Free Speech

Filter Bubbles, Polarization, and Social Media Platform Speech Restrictions

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One common response to objections about social media platforms' speech restrictions—whether on speech about people's gender identity, about the possibility of COVID leaking from a lab, and more—is: "Start your own platform." And I appreciate the merit of that argument; that is indeed how the free market usually deals with companies imposing restrictions on their services that some customers dislike. (We saw with the Parler story that sometimes Big Tech will try to leverage its power to block even those new platforms, but let's set that aside for now.)

But another common critique of modern American politics is that social media has helped push people into their own filter bubbles: People on the left tend to read overwhelmingly left-wing sources, people on the right tend to read overwhelmingly right-wing sources, and this tends to make people more and more polarized. Some element of that is of course inevitable, because it's just human nature. Even before the social media, liberals would naturally read one set of magazines, conservatives another, libertarians still others, and so on; those are the publications whose editorial judgments each of those reader sets trusted. Yet, the argument goes (and I appreciate its merit as well), many readers have gotten more and more insular over time, in part because of social media features and algorithms that reinforce that.

So here's my question: Say indeed that conservatives do manage to create viable alternative social media platforms where right-wing views won't being blocked (but perhaps left-wing views will be). Won't that just further increase polarization and filter-bubbling? At least on an ecumenical platform, people have some more chance that some of the people they're following will say something outside the bubble. But as people are pushed to Conswitter and Libwitter and AntivaxOKwitter and so on, they'll be seeing fewer and fewer things they disagree with, and getting in fewer and fewer possibly enlightening and broadening conversations with people they disagree with. Social media platform speech restrictions would thus just become greater fuel for The Big Sort, at least if the "start your own platform" advice is followed.

What do you think: Is that likely? Would that be on balance good or bad? Is it something we should think about in deciding whether to praise or condemn social media platforms' speech restrictions?

NEXT: Americans Should Be Free to Express Their Opinions About Generals

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  1. Funny. Right now Social Media has a severe slant to the Left. So some want to form their own Social Media that slants to the Right, but, according to this it is a bad idea. Sounds like the same logic that Amnesty International used to justify the arming of the tribes in the Sudan so that they could protect themselves.

    1. I don't think you understand either this article nor the Amnesty International position. AI is using your logic to justify dis-arming the Sudanese tribes so they can't protect themselves. (But maybe I'm begin too harsh. Maybe your comment was a typo?)

      re: this article, yes censorship is bad. Even when private, its bad - it's just not unconstitutional. That is, private censorship is bad but the government coercion needed to stop private censorship is worse.

      But polarization is also bad. This article merely reminds us that the "start your own X" rebuttal to private censorship has its own adverse consequences.

      To Prof Volokh's question, yes we should be worried about it but not overly worried. Even when most of a population self-filters into their own sub-populations, there are always a few who cross the boundaries. Those travelers traditionally have outsized influence on the prosperity of the groups they travel between. It was true when the travelers were tinkers and minstrels. It will remain true in the filtered-social-media equivalent. Best for prosperity is open communication but communication will happen regardless.

      1. Darned squirrels. That was supposed to be a direct reply to jimc's comment.

      2. re: this article, yes censorship is bad. Even when private, its bad – it’s just not unconstitutional. That is, private censorship is bad but the government coercion needed to stop private censorship is worse.

        I think that's too categorical. My prior is that private moderation/censorship can have bad outcomes, and should be kept to a minimum. But I don't think it's "bad" to tell my dinner party guest to leave if he starts talking about how wonderful Hitler was, even if this could be characterized as "censoring" the conversation.

        1. I would still argue that private citizenship is "bad" - but you've found a good example where it's less bad than the alternative.

  2. Doubt the social media split will happen because it’s harder to call out speech that’s on another platform. In other words, it would be harder to ratio your opponents, if that’s something you would want to be able to do.

    1. The Volokh comment threads would be much improved of the Team Stupid members went elsewhere. "Ratioing" them isn't hard, but it is tedious.

  3. Let's go a little bit further into an instance of a company committed to freedom of speech, they don't care which side of the spectrum you're on so they don't censor left, right, middle, etc. Say they only take down illegal things such as threats of violence, actual violence and the like but leave up all the other terrible opinions people have (oh the irony!).

    You still have the problem that people tend to insulate their social feed, and likely still would even if you give them complete control over the feed; instead of creating algorithms to show them things it determines they would like.

    Because as noted it's human nature to congregate with those you tend to agree. The problem isn't just the social media platform, it's people being insular to their viewpoints, and then learning that everyone outside of your viewpoint should be demonized and ostracized.

    Instead of teaching people how to hear and build proper rebuttals to things with which they disagree we've taught them to dehumanize those outside of the 'acceptable circle' and then attack them. It's become a world of division and dehumanization. Divide people into groups. Create strict rules for those groups. Anyone who steps outside of those strict rules is to be dehumanized and attacked because they are no longer human and don't deserve compassion, help, or correction of any kind.

    Sad world this is becoming.

    1. This is the truth of our present political reality. But I refuse to accept that it will be our future. Sooner or later I have to believe that people will get sick of the bullies and the wingnuts and will manage to rediscover civility.

      The present crop of GOPers are heavily skewed towards the lunatic fringe. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz (at least until the lock him up as a pedophile), Ron Johnson, Jim Jordan, and their ilk are so over the top that they have to start driving off the rational Republicans and/or damaging the Republican brand.

      Right now the moderate Democrats are holding off AOC, Bernie, Ilhan Omar, and the wingnuts on the left. Assuming Manchin and Sinema can hold the line, the Dems won't fall into the same hole that the GOP has.

      But the highjacking of the national conversation by the fringes has created a false picture. Most people don't want a civil war or red/blue states to secede, or any other radical insanity. The center just wants a vigorous back-and-forth between liberals and conservatives, followed by compromise and a solution to whatever problems are facing the nation that leaves everyone vaguely dissatisfied. That's what a good compromise is.

      Granted, it means bills will take a long time as the tug-of-war plays out in the media and in committees with Representatives and Senators fighting for the things that their constituents want (like Manchin and coal). That's not a bad thing. Having details hashed out in the open for everyone to see is a good thing. Seeing different factions gain or lose elements of their priorities is a good thing. The more we can see the sausage being made, the less likely it is that the gross mischaracterizations that the wingnuts use to divide us are accepted by reasonable people.

      1. "and their ilk are so over the top that they have to start driving off the rational Republicans and/or damaging the Republican brand."

        Are you sure that's a real dynamic? I mean, you've got the Guam tipping over guy, among others. You think they've damaged your brand?

        1. My brand is libertarian. What some dumbass Democrat says doesn't impact my brand at all.

      2. Sooner or later I have to believe that people will get sick of the bullies and the wingnuts and will manage to rediscover civility. . . . Matt Gaetz (at least until the[y] lock him up as a pedophile)

        As the saying goes, you're either part of the problem or part of the solution. If you can't even hold it together in the very next sentence after a pious call for civility, I'm not sure why anyone else would be expected to.

        1. Hey, it isn't uncivil to point out that Matt Gaetz is being investigated by the FBI for some pretty disgusting allegations. Especially since every time he opened his mouth he looked more and more guilty. For his sake, it's a good thing he finally listened to his lawyer and stopped talking.

      3. In your universe the (D) have their wingnuts uinder control, and it's the (R) who are lunatics.

        In mine the (R) are hacks, but it's the (D) who are out-of-control lunatics.

        Enough said.

        1. No, the Ds are locked in a battle for control of their party and the Socialist wingnuts keep losing.

          The Rs have unconditionally surrendered to their wingnuts. Unless you think Madison Cawthorn, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Ron Johnson, and Jim Jordan are moderates.

  4. "People on the left tend to read overwhelmingly left-wing sources, people on the right tend to read overwhelmingly right-wing sources."

    The situation isn't remotely that symmetric, and you recognize this when you say, "Say indeed that conservatives do manage to create viable alternative social media platforms where right-wing views won't being blocked (but perhaps left-wing views will be). "

    So, there are left wing platforms where right wing views are blocked, and the converse largely don't exist, would have to be created. Further, most non social media outlets are left-wing, too.

    As research has shown, left-wing bubbles are much more systematically closed than right-wing bubbles, largely due to this. It's basically impossible for right-wing people to avoid exposure to left-wing media, while it's fairly easy for left-wing people to avoid right-wing media.

    That's not to say that enabling the right to seal itself up as tightly as the left is currently sealed would not cause problems. It probably would. It's just to say that the situation isn't currently symmetric.

    1. Wait.

      Your "research" is an online survey?

      1. Wait bernard,
        In the world of strategic marketing, surveys are one of the research modes of probing the market. That surveys incorporate the systematic error of facilitating self-selection bias is no reason to completely discount them or to claim that they are not research.
        Other modes of research whether into physical or sociological questions also have both systematic and statistical biases (and errors).
        What we pride ourselves on in the physical sciences is the detailed efforts to evaluate and report systematic errors.

      2. You have better, then?

        1. In the world of strategic marketing, surveys are one of the research modes of probing the market.

          Don,

          Sure. Surveys can be well done and produce useful insights. But it's not at all clear how this one was done.

          We asked more than two thousand American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire.

          I, maybe hastily, assumed that by "visitors" they meant visitors to a web site, though maybe they meant physical visitors somewhere. In either case, as you know, the sample likely stinks, and that means the results aren't worth anything.

          You have better, then?

          Just because I don't have better doesn't mean what you have is any good.

          1. "You have better, then?
            Just because I don’t have better doesn’t mean what you have is any good."

            This is a poor argument. You're attempting to rebut the survey. But you haven't provided any evidence for WHY the survey should be rebutted. As you note "But it’s not at all clear how this one was done," it's pretty clear you don't have any knowledge on the methodology or statistics used in order to rebut it.

            In addition, you don't have any evidence against the point being made.

            A piece of evidence, in the form of a survey has been presented. You can attempt to rebut the survey, by saying why the methodology is flawed. Or you can prevent evidence to the contrary.

            But simply implying that it "isn't any good" without either of the above is a poor argument at best.

            1. A piece of evidence, in the form of a survey has been presented. You can attempt to rebut the survey, by saying why the methodology is flawed. Or you can prevent evidence to the contrary.

              SInce no details were presented as to the methodology (other than, "We asked more than two thousand American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire") I don't feel particularly bad about not offering specific criticisms of it.

              Nor do I accept that "evidence" was presented, at least not evidence that has any value. If you, or Brett, or the authors, want to claim that this means anything at all you're going to have to explain how it was done, how the visitors were selected, etc.

              Until then, it is perfectly reasonable to be dubious.

              1. "SInce no details were presented as to the methodology "

                Plenty of details were provided. A little bit of google searching reveals the peer reviewed manuscript. Again, if you want to debate the legitimacy, you need to actually do the work.

                https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0050092

            2. In addition, you don’t have any evidence against the point being made.

              And you have none for it.

              1. You refuse to accept his evidence. This is not same as his having none.
                You have none, of any quality whatsoever, presumed or not.

          2. Bernard,
            what it means is that any measurement, however done, is not very useful if the systematic errors are not evaluated and stated.
            I did not say that you need to produce a better measure, but only that an online survey should not be dismissed out of hand.

            1. Don,

              an online survey should not be dismissed out of hand.

              Nor should it, or any other purported research, be accepted without detail as to how it was conducted. Not even, "It's all we've got." I could go out on the street tomorrow and ask every passerby any sort of question about political issues, or the media, or related matters. I am willing to bet a substantial sum that Brett and A.L. and probably you would disagree vigorously with the results, would find them incredible, and tell me my survey was badly done and results should be disregarded completely.

              You'd be right.

      3. Your “research” is an online survey?

        Wow, apparently Rip Van Winkle just woke up. But how did you learn to use this here Interwebs thingy?

      4. bernard: "Your “research” is an online survey?"

        He also gave reasons to believe the survey reflects reality:

        The situation isn’t remotely that symmetric, and you recognize this when you say, “Say indeed that conservatives do manage to create viable alternative social media platforms where right-wing views won’t being blocked (but perhaps left-wing views will be). ”

        So, there are left wing platforms where right wing views are blocked, and the converse largely don’t exist, would have to be created. Further, most non social media outlets are left-wing, too.

        So, you know of no research yourself. That shouldn't prevent you from offering a counterargument. But somehow it does,

        1. So, you know of no research yourself. That shouldn’t prevent you from offering a counterargument. But somehow it does,

          I have no idea what your objection is. It's perfectly legitimate to criticize or question a research project without having done a different study.

          What I said, or implied, was that the survey cited did not sound particularly compelling. If you don't understand why that makes perfect sense it's not my fault.

  5. “People on the left tend to read overwhelmingly left-wing sources, people on the right tend to read overwhelmingly right-wing sources.”

    All three broadcast networks are left wing, plenty of right leaning people watch their shows.

    Fox News's audience is a fraction of the evening news on the 3 networks.

  6. I am OK with the rest, but would like to see PBS/NPR go centrist or be privatized. I remember a few years ago seeing a group picture of the commentators for the then current GOP convention. There were seven of them, I think, and the most conservative was David Brooks.

    1. would like to see PBS/NPR go centrist or be privatized.

      Q: Is subsidizing TV / radio stations a proper function of government?
      A: Not remotely.

      1. What caused your brain to skip over the "or be privatized" bit?

        1. Since you seem to be having trouble today, Gandy, let me translate.
          Shorter Ed: There's no "or". NPR should be privatized.

  7. Allowing social media to control what is posted is desirable because if one believes in Freedom of Speech one must also believe in government prohibition of compelled speech. Yes, this may well result in social media sites where only one point of view if expressed, but the users of those sites not only know that is the case, but also go to a site like that because that is their preference.

    It is difficult if not impossible to believe that a person holding extreme views, regardless of where those views are on the political spectrum will be open to opposing views, or could be convinced to alter their extremism based on exposure to conflicting posts. The reason is that a large amount of the public has adopted views based on faith and not on facts. No exposure to the 'truth' or data or independent analysis will change them.

    For those who feel shut out it is important to know that freedom of speech is just and only that. It is not a guarantee of an audience, it is not the right to compel speech and it is not the right to impose your speech on people who do not want to hear it. And finally, for those who complain that liberal sites are more popular and wide spread than conservative sites, may, just maybe that is because liberal policy agenda appeals to more people than conservative policy agenda. The market works, even in speech.

    1. "but the users of those sites not only know that is the case, but also go to a site like that because that is their preference."

      Historically, platforms like Facebook and Twitter grew up while not engaging in political censorship, and then began engaging in it only after becoming the dominant players they are now. Something of a bait and switch for people who joined the platforms before the censorship began.

      "And finally, for those who complain that liberal sites are more popular and wide spread than conservative sites, may, just maybe that is because liberal policy agenda appeals to more people than conservative policy agenda."

      Or maybe it's because when somebody tries to create a conservative site, their hosting service drops them, they get kicked out of the app store, their law firm jumps ship in the middle of litigation... They get the treatment both Gab and Parler did, and Trump's new platform is slated to get.

      1. Don't worry. Trump is a self-made bazillionaire with more money than you can believe and the most beautiful and excellent money to fund his site. You don't need to worry.

        Unless Trump is a con man and he doesn't actually succeed at business. Then things might get tough for his Twitter challenger.

        1. If past is prologue then Trump will make money and other investors will not.

        2. Nah, it looks to me like he's going down the wrong route here, just a plain vanilla platform where he won't be censored because he's the censor.

          His desire to retain control is resulting in a platform which will suffer from multiple choke points that can be attacked. Already have been attacked.

          I don't see this platform being a success. It's going to be sabotaged so fast that it will go on line pre-sabotaged.

          I suppose it will be permitted to run for a while as a sort of honeypot, to accumulate a lot of names that can be doxed. Otherwise the left would take it down on day one.

          I'd really hoped he'd do something novel, like a peer to peer distributed platform that would be censorship resistant. No such luck.

          1. He also appears to be violating the TOS of some of the software he's using.

            Big surprise.

    2. Question, and one I'm asking honestly.

      If it's considered compelled speech as you noted above in your statement: ..."if one believes in Freedom of Speech one must also believe in government prohibition of compelled speech." Wouldn't that by default mean that these companies could be held liable for what is posted by users on their sites, which they currently cannot be?

      This argument seems a bit of a catch 22 to me.

      If it is considered their speech then they can be held liable for what is posted. But I am not aware of any cases in which such a claim has succeeded. Meaning it's not their speech and would there for not be considered compelled speech should it be regulated to prevent them from censoring differing (or even incorrect/false) information.

      1. Maybe I'm not understanding your thought process but, setting Section 230 aside, there is a difference between governmental restrictions on speech (censorship) and companies choosing their terms and conditions or their threshold for "acceptable use" (not censorship). There is also a difference between their speech (which they are responsible for) and their users' speech (which they are not).

        Regarding compelled speech, if I'm understanding your question correctly, you are asking if the speech posted on their site is the users' (and not the company's), their deplatforming of users or posts removes their protections. Is that the basic idea?

        1. His first paragraph asks a confusingly-framed question, but his second clarifies his point: If the user-generated "speech" carried by platforms is not the platforms' speech then requiring them to not censor what users post is not compelling them to speak.

          Which is true. But it is still comelling a platform to use its resources to broadcast the speech of others, even if that speech is clearly not the platform's speech.

      2. No, it is not true that ”if one believes in Freedom of Speech one must also believe in government prohibition of compelled speech" one must also believe that companies can or should be held liable for the speech of their customers.

        Put more simply, speech of one's customers is not the same as one's own speech. Regardless, companies can fight government coercion both in their own right and as a surrogate for their customers.

  8. Eugene, you seem to be way behind the times. "Alt-tech" (as right leaning media sites are called these days) has proliferated, showing that in most ways the market has given everybody what they want. You might want to at least glance at these before drawing conclusions about the state of the market:

    * "Twitter-like" forums: gab.com (going strong despite two takedowns by foes); Parler.com (ditto); Gettr.com. (Trump's truthsocial.com will not be opening its doors even to testers until at least November.)

    * Video hosting and live-streaming (YouTube competitors): BitChute.com, Rumble.com, Vimeo.com, UGETube.com, tv.gab.com.

    * Fundraising (competitors with Patreon, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe): SubscribeStar.com, GiveSendGo.com. (There was also freestartr.com but last I heard it had been taken down by Visa. See below.)

    * Payment processing (PayPal competitors): Stripe. Gab has also announced it will provide this service soon.

    The biggest hindrance to all persuasions having all these services available has been the political blacklist that visa.com maintains, which covers a variety of figures on the right -- not just Alex Jones but such personalities as RooshV and Stefan Molyneux. Any bank anywhere in the world that tries to issue a credit card or merchant account to a blacklisted individual is threatened with termination of its own contract with Visa. MasterCard and Discover also honor and enforce Visa's blacklist. I would sure like to see the law shut down this practice. Patreon, PayPal, eBay, and Stripe were threatened under it and caved, so they now honor and enforce Visa's blacklist as well; freestartr did not, and I believe they are out of business. Gab, for a while, could accept funds only by check or through cryptocurrency exchanges; I don't know what they're doing now (I have a free account there).

    As for Eugene's wish that everyone still talk to each other -- in the main it is the "mainstream" (leftist) services, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, that have forced the market to segregate. None of the services listed here is entirely free of moderation; Gab comes closest (it bans only what is illegal under US law plus porn). All the forums are infested with trolls; Gab and Gettr let you filter them out most easily.

    But none of the "alt-tech" (rightist) services has made any topic taboo, or has banned some opinions as "misinformation" or imposed so-called fact checking. Only the left does that.

    1. Reading the terms of service for Trump's new platform, I expect that it will do a bit of banning.

      1. Brett,
        Do you have a link for this? I'd like to check it out as well.

        1. Truth Social TOS

          "7. PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES

          You may not access or use the Site for any purpose other than that for which we make the Site available. The Site may not be used in connection with any commercial endeavors except those that are specifically endorsed or approved by us.

          As a user of the Site, you agree not to:

          23. disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site."

          I'm a bit antsy about this, personally:

          23. INDEMNIFICATION
          You agree to defend, indemnify, and hold us harmless, including our subsidiaries, affiliates, and all of our respective officers, agents, partners, and employees, from and against any loss, damage, liability, claim, or demand, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses, made by any third party due to or arising out of: (1) use of the Site; (2) breach of these Terms of Service; (3) any breach of your representations and warranties set forth in these Terms of Service; (4) your violation of the rights of a third party, including but not limited to intellectual property rights; or (5) any overt harmful act toward any other user of the Site with whom you connected via the Site.

          Notwithstanding the foregoing, we reserve the right, at your expense, to assume the exclusive defense and control of any matter for which you are required to indemnify us, and you agree to cooperate, at your expense, with our defense of such claims. We will use reasonable efforts to notify you of any such claim, action, or proceeding which is subject to this indemnification upon becoming aware of it. "

          Yeah, on reading that, I think, no, I'm not going to get a membership.

          1. Because, as I’ve explained repeatedly, the non-moderation that conservatives currently claim to want (but what they really want is non-moderation of themselves) is not a viable business model. Nobody actually wants a service in which everything legal is present. They may be okay with small amounts of it, but they want the option to be able to remove it if it gets to be too much.

            1. I don't think you really understand what conservatives want. Not remotely.

              It's not non-moderation, it's user controlled moderation. They want people to be able to control what THEY see, not what OTHER people see.

              From this perspective, the usual social media practice of pushing unwanted content to users is almost as offensive as censoring wanted content.

          2. I use Rumble in preference to YouTube(Google) whenever I can not because it doesn't censor, but because YT's over-aggressive monetization (and forced autoplay) is so obnoxious. I am however hoping that this will prove suicidal because Google is actually evil.

    2. And yet they're all so toxic nobody but the right wing trolls can tolerate being there.

      Conservatives seem to understand this point in other contexts. Every day in my local subreddit they're all complaining about how they hate they homeless people are shitting, pissing, and smoking crack on the streets and subways and harassing people without police doing anything because liberals won't enforce any laws about those things. So why are they surprised that rolling out a banner saying "PISSING AND SHITTING ALL OVER THE PLACE, HARASSING PEOPLE WITH IMPUNITY, AND SMOKING CRACK WELCOME HERE!" nobody besides them likes it?

      And that's the fundamental problem with right-wing free speech sites. You all aren't trying to have a site that allows conservative views (which Facebook in particular bends over backwards to protect, you really have to blow past any reasonable constraint on behavior as a conservative there to get banned) that won't be 'fact checked' and allowed even when demonstrably false and harmful; you just want sites where you can act like the digital equivalent of the subway vagrants and subject others to your bile. Naturally, the market will prefer sites that don't permit that.

      (Also, Trump's 'truth' site explicitly bans criticizing the site or its leaders in the TOS, as well as all caps posts... they're not even pretending to be anything but the least speech friendly place on the internet, competing with reddit's /r/conservative for the title)

      1. Gee, that’s a nice balanced opinion.

        No bike at all spewing from, say, the roaming cancel lynch mobs on Twitter. Those folks are a bunch of Pollyannas.

      2. (which Facebook in particular bends over backwards to protect, you really have to blow past any reasonable constraint on behavior as a conservative there to get banned)
        I call bullshit.

        "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall get thee banned"
        Hezekiah 3:6
        https://thefederalist.com/2021/10/23/twitter-locks-republican-congressmans-account-claims-calling-a-man-a-man-is-hateful-violence/

      3. You all aren’t trying to have a site that allows conservative views (...) that won’t be ‘fact checked’ and allowed even when demonstrably false and harmful;...

        How exactly can "views" be "false and harmful"? I suspect that when you say "false and harmful" what you really mean is "something I disagree with." Which, naturally, means it must be censored! Filter bubble indeed...

      4. You all aren’t trying to have a site that allows conservative views (which Facebook in particular bends over backwards to protect, you really have to blow past any reasonable constraint on behavior as a conservative there to get banned)...

        Liar.

      5. Plenty of non-conservatives like it. Log onto Gab and ask them yourself.

  9. STFU, chicken-plucker, I didn't see you objecting when Obama was doing it.

    What was the question, again?

  10. Say indeed that conservatives do manage to create viable alternative social media platforms where right-wing views won't being blocked (but perhaps left-wing views will be). Won't that just further increase polarization and filter-bubbling? >/i>

    Yes.

    Would that be on balance good or bad? Is it something we should think about in deciding whether to praise or condemn social media platforms' speech restrictions?

    Bad.

    Yes.

    Yes. Though what conclusions we should draw are not clear.

    1. After your second quote you've got three answers to two questions.

      What you're really complaining about is losing a monopoly position, and, contra EV, if more "polarization" is the price of that it'a a good deal.

      1. Who's counting?

        OK, so I extended my remarks.

        What you’re really complaining about is losing a monopoly position,

        I'm not complaining about a fucking thing. I don't care if conservatives, or libertarians, or members of the Prohibition Party for that matter, want to create a social media platform.

  11. The biggest problem with "make your own" is that the barrier for entry is absurdly high.

    As the best example, Microsoft found Bing in 2009 to try to compete in the online search market. After 12 years and tens of billions of dollars, they have achieved... 2.5% English language market share.

    It's actually easier to compete in the space launch market, even before the questionably legal collusion between existing services and hosting services/payment processors/advertising networks/etc.

    1. "It’s actually easier to compete in the space launch market"
      Indeed it is and Elon Musk has captured a big market share with SpaceX competing with national launch services offered by France and Russia

    2. YouTube is trashing the user experience of its YouTube product and I think that may have the effect of its losing its market dominance.

      Bing offered no compelling reason to use it, but I wouldn't put it past Google to create a market opening by screwing with search in a way users fuind unacceptable.

      My default is already not Google, but I recognize that my objection to Google (is Evil) is as yet a fringe one.

      1. My default is DuckDuckGo, but I have to admit that Google is technically superior on search topics where they're not rigging the outcome of the search. Which is less and less topics as time goes by.

        But google isn't nearly as good a search engine as they used to be. Too much effort to guess what you might want to see, instead of just delivering what you asked to see. I'm guessing that's because they're trying to cater to a less tech savvy base now, who don't know how to write a search string.

        1. DuckDuckGo is, in my view, a deceptive offering if short of fraud.

          When you use DuckDuckGo, the results you get actually come from Microsoft's Bing. And while DuckDuckGo itself does not track your usage, they don't do anything to stop Bing from tracking it.

          1. Seriously, you do not know the meaning of "anonymizing"? When you do a DuckDuckGo search, Bing has no way of knowing who originated the search.

          2. DuckDuckGo uses Bing for searches? I guess that explains why it isn't very good.

            But I'll keep using it. I'm in the "Google is Evil" camp. Probably the only thing Gandy and I agree on.

    3. The assumption behind your example is that Bing/Microsoft is any more trustworthy than Google. The technical barriers to entry are high but not as high as you make it sound. Bing's real problem is that they spent all that money to be a Google clone. They made no marketing effort to differentiate themselves.

      If people trusted Microsoft (fat chance, but assume it for the sake of argument), then Bing would likely have done far better in response to Google's missteps.

      1. Bing’s real problem is that they spent all that money to be a Google clone.

        Proving once again that you will never win a footrace by following the other guy.

      2. ...
        What?
        Microsoft is one of the top researchers in web search tech, and have spent at least $5 billion on R&D. They're a "Google clone" in the sense that they are also a web search engine, but I don't know how else you think they are. They also spent a lot of money on marketing, but again - how do you differentiate a search engine?

        And yes, the barriers to entry are exactly that high. Name another English language web search engine that provides its own results, then name its market share.

    4. Making your own online search engine has a high cost of entry because you can't start small, timely indexing of the Web is your jacks-or-better to open before you have a single user. That isn't true for social media platforms, they compete on features and can grow as their user base grows.

      1. Try to get a few million people to stop using an existing platform, that already contains their social network - all their friends, famous celebrities, favorite companies - and switch to a platform that contains none of those.
        This is called the "network effect", and actually dates back to Bell and the founding of the national telephone companies.

        So far, no one has discovered a set of features that can do that - not Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo. And any feature that a new platform could provide would need to somehow be unique, or else the existing platforms would just instantly adopt it - another case that no one has managed.

        1. I don't understand your comparison.
          The telephone system favored local monopolies, because of the enormous expense of stringing (and later burying) all the wires it originally depended on, but even so the systems interoperated and there was no difficulty making a call between subscribers to different operating companies.
          With social networks on the internet the situation is reversed but the result is similar. There are no natural monopolies, and your phone or tablet can connect to a dozen platforms with no fuss or cost to you. You and your friends and idols can belong to any or all of those networks and switch your allegiance and your traffic incrementally, so again there is no need to make a coordinated "switch".

  12. The cathedral must be brought down...it can only be brought down by liberty loving folks leaving it. seperation is not a bad thing. it used to be very different political views could coexist in America because we didn't have special interests (mostly far left cultural marxist types) pushing federal control over everything..local views could be very different and yet we had a view that we were all Americans. This stopped starting in the 60's as marxists took over academia and started agitating...I saw this first hand as NYC far left types started to move into Central NY in the 70's pushing their usual bs of bigger govt, intolerance to religion (they had a viseral dislike of Catholics it seemed and ethnics like Italians, Irish, Polish (the major ethnic groups in my town)...and slowly expanded big govt and the usual suspects (teacher unions, public radio/tv, govt programs that they personally seem to enrich themselves running). To be honest why live with yenta's who want to tell me what to believe in, how much of my money I get to keep, and how I'm guilty of societal problems because of where my immigrant grandparents came from.

  13. Let professors (and experts) of all political stripes offer cheap online debate classes where participants, to get credit, need to

    -pass the ideological Turing test

    -Defend their views in an Oxford-style debate with standard Internet-style argument tactics banned, and, in order to do well in the debate

    -Show a familiarity with all sides of the topic being debated

    Grant a certificate like a food-preparation certificate, for others to respect or ignore as they please.

    1. Cal, guven some of our past discussions you seem like the type who would love The Munk Debates. They have all sorts of people in one-on-one debates on a variety of topics. Most importantly, it requires civility between the debaters.

      And they aren't afraid of polarizing people. They've had Steve Bannon and Christopher Hitchens in different debates. They are fantastic to listen to and usually make you think about everything that is presented.

      And they have free membership for cheapskates like me.

      https://munkdebates.com/

    2. To be fair, they are based in Toronto and the host is Canadian, so they're sorta genetically predisposed to civility.

      1. I can be as civil as any syrup-chugging Canuck.

        Also, people should be discouraging my social-media addiction, not urging it on.

        1. Sorry, man. I didn't mean to enable your addiction.

          That said, it is really good stuff. High grade, never stepped on, and makes your brain work.

  14. I think the entire premise of the inquiry needs to be reframed in light of the fact that Twitter and especially Facebook have gone out of their way to protect conservative views and make action thresholds much higher for conservative users and posts, and flag conservative VIPs as immune from rules (Trump on twitter and numerous ones on FB).

    That given all this they *still* manage to break the apolitical rules so much that they're banned often enough even otherwise intelligent people give credence to their false claims of persecution is a sad commentary on the state of what passes for neutrality.

    A good read: https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3479610

    1. Technically, I suppose "thou shalt not refer to a man as a man" is apolitical, simply barmy.

      1. The reality is you have to go a lot farther than simply objecting to the idea of gender identity and sex being different things.

        The line is crossed when you excessively target other users with extremely uncivil ways of expressing that point. And it's very hard to cross that line on FB, and impossible for conservatives protected by their X-check program.

        1. Your rosy view of Facebook is delusional. For a start, see https://theintercept.com/2021/10/12/facebook-secret-blacklist-dangerous/, but outsourcing judgement to radical left groups like the $PLC is also a thing.

    2. It's hardly a novel observation: Conservatives complain that social media censors them, 'liberals' complain that social media doesn't censor conservatives enough.

  15. If enough people want a "telephone company" platform that lets anyone say anything, the market will provide it. Of course, in addition to market demand it will require immunity from liability for anything it publishes, which can't be conferred by the market.

    1. "the market will provide it."

      Then it's hosting service will drop it, credit card companies will refuse to process payments to it, the app won't be available from Google or Apple, and they'll be forced into the dark web.

      1. If these companies make market-oriented decisions not to be in business with such platforms, what is the principled objection? Next thing you know, they'll have to bake wedding cakes.

        1. The principled objection is that when a service (for example, payment processing) is so over-regulated that finding or creating a competitor with it is impossible, then it is effectively a monopoly and has no moral right to refuse to serve anyone.

  16. If social media companies are blocked from moderating content, how does Twitter and Facebook not turn into 4 Chan?

  17. Point one: A "liberal" version doesn't work.

    1. Most people don't exclusively go towards "Liberal" or "Conservative" areas, but towards domains that they consider "Mainstream" or "Moderate".

    1a. There are nutjobs on both sides. Alex Jones or John Oliver. While they will have an audience, it will inherently be a minority audience, and as such is less valuable.

    1b. The true valuable audience is holding the "mainstream" or "Moderate" position...whether or not the platform is ultimately moderate in truth. Valuable to advertisers, valuable to controlling the dialogue.

    1c. Because of this, Twitter/Facebook/Google will resist, at all costs, at being devolved into the "liberal-version." This inherently is a major loss in market position. Tactics will involve legislation, pseudo-monopolistic tactics, or "reverting to include conservative voices" in order to shut down any real competitor.

    Point two: The nature of monopolies in information transmission, and how they can skew other markets.

    Imagine, for a second, a city has a single major newspaper. Call it the Post. That newspaper got there via a reputation for superior, fair reporting and evenhandedness. Then imagine a large out of town corporation came in, and bought the newspaper. Call it XON. The newspaper has an interesting change of policy. Advertisements from XON's competitors are no longer accepted. Editorials for XON become more prominent. Politicians who oppose XON's policies just can't seem to get any advertising space either, or a fair shake. As a result, XON's sales increase, and those who would oppose its policies are diminished. It's a skewing of the informational dynamic.

    Because the informational dynamic is skewed here, it is deceptive. That's really what's at play here.

    1. Good thing such a thing couldn't happen!

    2. What is the nuttiest idea you have heard John Oliver express un-ironically?

      1. Most "mainstream" leftist ideas are pretty nutty.

        1. Remember, the comparison is to Alex Jones. You think that works?

      2. I very rarely watch him.

        But the one time I recently did, Oliver implied that private messaging services should be censoring "misinformation".

        That's truly frightening. That a private messaging service comes in, and blocks specific texts sent to people, including close family members, because of the content being considered "misinformation"

        1. Yes, consider that Facebook has been blocking as 'misinformation' things that turned out to be true, such as Fauci having funded gain of function research in Wuhan.

          Fauci amazes me, by the way. The guy is almost an Ayn Rand villain, he's so over the top.

          1. What Oliver proposes is significantly more frightening.

            Facebook at least is public or semi-public. Oliver proposed censoring the private messaging apps for misinformation. Specifically in the context of a "crazy" uncle forwarding a "conspiracy theory" along via a messaging system and that the messaging app should block that from being sent, due to misinformation.

            The private messaging apps are going to look at your text messages and select which ones are allowed to be sent, and which don't match its view of "misinformation"? And if you're doing the messaging apps, the logical correlation is the texting services too.

            That's seriously 1984 levels of information control. And it's seriously being promoted on the far left by people like Oliver.

            1. Armchair, can you point me to a source which shows Oliver saying what you claim he says? I doubt it happened, but would take it seriously if I were shown wrong.

              1. Since he is a comedian, there is also a context component that wouldn't apply to Alex Jones. Or anyone not making a living by making people laugh at absurdities.

          2. If Fauci doesn't get at least the same sentence as Michael Vick, the system is too biased to be allowed to exist.

  18. I think the value of social media is to have broad reach. Far right wingers want access to Facebook and Twitter because their is a broad group to which to sell products. Would a far right wing social media platform be able to get the broad reach it wants and still post the messages it wants?

    I remember when talk radio started and there was a broad array of view points and topics. In fact some of the none political talk was the most interesting. After a time, stations consolidated to right wings shows. This worked at first but with out other view points shows were forced to compete in their own realm and had to get farther right and at some point leaving reality. Some shows did well but the audience thinned.

    I do not see a social media platform for the right being that successful unless it can start with a broad audience and that means keeping the nut jobs from posting. I would suggest that the audience they need can already find conservative information on existing media. Social media has not really banned conservative they have banned content by the conspiracy mongers. You can still talk on social media about taxes, national debt, and a host of other topics.

  19. To quote my son:
    "I have an amazing device in my pocket that can connect me to anyone on the planet with a similar device, and it gives me access to all the knowledge of man. I use it to trade snarky comments with complete strangers, and watch videos of cats."

    People do not need to use (anti)social media.

  20. The real problem is that most current political discussion is no more extensive and no more sophisticated than the comments on this post. I don't mean to insult the commenters here. We are all amateurs and we offer our opinions after three or four minutes of deep reflection. This format encourages extreme positions -- "Yeah, Us!" "Boo, Them!" Frankly, we aren't offered much in the way of alternatives. When I was a senior in high school, someone gave me a free subscription to National Review. I learned a lot. After awhile, I started reading the New Republic. I learned a lot from that. None of you will learn anything important from any of my comments on Volokh.

    1. I learned that someone can read both the New Republic and National Review and be moderate enough to accept knowledge from both. These days, that's not just important, it's vanishing rare. Don't sell yourself short.

  21. What the OP describes with alarm is nothing more than the online version of a club. LIke-minded people have always enjoyed congregating and reinforcing one another's views, and platforms with a liberal agenda are no worse than John Birch Society meetings that never seem to have BLM speakers. Be concerned about the polarizing echo chamber effect, but think carefully before mandating content quotas.

  22. I'm pretty confident that the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, use social media to do things other than argue about politics. I don't think any of the "political" alternatives, left or right, are going to displace or seriously threaten Facebook so long as Facebook is where you're most likely to find pictures of your family and your friends' cute pets.

    Alternative social media is likely to remain a niche product for fringe political discussion so long as it doesn't find ways to appeal to the ways that most people use social media most of the time. My mom is not going to be driven away from Facebook by the very few political items that the algorithm serves her, given her lack of interest in the subject. I bet that's true of most users.

    1. That's the part that the diehard political figures (and followers) don't get. From Facebook's perspective, they just aren't that important.

      If they have, on one hand, their massive user base who is troubled by Donald Trump being Donald Trump and, on the other hand, Donald Trump and his hard-core followers who will bitch and piss and moan, but not impact the bottom line, it's a no-brainer what the choice is.

      Their business is geared towards people who want to stalk their classmates before their 10th college reunion or post pictures of their new baby. People who, by and large, don't care about politics except for every 2 or 4 years. The electoral versions of C & E Catholics.

      Hell, their business probably does better when they boot odious jackasses like Alex Jones. Most reasonable people wouldn't know who he is, but when he raises a stink and people hear what he says, they probably think he should be banned.

  23. The OP, and essentially all the comments here presume that internet publishing is a novel, boundary-free playground, which can be sculpted to taste by whoever wins sufficient political power to impose whatever preferred policy inventions come to mind. That follows a pattern established for this topic by essentially 100% of the broadcast media commentary, and print commentary as well. Whoever addresses the subject of internet publishing, in whatever media, time and again, shows up on a fantasy trip.

    Unsurprisingly, all the commentary, whatever the source, almost without exception, seems clueless about why internet publishing seems so troubled, so troubling, and so open to essentially clueless political intervention. In a search for solutions, that is not a promising point of beginning.

    Why is this muddle so muddled? Partly, it is because novelty is presumed, without much reflection on whether it exists in fact. A second part is that almost none of the commenters seems to connect the subject at hand with the un-novel subject of traditional publishing—even though connections of that sort are overwhelmingly obvious, and crop up everywhere you look. A third part is that almost all the commenters are innocent of any sort of publishing expertise—they literally know nothing about what they are talking about—not even that they are talking about publishing—something many of them are keen to deny.

    So none of the legal regime governing publishing, none of the constitutional protections for publishers, none of the practical realities affecting what publishers must do to stay in business, and none of the effects of publishing on the public life of the nation enter at all into these novel ruminations about the future of internet platforms.

    From the political right and from the political left, it is a 100% fantasy free-for-all. The best that can be said for the range of proposals under consideration is that it shows some proposals are cynical, others utopian, and all of them self-interested.

    And one other thing—in some ways it is the key to all the futility evident in this debate. Almost every bit of the, "analysis," comes from the point of view of would-be consumers of opinions, or the point of view of worriers about what consumers of opinions might conclude. It is as if there is nothing else to think of. Which is remarkable, because the commentary is all about ways to use government policy to affect systematically which opinions get published—the principal factor among the whole range of publishing-related practices that government is forbidden by the constitution to affect.

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