Disclaimer: This blog post presents my personal opinion. I speak here for myself ONLY - the statements, ideas, and judgments described below should not be linked or associated with any of my employers, neither previous nor current.
Last week's Parler drama has sparked a lot of discussion on the Internet. As usual, opinions vary:
- some claim that Big Tech companies were right to suspend/ban/block Parler after numerous reported incidents of breaking the CoC/license terms
- many others find it a very opportunistic move (because Trump is inevitably going down) and/or an attempt to censor the Internet (for the sake of 'political correctness')
Both groups have many arguments to support their thesis (e.g., inciting the violence VS what's feasible when operating at scale).
Questions, questions, ...
So who is right? Or, diving deeper into that train of thought:
- Where are the boundaries of free speech on the Internet? How much freedom would be 'just enough'?
- Is it OK for a commercial entity to censor the user-created content according to its judgment? Under what circumstances?
- What if the 'content-serving' organization has got so big that it can impact the perception of reality for the whole society significantly? Selectively?
- If we're about to judge (the content/event/situation) against the ethical norms, whose norms are those?
- How can we make sure that a publisher's decision (about the censorship/restriction/ban) is motivated by ethical, not commercial factors?
The main reason why it's so hard to answer these questions is not that they are up to subjective opinions on something that has yet to be regulated (worldwide digital media). Nope. The flaw is somewhere else - the global society has started (because it didn't know any better ...) to treat particular services as a single source of expected truth:
- Facebook - a single source of meaningful, virtual social interaction w/o physical boundaries
- Instagram - a single source of everyday mindless distraction for people who've lost the ability to read with comprehension
- YouTube - a single source of streaming video content
- Google (search) - a single source of (honest, precise, objective) answers to any question you may have, regardless of the topic
- Twitter - a single stream of fact-based, chomp-sized news across the whole world - perfect for people suffering from micro attention span
In common perception, Facebook/YouTube/Google/Twitter are not business entities running popular applications (ones among many others) anymore. They are basic services ('basic' because they fulfill 'basic needs' according to Maslow's hierarchy) - expected to be objective (where 'objective' is coherent with everyone's particular worldview and ethics!) and absolute - fit for immediate and thoughtless consumption (by anyone).
That simply CAN'T WORK. It's not possible.
The global society is too fragmented and the differences (between alternative standpoints) are too hard to swallow.
Slice and dice
It's the highest time to stop treating Facebook (and all the other services mentioned above) like a place 'everyone HAS to be' (aka content everyone HAS to consume). It's just a bloody online forum that has reached such an incredible critical mass that not having an account may cause severe FOMO syndrome in an individual.
The fact that people do expect a single version of truth coming from a single site is much more frightening than the fact that two halves of American society can't come up with a conclusion which 'version of the truth' is actually true ...
Facebook, Google, Twitter & co. are nothing else than commercial companies - they are running businesses, and they set up cooperation rules for anyone who'd like to use their services. They (obviously) have to obey the (imperfect) law, but otherwise than that, each of those companies is free to follow its own interpretation of ethics, fairness, what's acceptable and what is not.
And that's what they just did (last week).
Look around - TV, radio, press, all the other traditional media - they are all fragmented - not because someone has designed it like that, but because they've evolved that way (to match the expectations of their intended audiences). The same will inevitably happen with the social networks and "disruptive" digital media. It didn't happen so far because of their rapid, viral growth, unthinkable in the pre-Internet era. But it will happen eventually - IMHO the faster, the better.
Yes, it will probably be somehow disturbing to observe the rise of 'alternative' digital media that follow cultural/moral/ethical principles that are different than yours, but let's be honest - do you really believe that it's possible to 'convince' everyone to adopt the same values and a single, shared worldview?
Hint: humankind tries to enforce that since its dawn, without any trace of success. Why so? If you're interested in learning more about that, I encourage you to read "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion" by Jonathan Haidt - the best book on this topic I know.