Tag Archives: censorship

Browser based capabilities

One approach to better empowering users and upstart services to avoid Big Tech censorship, suppression, and control is to build capabilities into the browser for mashing up and mixing in complementary services. This would provide a client-side (browser based) approach for third party complementary services to extend incumbent services without needing the incumbent’s authorization or cooperation. This would be one element of building Future Distributed Applications.

Using this approach, social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, etc.) that enforce authoritarian content moderation policies can be complemented by alternative services, where prohibited users and comments can be linked. Users could see the conversation with content merged from every desired source beyond Big Tech control. This approach for distributing comments that form a single conversation would be applicable to many services.

  • Comment on content where a user’s comments would be suppressed.
  • Annotate or review an article where commenting is not enabled. Allow an annotation to link precisely to a specific range of text, so it can be presented inline.
  • Add links to relevant content not referenced by the original.

This paradigm would enable end users to control how content is consumed, so that Web sites cannot censor or bias what information is presented about controversial topics.

Applying browser add-ons that mix-in complementary services would also enable end users to take information and process it in personalized ways, such as for fact-checking, reputation, rating, gaining insights through analytics, and discovering related (or contrarian) information. Complementary content could be presented by injecting HTML, or by rendering additional layers, frames, tabs, or windows, as appropriate.

Browser add-ons are only supported on the desktop, not mobile devices. Mobile devices would need to be supported for this paradigm to become broadly useful.

Social Media Bias

Tim Pool did a reasonable job of enumerating several areas of concern.

  1. Applying a single global standard (“community standards”) to American citizens imposes “hate speech” regulations that are antithetical to American principles of free speech protected by the US Constitution. [Similar to concerns I raise: https://www.jetpen.com/blog/2020/06/20/corporations-acting-as-agents-of-foreign-governments/  and https://www.jetpen.com/blog/2019/09/16/social-media-and-the-first-amendment/]
  2. Twitter claims to hold no politically biased agenda by intention, while trying to implement narrow goals around maximizing inclusion of users to conduct speech by protecting their physical safety (i.e., by disallowing targeted harassment and doxxing), but they have adopted ideologically biased policies that are selectively enforced in a manner that predominantly punishes conservatives.
  3. The near-monopoly status of the social media giants within their own niches combined with their unilateral decision-making that appear to most people to be politically biased in one direction will lead politicians, who are ignorant the actual issues and incompetent to formulate good solutions, will take a sledgehammer approach to regulate, and consequently make the situation much worse.
  4. The coordinated efforts among corporations to punish individuals across social media, hosting, Internet infrastructure, and payment processing systems demonstrates a terrifying abuse of power that is terrifying for how they can implement a social credit system that can unperson people in an extra-judicial manner without due process of law or avenues of redemption.

Corporations Acting as Agents of Foreign Governments

4A thought experiment

An American citizen uses a healthcare web site to manage his lab results, medical images, medications, and communications with his doctors, all of whom are in the US, as is the web site’s hosting and corporate headquarters. The web site also serves citizens in other countries in the same manner. One day, the German government obtains a warrant from a German court to gain access to an American’s private health information.

Would a libertarian say that the web site is a private company and they may do as they please to violate the American’s privacy rights by handing over information to agents who have no jurisdiction? I think we can all agree that the answer must be no.

1A thought experiment

Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and every other country enact hate speech legislation that is incompatible with the American Constitutional protections of free speech. American social media web sites must enforce these “community standards” to the satisfaction of all these jurisdictions in order to do business with users in those countries. It would be costly to treat each user specifically in accordance to the laws and regulations in their jurisdiction, so the company prefers to implement a uniform set of community standards that becomes a superset of all laws and regulations in every jurisdiction. That means every country’s government mandated censorship now applies to American citizens to infringe upon their free speech rights.

Would a libertarian say that the web site is a private company and they may do as they please to violate the American’s free speech rights?

Would a libertarian agree that a private company may act as an agent on behalf of a foreign government to implement foreign laws and regulations on American citizens, such as China’s social credit system?

Social Media and the First Amendment

As social companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google (YouTube) increasingly restrict what users can publish according their policies and “community standards”, we must be careful not to summarily dismiss such matters as private companies being free to operate their business as they please, because censorship (violating the First Amendment) is only applicable to state actors.

We must recognize three factors. (1) State actors are threatening to impose regulations or initiate anti-trust enforcement unless these companies self-regulate. Thus, the state is violating the First Amendment coercively through the back door. Or companies are working in cahoots with the government to implement the government’s desired regulations, knowing this is the only way such rules would not be struck down on Constitutional grounds. (2) Large corporations lobby for regulations to establish their own business practices as the status quo and raise barriers to entry for smaller competitors and start-ups. (3) Foreign governments want to enforce their laws and regulations, including against so-called “hate speech”, and corporations will enforce these rules against American citizens. All three are problematic from a First Amendment perspective.

Net Neutrality

Whenever government policies are implemented in the name of consumer protection, we can be sure that it is not consumers being protected, but rather crony industry incumbents. It is presented as a false alternative between government regulation or absence of regulation, when the strongest form of regulation with the greatest degree of consumer protection is the free market, where consumers decide how their dollars are spent. Good products from well-behaving businesses are rewarded. Bad products and ill-behaving businesses are punished, often to extinction. Moreover, when consumers are under-serviced, entrepreneurs enter the market to compete against under-performing incumbents by offering innovative new products and business practices to meet the demand for superior goods and services, often disrupting the status quo. Meanwhile, government regulations necessarily entrench the status quo. “Best practices” can only be best until innovations overtake them, at which time they become obsolete. Government regulations often continue to burden an industry with obsolete practices that prevent innovations from flourishing. Thus, incumbents are protected from agile upstarts.

Net Neutrality is promoted ostensibly to protect consumers from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) throttling traffic to disadvantage competitive “over the top” (OTT) content providers (e.g., Netflix) while favoring the ISP’s own content services (e.g., television in the case of a cable ISP). Another hypothetical straw man is for ISPs to charge customers to enable access to various information services. I would argue that no ISP would pursue such goals, because of the backlash and consequent mass-exodus of customers to the embrace of the ISP’s competition. ISPs would also want to avoid anti-trust concerns. Paranoia about ISP misbehavior disregards the lack of a business case. Net Neutrality was enacted in response to no ISPs actually implementing any anti-competitive traffic management on any significant scale.

Consumers want to preserve a “free and open Internet”—rightly so. ISPs have the practical capability to throttle traffic by origin (content provider), traffic type (e.g., video), or consumption (e.g., data limits for heavy users). They have no practical (cost-effective) mechanism to understand the meaning of the content to selectively filter it. ISPs have only blunt instruments to wield.

Unlike ISPs, content providers (e.g., Netflix, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Cloudflare, GoDaddy) are responsible for “information” services, which fall outside the scope of Net Neutrality for “transmission” by carriers. While ISPs have not attempted to damage a free and open Internet, we have already seen content providers behave very badly toward free speech, since they have the ability to understand the meaning of their content.

If a “free and open Internet” is what is desired, censorship, bans, de-platforming, and de-monetization by companies, who are the strongest advocates of Net Neutrality, are certainly antithetical to that aim. What is their real motive?

Content providers enjoy having their traffic delivered to customers worldwide. They only pay for the bandwidth to the networks they are directly connected to. They are not charged for their traffic transiting other networks, while routed to their end users. Content providers obviously like this arrangement, and they want to preserve this status quo (protecting their crony interests).

Without Net Neutrality, although ISPs may not have a business case for charging customers (end users) for differentiated services, they would have a strong business case for providing differentiated services (various levels of higher reliability, low latency, low jitter, and guaranteed bandwidth) to content providers. Improvements in high quality delivery (called “paid prioritization”) would be beneficial to innovative applications that may not be viable today. For example, remote surgery. With paid prioritization, this would motivate content providers to buy connectivity into an ISP’s network to provide higher quality service to their customers, who receive their Internet access from that ISP. Or to otherwise share revenue with the ISP for such favorable treatment of their traffic. The environment becomes much more competitive between content providers, while more revenue would be shared with the ISPs. ISPs would then be motivated to invest more heavily to improve their networks to capture more of this revenue opportunity. Consumers benefit from higher quality services, better networks, and increased competition (differentiation based on quality) among content providers.