Declaration of Digital Independence

Version 1.3 (June 29, 2019; version history)

See also: Social Media Strike! -- FAQ about the project to decentralize social media -- Resources

This document is included as Chapter 11 of my 2020 book, Essays on Free Knowledge. Please support the struggle for freedom by buying a copy!

Humanity has been contemptuously used by vast digital empires. Thus it is now necessary to replace these empires with decentralized networks of independent individuals, as in the first decades of the Internet. As our participation has been voluntary, no one doubts our right to take this step. But if we are to persuade as many people as possible to join together and make reformed networks possible, we should declare our reasons for wanting to replace the old.

We declare that we have unalienable digital rights, rights that define how information that we individually own may or may not be treated by others, and that among these rights are free speech, privacy, and security. Since the proprietary, centralized architecture of the Internet at present has induced most of us to abandon these rights, however reluctantly or cynically, we ought to demand a new system that respects them properly. The difficulty and divisiveness of wholesale reform means that this task is not to be undertaken lightly. For years we have approved of and even celebrated enterprise as it has profited from our communication and labor without compensation to us. But it has become abundantly clear more recently that a callous, secretive, controlling, and exploitative animus guides the centralized networks of the Internet and the corporations behind them.

The long train of abuses we have suffered makes it our right, even our duty, to replace the old networks. To show what train of abuses we have suffered at the hands of these giant corporations, let these facts be submitted to a candid world.


They have practiced in-house moderation in keeping with their executives’ notions of what will maximize profit, rather than allowing moderation to be performed more democratically and by random members of the community.

They have banned, shadow-banned, throttled, and demonetized both users and content based on political considerations, exercising their enormous corporate power to influence elections globally.

They have adopted algorithms for user feeds that highlight the most controversial content, making civic discussion more emotional and irrational and making it possible for foreign powers to exercise an unmerited influence on elections globally.

They have required agreement to terms of service that are impossible for ordinary users to understand, and which are objectionably vague in ways that permit them to legally defend their exploitative practices.

They have marketed private data to advertisers in ways that no one would specifically assent to.

They have failed to provide clear ways to opt out of such marketing schemes.

They have subjected users to such terms and surveillance even when users pay them for products and services.

They have data-mined user content and behavior in sophisticated and disturbing ways, learning sometimes more about their users than their users know about themselves; they have profited from this hidden but personal information.

They have avoided using strong, end-to-end encryption when users have a right to expect total privacy, in order to retain access to user data.

They have amassed stunning quantities of user data while failing to follow sound information security practices, such as encryption; they have inadvertently or deliberately opened that data to both illegal attacks and government surveillance.

They have unfairly blocked accounts, posts, and means of funding on political or religious grounds, preferring the loyalty of some users over others.

They have sometimes been too ready to cooperate with despotic governments that both control information and surveil their people.

They have failed to provide adequate and desirable options that users may use to guide their own experience of their services, preferring to manipulate users for profit.

They have failed to provide users adequate tools for searching their own content, forcing users rather to employ interfaces insultingly inadequate for the purpose.

They have exploited users and volunteers who freely contribute data to their sites, by making such data available to others only via paid application program interfaces and privacy-violating terms of service, failing to make such freely-contributed data free and open source, and disallowing users to anonymize their data and opt out easily.

They have failed to provide adequate tools, and sometimes any tools, to export user data in a common data standard.

They have created artificial silos for their own profit; they have failed to provide means to incorporate similar content, served from elsewhere, as part of their interface, forcing users to stay within their networks and cutting them off from family, friends, and associates who use other networks.

They have profited from the content and activity of users, often without sharing any of these profits with the users.

They have treated users arrogantly as a fungible resource to be exploited and controlled rather than being treated respectfully, as free, independent, and diverse partners.


We have begged and pleaded, complained, and resorted to the law. The executives of the corporations must be familiar with these common complaints; but they acknowledge them publicly only rarely and grudgingly. The ill treatment continues, showing that most of such executives are not fit stewards of the public trust.

The most reliable guarantee of our privacy, security, and free speech is not in the form of any enterprise, organization, or government, but instead in the free agreement among free individuals to use common standards and protocols. The vast power wielded by social networks of the early 21st century, putting our digital rights in serious jeopardy, demonstrates that we must engineer new—but old-fashioned—decentralized networks that make such clearly dangerous concentrations of power impossible.

Therefore, we declare our support of the following principles.


Principles of Decentralized Social Networks

  1. We free individuals should be able to publish our data freely, without having to answer to any corporation.
  2. We declare that we legally own our own data; we possess both legal and moral rights to control our own data.
  3. Posts that appear on social networks should be able to be served, like email and blogs, from many independent services that we individually control, rather than from databases that corporations exclusively control or from any central repository.
  4. Just as no one has the right to eavesdrop on private conversations in homes without extraordinarily good reasons, so also the privacy rights of users must be preserved against criminal, corporate, and governmental monitoring; therefore, for private content, the protocols must support strong, end-to-end encryption and other good privacy practices.
  5. As is the case with the Internet domain name system, lists of available user feeds should be restricted by technical standards and protocols only, never according to user identity or content.
  6. Social media applications should make available data input by the user, at the user’s sole discretion, to be distributed by all other publishers according to common, global standards and protocols, just as are email and blogs, with no publisher being privileged by the network above another. Applications with idiosyncratic standards violate their users’ digital rights.
  7. Accordingly, social media applications should aggregate posts from multiple, independent data sources as determined by the user, and in an order determined by the user’s preferences.
  8. No corporation, or small group of corporations, should control the standards and protocols of decentralized networks, nor should there be a single brand, owner, proprietary software, or Internet location associated with them, as that would constitute centralization.
  9. Users should expect to be able to participate in the new networks, and to enjoy the rights above enumerated, without special technical skills. They should have very easy-to-use control over privacy, both fine- and coarse-grained, with the most private messages encrypted automatically, and using tools for controlling feeds and search results that are easy for non-technical people to use.

We hold that to embrace these principles is to return to the sounder and better practices of the earlier Internet and which were, after all, the foundation for the brilliant rise of the Internet. Anyone who opposes these principles opposes the Internet itself. Thus we pledge to code, design, and participate in newer and better networks that follow these principles, and to eschew the older, controlling, and soon to be outmoded networks.

We, therefore, the undersigned people of the Internet, do solemnly publish and declare that we will do all we can to create decentralized social networks; that as many of us as possible should distribute, discuss, and sign their names to this document; that we endorse the preceding statement of principles of decentralization; that we will judge social media companies by these principles; that we will demonstrate our solidarity to the cause by abandoning abusive networks if necessary; and that we, both users and developers, will advance the cause of a more decentralized Internet.


Please sign if you agree!

You can also sign on Change.org.

 

Signings

0

Goal

0

https://widget.civist.cloud/?api_url=https%3A%2F%2Fapi.civist.cloud%2Ft%2F9caa1a6e-1152-4277-b5b4-2bd8cbb855e2%2F#/RW1iZWRkaW5nOmY0OTVkZjBiLTUxMjgtNDk0Mi1hM2UyLThlOTM2MjAyODg4MA==

I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing...

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, Paris, January 30, 1787. Jefferson was the author of the original Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776.

Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's residence)
Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's residence)
(c) 2019 Larry Sanger


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Social Media Strike!

Short URL for this page: tiny.cc/july45

See also: Declaration of Digital Independence -- FAQ about the project to decentralize social media -- Resources

On July 4 and 5 (at least one day), people with serious grievances against social media—including you?—will go on strike. You could, but obviously don't have to, announce that you are one of the signatories of the Declaration of Digital Independence.

This means we will not use social media on those days, except to post notices that we are on strike. We’re going to make a lot of noise. Nobody will be able to ignore what’s happening. We’re going to flex our collective muscles and demand that giant, manipulative corporations give us back control over our data, privacy, and user experience.

Who: You. The more, the merrier! We’re urging you to go on strike with us. (“We” means nothing more than “all the rest of us who have serious grievances about social media—privacy, free speech, or something else.”)

What: A
collective pause in our use of social media, except to post notices
and memes that:

  1. Declare that we are on strike. Use hashtag #SocialMediaStrike.
  2. (Optional.) Point to a copy of the Declaration of Digital Independence (preferably, your own; see “How” below). Invite others to sign the Declaration.
  3. Urge others to join the strike. Ask your friends, family, and followers to sign and strike.

Hashtag:
#SocialMediaStrike

When:
July 4 and 5. At least one
day. Striking on both days
is likely to be more effective.

Why:
We, the strikers, urge the global developer community to perfect a
new system of decentralized
social media.
This
strike, if
successful,
will raise show
the world—Big Tech corporations, governments, developers, and
social media users—that there is a massive demand for a system in
which

  • Each
    of us individually owns our own data. Each of us individually
    controls it, just as we have control over our email, text messages,
    and blogs. It can be totally private, courtesy
    end-to-end encryption, or totally public; the choice is up to us.
  • Social
    media services stop acting as silos but become interoperable. If we
    make a post on one service, it can appear on another service.
  • Instead,
    social media services compete to create the best user
    experiences
    for a common pool of data.
  • Social
    media services agree
    upon and use a common, universal set of standards and protocols.
    This is how social media should have been developed from the
    beginning, rather than walled off in separate, competing networks.

In
this way, social media would
works the way websites, email, text messages, and blog hosting and
readers work: as neutral service providers.

What
we hope will happen:

  • Your
    followers will start seeing strike notices in their feeds on July 4.
  • Probably,
    most will
    ignore the
    first messages.
    But more and more notices will be appear. Strikers will start
    calling out scabs for posting when they should be striking.
  • With
    luck, by
    sometime on July 4, feeds will be absolutely flooded with strike
    notices.
  • When
    that happens, the
    news media at all levels will have to report on it.
  • Similarly,
    Big
    Social Media will have to issue statements responding to the
    Declaration and to any
    public
    criticisms from many quarters.
  • By
    the end, everyone will have learned how much support there is for
    decentralizing social media, taking the control out of the hands of
    Big Social Media, and returning ownership, control, and privacy to
    the ordinary user.

How:
It
should be fairly simple:

  1. Optional, for those signing the Declaration:
    1. Make your own copy of the Declaration: If you have time, energy, and ability, make your own copy of the Declaration. (It’s Creative Commons so this is 100% OK.) I would love for there to be a million copies of this document floating around. If you agree with everything except a few points, fine: make your own edits to your copy. Note: If you do make your own edits, please list them in a Proposed Changes section. If you copy somebody else’s text, clearly link to the version you’re copying.
    2. Sign the declaration. Please at least sign mine. But sign lots of copies (assuming you agree with their changes); I will.
    3. Encourage others to do the same.
  2. Set up a posting bot, if available. Hopefully, a programmer or several will create bots (browser plugins or apps) you can quickly and easily set up to post notices of the strike, links, memes, etc., for you on the appointed dates. Note: I’m not responsible for anything anyone else creates. Please check out any such service’s privacy policies before using it.
  3. Actually go on strike. Don’t post anything on your Big Social Media accounts on July 4 and/or 5 (preferably both days), except posts of the sort described under “What” above.
  4. Feel free to explore alternatives on those days. Those two days would be excellent days to check out the alternative social media sites of your choice, ones that are committed to privacy, security, and free speech; please give your full attention to sites/apps that support the Declaration.

What coders can
do to help:

Here
are some ideas:

  1. Write
    a strike bot. This would be a browser plugin or app that posts for
    users every hour (say) according to their specifications.
  2. Organize
    and participate in a conversation (I won’t be organizing it
    myself) to get all social media apps using the same standards.
    Critique code, in particular on APIs and implementations of existing
    standards. Help place geek pressure on social networks to adopt
    common standards.
  3. Help
    out with open source social media projects. Lots of them can use
    your help. We need to make them better
    than the Big Social Media offerings. Working together, FOSS
    developers can do it!

What
bloggers/webmasters of all sorts can do to help:

  1. Host your own copy of the
    Declaration.

  2. More
    generally, set up your own websites devoted to the Strike and
    decentralized social media. Host links to resources. Host memes
    and images people can share during the strike on social media.

I
want this effort to be entirely decentralized. I don’t want it to
be centered on larrysanger.org, which
I’m using just because it’s my own site and I don’t want to set
up a new one.
I want it to be decentralized—centerless.
So please, start something similar on your own blog.

More questions? Read the FAQ.

For a deep dive, see the list of resources.


FAQ about the project to decentralize social media

See also: Declaration of Digital Independence -- Social Media Strike! -- FAQ about the project to decentralize social media -- Resources

General questions

What is the Declaration of Digital Independence?

Here it is. It is not meant to be a general bill of digital rights. Rather, it has the very delimited purposes of (1) declaring that we have the digital rights to free speech, privacy, and security, (2) enumerating the ways in which Big Social Media has violated those rights, and (3) articulating some Principles of Decentralized Social Media Networks, which together define the requirements of a better system of social media.

Can you summarize the latter principles?

I'll try. Essentially, social media should be decentralized. Our data should be owned and served by ourselves, just as we own and host our own blogs: it's BYOD, or "Bring Your Own Data." Social media services like Facebook, Twitter, and their smaller alternatives and successors should aggregate the data from many different places, just as blog readers aggregate blogs. In short, they should be fully interoperable not just with each other but with their many smaller competitors.

If you do happen to stick with Facebook or Twitter, your data should be able to be exported to and synced with an independent data repository they don't control. This would take the pressure off of conservative and libertarian calls to regulate the Social Media Giants: they could still censor whomever they like, but unlike at present, your followers would be able to find the unexpurgated versions of your feeds elsewhere, and you'd be able to follow them without joining censorious networks. If you wanted to use a freer social media reader that is plugged into a broader, more neutral, all-encompassing social network, you'd be able to do so.

In addition, social media readers would, to be competitive, have to give users much more control over their feeds and what they're capable of seeing (and what is hidden from them).

Where can I read more about the idea in general?

Aside from the Declaration itself, see this long Wired article I wrote and a blog post (which appeared on TNW) that sort of kicked off this effort.

Is this a new idea?

No, it isn't. People have been discussing how to "decentralize social media" (as I put it) since the 2000s and have proposed social media standards. Another term for it it is distributed social network, although my take might be a little different from older ideas.

What are your goals? What are you trying to achieve?

Ultimately, all I personally am trying to do is to help usher in a new system of decentralized social media and, in general, a newly decentralized Internet. I'm basically a dissatisfied customer. I don't have any project I'm pushing. In my day job I'm working on an encyclopedia project.

In the short run, however, I have much more delimited goals:

  1. Get many signatures on the Declaration of Digital Independence. I want it to go massively viral. I want millions of signatures. I want everyone to become aware of decentralized social media as an option.
  2. Make the social media strike on July 4-5 a roaring success. Create a massive media event that forces the social media giants, as well as the commentariat, to start discussing this seriously. Nothing would do that better than flexing our collective muscle.
  3. Divert traffic to social media alternatives, especially ones that are committed to decentralized social media rather than building yet more silos. They need all the help they can get, and I want to see what they're like at scale.

My medium-term goal is to get all the social media players into one room, at least metaphorically speaking, under tremendous public pressure to adopt common, open, and fair standards so that the various networks become fully interoperable (and thus open to broader competition from smaller players).

What is the biggest problem standing in the way of decentralizing social media?

It's actually a problem that is at once technical and social: we must get all the players on the same page, not just using some open standards or other, but the same standards. You can't have blog readers without all those blogs publishing feeds using the RSS standard (another, lesser-known but common blog standard is Atom).

What reason is there to think that Twitter, for example, would choose to support a more decentralized system? Seems crazy!

Well, that's what I thought too, until I asked Jack Dorsey point-blank:

(1) Once the standards for microposts are properly settled on, will you, Jack, enable Twitter users to incorporate Twitter-style microposts that are hosted elsewhere inline in their Twitter feeds?

Jack answered:

Yes. If we want to serve the public conversation (our purpose) we need to be more expansive than just what’s on Twitter. There’s real work here of course.

I also asked:

(2) Will you create tools to let people export and sync their tweets with microposts from outside of Twitter? [Jack prompted me to clarify "sync" some more.] Since people might want to post using different services but to the same personal micropost feed, a syncing process would have to occur to avoid forking/conflicts. An important part of the request here is that the exporting is done not just via Twitter's API (already in place) but via a standard, like an RSS feed, or even perhaps to a separate data storage (e.g., maybe I'd prefer to serve my own data from my personal cloud).

Jack answered:

I don’t see why not. ... [And in response to the "syncing" clarification.] Ah yes. I can see that.

Finally, I asked:

(3) And will you give users a lot more control over their feeds?

Jack replied:

Yes. We took a tiny step with the switch at the top of the timeline. Realize it’s small. But points to direction.

Much to my surprise, Jack then reached out and we discussed some details of Twitter's plans, which (without giving anything away) sounded excellent to me. He liked my Wired article; the description he used over the phone was "spot-on." So we'll see.

Even Mark Zuckerberg, whom I don't trust as far as I could kick him, paid lip service to neutral technical protocols and touts encryption which he finds "decentralizing," even while he backs away from firm commitment to end-to-end encryption. Because we need to protect your safety, of course. He also pays lip service to "data portability." So who knows?

About me (and my nonexistent organizational motives)

Who are you?

I'm Larry Sanger, currently CIO of Everipedia, the blockchain encyclopedia startup, and in 2001 I co-founded Wikipedia. It was my idea to apply wiki tech to the problem of creating an encyclopedia. I named the project and led it and its predecessor for a couple of years. It wouldn't exist if I hadn't have shown the world how to use wikis to write encyclopedias. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from Ohio State (2000) and have spent most of my career after academia starting or advising a variety of other reference and educational websites. I write and speak on a wide variety of themes about the Internet, philosophy, technology, education, etc. I've been steadily online since about 1992 or 93, although I first accessed the Internet via a dialup modem in the early 80s.

Are you trying to start a movement?

No. I am trying to call attention to one that already exists.

But you want to start decentralized social media networks, right? Or what is your angle, or your goal?

I don't want to start a new social media network. (I am not interested in quitting my job. I'm CIO of an encyclopedia network.) I'm also not affiliated with any social media company or project. I'm not angling to be. Finally, I'm not a member of organizations devoted to decentralizing social media; apart from my recent efforts, I don't think I'm particularly well-known to the people who are in such organizations. I'm also not angling to infiltrate or take them over.

But I'm a fan of what they're doing. I want them to be more successful so I can start using their excellent hard work more actively.

I'm deeply upset with Big Social Media, and that is ultimately why I posted the "Declaration of Digital Independence." I'm just a dissatisfied customer with a blog and a modest following.

A few months ago on this blog, I stumbled upon a common and obvious idea, i.e., that we should decentralize social media. I ran with that in a couple speeches and a Wired article, and here I am, executing something like the plan I set out there.

What sort of organization are you starting here?

I'm not starting an organization at all. I have no committee or inner circle (this bit is contrary to plan; I'll explain why I changed this strategy in a bit). It's just me. And you. I want this to be really grass-roots. And if it doesn't take off, too bad—I don't really want to join anything more formal.

Organizations devoted quite explicitly to social media decentralization, data self-ownership, and related causes already exist. I lack the time and energy to work within those organizations. Those who are more professionally and exclusively committed to the cause should seek out those organizations and join them.

Why not work within (or start) an organization?

I find organizations to be limiting. I want to drive forward not an organization but a pre-existing movement. The movement, after all, is to decentralize social media. That means there's no center. Or if there is one kinda-sorta, I'm not that interested in being part of it. I'm a cat who wants to be a cat herder.

But aren't you organizing people who support your effort?

Not really; I don't want that role. I don't have "an effort" beyond cheerleading for something we all seem to want. I have a day job. I hereby disavow any role as the leader of any organization. I just want lots of people to republish the Declaration, or if they don't like it, come up with their own. I just want to persuade developers and investors and nonprofits and yes, maybe even governments if they can not try to take things over, to usher in a new age of decentralized social media. I want to do whatever I can individually to start a grassroots movement to get coders working on, and to get users switching to, any networks that respect the "Principles of Decentralized Social Networks."

Maybe you don't want to call it an organization, but isn't there a lot going on behind the scenes here?

No, not really, not as of this writing, there isn't much that I haven't shared quite openly. I'm not pulling strings anywhere, and nobody is pulling my strings. What you see is what you get. That's how I like best to operate.

So-and-so claims to be part of your organization or to speak on behalf of the Declaration. Is that right?

No it isn't. I don't have an organization, therefore nobody is part of my organization.


Version history for "Declaration of Digital Independence"

1.3 (2019-06-29) Added CC-by-sa license (thought I had done this earlier but apparently not).

1.2 (2019-06-29) Added a quote from Thomas Jefferson, author of the original Declaration, and a picture of his Monticello.

1.12 (2019-06-26) Bolded the words "We, therefore, the undersigned people of the Internet".

1.11 (2019-06-25) In the preamble, to "centralized architecture of the Internet", add "at present"; also, changed "exploitative spirit" to "exploitative animus".

1.1 (2019-06-25) In the catalog of outrages, changed "privacy, security, and free speech" to "free speech, privacy, and security". Moved "They have practiced in-house moderation..." to the first place. Added in the second place this new point: "They have banned, shadow-banned, throttled, and demonetized both users and content based on political considerations, exercising their enormous corporate power to influence elections globally." Added in the third place this new point: "They have adopted algorithms for user feeds that highlight the most controversial content, making civic discussion more emotional and irrational and making it possible for foreign powers to exercise an unmerited influence on elections globally."

1.02 (2019-06-10) At the end of the preamble, expand "But it has become abundantly clear more recently that a callous, secretive, controlling, and exploitative spirit guides the centralized networks of the Internet" by appending "and the corporations behind them." This is to clarify the meaning of "they" in the catalog of outrages. This is also why in the next paragraph we add, to "To show what train of abuses we have suffered", the clause "at the hands of these giant corporations".

1.01 (2019-06-09) In "Principles of Decentralized Social Networks" 4, append to "Just as no one has the right to eavesdrop on private conversations in homes" the clause "without extraordinarily good reasons".

1.0 (2019-06-09) First posted version.


Some thoughts on the new Voice.com project

This evening we finally learned what the #B1June hype was all about: among other things, a new social media system called Voice.com, built by Block.one, the company behind the outrageously well-performing EOS token. (Full disclosure: Everipedia, where I am CIO, is built on EOS and is the recipient of a major investment from Block.one.)

The site isn't operational yet, and I couldn't find an app in Apple's App Store, but you can sign up for the beta on Voice.com and view a very interesting-sounding rundown of features.

In their introduction to the project this evening at a very glitzy gala event at the D.C. Armory in Washington, D.C., CEO Brendan Blumer and CTO Dan Larimer said that there were huge problems with existing social media giants. The small changes Big Social Media is likely to make won't solve the root problem: you are the product. As long as the social media giants make their business the collection and sale of data about you, you will lack control over your data and your user experience.

They also find a serious problem in fake accounts. Certainly I wonder how many accounts upvoting my posts on Twitter correspond to at least one person, and some responses one sees there sound mindless and robotic enough to have come from bots.

The fact that Block.one has got that much right makes me optimistic about what will be eventually released.

The coming features they advertise:

  • Voices.com will confirm that every user is a real person. I pressed Block.one engineers for information on how this would work, but they remained mum.
  • The Voice network features a new token, the Voice token (I think it's officially rendered as $VOICE). The only way to create the token is when others upvote your content. There will be no ICO or airdrop. And you can't purchase Voice tokens. That's kind of neat. No word on whether you can cash in your Voice in dollars or EOS somehow. A fair bit is rather vague at this point, to be honest.
  • If you have a message you want to get out, you can spend Voice tokens that you have legitimately earned to boost it, even to the top of a queue (not sure which queue). If others agree that your post is important and upvote it, you can get your Voice back and then some. That's kind of neat.

To my mind, there are as many questions raised as answered here. Anyway, I had two thoughts I wanted to pass on to Block.one and to the Internet void.

First, getting "one person, one account" correct and operational is very important and very hard, and I'll be watching closely to see if they've done it. As I explain in a requirements paper I'm at work on, there are at least four requirements of such a system:

  1. That a person with some essential uniquely identifying information (such as, perhaps, a name, a birthplace, and an email address) actually exists.
  2. That the person thus uniquely identified is actually the owner of a certain account on the network (and thus bears that name, has that birthplace, and owns that email address).
  3. That the person is not in control of some other account. (This is particularly difficult, but it is required if it is one person, one account.)
  4. That the person remains in control (and has not passed on or lost control of the account).

This, or something like it, I want to propose as the gold standard of online identity. I take an interest in this because we need to verify that Everipedia accounts are "one person, one vote" (OPOV) accounts for purposes of voting on encyclopedia articles.

Let's see how many of these requirements the new EOS identity protocol can satisfy.

Second, since Everipedia is built on EOS, I very much hope Voice.com ends up being fully decentralized. The first requirement of a fully decentralized system is to use open, common standards and protocols needed to publish, share, and give all users control over their own social media experience, regardless of which app they use. But I heard nothing about open, common social media standards this evening, and while the Block.one engineers I spoke to this evening did say they were considering adopting some such standards, it didn't sound like that would be part of the upcoming launch. I could be surprised, of course.

Another requirement is that posts from outside of the network should be readable (if a user so desires) inside Voice.com feeds. Otherwise, each social media ecosystem is its own silo—and not decentralized. I'm not sure if Voice.com is working on this.

Actually letting users export their Voice.com data very easily (i.e., with RSS-like feeds) so that their friends outside of the new social network can view their posts on other networks is another crucial requirement the new project will have to tackle, if they want me 100% on board.

Finally, lots of fine-grained control over how the user's feed works will all by itself go a long way to convincing me that a company is serious about letting users take back control. No word yet on whether this is in the works for Voice.com, although I did see a nod in that direction.

I would encourage Block.one to consider adding these features so that I can get behind them in the upcoming push for a Declaration of Digital Independence (about a month away), accompanied by a social media boycott and, eventually, mass alternative social media try-outs.

One last thing. I would like to know whether Voice.com will have an end-to-end encrypted messaging system. This isn't easy for anyone to build, but if you want to go head-to-head with the big boys and demonstrate commitment to privacy, it's a very good idea. Maybe Sense Chat can help, since they're moving to EOS. I am thinking more about the importance of this, being already very convinced of the importance of privacy; in fact, I'm increasingly hardcore about it. (I'll be very curious to read Voice.com's new privacy and community policies. Minds.com just updated theirs, y'know.)

But Block.one does seem to be on board; after all, they gave every attendee a hardware security key, something I was going to buy soon anyway. Thanks, guys!


Talk back: Why should we have more restrictions on "harmful" speech on social media?

Dear all,

This is a different sort of blog post.

Rather than me writing yet another essay to you, I want to open the floor to you. I want you to answer something for me. It's like the subreddit "Change My View."

This is aimed specifically at my liberal and progressive friends who are very upset at the social media giants for letting things get so out of hand. See how much of the following applies to you:

You have become increasingly aware of how awful the harassment of women and minorities by the far right has become. You are really, sincerely worried that they have elected Trump, who isn't just a crass clown (many people agree with that) but basically a proto-fascist. You are convinced that Trump must have gotten elected because of the growing popularity of right-wing extremists. They engage in hate speech. Not only is this why Trump was elected, it's why people are constantly at each other's throats today, and why there has been domestic terrorism and mass murder by the right. Therefore, all mature, intelligent observers seem to agree that we need to rein in online hate speech and harmful speech.

I've heard all of this a lot, because I've sought it out in an attempt to understand it—because it freaks me out. Here's the thing: I think it's mostly bullshit. Yes, people (of all political stripes) have gotten nastier, maybe. I didn't vote for Trump and I dislike him. But beyond that, I think the entire line above isn't just annoyingly wrong, it's downright scary. This is largely because I have always greatly valued free speech and this above-summarized mindset has put free speech (and hence other basic liberal democratic/small-r republican values) at risk.

But I'm not going to elaborate my view further now; I mention it only to explain why I want your view first. I'll save an elaboration of my view in a response to you. What I hope you'll do, if you agree with the bold bit above, is to explain your sincere, considered position. Do your best to persuade me. Then, sometime in the next week or two, I'll do my best to persuade you, incorporating all the main points in your replies (assuming I get enough replies).

So please answer: Why should we more aggressively prevent harmful or hate speech, or ban people who engage in such speech, on social media? The "why" is the thing I'm interested in. Don't answer the question, please, if you don't agree with the premise of the question.

Here are some sub-questions you might cover:

  1. Did you used to care more about free speech? What has changed your mind about the relative importance of it?
  2. Do you agree with the claim, "Hate speech is not free speech"? Why?
  3. Exactly where did my "Free Speech Credo" go wrong?
  4. If all you want to say is that "free speech" only restricts government action, and that you don't think corporate actions can constitute censorship, but please also explain any thoughts you have about why it is so important
  5. If you're American and you want Uncle Sam to restrict hate speech, why do you think the law can and should be changed now, after allowing it for so many years? (Surely you don't think Americans are more racist than they were 50 years ago.)
  6. Does it bother you that "hate speech" is very vague and that its application seems to have grown over the years?
  7. If hate speech on the big social media sites bothers you enough to want to get rid of it, what's your stance toward blogs and forums where racists (or people who want to call racists) congregate?
  8. Where should it end, generally speaking? Would you want the National Review banned? Don't just say, "Don't be ridiculous." If that's ridiculous, then where do you draw the line between, for example, banning Paul Joseph Watson from Facebook and using government power to take down a conservative opinion journal?
  9. By the way, do you think it's possible for conservatives and libertarians to be decent people? Honest? Intelligent? Do you think they are all racists? Do you think that articulating all or many conservative or libertarian positions is essentially racist or harmful speech?

Basically, if enough people answer these questions (one or all), I think that'll give me an idea of how your mind actually works as you think this stuff through. This will enable me to craft the most interesting response to you. I want to understand your actual views fully—i.e., not (necessarily) some academic theory, but your real, on-the-ground, down-to-earth views that results in your political stance.


If you want government censorship through the back door, advocate for social media regulation

Last week, Facebook permanently blocked the accounts of a motley assortment of conservatives, libertarians, and anti-Semites. This set the Internet, especially the free speech loving parts of the Internet, in an uproar. (That would include me.)

It's a trap!

Conservatives, who normally cheer for deregulation, demanded the government start regulating social media. This includes two that Facebook booted. Alex Jones predictably and literally screamed for it (no, really; I looked in on the InfoWars website, which still exists, and there he was, screaming for regulation), while Paul Joseph Watson asked, "When are we going see any kind of sensible kind of regulations or laws to stop this?"

We might see them faster than you'd think. Social media critic and free speech liberal Tim Pool is very enthused about a couple of laws in California and in Texas that would indeed make “social media censorship illegal.” They were introduced earlier this year, February in California and last month in Texas.

So, if you're in favor of free speech, that's a good thing, right? Not so fast.

Among those who have
been calling for regulation of Facebook is someone you might not
expect: Mark Zuckerberg.

No, this isn’t a joke. I’m perfectly serious. I wasn't even surprised by the news when it came out last month. If you know enough about giant corporations and the giant bureaucracies that regulate them, you aren't surprised, either. Last month, I went on at great length explaining why it was a bad idea. (I encourage you to read that piece.)

If you call for a law that “guarantees” that Facebook not ban people for political reasons, your public servants will not stop there, and they might not do that at all. They will inevitably create a new three-letter agency, which we, also inevitably, will soon call words with four letters. Its purview will not be “stop Facebook from banning Republicans for political reasons.” Governments rarely pass legislation aimed at individual corporations, and rarely do they limit themselves to such narrow purposes as "stop banning Republicans for political reasons." No, its purview will, soon enough, be “to regulate Internet content for fairness” or something equally broad.

If you're conservative, think about that being implemented by the state of California. If you're liberal, think how Texas will implement it. Or, if you're from either side, think about the risks inherent in a federal Internet content regulator.

We must not let this horse out of the barn. It would be potentially disastrous.

A federal Internet content regulator (the phrase is chilling) will doubtless be staffed by former “moderation” executives from Facebook and Twitter, as well as academics who specialize in Internet policy (almost 100% left-wing) and lawyers who specialize in Internet law (ditto).

Approximately half of the laws passed for this agency, at the federal level, will be passed by the Democratic Party; in California, 100% of them will be. Surely well over half of the language of any federal regulations will be crafted by Democratic bureaucrats.

Think about all those bright, progressive Internet activists, the ones who call for Facebook to shut down "hate speech" under its ever-expanding definition. Where do you think they will want to go to work, to make a difference in the world?

And Democrats: imagine what damage the agency might do if staffed by Trump appointees. You often complain about Trump's attacks on free speech. Imagine if a Trumpist appointee were responsible for a newly-empowered bureaucracy that picks winners and losers whenever someone complains that somebody else should (or should not) be banned.

Still, don’t be surprised if the Democratic-controlled House passes an “Internet fairness” bill with a half-hearted protest at best. The California bill made it through several votes and readings in committee with no protests at all; and remember, California has a supermajority of Democrats. Some of them might eventually put on a show of resistance, but the votes will not be hard to find. Sure, sure, they’ll say to each other: we’ll make the Internet fair. (Seriously, the Republican who proposed this bill must be an idiot.) The Texas bill got push-back from Democrats—doubtless because they knew they wouldn't be operating the regulatory apparatus—but still passed 18-12. Votes were almost perfectly along party lines. That is very telling: both California Democrats and Texas Republicans are fine with trying to be Facebook's referee, presumably because it empowers them to regulate political speech. And what if they make different calls? Surely the federal government will have to step in.

So suppose a federal measure is passed. Once that horse has left the barn, Democrats will very reasonably suggest sensible, pragmatic regulations that prevent disinformation, fascism, bullying, Russian meddling, and other Bad Things. Who could oppose such eminently reasonable regulations?

After all, if the Republicans pass this law to prevent themselves from being banned, Democrats will expect something in return. What, you thought this body of law will forevermore be stamped “Republican” if Trump signs it? Not likely. That’s not how it works. You must expect the other side to tweak whatever you pass; that’s what happened to Obamacare, to take the most obvious example.

Look, this situation perfectly illustrates why we have an enormous government today. There's a problem; both sides agree that the government oughta do something about it; so laws are passed, and refined, and a body of regulations and agencies to write and enforce them are created, and grown, and funded.

Do you really think that, in the end, our speech will be freer? Take the long view. The chances are basically zero.

You know
I’m right. Don’t be a fool. Think this through.

There’s
another reason to oppose Internet regulations: they require
expert lawyers and engineers on staff to
guarantee compliance. This will substantially increase the difficulty
of making a website, which, having once been possible for kids to
create in their basements or dorm rooms, will be out
of their reach. As with businesses of old, it will be possible to
start one only with substantial capital.

Oh, sure—for a while, the rules might be applied only to websites over a certain size. But you know how it goes: regulatory agencies will expand their scope. The usual suspects will spot “loopholes” in the laws that permit “unregulated and abusive” smaller websites.

"Oh, but that won't happen," you say, "because we're proposing a law that will make free speech stronger!" No. Haven't we learned this yet? Your intentions for a new type of law will not determine the shape of that area of law in the long run. Government takes on a life of its own. The only question we need ask ourselves is: "Do we want to 'go there' at all?"

The answer is no, we don't. You are proposing a law that empowers government drones to supervise censorship by corporations and make it "fair," effectively controlling content, and making it official who may and who may not participate in the public square, and under what circumstances. You know what that sounds like to me? A censor.

This is a terrible idea. It will have precisely the opposite effect to the one you want it to have. That's why Zuckerberg is now encouraging more regulation and was perfectly happy to work with Angela Merkle four years ago, which became the NetzDG law. Regulating social media is precisely what the would-be censors, similar to the German ones, have proposed in the U.K.

Those are the horror stories free speech defenders tell their children. And you are rushing madly in the same direction because you think you can control the government. Well, good luck with that.


An opinionated FAQ about Facebook's censorship of the alleged "far right"

A lot of people understand neither free speech nor what the far right is. Here's a beginner's guide.

Yesterday, Facebook and Instagram, which are owned by the same company, announced a purge—a fair description—of accounts by a roster of famous right-wing figures as well as Louis Farrakhan. What are we to make of this?

Who was banned?

The names include

  • Alex Jones: both popular and much-reviled right-wing conspiracy theorist, previously banned from various other platforms
  • Infowars: Alex Jones' news/info company; in addition, reportedly, 22 Infowars groups or pages were removed from Facebook, as of last month
  • Reportedly, any account that shares Infowars links will be summarily banned from Facebook
  • Paul Joseph Watson: British YouTube video star specializing in ironic take-downs of the far left; has been employed by Infowars
  • Milo Yiannopoulos: another Briton, flamboyant gay conservative/libertarian who specializes in provoking the left
  • Laura Loomer: a right-wing commentator and activist maybe best known for disrupting a production of Julius Caesar in which Caesar is portrayed by a Donald Trump lookalike
  • Paul Nehlen: an "America first" right-wing political candidate who has tweeted many anti-Semitic remarks
  • Louis Farrakhan: leader of the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim leader famous for anti-Semitic, anti-white, and homophobic remarks

One thing all of these except Farrakhan have in common is that they've made anti-Muslim (or at least anti-Muslim extremist) comments, but more about that below.

Why were these people/groups banned?

The specific reasons are not clear and have not been made (fully) public. The Verge reported rather cryptically, and uncritically, that Facebook said the banned accounts "violated its policies against dangerous individuals and organizations." I wasn't able to locate the Facebook press release.

The Verge also reported this, without naming a specific source other than "the company":

But the company did point to some of the actions leading up to the accounts’ removal:

* First in December and again in February, Jones appeared in videos with Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes. Facebook has designated McInnes as a hate figure.
* Yiannopoulos publicly praised McInnes and British far-right activist Tommy Robinson, who Facebook has designated as a hate figure.
* Loomer appeared with McInnes in December, and more recently declared her support for far-right activist Faith Goldy, who was banned after posting racist videos to her account.

This is bizarre; rather than cite specific things the banned figures said or did that are obviously bigoted, or couching their explanation in terms of specific terms of service, Facebook apparently thought it was relevant to point out that the banned people associated with or praised people like Gavin McInnes, designated as "a hate figure," and "far-right activists" Tommy Robinson and Faith Goldy. It looks like guilt by association.

Wait. Before you go on, explain: Why is that bizarre?

Because it specifically eschews any attempt to pin a particular case to a particular objective standard. It's fundamentally vague and thus fundamentally unfair. If you have an association with or even merely express approval of a verboten figure, you yourself can, apparently, be banned. What if I say I've liked some of Paul Joseph Watson's videos? (I do.) Does that mean I should be banned? (Too late, I quit Facebook, but still.) Maybe more to the point, does it mean that I agree with everything that Watson has ever said? Of course not.

Facebook apparently called these people "right-wing." What really does "right-wing" mean, anyway?

Prepare yourself for a brief lecture about political terms.

"Right-wing" has two very different meanings in American political discourse. On the one hand, it means "conservative": being supportive of traditional views on social issues, especially Christian values interpreted fundamentally, of devotion to country and national interests, and of relatively unregulated free markets. In general it means traditional (formerly bipartisan) American political values of small government and individual liberty, but within some religious constraints.

By the way, libertarians are sometimes called "right-wing" presumably because they favor unregulated free markets, but sometimes they're called "left-wing" because they also support social liberalism. Go figure.

On the other hand, "right-wing" also is taken to mean "tending toward fascism of the Nazi sort." Thus, some progressives want you to believe that the National Socialist Party of Germany is supposed to represent the values of American conservatives, just taken to an extreme. There are a few problems with that:

  • The Nazis believed in giant, ever-present government, regulating everything, i.e., totalitarianism, as well as a massive social welfare state. It wasn't the National Socialist party for nothing. Mussolini and Hitler both began their political careers as, and thought of themselves as, socialists. They both became strongly anti-Communist, but the conflict was an internecine left-wing one.
  • Nazis hated the idea of a free market, and many Nazi leaders were hostile to or deeply skeptical of Christianity (some were devout, to be sure).
  • Racism is not a uniquely conservative value; extreme racism of the fascist stripe is not a particularly conservative value. In the U.S., some of the most open of our racists also express conservative values, and progressives have made hay of this fact. But in the past, some of the most racist and eugenicist people in the history of the U.S. were in favor of welfare state and even socialist policies. Remember Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Democrat late of West Virginia and a former KKK member who recruited Klansmen? He wasn't the only one. And today, anti-semitic (and anti-white, and arguably anti-Asian) racism can still be found on the left.
  • In short, fascism was a racist and nationalist perversion of an already perverted doctrine: imperialist internationalist socialism.

By the way, I'm not meaning to apologize for those American conservatives who (openly or not) are racists, who do want to wield the awesome power of the state to repress their enemies, who hate foreigners on principle, etc. Indeed such people really are like Nazis. They’re not nice and I don’t support them at all.

The problem is that most mainstream conservatives are not particularly racist—even if they support systems that happen to favor their own "white privilege," which is another issue—they are not imperialistic nationalists, and they sure as hell could not entertain anything so horrific as a genocide. And, of course, they don't support socialism, but then the left probably doesn't mean to imply that they do.

So much for "right-wing."

What does this term "far-right extremist," that I hear bandied about so much, really mean?

Those bandying it are making a spurious accusation of guilt by association. When leftists calls a conservative "far right," or a "far-right extremist," they blur the distinction and commit the fallacy of ambiguity, i.e., they use word "right" in two different senses in order to tar merely strong conservatives with the brush of fascism. Their dirty little implied argument is this:

  1. Paul Joseph Watson (just for example) isn't just conservative, he's extremely conservative.
  2. That means he's both far right, and extreme. So he's a far-right extremist.
  3. The Nazis and the KKK were far-right extremists.
  4. Therefore, Paul Joseph Watson is like a Nazi or KKK, or ideologically aligned with them. (Probably punchable!)

This sort of thing is not just fallacious, it’s libelous.

When you want to refer to an American or British conservative as being unremittingly so, but not a fascist and still within the broadly classical liberal Anglo-American tradition as it has been handed down to us in the early 21st century, you can call the person an "arch conservative" or in Britain maybe a "staunch Tory."

You would call such a person "far right" only if you wanted to falsely, libellously imply that the person is fascistic. “Far-right extremist” merely compounds the libel.

But today’s American conservatives are fascistic, right?

As my Irish friends say, go feck off. Re-read the previous two answers.

No, they aren't. Some good friends and family members of mine, whom I love, are conservative. They hate the elements of fascism listed above as much as anyone. I personally have a lot in common with them, although being an agnostic and rather more principled on issues of liberty, I think I'm closer to the libertarian outlook. If you say conservatives are fascistic, you're insulting my friends.

But libertarians are crypto-fascists, too. They use talk of liberty and free speech as a cover for their insidious racist views. Right?

You need to feck off even harder, you ignorant twit.

No, you can't get any farther from a fascist than a libertarian. Libertarians favor individual rights rooted in respect for our inherent value and autonomy, love minimal government, and hate racism. Fascists favored huge, powerful governments, didn't give a fig for individual rights, and were totalitarians and racists. Libertarians hate war generally, but they especially hate wars of aggression and even of intervention (such as in Iraq and Syria). Fascists are extremely jingoistic nationalists and imperialists. Libertarians tend to be very tolerant of foreigners and many of them support open borders, and the idea of empire-building strikes them as abhorrent.

In fact, historically straight-up socialists have had a hell of a lot more in common with socialists of the National Socialist variety. Yes, really.

Fine, but aren't the above-listed people actually far-right in the bona fide fascist sense?

I don't know all of them, so I can't tell you. Here are a few comments.

Alex Jones is a conspiracy theorist type. I have met his ilk before; possibly you have as well. He lacks judgment. He does seem to be quite conservative in the American sense. He's said some things that are extremely insensitive on almost anybody's view. All that said, I haven't seen much evidence that he's a fascist per se. He's a nut. There's a difference. All fascists are nuts, but not all nuts are fascists.

I like Paul Joseph Watson's videos about architecture and his pessimistic takes on demise of Western (not to say white) civilization. He's also quite fun to watch when he takes down left-wing inanities. He pulls no punches, and he's probably said some things that I wouldn't approve of; but then, we all have said things I wouldn't approve of. I see zero evidence that he's a fascist or on the "far right" in that sense. He strikes me as being libertarian, but I'm not sure. Maybe conservative.

Milo Yiannopoulos is "provocative" and comes across as an insensitive asshole, especially to the left; he makes shocking personal attacks sometimes, which is probably the main reason he is now persona non grata. The whole incident in which he seemed to apologize for the priest who molested him was quite creepy. But beyond that, Milo is an incisive libertarian type; I don't think it's quite right to call him conservative. I'm quite a bit nicer than he is, but I have agreed with a lot of stuff he's said. So have plenty of conservatives and libertarians who have come to watch him. Neither he nor they are fascists. (He's a flamboyant British gay man with a black boyfriend, for god's sake.)

Laura Loomer: I don't really know who she is. Never watched or read anything by her.

Paul Nehlen: Ditto. I didn't know of him before his ban. I read a few things like this that give what looks like rather good evidence that he's a vicious anti-semite. He might very well be a bona fide fascist, for all I know. I’m not a fan.

Louis Farrakhan: America's crazy black uncle. Keep America weird. Let Louis be Louis.

So maybe there's one "far right" figure, in the sense of fascist, among them, unless you also count Farrakhan, most of whose political views are pretty close to historical fascism as far as I can tell. The rest are very loud activist types with large to enormous followings that the Establishment wants to squelch. That's really why they were banned. Not because they really are fascist types.

Besides, I don't think we should ban fascists from our largest platforms. Maybe from smaller ones, sure. I reserve the right to ban fascists from this blog. But when it comes to larger platforms, to “the public square,” I'm a free speech absolutist.

But wait. At least they’re Islamophobic, i.e., anti-Muslim bigots, right?

I don’t know any of their views on Islam well enough to say. Disliking mass immigration by certain people who avowedly have an “extreme” politico-religious view, i.e., those who (like maybe 44% of European Muslims) declare they want to turn European nations into religious (Sharia) states, isn’t necessarily bigoted. You can be open to friendship and cultural exchange with radically different cultures without wanting your culture to be transformed into those other cultures. Religion matters a lot. Opposing immigration by moderate Muslims (like Westernized Turks) does strike me as bigoted, though.

I think some resentful and stupid conservatives really might be personally bigoted against Muslims generally, so I can’t really say in any one case. I’ve had moderate Muslim friends and family members; I don’t support any ethnic or religious bigotry.

Official U.S. immigration policy (last time I checked) also officially excludes Communists from immigrating. Did you know that? I’m all in favor of excluding them. Communists are an influence we don’t need. But I’ve had Communist friends.

OK, then, with that background about the political labels: Did Facebook and Instagram violate the above-listed people's free speech, or did they not? Were theycensored?

No, not in the sense in which the term is understood in American jurisprudence. As silly-clever progressives will never tire of reminding you, the First Amendment does say that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, and therefore, no company can violate your free speech rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.

But yes, in a broader moral sense. Americans seem to have a huge blind spot when it comes to the topic of free speech, forgetting that the right was discussed long before the United States existed, and that it was applied to the church as well as the state. American constitutional jurisprudence does not exhaust all there is to say about free speech. OK? So get off your high horse there.

What's the case that Facebook did violate free speech rights in a broader sense? Well, it's this: Facebook and Instagram have become massively powerful and influential networks, in some ways more powerful than many governments. They serve all of humanity. They are among the main fora whereby civil discourse—including political discourse—takes place. They are the public square of the 21st century.

We all ought to have the right—the moral right, if not the political right—to participate in this public square. If you're excluded from it, how do you exercise your necessary, essential democratic rights of participating in public deliberation?

Of course, this isn't to say that others must be forced to listen to you. I should be able to block you quickly and easily if I personally don’t want to listen to you. I have absolutely no problem about blocking people who treat me disrespectfully. I have an absolute right to block myself from hearing you, but not to block others from hearing you.

And yes, those blocked people were also censored. Not all censorship is done by government. Churches, schools, corporations, publications, libraries, and other organizations with authority over what people can say and hear can practice censorship of various kinds. Of course, the most dangerous and objectionable kind of censorship is done by the government. Never forget that. I am much more worried about censorship by governments in Europe and Canada, and future censorship by the American federal and state government, than I am by any corporate censorship.

Should we be surprised by Facebook's action?

Hell no. Silicon Valley and Facebook in particular have been preparing us for this for a few years now, having banned many conservative accounts and repeatedly justified their stances, albeit in a dishonest, mealy-mouthed and wrong-headed way. I suppose it is surprising to a degree, however, whenever standards are shifted, as they have been. How far are these people capable of going? Pretty far. The ultimate answer might surprise even me.

Does anyone actually support these people being banned?

Oh yeah. Lots and lots. It's rather scary just how popular the ban is among the left and much of the Establishment commentariat. Who knew just how repressive the left would be if given the power? (Answer: many of us.)

Should Facebook and other Big Tech be regulated?

No. The government dictating to them how they should run the public square entails that the government will ultimately run the public square. We should eschew that idea, as attractive as it might be as long as "our people" are in power, for the same reason we should eschew the idea of government-run news media: Anything potentially so powerful is much too easily corrupted and becomes a honeypot for would-be criminal masterminds and dictators.

At least with the free market, we have the opportunity to seek out better ways to organize ourselves if we find ourselves excluded from biased forums. How long do you think the likes of Facebook will enjoy their hegemony if they continue to behave this way? As long as the rest of us have the means and freedom to organize independently, then not too bloody long. People like freedom and fairness, it turns out.

Should the banned people sue Facebook for defamation?

Maybe. I'm not sure. It's an interesting idea.

So what the hell should we do?

Decentralize social media and get behind a coming Declaration of Digital Independence. Don't worry too much. It's OK. It'll happen. I have very good reason to think it will. It won't happen overnight, but it's coming. This is one reason why both Facebook and Twitter have made rumblings in the direction of decentralizing social media. They know they have to get out front of the movement. They know it's coming.

So Larry, does this mean you're going to delete your Facebook account?

Been there, done that.

Go and do the same. Facebook must be put out of business.

I'm serious. Please delete your Facebook account. First, urge your FB friends to do the same. If you support free speech (and privacy!) and want to send a message to our would-be corporate overlords, you must know by now that it's the right thing to do.


There are no NPCs

International travel drives home that insight that, contrary to a put-down used by immature people, and consistent with Jordan Peterson's frequent observation that our biographies are all fascinating, there are no NPCs in the world: the variety of human experience is stunning.

Yesterday I was delayed (here in Tokyo) by a long, long queue of pretty young Japanese women, all dressed exactly alike (black skirt, white blouse). I was told they had been interviewing for jobs. When I asked why they dressed all alike, I was told simply "Japanese culture." I instantly imagined someone watching the parade of future businesswomen and thinking of them as interchangeable drones, or movie extras, or "NPCs." But I am incapable of viewing them that way.

These ladies were not "NPCs." Each had her own story; the perspective of each would, upon sufficient examination, be fascinating. The fact that they were dressed alike, while perhaps odd to Westerners like myself, is meaningless when it comes to their real individuality.

If the error of racism is dehumanization, its opposite is to look past apparent, reductive commonalities to what is unique, contextualized, and valuable in each of us. And that ultimately comes down to our minds—to how we think things through. I don't mean just our thought processes, but also the many products thereof, including our culture: philosophy, religion, musical tastes, how we conduct ourselves, our fundamental values. These things you must be capable of considering and tolerating, not necessarily supporting. I mean conversation of the sort that friends have, in which, while there might be some give and take and even occasional harshness, there is both sympathy, if not for position, then for common humanity, and a sincere desire to comprehend a point of view.

No one can claim to be enlightened (or "woke") on issues of race, gender, etc., if they are capable of dismissing whole classes of other people. The problem of prejudice has as its root an inability to consider others as individuals. And you can't claim to be tolerant if you are incapable of enjoying, without disgust, a conversation with a very different person, even a person with features you dislike or disagree with. (Of course you can't expect to like everything about everyone.)

So let me ask some hard questions.

  • Democrats: are you capable of having such a conversation with Republicans? Republicans, can you talk seriously with Democrats without giving up in disgust?
  • Committed feminists and men's rights activists, could you talk to each other without quitting in horror? I don't mean you have to tolerate abuse (I don't); but if they're just saying stuff you dislike, but politely, can you handle it?
  • Socialists, could you have a beer with a libertarian? Libertarians, will the thought that the person you're boozing with would love for you to be taxed at 70% (or whatever) permanently turn you off?

Etc., etc.

Even better, can you look past your disagreements and see lovely things about the other person?

You are intolerant, you are bigoted, if you are incapable of these sorts of conversations. Sorry to be harsh, but it's an important truth a lot of people seem not to realize, and they need to start doing so.

I doubt anybody really disagrees with me, too. I'd be fascinated to hear if anybody did. Many of us just need to grow a little more, and get off our high horses, and our social and political discourse could be radically improved.

How about it?


Zuckerberg Is Wrong: Don't Regulate Our Content

Last Sunday, Mark Zuckerberg made another Facebook strategy post. (This is his second major policy post in as many months. I responded to his March 6 missive as well.) Unsurprisingly, it was a disaster.

I want to shake him by his lapels and say, "Mark! Mark! Wrong way! Stop going that way! We don't want more snooping and regulation by giant, superpowerful organizations like yours and the U.S. government! We want less!"

He says he has spent two years focused on "issues like harmful content, elections integrity and privacy." If these have been the focuses of someone who is making motions to regulate the Internet, it's a good idea to stop and think a bit about each one. They are a mixed bag, at best.

1. Zuckerberg's concerns

Concern #1: "Harmful content"

Zuckerberg's glib gloss on "harmful content" is "terrorist propaganda, hate speech and more." Applying the modifier "harmful" to "content" is something done mainly by media regulators, giant corporations like Facebook, and the social justice left. Those of us who still care about free speech—and I think that's most of us—find the phrase not a little chilling.

Let's be reasonable, though. Sure, on the one hand, we can agree that groups using social media to organize dangerously violent terrorism, or child pornography, or other literally harmful and illegal activity, for example, should be shut down. And few people would have an issue with Facebook removing "hate speech" in the sense of the KKK, Stormfront, and other openly and viciously racist outfits. That sort of thing was routinely ousted from more polite areas of the Internet long ago, and relegated to the backwaters. That's OK with me. Reasonable and intellectually tolerant moderation is nothing new.

On the other hand, while all of that can perhaps be called "harmful content," the problem is how vague the phrase is. How far beyond such categories of more uncontroversially "harmful" content might it extend? It does a tiny bit of harm if someone tells a small lie; is that "harmful content"? Who knows? What if someone shares a conservative meme? That's sure to seem harmful to a large minority of the population. Is that a target? Why not progressive memes, then? Tech thought leaders like Kara Swisher would ban Ben Shapiro from YouTube, if she could; no doubt she finds Shapiro deeply harmful. Is he fair game? How about "hateful" atheist criticisms of Christianity—surely that's OK? But how about similarly "hateful" atheist criticisms of Islam? Is the one, but not the other, "harmful content"?

This isn't just a throwaway rhetorical point. It's deeply important to think about and get right, if we're going to use such loaded phrases as "harmful content" seriously, unironically, and especially if there is policymaking involved.

The problem is that the sorts of people who use phrases like "harmful content" constantly dodge these important questions. We can't trust them. We don't know how far they would go, if given a chance. Indeed, anyone with much experience debating can recognize instantly that the reason someone would use this sort of squishy phraseology is precisely because it is vague. Its vagueness enables the motte-and-bailey strategy: there's an easily-defended "motte" (tower keep) of literally harmful, illegal speech, on the one hand, but the partisans using this strategy really want to do their fighting in the "bailey" (courtyard) which is riskier but offers potential gains. Calling them both "harmful content" enables them to dishonestly advance repressive policies under a false cover.

"Hate speech" functions in a similar way. Here the motte is appallingly, strongly, openly bigoted speech, which virtually everyone would agree is awful. But we've heard more and more about hate speech in recent years because of the speech in the bailey that is under attack: traditional conservative and libertarian positions and speakers that enfuriate progressives. Radicals call them "racists" and their speech "hate speech," but without any substantiation.

It immediately raises a red flag when one of the most powerful men in the world blithely uses such phraseology without so much as a nod to its vagueness. Indeed, it is unacceptably vague.

Concern #2: Elections integrity

The reason we are supposed to be concerned about "elections integrity," as one has heard ad nauseam from mainstream media sources in the last couple years, is that Russia caused Trump to be elected by manipulating social media. This always struck me as being a bizarre claim. It is a widely-accepted fact that some Russians thought it was a good use of a few million dollars to inject even more noise (not all of it in Trump's favor) into the 2016 election by starting political groups and spreading political memes. I never found this particularly alarming, because I know how the Internet works: everybody is trying to persuade everybody, and a few million dollars from cash-strapped Russians is really obviously no more than shouting in the wind. What is the serious, fair-minded case that it even could have had any effect on the election? Are they so diabolically effective at propaganda to influence elections that, with a small budget, they can actually throw it one way or another? And if so, don't you think that people with similar magically effective knowhow would be on the payroll of the two most powerful political parties in the world?

Concern #3: Privacy

As to privacy—one of my hobby horses of late—Zuckerberg's concern is mainly one of self-preservation. After all, this is the guy who admitted that he called you and me, who trusted him with so much of our personal information, "dumb f--ks" for doing so. This is a guy who has built his business by selling your privacy to the highest bidder, without proposing any new business model. (Maybe they can make enough through kickbacks from the NSA, which must appreciate how Facebook acts as an unencrypted mass surveillance arm.)

Mark Zuckerberg has absolutely no credibility on this issue, even when describing his company's own plans.

He came out last month with what he doubtless wanted to appear to be a "come-to-Jesus moment" about privacy, saying that Facebook will develop the ultimate privacy app: secret, secured private chatting! Oh, joy! Just what I was missing (um?) and always wanted! But even that little bit (which is a very little bit) was too much to hope for: he said that maybe Facebook wouldn't allow total, strong, end-to-end encryption, because that would mean they couldn't "work with law enforcement."

The fact, as we'll see, that he wants the government to set privacy rules means that he still doesn't care about your privacy, for all his protestations.

Zuckerberg's declared motives are dodgy-to-laughable. But given his recommendation—that the government start systematically regulating the Internet—you shouldn't have expected anything different.

2. Mark Zuckerberg wants the government to censor you, so he doesn't have to.

Zuckerberg wants to regulate the Internet

In his previous missive, Zuckerberg gave some lame, half-hearted ideas about what Facebook itself would do to shore up Facebook's poor reputation for information privacy and security. Not so this time. This time, he wants government to take action: "I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators." But remember, American law strives for fairness, so these wouldn't be special regulations just for Facebook. They would be regulations for the entire Internet.

"From what I've learned," Zuckerberg declares, "I believe we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability."

When Zuckerberg calls for regulation of the Internet, he doesn't discuss hardware—servers and routers and fiber-optic cables, etc. He means content on the Internet. When it comes to "harmful content and election integrity," he clearly means some harmful and spurious content that has appeared on, e.g., Facebook. When he talks about "privacy and data portability," he means the privacy and portability of your content.

So let's not mince words: to regulate the Internet in these four areas is tantamount to regulating content, i.e., expression of ideas. That suggests, of course, that we should be on our guard against First Amendment violations. It is one thing for Facebook to remove (just for example) videos from conservative commentators like black female Trump supporters Diamond and Silk, which Facebook moderators called "unsafe." It's quite another thing for the federal government to do such a thing.

Zuckerberg wants actual government censorship

Now, before you accuse me of misrepresenting Zuckerberg, look at what his article says. It says, "I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators," and in "four areas" in particular. The first-listed area is "harmful content." So Zuckerberg isn't saying, here, that it is Facebook that needs to shore up its defenses against harmful content. Rather, he is saying, here, that governments and regulators need to take action on harmful content. "That means deciding what counts as terrorist propaganda, hate speech and more." And more.

He even brags that Facebook is "working with governments, including French officials, on ensuring the effectiveness of content review systems." Oh, no doubt government officials will be only too happy to "ensure" that "content review systems" are "effective."

Now, in the United States, terrorist propaganda is already arguably against the law, although some regret that free speech concerns are keeping us from going far enough. Even there, we are right to move slowly and carefully, because a too-broad definition of "terrorist propaganda" might well put principled, honest, and nonviolent left- and right-wing opinionizing in the crosshairs of politically-motivated prosecutors.

But "deciding what counts as...hate speech" is a matter for U.S. law? Perhaps Zuckerberg should have finished his degree at Harvard, because he seems not to have learned that hate speech is unregulated under U.S. law, because of a little thing called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As recently as 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a "disparagement clause" in patent law which had said that trademarks may not "disparage...or bring...into contemp[t] or disrepute" any "persons, living or dead." This is widely regarded as demonstrating that there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. As the opinion says,

Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.” 

The trouble with the phrase "hate speech" lies in both the ambiguity and the vagueness of the word "hate" itself. "Hate speech" in its core sense (this is the motte) is speech that is motivated by the speaker's own bigoted hatred, but in an ancillary sense (this is the bailey), it means speech that we hate, because in our possibly incorrect opinion we think it is motivated by bigotry (but maybe it isn't). The phrase "hate speech" is also vague and useless because hate comes in degrees, with shifting objects. If I am irritated by Albanians and very mildly diss them, am I guilty of hate speech? Maybe. Jews? Almost certainly. What about white male southerners? Well, what's the answer there? And what if I really strongly hate a group that it is popular to hate, e.g., rapists?

There's much more to be said about this phrase, but here's the point. If government and regulators took Zuckerberg's call for hate speech legislation to heart, what rules would they use? Wouldn't they, quite naturally, shift according to political and religious sentiments? Wouldn't such regulations become a dangerous political football? Would there be any way to ensure it applies fairly across groups—bearing in mind that there is also a Fourteenth Amendment that legally requires such fairness? Surely we don't want the U.S. legal system subject to the same sort of spectacle that besets Canada and the U.K., in which people are prosecuted for criticizing some groups, while very similar criticism of other, unprotected groups goes unpunished?

But precisely that is, presumably, what Zuckerberg wants to happen. He doesn't want to be responsible for shutting down the likes of Diamond and Silk, or Ben Shapiro. That, he has discovered, is an extremely unpopular move; but he's deeply concerned about hate speech; so he would much rather the government do it.

If you want to say I'm not being fair to Zuckerberg or to those who want hate speech laws in the U.S., that of course you wouldn't dream of shutting down mainstream conservatives like this, I point you back to the motte and bailey. We, staunch defenders of free speech, can't trust you. We know about motte and bailey tactics. We know that, if not you, then plenty of your left-wing allies in government and media—who knows, maybe Kara Swisher—would advocate for government shutting down Ben Shapiro. That would be a win. The strategy is clear: find the edgiest thing he has said, label it "hate speech," and use it to argue that he poses a danger to others on the platform, so he should be deplatformed. Or just make an example of a few others like him. That might be enough for the much-desired chilling effect.

Even if you were to come out with an admirably clear and limited definition of "hate speech," which does not include mainstream conservatives and which would include some "hateful," extreme left-wing speech, that wouldn't help much. If the government adopted such "reasonable" regulations, it would be cold comfort. Once the cow has left the barn, once any hate speech law is passed, it's all too easy for someone to make subtle redefinitions of key terms to allow for viewpoint censorship. Then it's only a matter of time.

It's sad that it has come to this—that one of the most powerful Americans in the world suggests that we use the awesome power of law and government to regulate speech, to shut down "hate speech," a fundamentally obscure weasel word that can, ultimately, be used to shut down any speech we dislike—which after all is why the word is used. It's sad not only that this is what he has suggested, but that I have to point it out, and that it seems transgressive to, well, defend free speech. But very well then, I'll be transgressive; I'd say that those who agree with me now have an obligation to be transgressive in just this way.

We can only hope that, with Facebook executives heading for the exits and Facebook widely criticized, Zuckerberg's entirely wrongheaded call for (more) censorship will be ignored by federal and state governments. Don't count on it, though.

But maybe, censorship should be privatized

Facebook is also, Zuckerberg says, "creating an independent body so people can appeal our decisions." This is probably a legal ploy to avoid taking responsibility for censorship decisions, which would make it possible to regulate Facebook as a publisher, not just a platform. Of course, if the DMCA were replaced by some new regulatory framework, then Facebook might not have to give up control, because under the new framework, viewpoint censorship might not make them into publishers.

Of course, whether in the hands of a super-powerful central committee such as Zuckerberg is building, a giant corporation, or the government, we can expect censorship decisions to be highly politicized, to create an elite of censors and rank-and-file thought police to keep us plebs in line. Just imagine if all of the many conservative pages and individuals temporarily blocked or permanently banned by Facebook had to satisfy some third party tribunal.

One idea is for third-party bodies [i.e., not just one for Facebook] to set standards governing the distribution of harmful content and measure companies against those standards. Regulation could set baselines for what's prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.

Facebook already publishes transparency reports on how effectively we're removing harmful content. I believe every major Internet service should do this quarterly, because it's just as important as financial reporting. Once we understand the prevalence of harmful content, we can see which companies are improving and where we should set the baselines.

There's a word for such "third-party bodies": censors.

The wording is stunning. He's concerned about "the distribution" of content and wants judged "measured" against some "standards." He wants content he disapproves of not just blocked, but kept to a "bare minimum." He wants to be "effective" in "removing harmful content." He really wants to "understand the prevalence of harmful content."

This is not the language that someone who genuinely cares about "the freedom for people to express themselves" would use.

3. The rest of the document

I'm going to cover the rest of the document much more briefly, because it's less important.

Zuckerberg favors regulations to create "common standards for verifying political actors," i.e., if you want to engage in political activity, you'll have to register with Facebook. This is all very vague, though. What behavior, exactly, is going to be caught in the net that's being weaved here? Zuckerberg worries that "divisive political issues" are the target of "attempted interference." Well, yes—well spotted there, political issues sure can be divisive! But it isn't their divisiveness that Facebook or other platforms should try to regulate; it is the "interference" by foreign government actors. What that means precisely, I really wonder.

Zuckerberg's third point is that we need a "globally harmonized framework" for "effective privacy and data protection." Well, that's music to my ears. But it's certainly rich, the very notion that the world's biggest violator of privacy, indeed the guy whose violations are perhaps the single biggest cause of widespread concern about privacy, wants privacy rights protected.

He wants privacy rights protected the way he wants free speech protected. I wouldn't believe him.

Zuckerberg's final point is another that you might think would make me happy: "regulation should guarantee the principle of data portability."

Well. No. Code should guarantee data portability. Regulation shouldn't guarantee any such thing. I don't trust governments, in the pockets of "experts" in the pay of giant corporations, to settle the rules according to which data is "portable." They might, just for instance, write the rules in such a way that gives governments a back door into what should be entirely private data.

Beware social media giants bearing gifts.

And portability, while nice, is not the point. Of course Zuckerberg is OK with the portability of data, i.e., allowing people to more easily move it from one vendor to another. But that's a technical detail of convenience. What matters, rather, is whether I own my data and serve it myself to my subscribers, according to rules that I and they mutually agree on.

But that is something that Zuckerberg specifically can't agree to, because he's already told you that he wants "hate speech and more" to be regulated. By the government or by third party censors.

You can't have it both ways, Zuckerberg. Which is it going to be: data ownership that protects unfettered free speech, or censorship that ultimately forbids data ownership?