Facebook declared Kyle Rittenhouse guilty from the start

The blackout went far and wide: Facebook actively policed its users for pro-Kyle Rittenhouse posts and removed the content. It even targeted posts from legal scholars arguing the merits of his self-defense case.

Source: Facebook declared Kyle Rittenhouse guilty from the start

Whatever you think about the case, this is not the internet I signed up for.

Facebook is following the playbook for any and all companies now: monopolize a market, and then extract all of the profits from it. The problem is that Facebook has essentially monopolized online speech. Sure, they can point the FTC at other successful social media companies, in order to mitigate antitrust action, but every other company is a drop is the bucket in comparison. The most influential company besides Facebook is Twitter, and they have, like, one tenth the number of users. So, yes, there are other social media platforms, but if you want to put something “out there” for the world to see, you can’t NOT use Facebook. Is it the de facto social media platform.

Awhile back, someone pointed out the cynical interpretation of the “Facebook whistleblower,” who recently gave testimony to Congress. Rather than this being an embarrassment to Facebook, and begging for intrusive government intervention, it was, in fact, an engineered and coordinated effort to provoke Congress into creating an oversight board.  Why? Because, rather than put shackles on Facebook’s hands, it would be liberating for the officers of the company to be able to point their detractors towards the governmental body regulating social media, which would, nominally, be setting policy. Except that, as we all know full well, they would be doing so at the bidding of Facebook, for the maximization of profit, and campaign contributions.

In my opinion, the so-called “mainstream media” created Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge by their systemic bias. They only really achieved national success after it became clear that the entire American press was going to give Clinton an editorial pass for every one of his scandals, including (and especially) Lewinsky. After that, they remained forces that every other news commentary program had to contend with and respond to. There are conservative social media and independent journalistic platforms ramping up right now in response to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter’s hamfisted efforts at censorship. I predict that they will achieve the same sort of niche-yet-unignorable success that Rush and Drudge had. If so, it will just prove that line in Star Wars true: “the more you tighten your grasp, the more systems will slip through your fingers.” The success of Parler and Substack, et. al., are directly tied to the tactics of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to control any and all important social narratives online. They more content they disallow, the more those other platforms will thrive.

The Desolation of News

“News”

So a “singer” — which Apple plastered on the front page of their music service for many months with a whole boob hanging out — says something controversial about COVID vaccines — which the CDC is already refuting — and Tucker Carlson — arguably the most popular talking head on TV at the moment — makes that tweet news.

I don’t care what she said about COVID. I just want to point out what a crazy world we live in that crazed rants and resulting ratio-ing on Twitter is now news. How is anyone supposed to make head or tails of anything any more?

In the process, though, she proved the old adage true, that even a broken clock is right twice a day. You have to seek clarity from a higher power.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Tucked inside the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 is one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet: Section 230.This comes somewhat as a surprise, since the original purpose of the legislation was to restrict free speech on the Internet. The Internet community as a whole objected strongly to the Communications Decency Act, and with EFF’s help, the anti-free speech provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court. But thankfully, CDA 230 remains and in the years since has far outshone the rest of the law.

Source: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act | Electronic Frontier Foundation

I just read a TechDirt article condemning CBS’ 60 Minutes for disinformation regarding Section 230, which led me to the EFF’s page and infographic.

I respect the EFF immensely, but I remain unconvinced.

The EFF claims that if we didn’t have Section 230, places like Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter would effectively be sued out of existence. Or, even if they don’t get sued out of existence, they’ll have to hire an army of people to police the content on their site, the costs of which will drive them out of existence, or which they will pass on to users.

I don’t see what’s so valuable about Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter that these places should be protected like a national treasure. All three are proof positive that allowing every person to virtually open their window and shout their opinions into the virtual street is worth exactly what everyone is paying for the privilege: nothing. It’s just a lot of noise, invective, and ad hominem. And if that were the extent of the societal damage, that would be enough. But all of this noise has fundamentally changed how news organizations like 60 Minutes work. Proper journalism is all but gone. In order to compete, it’s ALL just noise now.

The EFF compares a repeal of Section 230 to government-protecting laws in Thailand or Turkey, but this is every bit as much disinformation as TechDirt claims 60 Minutes is promulgating. Repealing Section 230 would not repeal the First Amendment. People in this country could still say whatever they wanted to about the government, or anything else. Repealing 230 would just hold them personally accountable for it. And I struggle to understand how anyone — given 20 years of ubiquitous internet access and free platforms — can conclude that anonymity and places to scrawl what is effectively digital graffiti has led to some sort of new social utopia. The fabric of society has never been more threadbare, and people shouting at each other, pushing disinformation, and mistreating others online 24×7 is continuing to make the situation worse.

Platforms are being used against us by a variety of bad actors. The companies themselves are using our information against us to manipulate at least our buying behavior, and selling our activity to anyone who wants to buy it. There was some amount of alarm raised when it was discovered that AT&T tapped the overseas fiber optic cables for the NSA, in gross and blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment, but once discovered, Congress just passed a law to make it legal, retroactively. Now the NSA and FBI doesn’t need to track us any more. Literally every company in America which has a web site is helping to collate literally everything we do into a dossier that gets amalgamated and traded by 3rd-party information brokers. Our cell companies and ISP’s merge location tracking into the mix, and the government picks this information up for pennies on the dollar for what it would take for them to collect it themselves.

I don’t like this situation. I think it should stop. I think anything that would put a dent in Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit being able to collate and track everything anyone does on the internet, and sell it to anyone with a checkbook, needs to go away. If repealing Section 230 forces these companies out of business, I say, “Good.” They want to tell me that the costs to deal with content moderation in a Section 230-less world would put them out of business. I call BS.

If Facebook and YouTube can implement real-time scanning of all video being uploaded to their sites, and block or de-monetize anything containing a copyrighted song within seconds, they can write software to scan uploaded content for offensive content too. Will it catch everything? Of course not, but it will get the load down to the point where humans can deal with it.

There are countless stories of how Facebook employs a small army of content moderators to look into uploaded content, and how it pays them very little, and the job of scanning the lower bounds of human depravity is about as grinding a job in the world. But if they can create filters for pornographic content, they can create filters for gore and violence, and, again, stop 90% of it before it ever gets posted.

Don’t tell me it’s impossible. That’s simply not true. It would just cost more. And, again, if it costs so much that it puts them out of business? Well, too bad. If the holy religion of Capitalism says they can’t sustain the business while they make the effort to keep the garbage off their platforms, then I guess the all-powerful force of The Market will have spoken. The world would be better off without those platforms.

I remember an internet that was made of more than 5 web sites, which all just repost content from each other. It was pretty great. People would still be free to host a site, and put whatever they wanted to on it. It couldn’t be any easier, these days, to rent a WordPress site now, and post whatever nonsense you want, like I’m doing right here. You could even still be anonymous if you want. But your site would be responsible for what gets posted. And, if it’s garbage, or it breaks the law, you’re going to get blocked or taken down. As so many people want to point out in discussions of being downvoted for unpopular opinions, The First Amendment doesn’t protect you from being a jerk.

Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Imgur, and Google are all being gamed. As the last two Presidential elections have shown, world powers are influencing the content on these sites, and manipulating our national political discourse. This needs to stop. It seems to me that repealing Section 230 would cause those platforms to get serious about being transparent about where that content comes from, and be held accountable for it. Again, don’t tell me that they can’t. They just don’t want to spend the money to do so. In fact, they’re making money on the spread of such propaganda. Tell me why Americans should put up with these mega-companies making billions providing a platform to be used against us politically? Not just allowing it, but being financially incentivized into providing it? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

In summary, I don’t see how repealing Section 230 hurts any of the scenarios that folks like the EFF say that it does, and it would seem to hold all the right people accountable for the absolute disgrace that social media has become.

Twitter Decries India Intimidation, Will Press for Changes – Bloomberg

The social network reiterated its commitment to India as a vital market, but signaled its growing concern about the government’s recent actions and potential threats to freedom of expression that may result. The company also joined other international businesses and organizations in criticizing new IT rules and regulations that it said “inhibit free, open public conversation.”

Source: Twitter Decries India Intimidation, Will Press for Changes – Bloomberg

It is, perhaps, a little rich for Twitter to be complaining about inhibition of “free, open public conversation” after throwing conservatives off their platform after the last election, in fact, as part of a larger move, along with Facebook and Amazon, to simply cancel them from them from the internet entirely. You may or may not agree with the decision to do so, but you have to admit that the hypocrisy of complaining about pressure to do the same thing by a foreign government is a little too on-the-nose. The Indian government just wants some of the same social engineering and control that the political Left in America literally just demonstrated.

Either social media companies are common carriers, and free of any censorship (where affected parties can always sue for any and all illegal speech), or they are, by default, a platform in support and service of censorship, and fair game to be manipulated by anyone with the legal or financial pressure to do so on their behalf. You cannot have it both ways.

Liberals and Conservatives Are Both Totally Wrong about Platform Immunity | by Tim Wu | Medium

Everyone is, in short, currently asking for the wrong thing. Which makes it worth asking: Why?

One reason is that this area is confusing, and the idea of making tech “responsible” does sound good. There are, as I discuss below, ways in which they should be. Also, as described below, the mere threat of 230 repeal serves its own purposes. But I think, at its most cynical, the repeal 230 campaign may just be about inflicting damage. Repealing 230 would inflict pain, through private litigation, not just on big tech, but the entire tech sector.

We don’t like you; we want you to suffer. Very 2020.

Source: Liberals and Conservatives Are Both Totally Wrong about Platform Immunity | by Tim Wu | Medium

I’m not convinced by his arguments, but I can’t say his final conclusion doesn’t have a big part in my thinking about the issue.

When U.S. blamed Saudi crown prince for role in Khashoggi killing, fake Twitter accounts went to war

Saudi-based Twitter accounts using fake profile pictures, repetitive wording and spammy tactics sought to undermine the conclusion by U.S. intelligence officials, made public Friday, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “approved” the operation that led to the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Source: When U.S. blamed Saudi crown prince for role in Khashoggi killing, fake Twitter accounts went to war

More and more of our news cycle is centering on Twitter. The blue-check-mark journalists who enjoy relative stature on the platform get preferential treatment, and there’s hardly a news article today which doesn’t reference at least one Tweet for an official quote. Like Amazon reviews, American society is placing increasingly-serious trust in an inherently untrustworthy system, and the people who run it are doing so in opaque and unaccountable ways.

#SocialMediaIsDestroyingSociety

Playstation 5 and the “Control” Game Review

Control is a game that came free with Playstation Plus. I had heard relatively good things about it, but I know that PS+ games are the B- games that have run their course commercially, so I took this move with a grain of salt. Turns out that, like Red Dead Redemption 2, Control has a great game buried in there, underneath all the really terrible parts.

Control has a great X-Files-like vibe. Very atmospheric and moody. Very surreal and mysterious. It’s a great new intellectual property space. Or, at least, it will be, if Remedy ever makes another game based on the franchise. The story is great.

Control has an interesting gun play system. There’s no reloading, but there’s a pause while the gun reloads itself, so it’s all the same thing. Plus, the button that most games would use for reloading swaps between the 2 active weapon morphs in play, and muscle memory frequently leaves me hanging with the wrong weapon effect at the worst time.

That’s… about all the good I can say about it. I’m sure other people have done enough actual reviews, but I’ll give it a short run down:

  • The “control” points where you can start over if you die are far apart, and you have to walk a long way to get back to the point where you died.
  • The gun does NOT snap (by default), and the aim is unforgiving for a game like this.
  • There’s no crouching behind cover. Which is bizarre, because the enemies do it.
  • Optional missions come up at opportune moments, but you only get one shot at them. You have no idea what you’re facing, and if you die, and you simply lose out.
  • Finally, the map and the level design is horrendous, and there’s no pathing to help you navigate it.

I could chalk all the shooting mechanics up to taste, and put up with it for the story, but the last point just does the game in. I just tried the game again, and the ONLY way I can find to go forward to my objective is to go through an area that’s just too tough for me. I’ve failed to get through it twice, and there just didn’t seem to be a way to get it done. But I wandered around for 15 minutes, and concluded that this is, in fact, where I should be going, so I tried — and failed — for a third time, with literally no idea how I could deal with it.

I looked for a difficulty setting, and found that it has cheats. Well, that makes sense. So I activated them, and tried again. Despite aim snap, I was about to die for the 4th time, so I just went ahead and activated god mode. I got through the area, and found another control point, but there’s no where to go. Here’s what I see:

Control Ultimate Edition_20210214104514

And here’s what the map is showing me at that point:

Control Ultimate Edition_20210214104521

I don’t know where to go. I have an optional mission selected, and there’s no indication where that is. If I activate the “main” mission, the map indicator is in the ??? area to the northeast of my position. I cannot interpret what this is telling me, there’s no indication on how I can get where I need to go, and I can’t find any way through this section. I’m quite literally stuck, and I’m really tired of putting up with video games that force me to do a search and read some article to get past every other difficult part. At this point, I’m just going to delete the game, and hope that Sony gives Remedy access to the fact that this player quit playing the game at 18% completion, and uninstalled it, even though the game was free. That’s how big of a fail it is.

Tangentially, while trying to get the screenshots off the console, I found that it takes 4 non-obvious clicks to get to the media library, and there’s only one option for a service to upload the images with: Twitter. Really, Sony? Really? There must be a dozen prominent image sharing sites, and the only option is Twitter? Screw Twitter. Especially for sharing screenshots! And screw Sony for making that the only option. I had to resort to a USB stick. Ew.

Additionally, you can only share recorded video to YouTube or Twitter. You can only livestream to Twitch. Nothing about these options makes sense. Sony must expand these options with an update. I’m sure it’s all about the Benjamins. Sony was probably looking for kickbacks to include other services here, and no one donated, so they were forced to give us one option. Sony needs to suck it up, now that the console has launched, and move on. There’s no excuse for a lack of options for any of these ways of sharing. They need to make it like an iPhone, were you can connect your console to a service, and it becomes a “destination” to which you can share anything. (Well, I mean, they do, but they need to give us a lot more options.)

Facebook “Supreme Court” overrules company in 4 of its first 5 decisions | Ars Technica

As you can see, Facebook has to make decisions on a wide range of topics, from ethnic conflict to health information. Often, Facebook is forced to choose sides between deeply antagonistic groups—Democrats and Republicans, Armenians and Azerbaijanis, public health advocates and anti-vaxxers. One benefit of creating the Oversight Board is to give Facebook an external scapegoat for controversial decisions. Facebook likely referred its suspension of Donald Trump to the Oversight Board for exactly this reason.

Source: Facebook “Supreme Court” overrules company in 4 of its first 5 decisions | Ars Technica

This paints a picture of Facebook being very involved in picking what people can and cannot say about politics, and that’s a very disturbing picture to me. Before this article, I would have thought that they only stepped in on really egregious problems. I’m just not clear why Facebook should get involved in any of the censorings listed here. Let the software automatically block the boobs, and then let people say whatever they want about politics.

The boobs thing really shows why they’re always complaining about needing moderators, and they couldn’t possibly staff up to handle the load. Software has been able to effectively identify nudity for many years now. There’s only a problem because they want to allow some nudity. On a platform shared by, effectively, everyone with internet access, there really doesn’t need to be any. Lord knows there’s enough elsewhere. So I don’t think this isn’t something that they need to waste time and energy on.

The problem extrapolates. They don’t want people to quote Nazis, but they want people to be able to criticize Donald Trump, which oftentimes warrants parallels of speech. They won’t want people to post videos of animal cruelty, but they want PETA to be able to post their sensational, graphical protests, which look real. Facebook hires thousands of people in impoverished countries to filter out the gore and the porn, but none of that needs to happen if you just let it all go. The software can do that automatically. The problem is trying to find some happy mid-point, as if that needed to happen. And there are countless stories about how degrading and depressing the job of being one of Facebook’s moderators is, and I won’t rehash them here.

Things get real simple if you just pick one point of view. Instead, they’re playing the middle, and selecting what speech is “free,” what nudity is “tasteful,” and what gore is “fake.” So, yeah, if you’re going to employ people to censor things things, you’re going to need a lot of people. I have trouble finding sympathy.

As if on cue:

Source: Content Moderation Case Study: Twitter Removes Account Of Human Rights Activist (2018) | Techdirt

Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen is a human rights activist in Pakistan, calling attention to unfair treatment of the Pashtun ethnic group, of which he is a member. In 2018, days after he led a rally in support of the Pashtun people in front of the Mochi Gate in Lahore, his Twitter account was suspended.

Decisions to be made by Twitter:

  • How do you distinguish human rights activists organizing protests from users trying to foment violence?
  • How do you weigh reports from governments against activists who criticize the governments making the reports?
  • How responsive should you be to users calling out suspensions they feel were unfair or mistaken?

We’re constantly being told that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the one, gold standard by which all speech on the internet is “allowed,” and how we can’t ever touch it. It says that companies cannot be held liable for the things that people post to their platforms. So why are Facebook and Twitter bothering to pick and choose what people can say at all? They are legally shielded from any problems. Just let people say whatever they way to say! If it turns out to be illegal, or slanderous, the people who posted those things can be sued by the affected parties. If people don’t like what’s being said, they be ignored and routed around.

I find the whole thing completely disingenuous. Either you have protection, and are for “free speech,” or you don’t, and need to police your platforms. Facebook and Twitter are acting like they need to kick people off their platforms to avoid being sued, but they are not at risk of that. They’re throwing people off their platforms because enough people make noise about them. It’s become a popularity contest, and mob rule. There’s nothing genuine, legally-binding, or ethical about it. That’s it. If some topic or person becomes untenable, they’re going to get the boot.

In the old days, the mob would boycott advertisers, like, say, the ones on Rush Limbaugh’s show. But you can’t do that on a platform like Facebook or Twitter, which use giant, shadowy advertising exchanges and closely-guarded algorithms to show ads to people, and everyone gets a different view, according to their profile. Even the advertisers have a hard time knowing how their ads are served or working! The people who would protest an advertiser would never know what is showing up most often on people’s pages whom they don’t like, and Facebook and Twitter sure isn’t going to tell them. That’s the secret sauce, baby. They can’t know who to go after.

So these platforms are proactively de-platforming people, but I can’t see why. They have legal protection. They can’t be blackmailed by boycotts of advertisers. What’s the mechanism here? What’s the feedback loop? I suspect the answer would make me even more cynical than I already am.

GameStop: Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez Blast Robinhood over Trade Freeze

Robinhood was not the only broker to limit sales of GameStop. Interactive Brokers on Wednesday said it had placed restrictions on sales of the stock. Charles Schwab said Thursday that its customers could still trade GameStop but noted that it limited certain kinds of transactions involving more risk.

Source: GameStop: Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez blast Robinhood over trade freeze

I am gobsmacked about this whole story. Why did Charles Schwab “limit certain kinds of transactions involving more risk?” I mean, we all understand that what Robinhood is doing is simply unethical. They’re being manipulated behind the scenes by their big-bank investors. At first, Robinhood said they were just going to require enough in a margin account to cover loses. Fine; that’s fair. But Schwab? What trading platform has the balls to say “that trade is ‘too risky’ for us to allow you to make it?” The nerve.

This factors straight into all the posts I’ve been making about monopolistic platforms. All these giant new age apps, from Facebook and Twitter, down to trading apps like Robinhood and Charles Schwab, purport to be these egalitarian, equal-opportunity platforms, but, as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, they can simply choose to do whatever they want, exactly when people were relying on them to be open and available to them.

Don’t lecture me about how important Twitter was to the “Arab Spring.” First of all, that collapsed, and almost every one of those middle eastern countries in worse shape than before. Second of all, the minute the “other side” became troublesome here in the States, they got the boot. These platforms are not impartial. They’re king makers. And other platforms have watched Twitter and Facebook get away with picking winners and losers in the game of Free Speech, while hiding behind their terms of service, and they are naturally emboldened to do whatever they want too.

And don’t kid yourself, ever TOS you’ve clicked through is legalese for “we can do whatever we want with all of your stuff on our platform, and you have no legal recourse about it if you don’t like it.”

Don’t lecture me about how they’re not monopolies, either. First of all, once a platform like Twitter decides you’re done, everyone else colludes and follows suit. They are de facto monopolies, if not in fact. You have no credible alternatives. Second of all, they’re pulling the rug right out from under you precisely when you need it most. There’s no time to reorganize on another platform. By the time you do, the opportunity will be lost.

These past few weeks have really shown where we’re at as a society. We’re totally dependent on apps now, and they’re all under the control of the wealthy, not even government. This is deeply, deeply wrong.

A Little Chaos for a Treat – Pirate Wires

Do certain important people, defined here as people some subset of journalists find compelling, owe the professional media class a seat at their table? The question is interesting. Politicians and business leaders were once forced to travel through the establishment media’s gateway to reach the masses, and as I’ve been writing for months social media influence at scale does pose unique and concerning challenges to society. Our world is different, now, and different doesn’t necessarily mean better. But no one ever engaged with the media because the media was especially moral, or True. People engaged with the media to reach the media’s audience. As an audience is no longer unique to the media, we are left with innate media goodness as a defense of a media discourse monopoly, which strikes me as… less than persuasive.

Source: A Little Chaos for a Treat – Pirate Wires (emphasis mine)

This guy is talking about the role of the media in a world where “the media” has become defined as “Twitter.” He’s correct, of course. Dominant people on Twitter don’t need the blue checkmark journalist class to reach their audience. They can do an end-run around their narrative-shaping opinion-making barricades. But, if you look closely, you might notice that this argument has reduced to: wealthy people don’t need the media to transmit their message any more. The allegedly egalitarian and supposedly unprejudiced modern social media platforms have simply become the direct line for billionaires to communicate directly to the public. They have become tools for the billionaire class, who, by nature of the inherent influence commensurate with their wealth, have the name recognition to bypass the platform’s gatekeepers. I don’t know what “the media” will look like in 5 or 10 years either, but traditional media’s future looks increasingly bleak, and they can thank the platform that they based their hope on 15 years ago.