Token for a ride

Apparently, someone of the left has been caught in the social media banning dragnet and the Captain Self-Awareness sisterhood is up in arms.

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I’ve never heard of this Rachael Swindon who has been banned from Twitter, and I don’t really care to find out more.

Spiked highlights that, naturally, the left are up in arms and see absolutely no parallels between this one lefty who was banned, and the dozens of right-wingers – ranging from moderate conservatives to cast-iron loonies – that have been defenestrated from social media.

Because the left are so invested in the righteousness of their faith, and see evil only in those who dissent from the faith, that there can simply be no equivalence. The all-or-nothing nature of free speech simply does not register for them.

But lets face it.. we know that the social media companies are riddled with devout leftists, progressives, SJWs, call them what you like. Nevertheless, they do at least see the need to appear even handed.

So what we will see is one token unheard-of obnoxious lefty banned for every – what? – 20 or so right-wingers that are cast out. Sooner or later the left will realise that this is just the cost of doing business, and it should become clear to them that their attrition rate is minimal compared to the right – not that this will stop them screaming merry hell about every last viscious hateful lefty that falls for the cause.

We can only hope that the cracks showing now in social media advance to the point where the giants break up and we get away from a single walled garden for all, back to the much more open and diverse place the internet was 15 years ago – let’s face it, it was never a very good idea to throw together all the world’s people in one crockpot of debate, then to let it stew until fetid, as it is now.

I think we may see a resurgence of forums. These are small and manageable.. thousands of members, not millions. They tend to self-select for like-minded people who coalesce around a primary interest – cars, cycling, golf, eating lard, soap-dodging, cutting their dicks off etc.

Forums are easy to set up, easy to manage, easy to moderate, and you can have whatever policies fit in with the prevailing philosophy of the sort of people the core topic tends to attract.

But even this isn’t trouble-free… as they reach a certain critical mass, they change form. Just as it is said that corporate organisational units have growing pains beyond about 150 people (Dunbar’s number), forums have a peak capacity beyond which they fall apart without the use of codes of conduct that act as virtual straitjackets squeezing the life out of the community. Perhaps 10,000 users. A point beyond which moderators can’t keep abreast of who is using their forums, and the diversity of opinion causes issues – feuds, in-fighting, break-away forums, trolling campaigns and even cyber-attacks.

But at least if you don’t like the way a particular forum is being run, you can always go elsewhere and establish yourself in another community that is more to your liking. All forums are not run by the same team of people, with the same weltanschauung and the same politics. Entryists are quickly identified and removed with minimum fuss.

Going back to the issue of this woman being banned by Twitter, a numbskull comments on the Spiked story:

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It is indeed the libertarians who are most apt to invoke the ‘their gaff, their rules’ argument, but they’re wrong (about this and many other things) I’m afraid. And to argue that ‘this is simply Twitter enforcing their rules for everyone’ is patently ludicrous when looked at objectively, especially if you draw the implication that he’s claiming their rules are applied even-handedly.

The ‘their gaff, their rules’ argument just doesn’t wash when it comes to monopoly providers like Twitter and FB, which are de facto public services. 

In a world of forums, where you can always move onto another one, the above is arguably true. True enough, at least, that I wouldn’t argue with it.

But if you’re ejected from Facebook or Twitter, where are you going to go? Facebook and Twitter, by virtue of their global market dominance are de facto monopolies. Being banned from them has real consequences for people whose online lives (and increasingly their real-world lives) revolve around these hubs of human activity. People who have never even been on a forum (and would never think to) depend on FB to keep in touch with their extended families, friends and overall real-world human network.

To cite my own personal example, there are dozens of people with whom I’ve lost contact because I refuse to use Facebook.. but most people of a more normie persuasion use that platform to keep in touch with people, annouce life events, organise social gatherings… and if you’re outside the tent, people soon tire of remembering to text you or email to loop you into whatever your friends are planning, because ‘everyone uses Facebook’.

It has a real world effect. In my case, it’s my own voluntary choice, and I’m aware of the cost of holding this principle dear, but when someone who bought in is forcibly ejected from the platform because of their views, the social consequences of this need to be taken seriously.

As such, matey above is wrong, because he’s not asking himself the question ‘what if it was me who was caught in the purge?’. If it was just some forum, the answer would be simple and the consequences minimal, local and easily overcome. But when you’re excluded from what is effectively the public square – and this is key – your life in this modern world is very much circumscribed.

If Trump does one more thing with his time in power, it should be to sic the anti-trust people on the big internet companies. That means FB, Twitter, Google and Amazon (which is increasingly abusing its market position to prevent dissenting voices being heard, and hence is fair game) and any other companies that establish a global reach and set about imposing one world-view on the whole world.

In the meantime, I’ve found a good little forum that I think I can make a home out of. And no, I’m not telling.

By the way, if you think that arguing with to leftist that social media companies are de facto public utilities, that won’t make them re-think things in the way you might hope. It would simply make them argue that it’s only a matter of time before those with ‘unsavoury’ views are rightly also denied access to actual utilities – electric, gas, water, phones etc. Today Godfrey Elfwick is a parody…

The companies listed above are all private companies. They are entitled to ban whomever they wish if they feel that their views or behavior are unpleasant. In fact, I would like to see this approach taken a step further. I cannot wait for the day utility companies start banning people from having access to vital services such as electricity, gas and running water. Nextra, Enel and Duke Energy are all perfectly within their rights to deny power to the homes of people whose views they deem problematic. I welcome the idea of delivery companies refusing to transport goods to the addresses of deplorable Trump voters. In the UK, I would like to see the NHS denying Brexit voters medical treatment on the grounds of their rampant xenophobia. In this way, society would gradually become kinder and more tolerant. A modern spin on Darwin’s survival of the fittest if you will – apart from this time, only the wokest would survive.

… but in this world of Poe’s law, we all know it’s only a matter of time before satirical arguments are deployed at face value.


UPDATE: Further discussion of social media giants being the de facto public square here and here.

The case touches on another snowflake battlecry, that private concerns like Facebook are not the government, and thus not subject to the First Amendment. Such thinking is being double-plus used as a work-around to prohibit speech that offends certain groups. So, while say a public university funded by the government must under the First Amendment allow a nazi to speak, a private company like Facebook can set it own rules and prohibit any speech it wishes.

The importance of the ruling is in its forward-looking perspective. The ruling does not address the question of whether or not Facebook can ban certain speech directly, but does confirm the idea that entities like Facebook, by their size and prominence, take on a larger role in our society (i.e., the “modern public square”) that cannot be ignored.


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