Censorship

Beware Censorship by Proxy

Prodding private companies into self-censorship is a dangerous government tradition.

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This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

YouTube is worried you might believe too much of what you see on its website. Amid the clamor for someone, somewhere to do something about "fake news," the company plans to attach "information cues"—excerpts from Wikipedia—to videos that touch on "a list of well-known internet conspiracies."

When YouTube, Facebook or Twitter cracks down on some form of expression—conspiracy theories, radical rants, terrorist propaganda—some of the targets inevitably complain that their freedom of speech is under attack. (This feeling of victimhood may be what sent Nasim Aghdam to YouTube headquarters, gun in hand.) There is a strong retort to this: These are private platforms with a right to decide what they publish. It is no more a violation of the First Amendment for YouTube to muzzle a channel it finds offensive than it is for this newspaper to refuse to run a column calling for Minnesota to invade Wisconsin.

But what if a private platform suppresses speech because it's afraid the government might otherwise step in?

Just as one effective end-run around the Fourth Amendment is to ask private companies for data they slurped up on their own, the First Amendment can be sidestepped when officials pressure the private sector into self-censorship. The end result can be rules more restrictive than the companies would impose on their own—and more intrusive than the government could get away with if it tried to impose them directly.

It's happened before.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1915 that free-speech protections did not apply to the movies, a decision rightly reversed in 1952. In the interim, the industry opted to stave off federal regulation by establishing a series of self-censorship systems. The most powerful of these was the Production Code, which was created in 1930 but didn't really grow teeth until 1934, when Congress was mulling several bipartisan bills to tone down motion picture content. Hollywood got the message. Under the code, seduction was "never the proper subject for a comedy," plots couldn't involve "sex relationships between the white and black races," and the drug trade "should not be brought to the attention of audiences," among other tight constraints.

Some filmmakers found ways to subtly subvert the restrictions. Many others threw up their hands and let their films be bowdlerized.

The Federal Communications Commission directly regulates much of what can and cannot be said over the "public" airwaves. But private radio and television networks also have created their own internal Standards and Practices departments that control content, sometimes at absurd levels of caution. (Early network censors objected to terms as mild as "bloody," "bollixed" and "the W.C.") Broadcasters are not eager to offend their audiences, so some version of Standards and Practices would probably exist even without the FCC. But the desire to stay on regulators' and legislators' good side has clearly been at work in those departments' decisions as well. You can tell because the self-imposed rules eased up when federal content controls were relaxed in the 1980s.

The comic book industry adopted a Comics Code after the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held a hearing in 1954 on their products' alleged role in fostering crime. The immediate effect was to infantilize the industry, forcing a range of popular horror titles into the dustbin. The "parental advisory" labels affixed to CDs were invented following another Senate circus, the "porn rock" hearings of 1985. The stickers kept some records out of certain stores, and prompted some producers to edit songs or change album lineups to avoid the restrictions. In 1993, another set of Senate hearings inspired a comparable ratings system for video games.

Those moves haven't had as much force as the rules adopted by Hollywood and the broadcasters, but that's because the threat of direct federal censorship wasn't as strong. A sort of censorship by proxy was just as clearly in effect.

Now it's social media's turn. During last year's hearings on Russian-sponsored online speech, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was overt about it. "You created these platforms, and now they're being misused," she told representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter. "And you have to be the ones who do something about it—or we will."

Consider the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which has now passed both houses of Congress. By making internet platforms legally liable for the things users post on them, the law encourages sites to crack down indiscriminately on all sorts of sexual discussions—including, ironically, online spaces where sex workers share information that helps them protect themselves against abuse. Risk-averse companies will have every incentive to police their users' activities with a heavy hand, deploying algorithms that casually sweep up any posts that contain the wrong keywords. Or they'll just eliminate potentially dicey forums altogether, as Craigslist and Reddit did as soon as the bill passed.

And that's just what's happening in America. Stronger pressure is coming in countries whose legal protections aren't as robust as ours. In Germany, a law requires companies to remove hate speech from their platforms within 24 hours or face potentially crippling fines. Sites have subsequently squashed anything that could conceivably prompt such penalties, even if on closer examination the target turns out to be, say, a satirist who's attacking rather than espousing bigotry.

Sometimes the censorship pressure is strong enough to overwhelm countervailing pressure from another set of officials. In 1947, while the House Committee on Un-American Activities was pushing moviemakers to stop hiring Communists, the Department of Justice was prosecuting the same companies for antitrust violations. As the Brandeis-based historian Thomas Doherty notes in his upcoming book, Show Trial, that put the studios in a delicate position: "If the producers acted together to dismiss the Hollywood Ten, they were conceding that the studios were in cahoots, conducting a conspiracy in restraint of trade."

The studio heads stewed about it, but they risked handing ammunition to one wing of the government in order to placate the other. They acted together, and a blacklist was born.

NEXT: Feds Still Refusing to Say Why They Shut Down Backpage or What's In 93-Count Indictment: Reason Roundup

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  1. I’m commenting on Hit & Run in order to buy sex.

    Anybody got a problem with that? I’m asking you, FOSTA/SESTA!

    1. I wonder what the point of this stupidity is.

      1. The sole any only point of FOSTA/SESTA is:

        Something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done.

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      2. He’s trying to shut down every message board across the internet by making them impossible to police. Not sure how to handle this, but it’s something that people who appreciate the opportunity to ramble about stuff every once in a while might want to think about.

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      3. “I wonder”

        I wonder why you’re such a whiny bitch.

        1. Awww, that’s cute.

          1. Hey you stopped whining!

      4. I’m doing my part to turn every interactive platform on the Net into a pimps-and-hoes party. If everybody does it, the law will be unenforceable.

  2. Censorship is an action that can only be done by a government.
    What a private business does to suppress/limit/control ideas within it’s control is business.
    Individuals can use other businesses, or refuse to use any business, in response to actions they see as wrong.
    Even in the current social media swamp, where all major options are acting against their customer’s best privacy concerns for perceived business interests, we can just shun all social media and interact with other technology, or even face to face.
    I know that means keeping a lookout for actual funny cats, but sacrifices have to be made for freedom.

    1. As long as it’s private individuals telling you what you can and cannot say, it’s fine. It is only bad when the government does it. Because the government is special that way.

      1. So long as the gulags are privately run, I see nothing wrong with them

        1. Sometimes free people do bad things therefore people shouldn’t be free.

      2. Because the government is special that way.

        Government – can throw you in a cage
        Facebook – cannot throw you in a cage

        1. A man denied his free speech rights truly is caged.

          1. To argue that denying someone monetization on YouTube or being kicked off FaceBook is to be “denied [their] free speech rights”, you have to first argue that folks are entitled to YouTube monetization and FaceBook.

            Until you make that argument, being kicked off YouTube/FaceBook is no more being denied your rights then when the coffee shop kicks you out for hogging the mic during the weekly Poetry Slam. Sure, it may be a “violation” of the understood agreement, but it’s not a rights violation.

            1. True. But, what if the government was gently nudging these platforms to censor? Like, I don’t know, blaming a terrorist attack on a YouTube video or blaming the Democratic Party’s presidential loss on Facebook under a very dubious rationale or something

              1. Well if it was just blaming I wouldn’t be too worried. It’s the fact that the organization doing the blaming has a pretty consistent track record of engaging in massive interventions with essentially no justification beyond FYTW, and pushback, in the best case, takes a few years, that scares companies into compliance. Even if you eventually win in the courts, you’re destroyed as a business.

                In such an environment, any utterance by a congresscritter about any social problem falls in the same category as “Nice business you’ve got here. Would be a shame if something happened to it.”

            2. you have to first argue that folks are entitled to YouTube monetization and FaceBook.

              No, I don’t, Escher. I have to argue no such thing at all.

              I must say, find it absolutely enthralling how libertarians are fine with liberty being stamped out–perhaps permanently–so long as the foot doing it isn’t the government or a church. You truly are a strange bunch.

              1. Freedom is scary and that’s why people can’t be trusted with it.

                1. Degeneracy is Virtue
                  Feudalism is Liberty
                  Irrationality is Strength

                  “He gazed at the enormous white “F” bordered in blue. Years it had taken him to learn what kind of liberty was deep beneath the boiler-plate of the Terms of Service. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving algorithm! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved his feudal master.”

                  1. So what is your point? What do you want Facebook to do? Allow any content whatsoever to appear on their platform? I would like that too, actually. But what if they don’t listen to you? Would you use the government to force them to open up their platform?

                    1. we do that to bakers why not facebook

                    2. Because two wrongs don’t make a right?

              2. There is no such thing as the liberty to use other people’s property for your own use without the property owner’s permission.

                No one is “fine” with Facebook or Twitter kicking off dissenting views. I would prefer a Twitter that allowed all range of views on any topic. But it’s their property, if they choose not to use their platform as some Athenian debate forum, they have every right to do so.

                What do you want to do? Use government force to coerce them into using their property in a way that they don’t want it used?

                1. Excellent post! Thanks for clearly stating this principle.

                2. “There is no such thing as the liberty to use other people’s property for your own use without the property owner’s permission.”

                  Actually, there is. You can read all about it in the Restatement (Third) of Property, under the heading “servitudes”.

                  Or, if you want the short version, check Wikipedia under “easement”.

                  1. An easement is a part of the deed for a particular plot of property. If you purchase the property, you agree to the terms in the deed. Again that is not against the permission of the property owner.

                    1. Actually, I was going to bring up easements as an analogy, but James really did a poor job.

                      Imagine an easement that stated “Grantor can alter the terms of this easement or revoke the same at any time, for any reason of their choosing, as long as Grantor delivers written or electronic notice to Grantee. In the event that Grantor alters this easement Grantee will comply with the new terms of the easement immediately. Grantee agrees to hold Grantor harmless in the event of any such alteration or revocation and under no circumstances will Grantee be entitled to any remuneration for any damages from such a decision by Grantor.”

                      That’s a much tamer version of what is in these ToS. And I know of no court that would such an easement.

                    2. And if you don’t like that easement, DON’T BUY THE PROPERTY.

                      And this whole easement analogy is rather stupid because when you sign up with a Facebook account, you are not purchasing any property interest in the service anyway.

                    3. “when you sign up with a Facebook account, you are not purchasing any property interest in the service anyway.”

                      When you sign up with a Facebook account, you ARE the property.

                    4. ” I know of no court that would such an easement.”

                      You need familiarity with more courts, then, such as those we have here in the U.S.

                      (Courts will generally allow you to contract away your rights, even in ways that are immensely stupid.)

                    5. “An easement is a part of the deed for a particular plot of property. If you purchase the property, you agree to the terms in the deed. Again that is not against the permission of the property owner.”

                      Feel free to refer to the Restatement (Third) of Property, to correct your misunderstanding.

                      Or don’t bother, and just keep being wrong. Either way is cool.

                    6. I deal with easements all day my dude. What you are referring to is stated as thus:

                      3) Unless expressly denied by the terms of an easement, as defined in ? 1.2, the owner of the servient estate is entitled to make reasonable changes in the location or dimensions of an easement, at the servient owner’s expense, to permit normal use or development of the servient estate, but only if the changes do not
                      (a) significantly lessen the utility of the easement,
                      (b) increase the burdens on the owner of the easement in its use and enjoyment, or
                      (c) frustrate the purpose for which the easement was created.

                      The described easement would fall under the “unless” and the “rights” of the Grantor that were reserved would not be upheld in any US jurisdiction I’ve dealt with.

                    7. “I deal with easements all day my dude.”

                      Then I am IMMENSELY grateful not to be your malpractice insurer.

              3. To say that you are denied your “rights” by censorship from a private company like Facebook or Youtube is no different than saying that a baker must bake you a cake. That’s how freedom of association works.

                You don’t have a right to use their website to express your speech any more than the couple has a right to use the baker’s cake-making skills to express their speech.

                1. You don’t have a right to use their website to express your speech any more than the couple has a right to use the baker’s cake-making skills to express their speech.

                  Completely true.

                  But the New Right would say “time to play by THEIR RULES” and so they would rationalize forcing Facebook to serve everyone regardless, solely because bakeries have also been forced to serve everyone regardless. It is devoid of any principle or grounding in fact and logic.

              4. Escher is firmly in the bake the cake camp.

            3. Until you make that argument, being kicked off YouTube/FaceBook is no more being denied your rights then when the coffee shop kicks you out for hogging the mic during the weekly Poetry Slam. Sure, it may be a “violation” of the understood agreement, but it’s not a rights violation.

              All of this is absolutely true, which is what’s so insidious about the government’s nudging and ‘meeting’ with top executives of the social media companies.

              It creates an atmosphere if suspicion– that censorship is being actively outsourced by the national governments.

            4. meanwhile some bakery is being closed because they wouldn’t bake a cake

              1. “meanwhile some bakery is being closed because they wouldn’t bake a cake”

                A bakery that doesn’t bake cakes is a poor investment risk, yes. A plumber who won’t fix pipes and a doctor that won’t treat sick people are also likely to go out of business, as well.

                1. “A bakery that doesn’t bake cakes is a poor investment risk”

                  Who should decide this: the market or the government? And if you say the government, then what other poor business decisions should they make illegal for the bakery?

                  1. “Who should decide this:”

                    It’s already true. No deciding needed.

                    “what other poor business decisions should they make illegal for the bakery?”

                    For the bakery? Hmmm. Making the cakes with rat feces in the ingredient chain, for sure. Probably something about advertising. And some trademark stuff that I don’t feel like looking up right now, and anyways might now be dubious thanks to the Slants.

              2. What is interesting is how everyone wants to equate someone refusing to enter into a contract, and someone who alters and even revokes their contracts at will with impunity.

                What I get from this is that many libertarians are truly in the “might makes right” camp, so long as the mighty is not “government”.

                1. If there is a contract between the two parties guaranteeing the user the right to say whatever he/she wants, then I agree totally with your position.

                  I honestly don’t know how Facebook has crafted their user agreement. I was merely pointing out that Facebook is not entirely a public space which is protected by 1A. I assume that they are smart enough to craft a user agreement that says they can delete any post that they want.

                  1. To be clear, I have not argued that you have a 1A right to say anything you want on FB, Twitter, et al.

                    I would argue that a lot of these ToS are so ridiculous that they would be considered unenforceable in most fields. Which is what I was saying about easements above. They put that kind of language in them stating that they can rewrite the contract at any time and you must abide by their changes.

          2. A man denied his free speech rights truly is caged.

            Mark Zuckerberg deleting your Facebook account is not the same as Donald Trump throwing you in a cage.

            1. How many folks has the Donald “thrown in a cage”?

              1. The fact that he can’t figure out how to do something now doesn’t mean that he isn’t trying, and won’t eventually succeed.
                Do you not recall him leading the “lock her up” chanting?

            2. “Mark Zuckerberg deleting your Facebook account is not the same as Donald Trump throwing you in a cage.”

              I looked, and no one said it was, very stupid person who consistently overestimates the value of his opinion.

              Posts like this are why you got completely banned to dust on Ace of Spades.

              1. Have you met Kivlor?

                1. Chemjeff, if you think I’m claiming that they are equivalent, you are retarded.

                  1. So what is your point then? You are evidently mocking libertarians’ defense of property rights in the case of social media companies. Yes, they do have property rights. No, them censoring content on their own property is not the same as government censoring free citizens. And yes, it IS special in that the government can throw you in a cage for objecting to their censorship, while Mark Zuckerberg cannot. So what exactly is your fucking point?

                    1. My point is that you are discussing things that you are not mentally equipped for.

                    2. So, Kivlor, why don’t you tell us what precisely you perceive the problem to be, and what you think the solution is, when it comes to free speech and social media.

                      Oh wait, you’d rather just mock and laugh.

                    3. Yes. Because most of the solutions should be self-explanatory. So I laugh, because in your mind there is either (A) Revoke the property rights of the Social Media companies or (B) let them do whatever they want because might makes right and if God didn’t want them to be rulers and us to be serfs then he’d have made things differently.

                      Looking for solutions that don’t fall under either seems to be beyond you. I’m curious, in your mind, should slavery be legal so long as the slave signs a contract? I’m trying to get an idea of your thoughts on the absolutism of the right to enter any contract you desire.

                    4. No, Kivlor, I’m not going to play your little games about slavery until you clearly enunciate what you think ought to be done with regards to social media companies. Saying “it’s self-explanatory” is a cop-out. There are plenty on the Right who think that social media companies should be regulated and the platforms should be regarded as if they are truly public platforms, meaning no censorship allowed at all. Is that what you think? If so then that would be diminishing (not revoking) the property rights of the owners. And no I never said they are some divinely-ordained rulers. But to regard yourself as a serf to private companies is rather ridiculous. You are not compelled to use their services or content at all! The “might makes right” philosophy is the one touted by the regulators who want to use the power of the state to curtail the power of social media, not by people like me.

                    5. As a private party they are free to edit their site. However, since they ARE exercising editorial control over the content they are no longer immunized against the same libel laws which do apply to other publishers. You eat the cake you bake.

                      I’m sure you’ll have no problem at all with that…

                    6. That’s fine with me. If the result of all this is that their algorithms for deciding which content to keep or reject, and which members to retain or expel, are made more public, then I’ll consider that a win for speech generally, because that would forestall a much worse consequence.

              2. And I left Ace’s place because the crew over there insist on tribal cheerleading above facts and reason. They cannot stand to be told that undocumented immigrants are, mostly, ordinary people looking for better lives for themselves and their families. Oh no. They INSIST on being told that undocumented immigrants are rapists, murderers, and horrible people, who hate America and want to turn the US into Venezuela. They will not listen to anything else. That is why I LEFT.

      3. “As long as it’s private individuals telling you what you can and cannot say, it’s fine. It is only bad when the government does it. Because the government is special that way.”

        Private individuals have no power to tell you what you can and cannot say. If they ask you leave their house, for instance, you can go back to your own space and say whatever you want. You can probably find other friends and associates who will let you freely speak. You can rent spot in the local market and hand out your little free speech fliers, right? If not, perhaps you’re an asshole who should take a long walk off a short pier.

        1. “You can probably find other friends and associates who will let you freely speak. You can rent spot in the local market and hand out your little free speech fliers, right?”

          Why set your sights so low? For a few billion, you can buy facebook, google, etc outright, and then you can jolly well tell them what to do.

  3. With all the other venues for finding demented and depraved sexual partners being self-censored out of existence, I guess I’m just going to run for congress to get my needs addressed.

    1. If that’s all you want in Congress you’ll get my vote.

  4. Sites have subsequently squashed anything that could conceivably prompt such penalties, even if on closer examination the target turns out to be, say, a satirist who’s attacking rather than espousing bigotry.

    Would that even be a defense? I doubt the scottish dude with the Nazi-saluting pug was espousing nazism. He’s still awaiting sentencing after a conviction for a hate crime.

    Europe has already passed the point of no return, their only remaining role in the free-speech debate is to provide evidence that the slope is indeed steep and slippery.

    1. I think it’s well-established that you can say something hateful even if you didn’t really mean to. There’s a limited number of things it’s OK to express hatred for, and occasionally, that list changes.

      1. Normative statement, positive statement about the US, or positive statement about Europe? Or is my sarcasm detector broken?

  5. This is the problem with government. As long as it defines its own powers and limits, it is corrupt. As long as it can plausibly threaten to disrupt businesses, as long as the only recourse is decades of expensive litigation with uncertainty at every step, as long as it can threaten to throw tantrums in the middle of the cereal aisle, then government can do whatever its corrupt bureaucrats want.

    The only solution is to remove those government powers, permanently, and the only way to do that is eliminate government as we know it.

    I believe that the gradual shift away from a meat world to virtual world is the only way to escape government. Just as churches still control the church world, but that world has shrunk to such a small size that it has very little direct power. I can’t predict such a world, how it will function, what it will do, but decentralized mesh networking and virtual currencies are the first baby steps.

    1. I believe that the gradual shift away from a meat world to virtual world is the only way to escape government. Just as churches still control the church world, but that world has shrunk to such a small size that it has very little direct power.

      You read/saw Ready Player One and thought the good guys won didn’t you? Maybe you’ve missed the past 2-3 decades where we’ve actually transitioned from a wholly meat-space existence to a fractionally virtual one, it went well for a few years. I’d recommend you seek professional help for your delusions but I’m pretty sure they would only make it worse.

      1. No.

  6. As terrible as SESTA is, the cool thing is that it’s about sex. Which is ultimately what all these bans are about. Meaning, it’s the end of the line. If we can overturn SESTA then they have nowhere to turn, nothing else to ban. This is the last hill to die on. But who will die?

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  8. The risk is significantly lessened by having a highly-diverse range of platforms.

    Youtube can impose severe restrictions because there is only one YouTube. There are a few other highly-concentrated industries where a single operator can severely limit the majority of the marketplace. The Sinclair brouhaha is revealing how concentrated television broadcasting has become, and radio broadcasting is also fairly highly concentrated. Broadband internet is highly concentrated, or there would be NO push for repeal of net neutrality.

    1. There are other Youtubes, they’re just not as popular. What’s happening right now with Google, Facebook et. al. is kind of the beginning of the end. As they transition themselves from a ‘new media’ model to an old media model, this is the moment when competitors can step in and essentially do an end-run around them.

      1. “There are other Youtubes, they’re just not as popular.”

        You mean they’re not as big. The strength of youtube, facebook etc comes from their overwhelming size advantage.

        “As they transition themselves from a ‘new media’ model to an old media model,”

        This is not going to happen. Google, facebook etc will remain creatures of the internet.

        1. You mean they’re not as big. The strength of youtube, facebook etc comes from their overwhelming size advantage.

          Of course they have an advantage, but that will begin to wane.

          This is not going to happen. Google, facebook etc will remain creatures of the internet.

          Correct, with an old media model.

          1. “Of course they have an advantage, but that will begin to wane.”

            Maybe, maybe not. My fortune teller is not very clear on the question.

            “Correct, with an old media model.”

            You mean selling an audience to advertisers? Why would the advertisers favour anything but the platform that can deliver the most eyes to their message? Both the customers and the users have an interest in monolithic platforms like facebook. What is the ‘new media model?’ Maybe a publicly owned platform instead of the privatized ones that exist today?

            1. ” Why would the advertisers favour anything but the platform that can deliver the most eyes to their message?”

              Because advertisers don’t want eyeballs, they want buyers of what they are selling. If an advertising venue can do a better job of identifying those buyers, and delivering the advertising message to ready buyers, they’ll be more succesesful over venues that just bring random individuals. There’s a REASON sports programs feature advertising for beer, trucks, and boner pills, and not so many for floral-scented cleaning products, tampons, and movies where two women have a conversation about something other than a man.

              1. “they’ll be more succesesful over venues that just bring random individuals. ”

                Facebook doesn’t just bring random individuals. Each individual gets exposed to ads based on previously expressed interests. It’s all very complicated. Maybe you can improve on facebook’s formula with only a tiny fraction of their user base, but it’s hard for me to imagine.

                “There’s a REASON sports programs feature advertising for beer, trucks, and boner pills, and not so many for floral-scented cleaning products, tampons, and movies where two women have a conversation about something other than a man.”

                There’s a reason why the cost of advertising on the Super Bowl is more expensive than ads on some not so super bowl. The size of the audience.

                1. “Facebook doesn’t just bring random individuals”

                  Nor did Say they did. Or, in fact, anything at all about Facebook. I don’t know anything at all about how Facebook ads work, what with having never used Facebook.

                  “There’s a reason why the cost of advertising on the Super Bowl is more expensive than ads on some not so super bowl.”

                  Broadcasters operate on the basis of showing an ad to everyone to reach possible customers. Remember that cool Super Bowl Midol ad? You don’t? Why not?

                  Advertisers value targeted ads over broadcast ads. Yes, they’d rather their message went out to a larger audience of potential buyers of what they’re selling relative to smaller audiences of potential buyers of what they’re selling, but that’s a tiny part of calculation of where to place ads, and how much to pay for the privilege.
                  Broadcast advertising isn’t very efficient. You deliver your message to millions of people, and most of them ignore it.

                  1. “Nor did Say they did. Or, in fact, anything at all about Facebook. I don’t know anything at all about how Facebook ads work, what with having never used Facebook.”

                    I know very little of how facebook ads work and don’t know the rules for a game of superbowl.

                    “Broadcast advertising isn’t very efficient.”

                    Facebook is more efficient coz they have algorithms and stuff that seize upon a user’s past experience and predict future interests. Broadcasting can’t hope to replicate this.

                    “You deliver your message to millions of people, and most of them ignore it.”

                    You should learn something about facebook. It’s quite a phenomenon. Millions of people doesn’t even scratch the surface. There are more than 2 billion active user accounts. What is their closest competitor in size? Care to guess?

                    1. “I know very little of how facebook ads work and don’t know the rules for a game of superbowl.”
                      Don’t let something silly like THAT prevent you from broadcasting your opinion.

                      “You should learn something about facebook.”
                      No, thank you.

                      ” There are more than 2 billion active user accounts.”
                      More than 2 billion people watched “Gangnam Style” on Youtube, too. That’s their problem.

                    2. “That’s their problem.”

                      Smugness won’t take you very far in the ad business.

                    3. “Smugness won’t take you very far in the ad business.”

                      It’s worked so far. How’s your career?

                    4. Not as jaded as yours, it seems.

      2. Yeah I kinda think we are witnessing the Standard Oil of our day. Eventually competition will drive them out of business, or will at least reduce them to just one of many diverse healthy competitors. Unfortunately the “trust-busters” of our age, mainly on the New Right, will undoubtedly try to use government to “go after” social media companies, thereby creating terrible precedents in their wake when it comes to free speech and property rights.

        1. “Yeah I kinda think we are witnessing the Standard Oil of our day”

          Buying oil is different from buying advertising. All things being equal I can buy oil either from a tiny local concern or a large concern. Makes no difference. But if it’s advertising, I want to get my message exposed to as many eyes and ears as possible.

          “Eventually competition will drive them out of business, or will at least reduce them to just one of many diverse healthy competitors.”

          Which of Google’s competitors do you see driving them out of business?

          1. “Which of Google’s competitors do you see driving them out of business?”

            China

            1. China doesn’t need to compete with Google to drive them out of business. They can simply pass laws. Same goes for USA or EU, I suppose.

              1. So, you’re of the opinion that China can pass laws here?

                Interesting. I’ll treat your opinion accordingly in future.

                1. “So, you’re of the opinion that China can pass laws here?”

                  No. Neither can the EU.

                  1. So, China can simply pass laws, except no they can’t?

                    Got it.

                    1. China doesn’t pass laws here. China passes laws there. Same with EU.

                    2. You still have the problem that you’re arguing that China can force Google out of business, something that they do HERE, by passing laws THERE.

                    3. I don’t see China competing with Google and driving them out of business. That was your suggestion.

                    4. “I don’t see China competing with Google and driving them out of business.”

                      Someone’s been posting under your name, then.
                      https://reason.com/archives/201…..nt_7216416

                    5. Not sure what you are trying to say. Do you think competition from China will force Google out of business? Or is it something else?

          2. You’re doing something weird here. You’re equivocating on quantity in web advertising by presenting the choice between a small platform and a big one, and saying you should prefer the big one because more “eyes and ears”. As if web advertisers paid for a 30-second ad for all users, TV style.

            But web advertising is largely quoted in cost per thousand impressions (CPM), which normalizes away this advantage. At equal CPM, all else being equal, an advertiser is indifferent between small platform and big platform. This is especially true given that small websites tend to get aggregated to minimize tran. Quality of the audience (in terms of likelyhood to buy the product advertised multiplied by the value of what is being sold), is the real driver of CPM. And for equal CPM, the revenue of a platform is linearly proportional to audience, which is the same as your oil example.

            1. “get aggregated to minimize transaction costs

            2. Thanks for your clarifications.

              “At equal CPM, all else being equal,…”

              All else is not equal though, as the size of facebook or google dwarves their competitors. And they are established businesses. They would be able to offer a cheaper CPM as I understand, thanks to their overwhelming advantage in size.

              “This is especially true given that small websites tend to get aggregated to minimize tran.”

              Is that a misprint? Tran?

              1. If an ad costs $Y per X number of people who see it, then a larger potential audience (say, 10X) means a larger cost for the advertisers (10Y). This means that having a larger potential audience isn’t automatically better, unlike in broadcasting.

                You can keep insisting otherwise, I suppose, if you don’t care how wrong you are.

                1. ” If an ad costs $Y per X number of people who see it, then a larger potential audience (say, 10X) means a larger cost for the advertisers (10Y).”

                  I don’t think this is how it works. A larger potential audience, over 2 billion in facebook’s case, means their algorithms can sort through more users and deliver a better service than their competitors who have a much smaller user base.

                  1. “I don’t think this is how it works”

                    As I said, you can keep insisting otherwise, I suppose, if you don’t care how wrong you are.

                    1. “As I said, you can keep insisting otherwise, I suppose, if you don’t care how wrong you are.”

                      It’s a fundamental of statistics. The larger the data base, the more accurate the numbers gleaned from it. I can expand on this if you want, but try to figure it out for yourself.

              2. They would be able to offer a cheaper CPM as I understand, thanks to their overwhelming advantage in size.

                Only because they can amortize development costs over a bigger content base, and thus spend more effort on wringing performance out of hardware. Just like a big oil company can (usually) offer lower price per gallon of gasoline because they can invest more in incremental improvements in their drilling and refining processes. Economies of scale are not unique to the tech world.

                1. “Economies of scale are not unique to the tech world.”

                  I’m sure you’re correct. The difference is in the quality of the product. Facebook’s user base of over 2 billion and their crack team of coders all but guarantees them a better service than a competitor with a user base a fraction of their size. A tank of gas from a large company is going to be much the same as one from a smaller company. Gas is gas, after all.

                  1. “Facebook’s user base of over 2 billion and their crack team of coders all but guarantees them a better service than a competitor with a user base a fraction of their size.”

                    Except that there are more people without Facebook accounts than with them, and no matter how good their coders are, they can’t deliver advertisements to people who don’t connect to them.

                    Depending on what the product or service being advertised, other sites may well provide better advertising conversion rates.
                    As an obvious example, Facebook will never deliver an ad to me. This puts them on the same footing as the all-soccer cable channel, country music radio stations, and Dog Fancy magazine.

                    Then again, I’m fairly resistant to advertising in general. It was the family business, starting with my grandfather, who ran his own agency.

                    1. “Except that there are more people without Facebook accounts than with them, and no matter how good their coders are, they can’t deliver advertisements to people who don’t connect to them.”

                      That’s why we have Google.

                    2. “That’s why we have Google.”

                      Yeah, I don’t use their services, either, except for a modified version of Android on the phone I keep in my car in case I have to call AAA.

                    3. I was joking here. My humour does not play very well here. I have long criticized Google too. And Android was such a disappointment to me. Imagine a computer that doesn’t provide the option of granting root access to its owner. The nerve of these bastards!

  9. Today, the primary threat to free speech is not from the government but from private actors. Yes, I know that only the government can censor speech and the the 1st amendment only restricts the government. However, the 1st amendment protects us from the government from infringing on a ‘right’ that predates the existence of the government. Like the right to self-defense, free speech is one of those inalienable rights the government was created to help us protect. It does not grant or create a right that did not already exist.

    We can debate whether it is worse for the government to fine someone for saying the wrong thing or for an internet mob to force someone from their job for having said the same wrong thing. You can muster strong arguments on both sides of the question. But, in today’s society, one is far more apt to run afoul of some private actor’s sense of propriety than to be censored by the government. And, in the end, actions by both private actors and government censors have the same chilling effect on speech.

    Those who value free speech should be just as willing to defend it when the threats to it come from private actors as when it comes from the government. How we defend free speech might differ depending on where the threat is coming from, but our instinct and willingness to defend should not change based on the identity of the threat.

    1. You can mostly negate internet mobs’ power to censor by using a pseudonym. That won’t stop Preet Bharara, as he can just subpoena the platform you’re using for your IP/email address.

      1. Tell that to all those who were subject to subjected to such mobs based on the government mandated disclosure of their political contributions. Nor does a pseudonym protect a public figure who’s job it is to express opinions in public, such as Kevin Williamson, from an internet mob.

        People shouldn’t have to hide behind anonymity for protection in order to enjoy the freedom of freely speaking their minds.

        1. Freedom to speak your mind doesn’t include freedom from repercussions of what you decided to say, and never has.

          If having people know what you want to say is detrimental to your interests, then that should factor in your decision of what to say, and when, and where, and how.

          1. Freedom to speak your mind doesn’t include freedom from repercussions of what you decided to say, and never has.

            This is one of those things that is true but only if it’s not taken too far. We wouldn’t say that the “Freedom to speak your mind” entitles the hearer to shoot you dead if he or she doesn’t like what you had to say. That would be taking the idea of ‘repercussions’ for expressing your opinion a bit too far, wouldn’t you say?

            So, there ought to be some rational and practical limits on the kinds of repercussions one can expect from speaking up at the local PTA meeting or Chamber of Commerce event. Generally, unless you convince everyone there that you’re planning on molesting as many children as you can get your hands on or something equally vile, ‘repercussions’ might include not being invited to social events. It most certainly shouldn’t include having people you’ve never met demanding that your employer fire you — as with Brendan Eich. That’s a punishment that’s completely out of proportion with the ‘crime’.

            1. “This is one of those things that is true but only if it’s not taken too far”

              No, it’s just true. Period.

              You have a right to speak. You don’t (and never have had) a right to not have people react to what you said.

              ” It most certainly shouldn’t include having people you’ve never met demanding that your employer fire you”
              So, those unnamed people should have their freedom of speech limited?
              “Sorry”, we’ll tell them. “You aren’t allowed to say that.” What punishment shall we apply for saying that?

              Here’s my position: In most cases, people shouldn’t lose their jobs over what they say. There are some cases where a person SHOULD lose their job over what they say (Even in states that don’t have “at-will” employment). If 1990’s Michael Jordan gives an interview in which he says that Nike shoes aren’t very good, Nike should be allowed to stop paying him. If a cop shows up off-duty in a t-shirt that says “shoot first, and ask if they’re black later”, maybe they need a talk with HR. If your preschool employs a teacher that writes a letter to the editor of the local paper endorsing oral sex practice for 4-year-olds, “so they’ll have employment skills for later life”, maybe they should have some ‘splainin’ to do before they get left with a room full of toddlers.

    2. See, this is an actual argument, unlike crappy analogies to easements and absurd allusions to 1984-style dystopias.

      Two things:

      1. Property rights have to come before free speech rights. Because we only have free speech rights in the first place due to the right of self-ownership (the original property right). If you’re a guest in my house and I say “I will not tolerate discussions regarding communism favorably”, and you want to start talking about what a great guy Lenin was, then I ought to be able to kick you off my property. I shouldn’t have the right to do anything more than that, but I should be able to limit what happens on my property. And as far as social media companies are concerned, we are all guests on their property.

      2. We all should probably distinguish more clearly between the “right” of free speech and the “ethos” of free speech. I may have the right to kick you off my property if you start talking up Lenin, but if I am a broad-minded citizen interested in fostering civil dialogue, I should allow all sorts of conversations to take place. The problem with Facebook et al. is that they don’t really have this ethos, and laws & regulations won’t change that. Moreover, I don’t really think that is what the market really wants, unfortunately.

      1. “1. Property rights have to come before free speech rights.”

        I suppose this is so (for you) because you favor property rights over free speech rights.
        Your chicken-and-egg analogy fails. Property rights falter absent free-speech rights, just as free-speech rights falter where property rights are missing. Because freedom needs a commitment to freedom to thrive.

        The thing about all rights is that they have limits, and those limits are found where the rights of one individual intersect with the rights of another individual. Now, exactly where we draw those boundaries vary, because people have different notions of which rights are more important than others. But nobody’s rights outweigh all others, and no right is unlimited. There is a considerable amount of law related to working out limitations on property rights, including servitudes (mentioned previously) and nuisance and public accommodation and public safety. You don’t have an unlimited right to do as you please, or to exclude others from your property.

        Put me down as “freedom of conscience” being the paramount right. Nothing else matters without this one.

      2. 2. We all should probably distinguish more clearly between the “right” of free speech and the “ethos” of free speech. I may have the right to kick you off my property if you start talking up Lenin, but if I am a broad-minded citizen interested in fostering civil dialogue, I should allow all sorts of conversations to take place. The problem with Facebook et al. is that they don’t really have this ethos, and laws & regulations won’t change that. Moreover, I don’t really think that is what the market really wants, unfortunately.

        I agree with most of this. My point is that we need to stand up for the ethos of free speech and vocally condemn Facebook, et al, when they trample of their customers’ free speech. We should also condemn those who form internet mobs and try to get someone fired over expressing a controversial opinion (even, or particularly, an opinion we do not share). We should show support for companies that stand up to internet mobs and refuse to bow to their demands, even if that support is nothing more than a petition saying we appreciate their courage. (I’m not switching my checking account to Wells Fargo, but the bank’s refusal to drop gun related businesses from its customer lists has improved the bank’s standing in my eyes.)

        1. ” We should also condemn those who form internet mobs and try to get someone fired over expressing a controversial opinion”

          So, when THEY condemn something it’s bad, but when it’s YOU doing it, that’s something we should join you in?

          ” We should show support for companies that stand up to internet mobs and refuse to bow to their demands”
          I don’t buy into this. Perhaps that “Internet mob” is just customers speaking up about what they want. I don’t have any power about what a major American company does; I’m not a big enough stockholder to get catered to. But I DO have the right to choose where I spend (or don’t spend) my dollars, and to say so, and tell people why I’m making the decision I’m making. If other people agree with me, and agree that THEY don’t want to spend their dollars on (whatever), then companies should listen to us. And if enough OTHER people says “Well, fine then, WE’LL spend our dollars with you”, then the companies should listen to THEM, too.

          1. Generally, when people are actively trying to shut down people’s speech (or punish them for having spoken), you should stand up against that activity. Here’s the test: If you wouldn’t accept the activity if the government were the actor, you probably shouldn’t be too willing to tolerate it private actors. (See my first post in this thread for necessary context.)

            Note: I wasn’t suggesting going after anyone’s job. I’m absolutely fine with people saying I disagree with Ms. Brown on this and that! She’s not only wrong, she’s double plus wrong! What I object to is going to Ms. Brown’s employer and demanding that she be fired because she expressed an opinion on this and that that was double plus wrong. (Unless, of course, Ms. Brown is a safety engineer and the opinion she expressed demonstrates a gross lack of competence for the job.)

  10. Great article. Don’t believe everything you think. Have fun, beyond any kind of censorship, in peace you can do that only. Not to wax poetic..
    The “drug trade” was not to be brought to the attention of the American people? Yeah, because Anslinger’s men were all working for the drug lords. Anslinger was a racist sadist, and oversaw the murder of Billie Holiday. And he promulgated the drug war to the entire planet. Followed by Nixon, Nancy, blah, blah. It’s not about drugs; the war that is. There are many forms of censorship; I state the obvious. I can deal with my own, more easily than theirs, and so doing I see. Peace
    P.s. “Chasing the Scram” Johann Hari; major work.

  11. What is the libertarian position on the “right to be forgotten”?

  12. May I simply say what a comfort to discover somebody that actually understands what they’re discussing over the internet. imessage on pc You actually realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people should look at this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised you aren’t more popular since you most certainly have the gift.

  13. When people are asked to use gut instinct to stop real but rare horrors, relying on racial stereotypes and other biases tends to rule.

    Is that why the cops pulled a gun on my friend the day I moved him and his babby mamma into my town. It’s strange how one of the other regulars at the Wellness Center died of a drug overdoes latter that night in the Wellness Center bathroom.

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