All posts tagged: social media

Against Big Tech Viewpoint Discrimination

This week, YouTube decided American conservative “shock jock” commentator Steven Crowder broke the rules of their Partner Program. Since YouTube is privately owned, shouldn’t principled free market advocates support the company’s right to purge videos Silicon Valley finds triggering, even if a disproportionate number are created by conservative commentators such as Crowder? Well, imagine electric companies stood up for progressive values by cutting off power to homes with pro-Trump yard signs. Even staunch supporters of free markets would likely object to these restrictions on expression by privately owned enterprises. When we examine why power companies shouldn’t be able to make service contingent on not violating political sensibilities, we see that analogous arguments should stop social media giants from exiling political dissidents. If Burger King won’t sell you a hamburger, so what—buy one from McDonald’s. Competition among businesses normally protects you from harm if one refuses you service. Some markets, however, are characterized by “bigger is better” where size bestows advantage. It’s much cheaper on average to hook up electric power lines to homes if the …

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 …

Joe Rogan is the Walter Cronkite of Our Era

It is always tempting to believe that we live in historic times. It strokes the ego to think that decades from now, people will look back on current events as the starting point of some dramatic, epochal change. As a comedian, professionally cynical and distrustful of epic narratives, I usually dismiss such notions as the delusions of grandeur of an increasingly narcissistic generation. Yet as I sat glued to my computer last week, watching Joe Rogan and Tim Pool interrogate Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Vijaya Gadde (the company’s global lead for legal, policy, and trust and safety), I could not shake the feeling that I was witnessing a historic moment. It has long been an open secret that the mainstream media (MSM) is dying. Of all America’s major institutions and industries, only the U.S. Congress is trusted less by the public than the media. The MSM’s one saving grace was its ability to engage in high-end, investigative journalism by pouring millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours into complex, wide-ranging and secretive operations in …

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] …

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 …