On Facebook and Twitter censorship

In the recent weeks, there have been reports of Twitter and Facebook censoring, blocking, and shadowbanning American Republicans on their platforms. The outrage brings up a few interesting points that are worth discussing.

What happened

Twitter and Facebook are both trying to combat fake news and conspiracies on their platforms. They developed algorithms to down-rank specific content in searches to detect questionable content that violates their community rules.

To put the long story short, if you spend your day on Twitter perpetuating conspiracy theories that originate from questionable sources you should prepare to be “shadowbanned.”

Net Neutrality

One of the provisions of net neutrality was that lawful content should not be blocked or throttled in any shape or form.

Republican FCC repealed net neutrality and gave tech companies a free for all mandate to pick and choose what content they allow on their platforms. When the Democrats in the Senate forced a vote to bring back net neutrality, not a single Republican voted for it.

Those of us who are unhappy with the policies of the social media giants are, of course, free to leave. Conservatives could (and do) form their social media platforms and host them elsewhere. Without net neutrality, the hosts and cloud providers can regulate content as well.

First Amendment rights

I don’t believe Facebook and Twitter are purposely discriminating against so-called “conservatives thinkers” (if you can call Alex Jones one). Even if they did, they are under no obligation to allow any content they find disagreeable.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter is an arm of U.S. Government. They can, at their will, decide that from now on all content they host must only be about kittens and puppies and block everything else. They can also decide right now that from now on everyone must pay for access to their platforms. They can choose to shut down completely. There is not much anyone can do to force them to do otherwise.

Network effect

I don’t believe Facebook and Twitter are explicitly discriminating against so-called “conservative” content. If they did, in theory, it should be relatively easy and inexpensive to launch a competing platform.

Indeed, there are some out there already. One example is gab.ai. Another is vero. The problem with moving to another platform, however, is the audience.

The vast majority of the American consumers are on Twitter and Facebook, and they use Google. If one wants to reach a vast audience, one has to comply with the terms of services of these platforms— or leave them. Like it or not, it may very well be more straightforward to launch a successful global airline than a social network that can compete with Facebook.

Solution

There are two fundamental problems with the current state of our information infrastructure:

  1. The idea that everyone is entitled to free (as in zero cost) access to information, and
  2. The idea that everyone is entitled to free (as in zero cost) platforms to publish information

Platforms have to earn a living, so they found other ways to monetize content— advertising. Sadly, advertising rules content. The content, therefore, needs to comply not only with the official platform rules but also with what advertisers are willing to tolerate.

Advertisers want their brand names displayed near quality content. They fear a consumer backlash if their advertising appears near content that is deemed offensive by the majority of the audience.

We need to come to terms with the idea that some cost must be applied to the content. There should be a reasonable cost to publish, and a reasonable cost to consume content. Only then the information can be truly free (as in liberty) and unbiased. The quality of the content will be higher as well.