Right or left, you should be worried about big tech censorship

Preservatives are to be censored

Claiming that “right-wing voices are censored,” Republican-led legislatures in Florida and Texas introduced legislation to “end Big Tech censorship”. They say that dominant tech platforms block legitimate talk without ever articulating their moderation policies, that they are slow to admit their mistakes, and that there is no due process for people who think platforms -forms were wrong.

They’re right.

Everyone too

But it’s not just the conservatives who are seeing their political discourse blocked by the social media giants. This is Palestinians and other critics of Israel, including many Israelis. And his homosexual people, of course. We have a whole project track people who have been censored, blocked, downgraded, suspended and fired for their legitimate speech, from punk musicians at peanut fans, historians at war crimes investigators, sex educators at Christian ministries.

The goat-rodeo

Moderation of content is difficult at any scale, but even so, the catalog of unforced errors of large platforms makes reading sorry. Experts concerned with political diversity, harassment and inclusion met in 2018 to draft the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation but the biggest platforms are still just the wing for the majority.

The situation is particularly grim when it comes to political speech, especially when we tell platforms that they have a duty to remove “extremism. ”

Florida and Texas’ social media laws are deeply flawed and blatantly unconstitutional, but we understand why people are fed up with Big Tech’s ongoing goat rodeo of content moderation blunders.

So what can we do about it?

Let’s start by explaining why platform censorship is important. In theory, if you don’t like Facebook’s moderation policies, you can quit and go to a rival, or create your own. In practice, it is not that simple.

First of all, the internet’s “ideas market” is severely platform-imbalanced, consisting of a single gargantuan service (Facebook), a handful of massive services (YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, etc.) and a constellation of courageous, struggling and endangered indieweb alternatives.


If none of the big platforms want you, you can try going it alone. Setting up your own rival platform requires you to have cloud services, anti-DDoS, domain registration and DNS, payment processing, and other critical infrastructure. Unfortunately, each of these industries has become increasingly concentrated, and with only a handful of companies dominating each layer of the stack, there are a lot of weak links in the chain and if one breaks, your service is in danger.

But even if you can set up your own department, you still have a problem: everyone you want to talk to about your disadvantaged ideas is stuck in one of the Big Tech silos. Economists call this the “network effect”, when a service gains in value as more and more users join it. You join Facebook because your friends are there, and once you’re there, more of your friends join so they can talk to you.

Setting up your own department may give you a more nuanced and welcoming moderation environment, but it won’t do you much good if your employees aren’t willing to give up access to all of their friends, customers, and communities by quitting Facebook. and by joining your nascent alternative, in particular because there is a limit to the number of services on which you can be active.

Network effects

If you think only of network effects, you might be tempted to think that we have come to the end of history and that the Internet was doomed to be a world of. five giant websites filled with text screenshots of the other four.

But no fair network effects

But network effects aren’t the only idea of ​​the economy we need to pay attention to when it comes to the internet and free speech. Equally important is the idea of ​​’change costs’, the things you have to give up when you walk away from one of the big services – if you quit Facebook, you lose access to anyone who isn’t. willing to follow you to a better place.

Switching costs are not an inevitable feature of large communications systems. You can change your email provider and stay in touch with your friends; you can change mobile operator without even having to tell your friends because you keep your phone number.

Big Tech’s high switching costs are there by design. Social media can make signing up as easy as a greased slide, but leaving is another story. It’s like a roach motel: users check in but they’re not supposed to leave.

Interoperability and switching costs

Enter interoperability, the practice of designing new technologies that connect to existing ones. Interoperability is the reason why you can access any website with any browser and read Microsoft Office files using free / open source software like LibreOffice, cloud software like Google Office or office software like Apple iWorks.

An interoperable social media giant – one that would allow new services to connect to it – would open this cockroach motel. If you could quit Facebook but continue to connect with friends, communities, and customers who have stayed, the decision to leave would be a lot simpler. If you don’t like Facebook’s rules (and who likes them?), You can go somewhere else and still reach the people you care about, without having to convince them it’s time to take action.

The ACCESS law

This is where laws like the ACCESS bill come in. not perfect, this proposal to force Big Tech platforms to open their walled gardens to third party respecting privacy and seeking consent is a way forward for anyone who resents Big Tech’s moderation policies and their uneven and authoritarian application.

Some technological platforms are already moving in this direction. Twitter says it wants to create a “moderation app store”, with several services connecting to it, each offering different moderation options. We hope so! Twitter is in a good position to do this – it’s a tenth the size of Facebook and needs to find ways to grow.

But the biggest tech companies are showing no signs of intentionally reducing their change costs. The ACCESS law is the most important interoperability proposal in the world, and it could be a game-changer for all Internet users.

Save article 230, save the Internet

Unfortunately for all of us, a lot of people who dislike Big Tech moderation think the way to fix it is to eliminate Article 230, a law that promotes the freedom of expression of users. Section 230 is a rule that says you sue the person who caused the harm while organizations that host expressive speech are free to remove offensive, harassing or otherwise objectionable content.

This means that conservative alternatives to Twitter can delete streams of pornographic memes without being sued by their users. This means that online forums can allow survivors of workplace harassment to name their abusers regardless of defamation lawsuits.

If speech hosting makes you responsible for what your users say, then only the biggest platforms can afford to work, and only by resorting to shoot first / ask questions – later automated withdrawal systems.


There isn’t much that the political left and right agree on these days, but there is one topic that reliably crosses the political divide: frustration with the clumsy management of government monopolies. online speech.

For the first time, there is a law before Congress that could make Big Tech more accountable and give Internet users more control over the policies of speech and moderation. The ACCESS law promise is an Internet where if you don’t like the moderation policies of a big platform, if you think they are too tolerant of abusers or too quick to fire someone because they are ‘he is too passionate in a debate, you can leave, and stay connected to the people who matter to you.

Killing CDA 230 will not solve Big Tech (if it did, Mark Zuckerberg would not call for CDA 230 reform). The ACCESS law will not do it either, but by allowing Big Tech to open up to new services accountable to their users, the ACCESS law takes several steps in the right direction.

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About Marilyn Perkins

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