Long term affects of banning Parler
I’m writing this post at a time when Donald Trump’s social media accounts were closed by Twitter, Facebook and across pretty much all popular social networks. Parler, an alternative social network has been kicked off the Apple and Google app stores and its AWS account was closed. It also appears that many vendors are dropping it and it will take significant time to get back online, if it is able to do so.
I’m not interested in talking about the reasons for this, mind. This is a hot topic political issue, in a country I’m not a citizen of, and I have no interest in getting bogged down with the political details.
I wish I could say that I had no dog in this fight, but I suspect that the current events will have a long term impact on the digital world. Note that all of those actions are taken by private companies, on their own volition. In other words, it isn’t a government or the courts demanding this behavior, but the companies’ own decision making process.
The thing that I can’t help thinking is that the current behavior by those companies is direct, blatant and very much short sighted. To start with, all of those companies are working on global scale, and they have just proven that they are powerful enough to rein in the President of the Unites States. Sure, he is at a lame duck status currently, but that is still something that upset the balance of power.
The problem with that is that while it would appear that the incoming US administration is favorable to this course of action, there are other countries and governments that are looking at this with concern. Poland is on track to pass a law prohibiting the removal of posts in social media that do not break local laws. Israel’s parliament is also considering a similar proposal.
In both cases, mind, these proposed laws got traction last year, before the current escalation in this behavior. I feel that more governments will now consider such laws in the near future, given the threat level that this represent to them. A politician is this day and age that doesn’t use social media to its fullest extent is going to be severely hampered. Both the Obama and the Trump campaigns were lauded for their innovative use of social media, for example.
There are also other considerations to ponder. One of the most costly portions of running a social network is the monitoring and filtering of posts. You have to take into account that people will post bile, illegal and obscene stuff. That’s expensive, and one of the reasons for vendors dropping of Parler was their moderation policies. That means that there is a big and expensive barrier in place for future social networks that try to grow.
I’m not sure how this is going to play out in the short term, to be honest. But in the long term, I think that there is going to be a big push, both legally and from a technical perspective to fill those holes. From a legal perspective, I would expect that many lawyers will make a lot of money on the fallout from the current events, just with regards to the banning of Parler. I expect that there are going to be a whole lot of new precedents, both in the USA and globally.
From a technical perspective, the technology to run a distributed social network exists. Leave aside currently esoteric choices such as social network on blockchain (there appears to be a lot of them, search for that, wow!), people can fall back to good old Blog & RSS to get quite a bit of traction. It wouldn’t take much to something that looks very similar to current social networks.
Consider RSS Bandit or Google Reader vs. Twitter or Facebook. There isn’t much that you’ll need to do to go from aggregation of RSS feeds to a proper social network. One advantage of such a platform, by the way, is that it allows (and encourage) thought processes that are longer than 140 characters. I dearly miss the web of the 2000s, by the way.
Longer term, however, I would expect a rise of distributed social networks that are composed of independent but cooperating nodes (yes, I’m aware of Mastodon, and I’m familiar with Gab breaking out of that). I don’t know if this will be based on existing software or if we’ll end up with new networks, but I think that the die has been cast in this regard.
That means that the next social network will have to operate under assumed hostile environment. That means running on multiple vendors, taking no single point of failure, etc.
The biggest issue with getting a social network off the ground is… well, network effects. You need enough people in the network before you start getting more bang for the buck. But right now, there is a huge incentive for such a network, given the migration of many users from the established networks.
Parler’s app has seen hundreds of thousands of downloads a day in the past week, before it was taken down from the app stores. Gab is reporting 10,000+ new users an hour and more users in the past two days than they had seen in the past two years.
There is a hole there that will be filled, I think. Who will be the winner of all those users, I don’t know, but I think that this will have a fundamental impact on the digital world.
I semi-agree with you (i don't know where I stand): taking an account that didn't break any laws or any term of service shouldn't be allowed or praised. I'm not sure it's the case here. But it seems that it's more about ToS than local law. And also there is, at least in France, some kind of hypocrisy here: our government asks social networks to be proactive in removing offending content but they criticize when they sanction without judge approval (which can take months). The legal nightmare/technical challenge is huge here: because they have to hide some content in some countries and show it in others.
The Polish law is actually something that I would like to see adopted globally. The social network can remove content at will, but they must respond within 24 - 48 hours to requests on that. And if they keep the content blocked, it goes to a judge in 7 days. And there is a 2.2 million USD fine for wrong blockage. That means that there will be judicial review on a fast track basis, as well as incentivize the social networks to default to not block stuff. Unless they are certain that this is okay to remove.
In general, the problem is that you have to be able to remove some stuff, since people will post Bad Things. For example: "Go Kill John at 123 Rainbow Rd", revenge porn, etc. And I'm intentionally skipping some of the bad stuff :-) At the same time, there is an opaque process that means that some stuff gets by which is clearly a violation of the rules. For example, it took me a minute to find:
That calls to my death, but it has been on twitter for 7 years with no issues.
Like everything else in civilization, efficiency comes with scale, as can be seen starting with the industrial revolution.
In this context, any laws passed will favor the huge platforms with armies of moderators, or with good-enough algorithms, to auto-delete/hold posts.
From a philosophical point of view, I see all this as merely a proxy for, but preferable to, outright warfare, but the goal of which is the same - to suppress or destroy competing cultures and ideas.
Splitting up the internet by culture, a la China, would solve that issue perhaps. We could all self-segregate as biology seems to mandate. Then people would not get threatened by scary unfamiliar opinions.
Well, it is interesting that these laws are proposed by the governments (Poland, Israel) with quite a questionable relationship with minorities, so you can argue that putting a risk of high penalty on banning the hate speech (which is often a gray area and not quite clear cut) can be understood as something quite different than protecting free speech. E.g. it is quite possible that Khamenei's tweet you refer to would pass on such court since it can be argued that it talks about destroying the "regime" and "state" and not talking against the people and even less about killing them, which is obviously b.llshit. Thus, such a law would in effect protect the calls to your death and that's why I am not surprised which countries push for that. E.g. I am quite sure Hungary will join them soon :) OTOH, Trump has repeatedly tweeted threats about starting a war with Iran, which for sure means death from thousands of Iranians and is no better than this crap by Khamenei, yet he was not blocked for that and he still wouldn't be blocked had he won the elections.
I suppose also western world became aware of the negative impact of the internet in certain historical moments. The way that Trump got elected was fraudulent and end-up rejected like karma. By constantly misusing the social media tool, abusing communication channels addicted to headlines due to his temporary position. Parler is collateral damage but certainly they forgot to consider a full risk backup plan. These days anyone can build in one weekend their next Fb but make no mistake, you rented a 5 star hotel room while you lambada party with your friends, not own it.
Hope you don't see this comment as political babbling, but it happens i live in Poland and have some thoughts about it. First of all, the minister of Justice is pushing this law as 'protection of free speech', which is quite manipulative. Freedom of speech laws are about protecting against censorship by GOVERNMENTS and do not apply to private companies. So basically what they want to do is to have more control over media that they weren't able to control before - all social networks, Twitter and other communication platforms were outside their jurisdiction and from now on they would be breaking polish law by removing unwanted content. At the same time polish government can control national TV and polish press (it has happened already) so it all looks like another attempt at grabbing more power here (which BTW they have been doing in the past).
There are already calls from the governments of Germany, France and Mexico, in addition to Poland & Israel to handle this issue. And the proposed laws are mostly about making it harder for them to moderate, not easier. I think that many politicians see that as an immediate threat, and I would expect to end 2021 with a very different landscape in terms of social media behavior.
To start with, it is the democrats in the US that want to cancel section 230, and I think that they might very well have broader support for it now.
Note that Germany, France and Mexico are also expressing shock on this action, and I expect them to act accordingly.
And the key about him not being blocked if he won the election is probably the key here.
Typically, freedom of speech is about freedom from government, sure.
However, we are now at an age where most of the communication happens through private channels. I talk to my family over Whatsapp, I consume most of my news via social media, etc.
Especially with the lockdown orders, the public square is now on the internet, and it is owned by the likes of Twitter or Facebook. For that matter, given the well known leaning of these companies' leadership, it is easy to draw the line from the incoming administration and those companies. And when you have democratic party leaders explicitly calling for those action and then they happen, it is hard to find that they found a loophole here.
For sure we can see there's some power struggle here. Trump used (or abused) social media to win presidential election, now the same social media silenced him pretty hard. Had he foreseen the future, he would have established the same laws that polish government is trying to push now . Then politicians would have free, unlimited access to one more, pretty powerful, propaganda channel. I suppose this will happen but not the way politicians want it - not by force, laws and political obstacles, but by normal business deal: if you pay us, we won't block you, we could even help you with reaching the right guys for next elections.
I think that by the time they started acting against him, it was too late to take action. But I expect that there will be steps to curb this for the next time.
Note that this is actually limited to Trump. There have been quite a few high level political figures being silenced. See:
Leaving aside laws being passed, I would expect to see a lot of legal action around this in 2021.
yep, i think it's clear now that social media are more powerful tool than anything else in politics, and they're beyond control of any single government. You can have all the newspapers and local TV stations under control but nobody reads newspapers anymore or watches news in the national TV. So it can be expedted that politicians will try to fix that glaring problem with all means available to them.
Oren, you are right that there are countries concerned with this, yet, these are countries with quite restrictive hate speech laws: Germany tightened those laws last year and France has similar plans. Now, I am not sure how much you know about Poland, but this is a country with government quite far from the center, who has put the judiciary under government control and where things like "LGBT-free zones" are becoming normal. Now just imagine an analogy: a country with right-wing government which controls the courts and is popular with voters and instead of LGBT-free it is Judenfrei (I guess Iran could be close to this). Who do you think would benefit from such a law which promotes harsh penalties for incorrectly flagging and removing hate speech? WRT Trump being blocked only after being replaced as president only proves the double standards when criteria for removing the garbage is left to companies instead of laws. E.g. I would for sure be blocked if I suggested bombing another country.
As a citizen of Poland I'd like to address the comment from Zdeslav. The statement about Polish "government quite far from the center" is true. "judiciary under government control" is also a fact after replacing judges in the highest court. This is about the government. Now speaking about the nation, it's highly polarized right now and there's no that much space for a healthy peaceful debate. I'd be far from stating that "things like "LGBT-free zones are becoming normal". Was this the case brought up by a local authority representing the governing party? Yes it was. It might have happened more times. It's not normal though and a strong group (not sure if majority, I have no data) of Polish citizens would not agree on this becoming the new normal.
Anyway, thank you Ayende and everyone in the comments, for writing this post and starting the dialogue. It's a really interesting and important topic and we should have a discussion about it.
I read some news today and it reminded of this discussion and the real reason why countries like Poland are pushing for cynically named "free speech" laws. As we discussed then, it turns out it was indeed not about freedom of speech, it is simply about protecting the hate. Their love for freedom of speech is best illustrated with these two examples: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56491949 https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-virgin-mary-religious-feelings-law-lgbtq-rights/