It's amazing how noise can disguise silence. For those brave encough to open social media during the days of 2020’s surprise Cultural Revolution, I am sure you were bombarded with propaganda, rage, death threats and bewildering dystopian vistas. What you might not have seen are the layers of hidden content – shelves of unapproved opinion pushed into the darkness by algorithms operating like stealth-clad assassins. There are [content unavailable] gaps where users once stood and accounts frozen in limbo by ‘wrongthink’. The old notion of maintaining community standards has devolved into prehistoric tribal war, with the politics of the platform beating its customers into capitulation. This amounts to tyranny of the herd, caged by fragile feelings.
In a world where words are violence, the casualties are lopsided. It is an open secret that Silicon Valley et al. lean-woke and focus their censorship on conservatives, who have complained for years about the arrows sticking out of their limbs. The culture wars have long been a combat of rhetoric. Rumour has it that the first skirmishes started on Tumblr, where pre-teens demanded a system of trigger warnings on peer-created literature. Most assumed these kids would be straightened out by university, but academia had fallen into a Ponzi scheme, feeding tiny angry communists into the social media empire where Silicon Valley clicks its way to profit.
"Social media has the power to edit history while employing algorithms to elevate incidents during a revolution that otherwise would have gone unnoticed."
Remember, social media giants base their business model on the sale of dubiously collected user data to third parties. They entice users onto their platform with the promise of an open forum, using an archaic legal protection that ensures they have no responsibility for the content they host. Section 230 Immunity is the glue that holds this system together. Facebook went through the process of exploring ‘moderation’ filters to quality check content as it is uploaded live and came to the conclusion that it cannot be done. There is too much information and machines cannot be taught nuances like humour or intellectual scrutiny.
This means that Trump’s threat of removing Section 230 Immunity and making platforms legally responsible for the keyboard smashing, is deadly serious. There is no intent, at least from Trump’s brand of conservative politics, to change platforms into government-controlled propaganda houses. Rather, it is the reverse – a threat to force them to stop using publishing privilege to the detriment of user rights and manipulation of culture. The oft-quoted Good Samaritan statute written into the Act has been misused from its intended purpose of ‘maintaining decency’ into a deceitful moral arbiter.
Social media has the power to edit history and censor conversation while employing algorithms to elevate incidents during a revolution that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. This means that private companies are influencing the public forum with their personal politics to the point we might consider
it incitement. In this context, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Patreon and others have formed an oligopoly aligned to a specific political movement in a de-facto state-controlled platform that publishes and bankrolls political candidates.
Society must ask itself, what are the legal limitations and responsibilities of private companies forming the scaffolding of our public space – especially when they collude to erase people? Trump’s 230 Immunity challenge is trying to prove the point that if you want to make money off the public forum, you must preserve civil liberties, whether you like them or not. Essentially, the demand is to regulate ‘freedom’ at its most basic level. It is the difference between keeping the herd penned in a paddock safe from wolves, or locked inside the abattoir.
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