship. The aforementioned English Licensing Act of 1662 gave England’s private Stationer’s Company a monopoly on the publication of books—which meant that the company also had to police the licensing, trading and production of print to ensure that English laws against seditious libel, blasphemy and heresy were respected. Naturally, the Stationer’s Company was among the most vocal supporters of licensing.

In fact, much of Locke’s opposition to the Licensing Act was aimed at the “lazy, ignorant Company of Stationers,” whose monopoly effectively limited the availability of books. Locke highlighted the much more liberal Dutch Republic (where, in exile, he had written his Letter Concerning Toleration). In the early Enlightenment, the Dutch Republic became a European hub for the printing of daring newspapers, books and pamphlets. These were then smuggled into less liberal European states and shared through clandestine networks of liberals, philosophers, freemasons, religious dissidents and others keen on expanding their minds with heterodox, subversive and shocking ideas—much in the same way that, in our own age, social media serves as the only method of spreading uncensored news and opinion in many authoritarian states. Such a function would surely be hampered by legally binding global-content standards.

It is true that speech may cause harm, and some content really should be off limits. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, which was sparked during a period when incitement to mass extermination was amplified by radio transmissions. Evidence also suggests that the use of social media has contributed to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. And the internet continues to be a useful tool for both right-wing and jihadist terrorists alike.

Yet the novelty of social media and the lack of a settled communication culture may also lead us to overestimate the harms and underestimate the benefits of uninhibited global communications. No tweet, YouTube video or Facebook update has ever come close to inspiring the amount of hatred, extremism and mass killing that ultimately arose from Mein Kampf or Mao’s Little Red Book. Yet few countries ban the sale, purchase or distribution of these old-school print publications. In fact you can buy them both on Amazon. Likewise, new research suggests that the scale and effect of “fake news” was greatly exaggerated in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A more promising way to mitigate the real harms of online speech would be for tech companies to voluntarily commit to heed the more limited concept of Dangerous Speech, a term coined by scholar Susan Benesch. Dangerous Speech, defined as expression “that can increase the risk that its audience will condone or commit violence against members of another group,” is a narrower and more precise category than “hate speech,” and is aimed at preventing mass violence rather than more subjective forms of harm.

No doubt, such an approach would entail its own problems, and hard cases would be unavoidable. But it would be preferable to legally binding global standards that would almost inevitably dilute existing free-speech protections in states that are liberal, while legitimizing further restrictions in those that are authoritarian. As Spinoza wisely cautioned, “he who seeks to regulate everything by law is more likely to arouse vices than to reform them.”

 

Jacob Mchangama, a Danish lawyer, is the founder and director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights and the rule of law. He is the host of the podcast Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech. Follow him on Twitter at @JMchangama.

Featured image: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, delivering a speech in 2008.

Filed under: Law, recent, Spotlight, Tech, Who Controls The Platform?

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Jacob Mchangama is the founder and director of Justitia, a civil liberties think tank in Copenhagen. He has written and commented extensively on free speech and human rights including in Washington Post, NY Review of Books, Wall Street Journal Europe and The Economist.

41 Comments

  1. Gera says

    So free speech has now become ‘problematic’. This is a recent development in the USA, here the calls for censorship of social media coincided neatly with Trump’s election and Russian Interference panic. It seems clear to me that this is the result of the current orthodoxy not holding, and a sizable population that disbelieves or disagrees with the current narratives.
    This smells like the left’s version of McCarthyism and ‘red panic’. I think we will get through it ok in the USA, I worry a lot about Europe, though I suspect the Dutch will be ok 😉

    • Kencathedrus says

      @Gera: Why would the Dutch be ok?

  2. Closed Range says

    “The rise of anti-Muslim bigotry in the West has led to a crackdown on hate speech”

    I would argue it is the opposite that has happened, that large parts of the West has become complacent when confronted with Islamic terrorism and any criticism of this apathy is called islamophobia. Notice how the Easter weekend bombings in Indonesia, which killed 5 times more people than the Christchurch attack, essentially dropped off the MSM newspages after two days, yet the talking heads will keep generalising about how terrible the West is based on the actions of one terrible disturbed person week after week. Should we not be talking 5 times as much about anti-Christian bigotry among the muslim population? What are we to make of this kind of moral relativism?

    • Heike says

      They wouldn’t even say Christians were victims of Islamic terrorism. Instead they said Easter Worshippers.

      Now that the retaliation has begun, suddenly they’re being called Christians again. The media knows exactly the evil that they’re doing. This sort of thing has an effect over time, whether you know it or not.

  3. ga gamba says

    What is the world is going on with this Fence Guard refusing to accept comments for undefined reasons???

    Either configure it properly and explain what the rules are or bin it.

  4. ga gamba says

    (Testing to see whether it’s comment length and html tags).

    The enforcement of a standardized global content regulation scheme would create a formidable barrier to entry for potential competitors, as compliance would require either armies of censors, or large-scale software systems, or both.

    Presumably enforcement requires government action underpinned by relevant laws, i.e. the “content regulation”. Such laws, if speech infringing, would likely contravene America’s First Amendment, so either the Constitution would have to be amended, which seems very unlikely and could perhaps spark mass domestic violence, or the US could not ratify the global agreement. With the US out, the regulation is undermined as companies domicile hosting services in the US to evade legal responsibility. In response, governments could block content from offending domains, but this is subvertible by VPNs and other technologies.

    • ga gamba says

      (Tags are OK. Perhaps it’s length that’s the unsafe operation.)

      Dangerous Speech, defined as expression “that can increase the risk that its audience will condone or commit violence against members of another group,” is a narrower and more precise category than “hate speech,” and is aimed at preventing mass violence rather than more subjective forms of harm. . . . But it would be preferable to legally binding global standards that would almost inevitably dilute existing free-speech protections in states that are liberal, while legitimizing further restrictions in those that are authoritarian. (Bold mine.)

      Condone, eh? If silence = acceptance as many social justice berserkers assert, would everyone be required to denounce publicly violent acts to prove they don’t condone it? Is someone keeping tally?

      As I wrote earlier, there will be no enforceable global standard as long as the US First Amendment exists as it written and enforced presently. Mr Mchangama’s advance of the beware-this-bad-global-standard-and-accept-this-less-bad-global-standard argument is a deceit. He asks you to accept some erosion in exchange to prevent greater erosions, yet there is no guarantee that this ends it. Instead of death by a thousand cuts, he offers you death by 1100 cuts. It’s still an incrementalist tactic against the sole redoubt of liberty. Once the First Amendment is bent to accommodate “dangerous speech” the redefinition of everything to be dangerous will follow. The goal is still the same: to infringe your rights as free people.

      • Farris says

        @Ga

        “If silence = acceptance as many social justice berserkers assert, would everyone be required to denounce…”

        Sir Thomas More would assert that silence is acquiescence or “qui tacet consentire”.

        Cromwell on the other hand interprets More’s silence on the validity of the King’s marriage as disapproval and denial of the King’s power.

        Does silence in the face of violence condone it? I do not know but I do know that silence certainly can not incite. This is not a defense of SJWs because what they often consider violence is petty. I would agree that silence in the face of petty grievances acknowledges that pettiness.

        Hate speech and dangerous speech are simply too vague to have meaning. Hateful to whom? Dangerous to whom? Free Speech is like virginity one either has it in toto or one doesn’t have it at all.

        • Farris says

          I can’t help but wonder if the current piece on Quillette “Feminism’s Blind Spot: the Abuse of Women by Non-White Men, Particularly Muslims” would be considered hate or dangerous speech?

          • Stephanie says

            Farris, I had the same thought. I’m sure you wouldn’t have to look hard for someone who thinks so, and Facebook certainly wouldn’t dispute it if they were faced with a massive fine or jail time.

          • Farris says

            Yep Stephanie, Global Warming sure is producing a lot of snow flakes.

      • Andrew Mcguiness says

        Agreed – what’s wrong with the existing limit, which is ‘incitement to violence’?

      • ms100 says

        Yes, Mchangama reveals himself to be very biased, the fable “The Scorpion and the Frog” comes to mind.

        “The recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand, part of a marked increase in deadly white supremacist attacks, have only exacerbated existing concerns over far-right extremism.”

        “The rise of anti-Muslim bigotry in the West…”

        White supremacist attacks are not the problem in the world, neither is anti-Muslim “bigotry”.

        What is a problem is the sensationalization of such isolated attacks while ignoring the many thousand incidents of Muslim terrorist attacks and criminal acts. Criticism of Muslim behavior is always deemed bigotry by the globalist powers. This happens as well when isolated white on black crimes occur. Each crime is sensationalized beyond reason while the massive numbers of incidents of violent black on white and black on black crime are ignored. To criticize this approach is considered racist.

        The problem is the spread of propaganda and the dumbing down of people via indoctrination, free speech and critical thinking are the solutions.

  5. Gera says

    @Kencathedrus The Dutch have always seemed a bit freer than the rest of Europe historically specifically looking at religious toleration, freedom of the press, and of course their resistance during WW2 (and their socially tolerant positions on drugs and prostitution). Those examples spring to mind. The author mentions the Dutch free press in the article, so that was my small joke.

    • Lincoln Dunstan says

      The Dutch and resistance in the war…how dare anyone put those two words in the one sentence!!
      The French Communists were only marginally better in the Resistance. I don’t know that they bothered to hide their pathology!

  6. TheSnark says

    When a newspaper or magazine published an article it was written by a journalist, checked by an editor, and the publication in which it appears was held responsible for publishing it. When you see something “published’ (in quotation marks) by Facebook, Twitter, etc. you often don’t know who wrote it, there are no editors to check it, and the platform takes no responsibility for the content.

    When sharing cat pictures that is fine. But when it comes to any form of news it ignores the fact that there are always people out there who want to deceive, lie, and manipulate. Combine that with their business model of algorithmically determined recommendation and ad sales, and you have a recipe for serious problems, if not disaster. Outsiders will always be trying to manipulate the algorithms to maximize their impact. The platforms have an incentive to maximize the impact, as they can use that to generate more adverting revenues. And since the platforms aren’t held responsible, they have no incentive to restrict harmful and destructive content. In fact, their incentive is to promote harmful and destructive content as it gets lots of page views, hence more ad sales.

    Face it, the Dutch printers who put out the controversial books in the 1600’s were publishing for profit, but at least they knew the books were controversial. Facebook has no idea what it is instantly disseminating to ten of millions of people, and it is making billions of dollars in profit while doing so.

    One logical answer would be to treat the platforms like publishers, and hold them responsible for their content. But their algorithms will never be able to filter content properly, if only because many malicious actors have their own AI capabilities and will use that to game the algorithms. So they will have to use human editors, but that will be very expensive. They won’t be able to outsource it to a call center in the Phillipines like they do now, it will require ten of thousands of real editors who can operate in hundreds of different languages.

    Will that destroy the Facebook business model, or just seriously reduce its profitability? I don’t know. Zuckerberg might be the nicest guy in the world, and really believe that promoting easy connections between people a great thing, but he has a fiduciary duty to his shareholders to maximize profits. And like Dr Frankenstein he has created something he cannot control. Some sort of regulation is necessary.

    • Lincoln Dunstan says

      It’s the bloody shareholders that are to blame…I just worked out who it is I can blame this time!!!
      Hang on, I’ll check my portfolio!

  7. Sean Leith says

    It hard to believe someone is so evil and so successful at the same, in this age and time.

  8. Sean Leith says

    It hard to believe to someone so evill and so successful at the same time, in this age and time.

    • TheSnark says

      Sean: I don’t think Zuckerberg is evil. He really did believe that linking up the world would be a good thing. But, like Dr Frankenstein, what he created got out of his control. He seems to be trying to get it back under control, but I don’t know if it is possible with outside (ie governmental) oversight.

  9. bumble bee says

    Or, we can just ban social media all together. There problem solved.

    We can all live the dream where all the idiocy, rotten comments, fake news, anti-vaxers, propaganda, bullying, shaming, can all be things of the past. In fact, I would label social media as public health crisis #1. Children would not be eating tide pods, no one would be badgered into committing suicide from people they do not even know. Flat Eathers would disappear, as would the pathetic influencers, anger would drop precipitately, school shootings would disappear, you could actually just eat your lunch, and best of all, the next generation would not be poisoned by this toxic platform. Self esteem would skyrocket, peace would return, people would reengage with other people, people can get out and do something, your privacy would be intact.

    Yes, let us ban social media which is the 21st century’s plague and is what is destroying civilization. Lives depend on it!

    • Lincoln Dunstan says

      This is my “catch-cry”:
      Clark W. Griswold Jr.: Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?
      Now i’ll be banned from Quillette!!

  10. Stephanie says

    The Chinese Communist Party also sees their control of speech as motivated by good intentions. I would not be so quick to assume social justice ideologues are not operating under the same psychological framework. Good intentions can and do coexist with the desire to control other people. In fact, they seem like the prime motivator for doing so.

    The “dangerous speech” standard leads us right back to the problematic “hate speech” standard. It’s an invitation for concept inflation. You can guarantee that it won’t be applied evenly, either: criticism of Islam will be deemed out-of-bounds, even when it is meant to highlight the plight of Muslim women or Jews in Europe. Discussing the situation on the southern American border will be deemed “dangerous” to “immigrants.” Essentially this will be nothing but a tool for the left to criminalise conservative opinions. It also does not solve the problem that it is a regulatory burden that solidifies the monopolies of the Facebooks and Twitters of the world.

    The safest and most enforceable approach is to expect social media companies to act as platforms, not publishers. They must not remove any content that does not violate the law, and they must not editorialize content by boosting one biased source over another in their search and trending algorithms.

    • Harbinger says

      And maybe they should be paying consumers for accessing their platforms……

    • Daniel V says

      Stephanie one of the big problems with conservative speech is it tends to lack nuance. Instead of exploring mutilple variables that contribute to something like violence against women in Europe it’s instead restricted to a single cause which is most often religion. Which can in turn be taken to imply all Muslims behave or condone the behaviour because the only cause given is them being Muslim. When that same approach is taken with a variety of issues the only logical conclusion is the religion is the only problem and as such it needs to be dealt with. It’s hard not to see violence as the most effective means to do this.

    • It is a fallacy for social media companies (FB, Twitter …) to act as platforms and not as media, with editorials and ideological interests, at least after 2016.

      It should be a global platform, not a co-national company of a nation, such as the US.

      The message of hatred, for a Congolese is not the same as for a Californian. Less when FB is managed by Californians not by the rest of the world.

      Remove any content that does not violate the law, the law of where from California, from the USA. or of the UN, because I imagine that the law of the Central African republics applies it, or that of China to be cynical,

      In agreement that the networks should not editorialize the content, less increase a biased source on another biased source using its search algorithms and trends.

  11. Daniel V says

    The article is very correct that it’s going to be hard to define a universal standard of speech and I would even say it’s impossible on a global scale. But at the same time it’s absurd to ignore obvious propaganda or allow a speaker plausible denability. Shapiro is fine example:
    https://youtu.be/g7TAAw3oQvg

    Here he’s made a propaganda video where the intention is to garner political support by playing off feelings of xenophobia. Since it’s specifically xenophobia around Muslims it’s often called Islamophobia. Which isn’t something made up to silence people like him but if the term is uncomfortable or triggering you can just call it xenophobia–fear of the unknown or the “other”.

    He makes this intention very clear in the video when he literally says if you’re not scared now you will be once I prove all Muslims are radical and prone to terrorism. While I know it’s dangerous to start assuming intentions there is a certain point where we ought to be able to.

    Shapiro is an extremely intelligent and highly educated man. He has a masterful grasp of rhetoric and argumentation. It’s absolutely absurd not to think he considers every word he writes or speaks. So when he decided to include that line about being afraid it wasn’t a careless accident and I don’t believe he would be ignorant of the intended effect. It’s like saying an advertising company had no idea their tear jerker ad would have an emotional effect on people.

    So how do we deal with him on this case? Accuse him of intentionally fear mongering or promoting Islamophobia and he’ll claim plausible denability, say people are trying to silence him, and go on about how xenophobic feelings directed specifically towards Muslims doesn’t exist. Push too hard about him being deceitful and you could be accused of anti semitism. No doubt you’re going to end up being called a snowflake or accused of having a SJW agenda.

    You’d likely be told that if you have a problem with what he’s saying to provide a counter argument and let the marketplace of ideas decide. That’s fantastic if the consumers of that market place were looking for truth but since they’re instead looking for facts to confirm their existing ideas that’s not a viable solution. The marketplace is unable to provide a solution unless the consumers are looking to purchase truth.

    That suggests to me we deal with it in the same way we would deal with an older more capable child using their intelligence to trick and deceive a younger child. We call the older child out and we reject their attempts at avoiding responsibility. We stop pretending people are completely rational people and that advertising, which is just commercial propaganda, has no ability to lead people to make irrational choices.

    • Jack G says

      “Here he’s made a propaganda video where the intention is to garner political support by playing off feelings of xenophobia.” So you are making a claim that Ben Shapiro is self consciously producing propaganda AND using his intelligence to manipulate the innocent, tricking them to believe false ideas. You call him deceitful. Fine, say what you want. However you are creating a weak argument, not even cleverly, to suggest we “reject (his) attempts to avoid responsibility.”

      I watched the video. Shapiro clearly states his belief that dangerous behavior can result from “radical beliefs.” He then lists those beliefs and gives statistics to back up the numbers of Muslims who have those beliefs. Are you suggesting that weak minded folks will not conclude as you do that that obviously Mr. Shapiro is wrong? Argue the facts sir, challenge the implications. However, to conclude that Mr. Shapiro is “deceitful” is worse than being a snowflake or an SJW. By the way, to suggest that you may be called “anti-semitic” for calling him deceitful is in fact committing that sin.

      Mr. Shapiro made certain arguments in his video. You sir responded with your version of counter arguments. I then responded to you. You say “it’s absurd to ignore obvious propaganda or allow a speaker plausible deniability.” I say its important on a local or global scale for individuals to be mindful when someone makes a claim as to what is “obvious propaganda.”

  12. Overall, according to the writer, the fear of freedom of expression and ideas not only leads to some kind of imaginary McCarthy or Maoism. That of the Fascist State, with the State all against the State nothing. ” Even those who benefit from the cacophony of millions of voices in the digital world, using their metadata to profit or design deceptive political campaigns. Now they fear that human freedom that, as Spinoza describes, produces those same possibilities of digital freedoms. As one of the comments says, insidious propaganda on social or social networks, or psychologically can not turn you into a terrorist or psychopath, inequality and parodies and paranoia of the world are reproduced on a social and individual scale in societies, not in the Google search engine or in Facebook memes.

    I don t believe that the Earth is flat because someone hangs it on Facebook or that the Holocaust didn t exist because a neo Nazi says so. See on social network crazy or aberrant content does not make you a psychopath.

    The issue of freedom of the network is fought in other trenches ….

    http://cubaenred.cubava.cu/2019/05/07/jabber-assange-linux-y-bini/
    Incluso el tema de FB es bien curioso….

    http://cubaenred.cubava.cu/2019/05/06/quien-controla/

    Here I wrote….

    Entonces…queda claro la contradicción irreversible. Censurar y al mismo tiempo solicitar de los gobiernos y poderes legislativos un mayor control de las redes sociales ¿y la internet? Facilitar la regulación, el control, la vigilancia y la censura. Hacerlo o permitirlo siempre ira en detrimento de una de las partes, generalmente de los usuarios y entre estos a aquellos que mantengan posturas disidentes o contrarias a esos poderes, esos controles y a esos gobiernos.

  13. Pingback: Censorship as Profit Centre | Across the Stars

  14. John B. says

    Your description of “dangerous” speech sounds like it is very nearly just as ill-defined as “hate” speech and thus would likely be subject to differing interpretations. You could make a case that saying anything negative about another person or group could potentially increase the likelihood of violence being committed against them. I think only specific calls for or threats of violence should be potentially censored. Even that basic standard is less simple to implement in an unobtrusive way in everyday human communications than one might think. How often do we all say in a non-serious manner that we’ll “kill” or “murder” someone when we are just using exaggeration to express disagreement with the actions of someone we know personally. For example, “I’ll kill John if he invites Mary to the party.”

    • Andrew Mcguiness says

      @John B. You’re absolutely right. People write a lot of things that I find offensive but I don’t want there to be a law against it. At least if censorship was limited to threats or incitement to violence, we could all learn the limits of what can be posted on the web. And censorship should be limited to taking down only those statements for which the poster will be prosecuted, eg. if a threat is deemed credible, then it’s illegal to make it. At the moment, we have actual laws or proposals (such as in the UK) that some things that are not actually illegal to say should be regulated off the internet.

      If the definition of what can’t be said is loose and vague, then governments can choose when it will be applied (and it will be applied when you say something a government doesn’t want you to say).

  15. Nick Podmore says

    Western civilisation is circling the drain. I cursory look back in history shows similar patterns endlessly repeated. By silencing some people and not others you will always widen the cultural and social divide. In addition, those that are silenced do not change their minds and all of a sudden begin to toe the line, they become embittered, angry and resentful which will always ultimately lead to massive social unrest and violence. The left are arrogant, ignorant idiots to assume that any legislation of ideas, thought and behaviour has always led to war. What the left is doing now is precisely what was done in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Apartheid South Africa and we all know how those turned out. I am an ordinary guy with an ordinary life and job and 10 years ago would have been considered centre left, now, according to the shrieking harpies that have taken over the left I am an alt-right Nazi bigot Islamophobe – despite being white middle aged man married to a brown Muslim. The world is going mad and it is speeding up and I guarantee we will see civil conflict and / or an explosion of right wing populism. People are tired of being ignored and slandered.

  16. Jeremy Ashford says

    The writer supports censorship.
    The writer is of the left.
    What more is there to say?

  17. Pingback: May 15 roundup | Overlawyered

  18. Respek Wahmen says

    Europe doesn’t just have a different conception of free speech under the law; they essentially don’t have free speech. The great tradition of English liberty imported to the US and later abandoned by the UK isn’t merely a preference. There are good arguments for the US “pov,” while there are simply none for the idiotic “deference to dignity” pov since it makes a mockery of the entire concept.

    “Religion poses a similar problem. The rise of anti-Muslim bigotry in the West has led to a crackdown on hate speech, which sometimes now includes even blasphemy.”

    Religion has always posed this problem. The rise of Islam in the West has led to a crackdown on free speech, is probably what you meant to write. Many Christians will naturally also support this encroachment, until and after they’re ultimately converted. And regressives necessarily also support this development.

    The named for irony European Court of Human Rights recently upheld Austria’s blasphemy law.
    Because of the rise of “anti-Muslim bigotry”? That just means people were free to criticize Islam as long as too many people didn’t.

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