First, a disclaimer: I work somewhere that is relevant to this topic1 so I want to be extra clear that I am only communicating my personal views.
Les seems to be (maybe! he can reply if I’m wrongly interpreting) thinking about the sorts of responsibilities We The Public have assigned to entities like social media companies without them really, uh, rising well to meet the challenge. I have been thinking a lot recently about Parler and particularly about how misunderstandings about “digital space” imply very problematic things because they’re not tied to how the actual internet works.
So when I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing recently, I’ve been having very similar ideas to Les on this part:
It goes something like this - freedom of speech does not imply a right to amplification.
The former is your unfettered ability to speak using your own capacity. The latter is others relaying, repeating, augmenting your speech.
I believe the former is an individual right - balanced by the right of others’ expression.
The latter is not a right - because it would essentially demand others be enslaved in service to your speech.
The comparisons are clear. You’ve always had a right to go shout on a sidewalk. As when, say, to pick a company not carefully at all, Twilio drops Parler, that’s fine, because you’ve never had a right to force a publisher to carry your screed on Algerian mind control tomatoes.
Put differently, I don’t think you get to be preternaturally loud without the help & consent of others. And I think maybe there should be accountability for providing that help & consent.
I think this runs into conflict with notions of common carriage and safe harbor. But I’m not sure these are unalloyed goods. We’re building huge, largely unsupervised event spaces that have become chaotic attractive nuisances. They’re like empty swimming pools in vacant rental properties - but with scant accountability for the landlord when a kid falls in and cracks their skull.
I think this is a fair analogy, but not necessarily a complete analogy. I’ve written out and deleted about five different ideas about why at this point, so I’m going to just give you one for now and it may not be that well-worded.
As easy as it is to say that private internet companies are enacting private choices just like an absentee landlord on their own land, there is an aspect here where this doesn’t quite match.
You know, there is a concept about public data networks. I’m told the term kind of died once we got to the internet, but I can’t help thinking that it’s a meaningful concept. The internet was publicly funded, of course, at various times in its development. More than other equivalent research there’s something public about it that we have to acknowledge. The internet is better for being an everyone network. It doesn’t have to be an unalloyed good for there to be some aspect of the good that is tied to its access being public, and that the public benefits from.
There is therefore some real interest we have in making sure that all children are at least free to traipse about on unfenced properties in a sense, which doesn’t quite match the metaphor.
I want there to be some people who do have responsibilities to provide networked computer services with equal availability for all. That work is nobler for its being equally accessed, even if that does mean some awful people benefit from it. Awful people benefit from water treatment facilities too, or phone lines to let them call their awful loved ones. I’m at peace with that. I want a gay kid in a podunk town to get the same big gay internet the rest of us make great even if their local authorities aren’t keen on the idea.
At the same time, we’re going about it in the exact wrong way when we can see columnists at the national level bemoaning that the U.S. President has been silenced because his Twitter account was suspended. If he wants to hire his own people to hook up his own computers to the internet, he has enough money to do it, and enough people to hire from.
(…well, Parler was apparently one giant Wordpress install, so maybe the tech community, they’re not sending their best… but you don’t need startup energy or BigCo talent to serve out a text file of whatever he would have been tweeting, which answers the important freedom of speech question here.)
Anyway, I’ve been typing enough out here that I have about as much saved in abortive paragraphs in another file, so I’ll stop for now. Suffice to say that this is really important stuff, and I think more tech people should be talking about it publicly because we’re in the position of understanding the power the industry does and doesn’t have.
1: I have literally zero internal knowledge about my employer’s relevant involvement or decisions. The internal knowledge about other stuff that I do have from working there is not at all referenced in any of this, so I am merely Jane Q. Public, cloud-knowledgeable techperson.