In fact, it’s time to break “the Internet” as it exists today, and reconstitute it.
But let’s start with the social media and browsing/search giants. They’re all implementing policies to shut down the voices of freedom in their forums. It’s one thing to police obscenity and personal attacks. It’s another thing entirely to define the word “gun” as an offense, and bias content-oriented algorithms against it.
It’s ridiculous to “suspend” users for posting politically conservative content – and yet, in the blogger forums I correspond with, such suspensions are now commonplace. “I’m in Facebook jail” for X number of days has become a constant refrain. We’re not talking about people who use expletives or make threats online. We’re talking about people who merely post conservative sentiments and memes, and links to (very mainstream) conservative websites.
The social media and browsing giants are private companies. They can run things the way they want; it’s their dime. But that’s why they need to be broken. They can’t be allowed to become a vehicle for marginalizing non-compliant voices. The default model for social media and browsing needs to be variety, diversity, and freedom – not intellectual conformity. Freedom is what needs to pay off.
So, basically, there need to be more of them. They need competition to force them to stop acting like Caesar Augustus.
There are serious dangers here too. Not every trend represents a serious danger, but some do.
Here’s an example of a trend in which I don’t necessarily see a serious danger – although it’s unacceptable, and Twitter should go down in flames over it.
Remember, Twitter is a private company. It can live by delusional bias if it wants to; it should just have to pay a steep price for doing so.
Blogger Robert S. McCain – our old Green Room colleague, familiar to many who haunt the rightosphere – found his Twitter account suspended on Friday, 19 February, with no reason given. Plenty of bloggers are unsurprised, however, in light of Twitter’s announced new policy of having a “Trust and Safety Council” run by such distinguished enemies of free speech as “Feminist Frequency and the Dangerous Speech Project.” The “Other McCain” was quite probably suspended by the “Trust and Safety Council.” Orwellian as it gets, right?
It can get more Orwellian, however, with the use of what’s called “shadowbanning.” Jonathan Levin, at the Legal Insurrection link, quotes Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos (who has also been shunned by Twitter):
Shadowbanning, sometimes known as “Stealth Banning” or “Hell Banning,” is commonly used by online community managers to block content posted by spammers. Instead of banning a user directly (which would alert the spammer to their status, prompting them to create a new account), their content is merely hidden from public view. . .
However, Twitter isn’t merely targeting spammers. For weeks, users have been reporting that tweets from populist conservatives, members of the alternative right, cultural libertarians, and other anti-PC dissidents have disappeared from their timelines.
Something similar to shadowbanning has been evident at Facebook in the last several weeks, to anyone who runs a conservative Facebook page. The trend that’s been especially noticeable to me is this one: meme images of the type that used to quickly get thousands of shares and likes, and dozens or hundreds of comments, can now go for days and gather only a few dozen shares and likes. What these images have in common is that they’re eye-catching, funny, meme-tastic – and pro-gun rights.
The conclusion is that such memes aren’t getting exposure, because Facebook’s algorithms have been biased against them. This is probably related to Facebook’s recent banning of private, non-dealer gun sales, and presumably is not inadvertent.
Again, Facebook is a private company. It doesn’t have to make money by enjoying clicks from people who prize their gun rights. But Facebook does need real competition, starting with a competitor that makes intellectual freedom a priority.
Here’s where things start to get serious, though. Google came out this week with a new extension for the Chrome browser that will literally change, to suit the pro-abortion user, the language posted to the web by originators. The change this extension will make is to turn “pro-life” into “anti-choice.”
So if NR’s Kathryn Jean Lopez has written a pro-life post, Google Chrome users with a pro-abortion perspective can have this extension change all her references from “pro-life” to “anti-choice” in their browser presentation.
Here’s why this is serious. Because it’s only a short step from voluntary, opt-in censorship of this kind to standardized censorship from which one has to opt out. Google, a private company, can decide at any time that it thinks this sort of censorship is just great, and it will require users who want to see K-Lo’s post in its original form to opt out of the censored browsing experience.
But wait – I’m not done yet. Why is opt-out censorship a problem? Because you have to opt out – and when you do, your web profile shows that you did. In a country whose federal government calls people with pro-life bumper stickers “domestic extremists,” you put the mark of Cain on your forehead by opting out of a pro-abortion standard for the infosphere.
The beauty of mainstreaming intellectual slavery in the infosphere is that it then becomes a recordable event to opt out of it. The record of such events will follow a user around.
If there are huge, monopolistic forums in which most of us are doing most of our online business – as there are today – the record will not only serve to alert law enforcement to us when we opt out of a pro-abortion language standard (or an anti-religious liberty standard, or any other similarly Orwellian imposition).
It will also alert other algorithms on the Web to our profile, and cause those algorithms to treat us in a biased, unfavorable way.
Basically, the day will come when, if you opt out of the Orwellian standard for censored language, you won’t even have the same Web experience as the “baseline” user who accepts the Orwellian standard. You’ll be blocked, discriminated against, made invisible – but also tracked as if you’re a criminal.
(Back on the law enforcement alertment, most of you probably know I’m not kidding about that. But if you don’t, see the information at this post about the apps that now make data on your online habits readily available to law enforcement agencies, and helpfully identify “extremist profile” activities like visiting pro-life websites.)
If this all seems a little convoluted, well, too bad. Cowboy up and get your mind around it anyway. Your liberty depends on understanding it. The Web is already moving in a dangerous direction.
There was a time when it was enough for conservatives to have success with news and opinion content online. But the Internet is being transformed at a much less visible level now: at the level of basic browsing and social media algorithms, the dynamic but obscure arrangements that enable us to “see” and connect with each other to exchange information.
What we need now is, literally, alternatives to the existing social media and browsing giants. The giants, acting as administrators of quasi-public spaces, are becoming hostile to intellectual freedom, in a way that will soon turn into predation against it. The model of “all the world” connecting via Facebook is going to have to be shattered, and replaced by a different model in which competition will penalize censorship.
The good news is that we have a big, disruptive watershed coming up, possibly this year, when the central organization of the Internet is taken out of the hands of the United States government. This is (re)scheduled to happen on 1 October 2016, and it very well might.
This will be an unmitigated disaster for today’s Internet freedom, if it does happen. The attacks on Web freedom will begin immediately (although they will be less visible in the U.S.). The shift will start small, but it will be real, and relentless. Within a short time – probably weeks, maybe even days – browsing, providing Internet service, and operating websites will become a significantly different experience for those in more-authoritarian as opposed to less-authoritarian countries.
America won’t be immune. Without a publicly accountable department of the U.S. federal government in charge, more and more things will begin to happen that hardly anyone knows about, but that will affect everyone. Being surprised and confused that our Web experience is changing is something we can expect within months of the transfer date.
So why do I say this is good news? Because it will force us to develop a true “alternet.” The technology is there, but the motivation has been lacking. The day is coming when it won’t be lacking anymore.
The outlines of an Internet weaponized against us are already visible: an Internet by which we can be marginalized and punished, and over which we exert less and less discretion as to how much we want to interact with it. But that weaponizable Internet depends on being monolithic, and having the authorization-vetoes of governments hanging over it.
It’s time for a new paradigm of the Internet, one without the infrastructure features we have come to assume are inevitable. The role of the FCC, for example, needs to be fundamentally rethought. I’m not convinced we even need 95% of what the FCC does.
A lot has to break to get to a new paradigm – but a lot is going to break. The reason for a customer revolt is scheduled on the calendar, and the giant companies are helping out by trying to make college-campus censorship the standard of dialogue on the Web.
I know there are potential inventors and investors out there. The market need is obvious, and will only become more so. Get your thinking caps on, and let’s break this thing.