I read about Google’s semi-official report The Good Censor on Breitbart, which broke the story. If you are unfamiliar with the story check out the Breitbart coverage first. The gist:
An internal company briefing produced by Google and leaked exclusively to Breitbart News argues that due to a variety of factors, including the election of President Trump, the “American tradition” of free speech on the internet is no longer viable.
Breitbart did a good job savaging the study so when I read the whole thing I thought I would be totally turned off. Actually I give it one or one and one-half cheers. It is thoughtfully done.
Like it or not social media platforms have become publishers and the questions raised in the report cannot fairly be dodged. And the report is pretty fair-minded in its recommendations, calling, for instance, for clamping down on tone and not content. In theory that means hostile lefty stuff ought to get into as much trouble as hostile righty stuff. So no problem there . . . in theory.
The problem comes when the rubber of theory hits the real road.
For all the talk of policing tone not content all the examples of bad behaviour cited in the report are from the right and none from the left.
Maybe that’s not sinister but rather innocent. Perhaps the authors sincerely believe that one side is the problem.
I’d prefer sinister. Better a hypocrite out for gain than a true believer out to right the world.
And then there’s the nagging problem of how global sites can possibly reconcile their newly acknowledged publisher role with competing values and laws in different countries. The report pushes transparency but that seems a bit naive.
The report talks a good game about the need to move from the American to the European model of embracing some censorship in the name of dignity. Very Euro! What is left unsaid is that the eastbound train does not have to stop at Berlin’s Dignity Station. It can go all the way to Beijing’s Extreme Control Station: censorship because the regime says so. The American model may not be replaced by the somewhat soft European model but by the harder Chinese one.
I don’t know what to make of Mark Zuckerberg’s identity at this point. Maybe he is truly a man of the world.
But me, I am still an American. I believe in free speech like my pappy and Justice Holmes set it out. Fighting words are not OK. Short of that let ‘er rip.
I acknowledge that social media companies have a problem in reconciling American values with the rest of the world. I know they have to do that – – but don’t expect me to be any less American in my own views as they try to square their own circles in their businesses. That’s not my problem. My problem, as an American, is that I want free speech.
Meantime we are back to the problem of social media necessarily morphing into a publisher role. That is a hard nut right there, that one. What is the answer to that one?
Seems to me that we may need to accept that the large social media sites are publishers. But if that is the case it is simply unacceptable for them to take on the role of censor as private entities without some public intervention or regulation. That may mean some regulation of content to ensure that the biases of private employees are not substituted for public values. It may mean breaking the suckers up since there is no feasible way to regulate content. It decidedly does not mean leaving the current a-holes in place to do their bogus “good censor” schtick while playing politics 24/7.