All posts tagged: social media

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, …

Are the Classics Complicit in White Supremacy?

Editor’s note: This is the final instalment in a four-part series on the Classics. As I’ve said before, for me, the debate about whether “Western Civ” should still be taught always comes back round to the situation facing my own field, classics. And in recent years, the progressive classics website Eidolon has published a number of pieces suggesting that the idea of studying the Western classics in anything like a traditional way isn’t just ill-advised, but positively dangerous. Donna Zuckerberg, the editor of Eidolon, has warned that “Western Civ” is a slippery slope to white supremacy, for example, and Rebecca Kennedy has gone one further, arguing that classics as a field is in fact already complicit in white supremacy. I have no reason to believe that these scholars are motivated by anything other than a sincere belief that they are working for the good of their field and of society as a whole. But it’s my own sincere belief that their way of looking at this issue is fundamentally flawed, and that the kind of …

Taking on the Offendotrons: a review of Russell Blackford’s ‘The Tyranny of Opinion’

A review of The Tyranny of Opinion by Russell Blackford. Bloomsbury Academic Press (October 18, 2018) 240 pages. It’s fair to say I have a leitmotif when it comes to commentary. Starting in 2015 (in the Guardian) and multiple times since, I’ve written about offendotrons getting people sacked for their dissenting from progressive orthodoxy breaching politically correct speech codes. Typically, these episodes begin with something like an open letter, a Twitter pile-on, a petition. Sometimes the desired outcome isn’t a sacking. It can be having a book or paper withdrawn, or a publication contract terminated, or no-platforming a speaker, or inducing advertisers and funders to end financial support. Occasionally, it veers into criminality—doxxing, calling police to an individual’s house (known as “swatting”), street harassment. I could bang on about offendotrons every week and have to resist the impulse. At the time of writing, Oxford Law Professor John Finnis—one of my university tutors and a devout Catholic—was in scope. The attacks on him proceeded in the familiar way. He wrote something “offensive” about gay marriage in a 2011 …

Alex Jones Was Victimized by One Oligopoly. But He Perpetuated Another

This month, Twitter joined Apple, Facebook, Spotify and YouTube in banning the popular right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from its platform. Like the other bans, Twitter’s decision was announced as a fait accompli, with opaque justifications ranging from “hate speech” to “abusive behavior.” The seemingly arbitrary nature of these bans has raised fears from all political quarters. Alexis Madrigal, writing in The Atlantic, cited the development as proof that “these platforms have tremendous power, they have hardly begun to use it, and it’s not clear how anyone would stop them from doing so.” His sentiments were echoed by Ben Shapiro in the National Review, who expressed alarm at “social-media arbiters suddenly deciding that vague ‘hate speech’ standards ought to govern our common spaces.” Even some on the left displayed concern. Steve Coll wrote in the New Yorker that “practices that marginalize the unconventional right will also marginalize the unconventional left,” and argued that we must defend even “awful speakers” in the interests of protecting free speech. Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union described …

Inducing People’s Employers to Fire Them Should Be a Civil Wrong

If you aren’t from Australia or New Zealand you may be tempted to think of Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day as simply a variation of Veteran’s Day or Remembrance Day—but for many Aussies (and Kiwis), it’s a little bit like Veteran’s Day combined with the Fourth of July or St. Patrick’s Day. It is a deeply patriotic holiday that many regard as a semi-sacred, particularly because we celebrate it on April 25 to mark the anniversary of the day in 1915 when Anzacs arrived on the shores of Gallipoli, Turkey to fight in a battle that would result in over ten thousand soldiers losing their lives. Like it or not, Anzac Day has become patriotic mythology. To mark Anzac Day in 2015, Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) reporter Scott McIntyre took to Twitter and wrote: “Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan.” To make matters worse, he also asked “if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror …

The Public Humiliation Diet

Reading about James Gunn’s defenestration by Disney for having tweeted some off-color jokes 10 years ago, I was reminded of my own ordeal at the beginning of this year. I’m British, not American, a conservative rather than a liberal, and I didn’t have as far to fall as Gunn. I’m a journalist who helped set up one of England’s first charter schools, which we call ‘free schools,’ and I’ve sat on the board of various not-for-profits, but I’m not the co-creator of Guardians of the Galaxy. In some respects, though, my reversal was even more brutal than Gunn’s because I have spent a large part of the past 10 years doing voluntary work intended to help disadvantaged children. It is one thing to lose a high-paying job because of your ‘offensive attitudes,’ but to be denied further opportunities to do good hits you deep down in your soul. At least Gunn can now engage in charity work to try and redeem himself, as others in his situation have done. I had to give up all the charity …