What went wrong
Corporate social media entities aren’t “the public square” and they aren’t a safe way to stay in touch with family and friends. While they may masquerade as such, they are the furthest thing from being either of those. These are information control systems. One of the best things about the #TwitterFiles is that for many people, it’s a window into what those operating these systems see. This is hardly a secret. In 2020 The Social Dilemma has great coverage on how social media corporations are built to manipulate their users. Ironically, a lot of its commentary on “fake news” already hasn’t aged very well. The documentary pathologizes those who didn’t fall in lockstep with the lockdown agenda. The first hour is still worth understanding.
As governments and corporations fight over who gets to be the arbiter of truth, suppression and manipulation will continue to rise. The cost of this constant manipulation is hard to quantify, and most commentary treats it as a non-negotiable fixture of modern life. Control over everyone’s access to information, and ability to express themselves begets all kinds of problems. In mainstream coverage, a lot of the emphasis is focused on misinformation from users. Yet, they’re notably silent on state and corporate driven disinformation.
As people’s access to information becomes more centralized and controlled, there’s a rising acknowledgement that so does the responsibility over it. We are currently stuck between a tug-of-war between corporations and governments over control over the people’s access to information. This didn’t suddenly take place. Far from something these platforms were instantly tasked with; the preparations had been gradually taking place for years. Purportedly to stop the harms of , censorship gradually ramped up. Over the long run the public was conditioned to accept increasingly invasive censorship.
The blue bird has been largely regarded as the “digital public square” for quite some time. Despite a minority of people using the platform, and an even smaller minority actually posting, Twitter has relied on the perception of being the public square. Much of that illusion was propped up by a first-class presence of mainstream media, as well as the verification system. Prior to Musk’s takeover being verified on twitter was a form on status symbol on the platform. In addition to this, being verified allowed the user to ignore interactions from the “riff raff” of unverified users.
Twitter has been as bad as any other big tech platform for censorship, datamining and algorithmic manipulation. The site has long been criticized for the short character count, making clear communication difficult.
…Twitter has censored leaks about corruption in politics, crimes committed the Government and spy agencies, opinions that didn’t agree with the Western propaganda about the war in Ukraine. This is criminal. This is wrong. And this is what’s happening at all big tech companies.
I like to tell @Jack and all our fellow tech entrepreneurs… You have sold us out. You have betrayed us. You have destroyed our rights and democracy. You have turned the dream of what the Internet can do for humanity into a nightmare. Shame on you.
Kim Dotcom on Twitter
The #TwitterFiles is a very important confirmation of what many have suspected for quite some time. It is easy to fall prey to the illusion that this was merely a failing of Twitter’s management at the time. In an age where governments and corporations will use any and all leverage they can against the people, anything that can be subverted will be. New management is likely to be little more than a fresh coat of paint on the same top-down information control machine.
“The bird is freed” Tweeted Elon Musk. The mainstream media is in full meltdown over the uncertainty of what “Twitter 2.0” will be. Whatever Elon’s plans for Twitter are; there aren’t enough assurances to those who are used to controlling the conversation.
Facebook AKA “Lifelog”
Twitter wasn’t the only platform outright puppeteered by government. Facebook certainly has dubious origins when it comes to government interference. It has been caught running experiments on it’s users and vast misuse of user data.
Yes, Twitter censors people + has close ties to the National Security State.
However, now people are not focusing on how SBF is about to get away with a billion dollar Ponzi or how the WHO is about to establish a global biosecurity authority, etc. Whitney Webb on Twitter
Speaking of FTX, it’s very concerning how many ties keep leading back to information control. Liam Sturgess has a great explanation of Facebook in his look into effective altruism. He brings up many of the things that the movie “The Social Network” has left out.
Far from being an organic video sharing platform. YouTube is big business. It’s a game for the big players and there are rules to compete. What makes the platform unique is that it shares ad revenue with it’s creators. This means that YouTube has a spigot to encourage or discourage a wide variety of behaviors. All kinds of fantastic and hardly-controversial creators have been “demonetized”, effectively eliminating them from mainstream participation.
Where big business takes the wheel, propaganda isn’t far behind. Those with power are able to use their wealth to mislead the public into accepting that which isn’t in their interest. Anti-human nihilism and guilt can be placed squarely on the masses to disarm themselves mentally.
Is it really still a mystery why so many positions that are “settled science™” all point in the same anti-human direction? Can we really blame “those crazy kids” who have been raised (or radicalized) in hyper-reality manufactured entirely to destroy them?
Reddit is a site that features walls of [deleted] and [removed] posts on every controversial topic and even some seemingly non-controversial ones. This is because Reddit is patrolled by legions of volunteer moderators. It’s no free-for-all because the moderators have a clear hierarchy which builds powermods. These powermods essentially control the content over the entire site. A notable powermod was maxwellhill, who notably hasn’t posted since Ghislane Maxwell has been arrested.
In addition to outright censorship, reddit is notorious for self-censorship because your posts are linked to a profile that earns “karma”. Not only will users be called out for old posts, but losing too much karma impacts your ability to participate in different subreddits.
Discord,LinkedIn, Tiktok, Tinder, and others
Anywhere people’s access to others is gated behind an opaque centralized service, they are open to manipulation and abuse. It is high time that people recognize this and refuse to cooperate with it. People should be empowered to make their own decisions without being arbitrarily retaliated against. Those who seek the ability to control information will always have questionable judgement.
A recurring theme in mainstream commentary on social media manipulation is that this is simply a problem that needs to be managed by various non-profits and state actors. This presumes that such manipulation is tolerable in the first place. It is quite ironic that the very problem created by state and corporate influence is something the mainstream is pushing to be solved with more state and corporate control. If anything, they have already shown a severe lack of trustworthiness with the tools that already exist.
It is highly dishonest to portray social media enterprises as rogue actors let loose by “laissez faire” free market profiteering. They’ve all had very close ties with governments and even intelligence agencies. Any and all harms permitted while three-letter-agencies had their hand up these companies is a problem of prioritization not power.
As the actions of Twitter before the Musk purchase have shown: Trust and Safety isn’t about protecting the people. These institutions work as commissars within centralized services to thought-police in ways that would have been impossible not long ago. The terrifying reality is that the watchers are being watched by other watchers, competing for zeal to climb for status. The current political environment suffers in part by a self-organized conspiracy against the people. The people are effectively out manuevered, and in limited supply of options to protect themselves.
Self-hosted and decentralized alternatives are foundational steps towards progress. The people taking action to adopt these platforms would go a long way to leveling the playing field. However, this is not the totality of the fight. It would be naive to believe that once the people walk away from information control systems, that those who profit off controlling the discussion would just pack it in and give up.
Many of the same mechanisms use to control and manipulate social media are just as applicable to service providers. Free speech exists as a widely shared cultural principle or not at all. Stronger safeguards need to #Protect the Stack from being leveraged against the people. Service providers as well as financial services are all points of failure that can be weaponized to eliminate competition.
The root of the problem
We can never know what *would have happened, Lucy. But what will happen is another matter entirely.
Aslan - The Chronicles of Narnia
We have a saying here: “We only have one timeline”. In short, this means that the damage is done. There is no use to endlessly speculate about how history could have been altered if things had been done differently. Instead we should learn from the past for the purpose of building a better future, or at least avoiding past mistakes.
The mainstream media and platforms have effectively sold out their credibility. Trust in these institutions has justifiably been in decline for some time. In hindsight, it is easy to believe that the mainstream media has always been the top-down information control machine that exists today. It can be useful to keep in mind that different technologies and forms of media have their own trade-offs. In todays media landscape, the medium is the message couldn’t be more obvious.
Charitably, a single mainstream information landscape has a purpose. There was a time where the technology to get messages out wasn’t as democratized as it is today. In addition to raw technological challenges, it is useful to have information dissemination enhanced with credibility and expertize.
Whether it’s fact-checkers, universities, or large corporate media outlets, they all suffer from a primary weakness that has inevitably lead to a loss of trust: rigidity. This refined information propagation machine has to function in ways that undermine it’s ability to properly convey issues. Mass media is inherently limited by the very constrained attention span of it’s audience. This leaves hardly any room for nuance, or representing a broad spectrum of issues. These institutions fail to properly characterize, prioritize and report on nearly every pressing concern of the day. More and more, as the mainstream loses dominance, it will have to divert more and more attention to issues that inflate it’s self-importance.
This means that anyone earnestly attempting to get people to understand any issue through this medium, is going to be restrained by the very same constraints. It’s easy to underestimate the challenge of communicating simple concepts to a broad audience.
Only a few topics can rise.
No topic can be given much time for depth or self-reflection
Authority is presumed, and hardly questioned if at all.
With all these limitations one could easily be mislead to think there is no room for malice. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Media Matrix is a comprehensive history on this. If the mainstream media ever had a legitimate purpose, it has certainly transformed itself into part of a large growing information control apparatus.
During the Covid Crisis, instead of merely reporting on information as things developed; the mainstream media took an active role in shaping the conversation. If anyone is to receive clemency for getting things wrong, it is certainly not those who ensured that people would. To many this was an outright shocking development. It was so shocking, that people often couldn’t accept that things were this bad.
Surely, they will eventually report the truth as lies get discredited in time? That is a very cold comfort. Smothering the truth when lives are on the line isn’t erased by getting it right years after the fact if at all. it is important to realize this is far from the only time.
Getting it right
The Covid Crisis laid bare the deadly effects of censorship before all to see. We are all responsible for learning from what has happened.
Among other things, we should:
- Grow our disgust for:
- Thoughtless compliance
- Enhance our appreciation for:
- Principled opposition
- Inalienable human rights
Connecting with others
Instead of focusing on a single public square, it is better that we nurture a symphony of vastly different spaces with different parameters and cultures. This way important information and insights can be properly elevated from a variety of sources, instead of being bottle-necked by a single mindset or culture. Achieving this requires a solid commitment to authentically liberal values and a much higher tolerance for differences than people have generally shown.
If you’re still trapped on any of the big tech social media platforms please consider leaving. At the very least you’ll want to consider building a presence on more accessible federated alternatives. In doing so you can help diversify people’s ability to express themselves and learn from others.
Live not by lies
When the truth offends we lie and lie until we can no longer it is even there…but it is still there… Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.
There’s never a bad time to come clean. Anything you can do to fix the little things in your live can build to meaningful change over time. While lies have real, devastating impact, there’s always something to be gained by making good on wrongs done.
One of the many ways we should honor the victims of the Covid Crisis is to work to make impossible the level of censorship and top down control that enabled the very crimes committed.