All posts filed under: Social Media

The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation

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. In the present era of growing polarization, one thing that people from across the political spectrum now agree on is their dislike of Big Tech. The political Left complains that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Amazon have become “monopolies.” They also blame global technology platforms for Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and white nationalism. It is much easier, after all, to blame online manipulation for the downfall of the center-left than acknowledge the disconnect between the intelligentsia and the working-class voters that the Left once represented. Meanwhile, critics on the Right blame Big Tech for a comparable shopping list of evils, including being biased against conservatives, giving a platform to terrorists, enabling pedophiles to groom children and distribute indecent images, and boosting populist figures on the Left and Right who threaten the center-right’s own electoral base. This is mixed, particularly in the U.K., with a traditional conservative refrain of “Please, won’t someone think of the …

The Internet Locusts Descend on Ristretto Roasters

Camila worked for Ristretto Roasters, my husband Din’s coffee roasting company in Portland, Oregon, for five years. She received regular promotions and by 2016 was earning a mid-five figure salary. In October of last year, Camila resigned. The end. Or, the end until last month, when she sent an email to more than two dozen former and current Ristretto Roasters employees, alerting them to the YouTube series, #MeNeither Show, that fellow journalist Leah McSweeney and I launched in December 2018. In three half-hour episodes, we had discussed, among other topics, celebrities who have exploited the #MeToo movement, and the difference between sexual predators and those swept-up in the excesses of the current moment. The show’s “about” page reads, “#MeNeither is an almost-weekly conversation about the cultural issues of the day, and an attempt to create a space where people can find ways to think out loud through uncomfortable topics.” In her email to Ristretto employees, Camila described our show as “vile, dangerous, and extremely misguided” and announced her intention to “take this information to [local newspapers] Willamette Week and The [Portland] …

It Isn’t Your Imagination: Twitter Treats Conservatives More Harshly Than Liberals

This is a response to “Who Controls the Platform?“—a multi-part Quillette series authored by social-media insiders. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. Many conservatives believe that social media companies are biased against their views. This includes Donald Trump, who last year accused Twitter of “shadow banning” Republicans, and promised to “look into this discriminatory and illegal practice.” A few months later, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made a categorical denial of any bias while testifying before Congress: Let me be clear about one important and foundational fact: Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions, whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules. We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our rules impartially. Recently, Mr. Dorsey appeared on two different podcasts, on which he similarly denied any bias against the right. Not everyone is convinced. A June, 2018 Pew poll found that 72% of Americans believe that social media companies censor views they don’t like, with members of the public …

How Radical Transparency Cures Web Censorship and Surveillance

The article that follows is the third instalment of “Who Controls the Platform?“—a multi-part Quillette series authored by social-media insiders. Our editors invite submissions to this series, which may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. The internet is set for a renaissance-level transformation that will see users migrate to more open networks and corporate models. Popular web personalities are starting to discuss the need to give less of our time and money to entities that silence us. Comedy itself is experiencing an existential crisis. The founders of Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus—all bought by Facebook—have left their new corporate master in reaction to issues of privacy and censorship. It isn’t a coincidence that all of this is happening at the same time. This is about more than social networks. It’s about all forms of digital technology. What browser are you using right now? Get off Safari, Chrome and Edge. Get on Firefox, Tor and Brave. Technologies that we feed will grow. Technologies that we avoid will self-correct or wither. It’s already been proven through such examples as GNU/Linux, Wikipedia, …

There’s Nothing ‘Intersectional’ About Free Speech

The article that follows is the second instalment of “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series authored by social-media insiders. Our editors invite submissions to this series, which may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. Censorship is a tool of repression as old as civilization. And fighting it has always been dangerous: Socrates was sentenced to death in 399 B.C. largely because he refused to pander to a panel of moralizing censors. These days, the punishments tend to be less severe (in Western countries, at least). More commonly, the ancient menace of censorship now takes the form of social opprobrium imposed by online hordes supposedly representing the interests of oppressed minority groups—by which I mean hordes of people claiming, almost always without basis, to speak for these groups while promoting their own narrow political agendas. This censorship effort receives back-office ideological support from scholars promoting “intersectionality” and similar theories, which draw heavily from Marxist and post-Marxist thinking on economics and power relationships. It also encourages adherents to view the world through a lens of “oppression and the need …

Facebook Has a Right to Block ‘Hate Speech’—But Here’s Why It Shouldn’t

The article that follows is the first instalment of “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series authored by social-media insiders. Our editors invite submissions to this series, which may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. In late August, I wrote a note to my then-colleagues at Facebook about the issues I saw with political diversity inside the company. You may have read it, because someone leaked the memo to the New York Times, and it spread outward rapidly from there. Since then, a lot has happened, including my departure from Facebook. I never intended my memos to leak publicly—they were written for an internal corporate audience. But now that I’ve left the company, there’s a lot more I can say about how I got involved, how Facebook’s draconian content policy evolved, and what I think should be done to fix it. *     *     * My job at Facebook never had anything to do with politics, speech, or content policy—not officially. I was hired as a software engineer, and I eventually led a number of product teams, …

Notes from the Eye of a State-Sponsored Social Media Storm

When Twitter finally decided to shutter the accounts of countless bots using its platform to manipulate the flow and integrity of information, the leaders of repressive regimes saw an immediate—not to mention revealing—drop in their follower counts. Javad Zarif, foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran took to Twitter to demand that the company clamp down instead on users tweeting under the #IranRegimeChange hashtag: Hello @Jack. Twitter has shuttered accounts of real Iranians, incl TV presenters & students, for supposedly being part of an 'influence op'. How about looking at actual bots in Tirana used to prop up 'regime change' propaganda spewed out of DC? #YouAreBots https://t.co/dTs0diYrM4 — Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 16, 2018 This hashtag—among others—has become popular since late December 2017, when Iranians throughout the country began a series of anti-regime protests, strikes, and other acts of civil disobedience. It has been the most widespread and sustained revolt against Iran’s theocratic tyranny since the 1979 revolution brought it to power. And so, naturally, Zarif at once declared anti-regime tweeters to be fakes …

Headline Rhymes

To hell with what we learned from the hero of Mockingbird, the preeminent Mr. Finch Believe Women dictates Tom’s guilty of rape and Atticus must also be lynched Views on the news, delivered in twos. This week’s inspired by two columns in National Review and: On the Fallibility of Memory and the Importance of Evidence How An Anonymous Accusation Derailed My Life Click for last week’s edition. More on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below. Please try for PG 13.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

Is It Time to Regulate Social Media?

In these increasingly polarised times, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have managed to attract disdain from both sides of the political spectrum. According to the progressive Left, social media is a lawless frontier where abusive trolls poison the atmosphere, racism and sexism are rampant, and various far-Right groups propagate fake news for their own nefarious purposes. On the Right, meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are perceived to be safe spaces for terrorist recruiters and child pornographers, policed by intolerant Silicon Valley liberals who use secret algorithms and targeted censorship to suppress conservative thought. Establishment politicians on both sides investigating Russian influence in the 2016 election recently grilled Facebook and Twitter over the issue. Suddenly, everybody seems to agree that, unless and until state power brings these companies into line, social media will pose a threat to truth, morality, and even democracy itself. Social media has certainly helped to transform the environment in which political discourse takes place. Conversations that might once have occurred in pubs or town hall meetings are now happening online. The anonymous Twitter account …

A Closer Look at Anti-White Rhetoric

Online controversy erupted earlier this month when The New York Times announced that technology writer Sarah Jeong would be joining its editorial board. Almost immediately, old tweets from Jeong containing derogatory remarks about white people were being shared widely on twitter. The next day, The Times issued a statement defending Jeong’s tweets as a response to online harassment in which she was “imitating the rhetoric of her harassers,” reflecting Jeong’s own statement that she was “counter-trolling” and would not do it again. The Times further claimed it had reviewed Jeong’s social media history as part of the vetting process and affirmed that her hiring would not be affected by the controversy. The following day, journalist Nick Monroe searched Jeong’s twitter history for the term “white” and found hundreds of tweets from 2013 to 2017. He posted the result in a long twitter thread, also widely shared. Some of the tweets were highly inflammatory, such as: “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men;” “Dumbass …