Deplatforming works; forcing a platform, like Facebook or Twitter, to remove a user so that user can no longer use the platform absolutely works. A crazy person like Alex Jones and his fake news Infowars is not missed, but of course the solution is wrong.
I am not coming at this as a free speech issue; being Danish and not from the USA, my view on free speech is not as fundamental. Also, the platforms may be de facto monopolies, but only when viewed together as a group and they are all non-government organisations. They can do what they want and getting rid of Jones was logical.
It was logical because Jones and Infowars were so obviously bad for the public good. However, the real reason they were bad wasn’t the content (which was bad in and of itself) but rather that those very platforms, through engagement algorithms, brought so much attention to them.
The platforms have chosen to live on engagement, so anyone mentioning or commenting on Jones would get Infowars content recommendations. And as has been clear for a long time, this leads to more and more extreme recommendations.
So the deplatforming solves a problem, but the problem it solves is a problem with the platform.
And deplatforming has been used in much wider scenarios. In Denmark, the person holding the highest civilian office was suspended from Facebook and on a much smaller scale I have a friend for whom this happened more than once. OK, he writes some stupid and provocative stuff that I don’t think he should write but when people opposing his views try to get him deplatformed, and succeed, that is a problem. Because those platforms are where our public discussions are carried out.
I am thinking about this because a new wave of deplatforming is occurring at the moment and the fallout from that is interesting.
This time it started with professional provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos getting kicked of Patreon, followed closely by Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin. I haven’t heard much of Yiannopoulos’ work but I have heard some of Benjamin’s. I have a problem with some of the stuff that Benjamin has done – some of the things he has said are vile – and I don’t think he has taken responsibility for those actions, so I don’t seek him out. But his take-down of Crash Courses “Human Geography” video is a classic, and should be watched. The CC video is a criticism of Environmental Determinism and this criticism is done so poorly that Benjamin’s take-down ends up introducing ED pretty well.
When Benjamin was removed from Patreon, removing a significant part of his income, it became apparent that deplatforming had reached a new level. I was not surprised when I heard that Mastercard and Paypal has a hand in the deplatforming, as they have been active in this area for some time. Originally they had acted on behalf of the Five Eyes nations, making sure that sites like Wikileaks would have trouble getting funding. But now they are acting on behalf of political groupings, primarily on the radical left.
This is where the title comes in; as the platforms of choice are owned by private entities, and because those platforms are in effect the only way to get your message distributed, they work as feudal lords to us. And apparently the left is happy to ask our feudal lords for assistance.
Not to mention the credit card companies, whom we have entrusted our money. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to have a credit card company decide what we could use our money on? Well, some, but not all usual suspects.
And if you lack imagination as to how this will turn out, just look to China and their upcoming Social Credit System. Will a dissident be allowed to buy a car? Probably not.
So the radical left turn to the feudal lords of internet and financial platforms, asking them to stop those they oppose. I doubt they have the imagination to realise what will happen in a few years, even though the USA election in 2016 showed everyone what a generation of identity politics from the radical left brought forth: Identity politics from the radical right.
I think Dave Rubin is right in leaving Patreon now and trying to establish an independent way to fund his activities, but I think he lacks some imagination. He is still dependent on Youtube and of course his website depends on DNS (both platforms). He needs to solve those problems, essentially recreating the distributed, non-platform internet. And then he will still be dependent on payment providers…
I still think everyone should have a blog and I don’t think it should be hosted here, on Automattic’s WordPress.com site. That is something that I at least have to look at myself someday.