A little too much coffee and Roberts' Rules.


18 January 2021

Free Speech and the techocracy

by Jon

It's pretty common to read American tech elites claiming to be "disillusioned" with the idea of unrestricted "Free Speech." The "Popper Paradox" has been turned into an imperative; and the proof is that Twitter and Parler can't seem to reign in the QAnon conspiracy-religion. So they've concluded speech works best when there's a moderation policy.

There's a variable, though, they don't realize they're holding constant: individual choice. Twitter and Facebook seem to be tools for extreme self-isolation and cloistering. If you choose, the only voices in your bubble are those that reinforce your own views. You can find an audience of people who think Fox News has been taken over by leftists, or that the Religious Right was formed for the express purpose of opposing desegregation.

In the old-fashioned town square, it was nearly impossible to wall yourself off from opposing opinion. In techno-America, we can wall ourselves off from opposing opinions more hermetically than the President himself.

So it doesn't seem to me that Free Speech has failed; rather, we've artificially crated conditions under which speech is only allowed to isolate. We've become atomized to the point that we don't hear dissenting voices -- unless they're passed along with a "can you believe this" framing. But whatever Twitter and Parler are, it is not just an experiment with "free speech." It's a dopamine experiment where subjects can affirm themselves into insanity.

It would be interesting to see Twitter take Free Speech seriously, not just dopamine hits. Maybe we should hear from others in our community, or from other communities. Heck, we should just hear the other side from the same people. Everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of the incindiary tweet that is RT'd millions of times, and then retracted in a later tweet. It should be trivial to show the retraction tweet to the same people who saw this misinformation. But Twitter will not do that -- too many customers want timelines of pristine doom and anger. The retraction shames them for believing outlandish claims. The machine for unmitigated doom and anger is, apparently profitable.

But before letting BigTech kill the entire idea of Free Speech, or giving AWS veto authority over public discussion, I'd try changing the algorithims that help Americans self-isolate and self-radicalize.