@mala I think this article is too glib about both misinformation and harassment. The cheap speech we have gained is of a different -- anonymized, diffuse, trivially weaponized -- form than the state or capital driven centralized media it's being contrasted with. The cheapness appears to grant asymmetric advantage to attackers.

@graydon to be fair it's a response to a narrow dismissal of speech for progressive purposes, which concentrated on that (more traditional) left critique.

@graydon that said, my constant concern is that people bolt that weak left critique of free speech onto valid concerns regarding weaponisation, and -- together with the fact that the far right uses free speech as an empty rallying cry -- abandon free expression as a value to centralised control once again. even though it was the early assymetric advantage of cheap speech to silenced and disenfranchised groups that drove IMHO much of the new renaissance of the left in the last decade

@mala any "renaissance" of left discourse recently seems substantially exceeded by the "renaissance" of far right discourse. Sure cheap speech has broadened the participants of all conversations but I think it's pretty clear that the literal nazis are currently winning. This is the kinda frustrating thing about EFF's general stance: it appears not to see or believe (or care?) about that political realty.

@mala like "kill the vermin" propaganda from decentralized origins appears almost as effective as when broadcast from fascist state radio in the past, and potentially harder to fight. It gets people just as killed. I don't know how one can overlook this.

@mala (Apologies if this is too close to identifying your beliefs with EFF's, I realize you're your own person. It's just a .. somewhat familiar refrain.)


@graydon no, I hear you: I disagree with the assessment that the far right have some sort of structural advantage in an era of cheap speech. I don’t think it’s surprising that they would take advantage of it (the primary surprise for me was that it took so long), but I don’t think I could convince you of that in a few short toots. I can only encourage you to investigate how your peers reached the political conclusions they did, and also observe what tools succeed best.

@graydon with my EFF hat more firmly on, one of the levers people reach for in times of fear is to target free expression as a potential choke point to stem a deeper problem.

Previous experience indicates this doesn’t work — and, for most progressive goals, is radically counter-productive. (I’d argue it’s not even that great if you have reactionary goals, but hey, I argue with censoring conservatives every other day).

@graydon I’m trying to think of something more substantive to add here, so I guess my go-to comparison would be with radio — as a tech, you can point to Hitler and the Rwandan genocide as magnified by radio: but it’s hard to argue that these aspects made free expression over the air particularly warped toward those consequences

@mala But like that example doesn't really hold together? Because we as a society _did_ ultimately choose pretty strict regulations over who gets to broadcast what. Radio is reserved for very identifiable broadcasters held responsible for what they broadcast. Even though anyone theoretically can (radio is much cheaper than print).

@graydon (I hope the threading shows that this is a reply to your radio comment!).

It's important to get the chronology right here. Hitler and the Rwandan genocide were both *after* such controls were in place. This is also why I get so grumbly at people who think that censorship historically stops Nazis!

Censorship was rife in pre-WW2 Europe, and signally failed to stop Nazism! Free expression was an explicit post-war goal of the European allies!

@mala That is not a remotely accurate description of the history of denazification policy in postwar europe. It's true that the strongest & broadest policies were eventually ended due to being counterproductive. But several aspects -- holocaust denial and nazi symbolism display -- remain criminalized to this day.

@graydon but within an environment that was explicitly *more* permissive than pre-WW2, and with broad free expression guarantees.

@mala huh? no it was a strict military occupation with censorship and internment and purges. I'm not saying this is a model for fighting fascism in modern 21st century memetic warfare or anything, but I sure don't think you can describe it as some kind of free speech zone ether. that's just revisionist.

@graydon we’re probably talking at cross purposes *and* wandering from the point here — I don’t think you’ve made the arguments I’m annoyed with, and I wasn’t talking about the immediate occupation period

@mala ok. I guess I just think there is some variety to "speech" -- from conversation to information to propaganda to command-and-control systems -- and it's seems a bit .. obtuse to treat threats to one category as threats to all. Lots of people live happy lives under nontrivial moderation, norms, limits, laws. I don't think there's evidence that eliminating all such controls produces good social results.

@mala And to be clear I'm the kid who ran the text file BBS and "free media" zine and poured his early adult life into FSF and EFFish projects for Total Information Freedom in the early internet. I am no stranger to the philosophy! I just believe those very impulses of myself, in retrospect, were too simplistic, lacked awareness of the dynamics of information warfare. As (say) I also failed in my early politics to appreciate market power or the dynamics of capitalism.

@mala the truth does not emerge stronger and purer from a deregulated battle of bytes any more than a deregulated market of dollars produces optimal social outcomes. these arenas have winners and losers dictated by tactics, tools, positions and power. they require thoughtful engineering to produce just outcomes.

@graydon yes! It’s the beginning of the process, but not the end; pushing for free expression, and all those other basic values of an open society are necessary but not sufficient (and if someone’s only argument for their position is that it’s a violation of free speech for it not to exist, that says very little positive about their position, or their understanding of what free speech is.)


But when dealing with the artifacts of that more complex battle, to argue that those basic freedoms are incompatible, unnecessary or worth sacrificing to fix a wider problem, is I think an error. And we have a long set of examples of those failure states!

@mala I don't think "those basic freedoms" names a usefully-contiguous set of freedoms. It spans too many matters deserving of too disparate a set of treatments. It's an oversimplification that just creates manoeuvring room for bad actors.

@graydon yes, I think that's the argument against a rights-based model made from the POV of universalising political stances (like Marxism, or market-above-all neoliberalism). I'm not sure I can defend human rights in a thread here, though it has a good record in expressing what people want, and acting as a fence against familiar failure modes of universalising solutions.

OTOH, discussions about how expansive or limiting the fences protecting free speech should be, I'm always down for that.

@mala suppose though that we were not discussing the rights of people but were discussing the technical structures supporting (and amplifying, directing, shaping the exercise of) those rights. Isn't that what the original article was about? Not free speech, but cheap. And engineered to very specific ends.

@graydon well if we were, this would be a *terrible* technical structure in which to discuss it! I can barely cram in a decent sentence or two, we’re both misunderstanding each other on every other beat, and the lure of playing to the crowd is (almost) irresistible!

I’m pretty sure we have common ground on some of the wider technical (and economic) structures and where they play out: maybe we can eke those out in another format?

@mala Sure. Sorry for heckling. Perhaps best to wait to cross paths in person sometime :)

@graydon i would love to talk about this with you! Thank you for understanding!

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@mala I don't understand what you're alluding to here with "my peers reaching the political conclusions they did". Do you mean those who are free speech absolutists? Those who are right wing? Someone else?

@graydon i meant people who've reached increasingly progressive or left stances in the last few years. I think people worry about radicalization *within* a context of "radicalization" -- that their own change in opinions depends on the similar explosion in the diversity of expression we've seen in the last decade.

@mala Fwiw I can be quite concrete here. It's not "some sort of structural advantage". It's a very specific one: the right is the ideology of might-makes-right -- that power-inequality is good and natural -- and this ideology has a natural affinity for a deregulated, individualist competition between all, weak and strong. In exactly the same way as the right likes free markets, free speech gives the strong permission to use that strength to terrorize the weak. It's .. not a complex argument!

@mala It is of course possible for a collectivist -- or faux-collectivist self-appointed totalitarian state entity -- to enact anti-free-speech measures in a way that produces the opposite abusive effect (cf. soviet system, china, etc.) I'm not trying to argue this never happens. But it's _not_ what's happening in the west presently. We're in the neoliberal dystopia, not the neosocialist one.

maybe the problem isn't free speech but uncurbed abusive behavior? Reddit sometimes sucks at moderation, and it took Twitter YEARS to ban Nazis - and that was due to public pressure. But there fact is that moderation on a corporate server costs money. In a personal server, e.g. Mastodon instances, moderation is volunteered. Scalable moderated free speech.

There's still a problem in social networks, tho: total anonymity, which allows for trolling and shilling.

@rick_777 @mala Maybe in part. Though anonymity itself is only a part of the picture; fully identified horrible behavior is also common. And I think anonymity (esp. for the weak) is generally more important to defend than absolute free speech! There just aren't many consequences for abuse currently, identity-linked or otherwise.

@mala @graydon I've been thinking that there could be some way to certify at least part of your identity in order to verify anonymously that you're a real person and not a fake (e.g. I'd need a third party certification to verify that I'm in fact, hispanic when discrimination vs hispanics is the topic at hand - or maybe simply verify that I'm over 18, still w/o giving away my ID). Unfortunately, atm we don't have neither the protocols nor the institutions to do so.

@graydon @rick_777 @mala I feel like bad actors can be marginalized and good (anonymous? free? beneficial?) speech can proliferate when there is a chain of accountability to follow.

Back in the day, a website chat room or irc server/channel might suffer or be shut down if it had abusive content (see: the rfc abuse@ email address) but giant companies like aol, Facebook, Twitter are less accountable.

@graydon @rick_777 @mala I'm quite satisfied with white supremacy and racism being relegated to fringe websites and chat channels because then it's not in the open, not normalized, any slip-up gets them the boot.

With FB/Twitter we have to complain to The Central Powers That Be and they have to pretend to be neutral. Meanwhile our uncles are getting Pepe memes in and among their sports commentary.

@wilbr @rick_777 @mala yeah I think small communities with internal accountability are at least a good short term strategy.

@graydon @rick_777 @mala or like, a chain of accountability that semi-works.

The core problem is that moderation on a Facebook scale is a dehumanizing gargantuan task that's fundamentally either authoritarian or anarchist.

They tried to copy Reddit with a hierarchy of citizen moderators in groups, but not before letting the main timeline become lawless.

@rick_777 @mala I agree that sufficient investment in communication systems that support more scalable moderation is at least a step in the right direction! But then .. that's kinda my point: it ain't "free speech" (in the mind of the absolutist) if there's a moderator.

@graydon @rick_777 I think that's part of the misapprehension. Not every free speech absolutist is fighting against all moderation; plenty of free expression thought (compelled speech, the right to receive information, heck the whole point of CDA 230) is about the right of people to filter and moderate, and to seek aid in doing so.

Of course, that doesn't stop people wrapping themselves in the flag of free speech when they don't like moderation decisions, but that's another matter.

@graydon it's not! But it's bigger than this paper (or its original).

This is hard for me, because I think I disagree with you more than EFF ever would. I see both free exchange and free expression for everyone as elements of the mode of life I'm working toward.

If they both fundamentally require the deep intervention of an external, centralized power to redress their innate imbalances, rather inherently changeable, then that feels like a move toward oppression, not a release from it.

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