Social Media Censorship

Recently there has been a seemingly coordinated decision by several social media platforms to ban Alex Jones. Could this signal the first step in a concerted effort to outlaw western comedians?

Seriously, viewed from the perspective of tech we trust, should the censorship criteria of open platforms take precedence over freedom of speech?

This is a very difficult and touchy topic. Freedom of speech is critical for a open and free society. However, the ability to instantly scale from an individual on a soapbox at a Speakers Corner to a reach of millions has changed the social dynamics from the past. As we have seen can be either good or bad.

Instead of ‘tech we trust’, maybe we should adopt a mantra from the cold war, ‘trust but verify’. Instead of allowing platforms like Google and FB to hide behind the statement ‘we’re just the platform’ require a level of verification, or tagging of content as a opinion.

I think it is time to bin the rose tinted technology glasses that all tech is by its nature good and accept that all tech can be used for great good and great evil, and build systems accordingly.

we should adopt a mantra from the cold war, ‘trust but verify’.

Are you suggesting everything published in the public domain should be intercepted and possibly censored?

My sense is tolerance, or should I say intolerance is on the increase across Europe and in the US. People have different backgrounds and share different life experiences and hold different worldviews. Seen in this context, it is obvious freedom of speech is a precious principle.

The social media companies have made a rod for their own back by banning Alex Jones and by doing so they have inadvertently shifted from being platforms to media companies.

This event probably marks the point of the decline of today’s social media platforms, which many will celebrate. On the other hand, it also means Alex Jones will probably never be forgotten.

No, that would neither be practicable, nor good.

But platforms that have the market dominance of a Google, FB or Twitter that have the ability to magnify an individuals reach many orders of magnitude, I do think have this responsibility. No different than any news source, and yes, I do consider them a news source by the nature of the breadth of their reach and market dominance. When an organization comes to the market position that these businesses have, then regarding them differently I believe is legitimate.

It is not the difference of views, but the blatant lies and falsehoods that need to be addressed.

In the Alex Jones case, I would specifically target all the postings he put out about the Sandy Hook Shooting. Prior to the elimination of friction in information dissemination, he his ability to cause harm to the families who suffered that awful tragedy would have been greatly limited, particularly without his undergoing great personal expense.

When social media platforms begin to treat their users as journalists and censor their output accordingly, the majority of their users will simply go elsewhere.

People use social media to socialise, self-promote, debate and collaborate. Some may cause mischief, but I strongly believe these people need to be tolerated - i.e. ignored. Beyond this, we have laws and the legal system to deal with malevolent, or malicious behaviour.

Equality before the law must prevail in society, including on social media platforms.

A timely post from the Economist


The article reflects my thoughts to some extent, but one aspect it does not cover is the business model of social media platforms - advertising. With this model, users are not the customer; they are the product. The article mentions:

Trying to achieve a balanced news feed, say, is not simply antithetical to the giants’ business model, which promises personalised content.

Platforms do not strive to inform but to sustain user attention. Therefore changing the business model may also change the mix of user-generated content.

I likewise feel that the Economist article has articulated what I was trying to say.

I agree with your point on the platforms not striving to inform, their business models is to drive volume only. However, whether they like it or not, the disruption they have created has put them in a position where they have disproportionate power to allow or prevent differing points of view to reach people. This is why I believe the huge players like Google, FB, Microsoft and Twitter should be viewed differently than the rest of the web.

On the consumer side, Google, FB and Twitter should be considered to have oligopoly status and on the business side I would add Microsoft into that mix.

As a side note, the total domination of ‘sustaining user attention’ as the driver, has allowed the platforms to be both manipulated by outside forces (2016 election tampering), reinforced the tensions tearing at all countries and magnified the bubbles that everyone operates in. Curiously, they also had/have it in their technical power to ensure that divergent points of view could be presented to users. Each of these organizations has chosen not to do this.