The Revolution Won’t Be Tweeted

Comparing the civil unrest at the Capitol to the 9/11 attacks seems to be the trendy thing to do. Doing so is idiotic, but most trendy things are. However, there is a noteworthy characteristic they share: they preceded crackdowns on heterodox ideas.

This crackdown has been more obvious because it follows the popularization of social media. We get to witness Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube ban users. The posts and videos made by politicians and orthodox thinkers calling for the suppression, oftentimes through violent means, of heterodox thinkers are shared far and wide. What makes it even worse is that there are quisling everywhere. Numerous people are bragging about having reported friends of family members to authorities and administrators for the crime of expressing wrongthink.

Social media sites have made it clear that they will not host heterodox ideas. The revolution won’t be tweeted. So what’s a heterodox thinker to do?

The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is establish additional means of contacting your fellow heterodox thinkers. Secure means of communication are preferable. My tribe and I have make extensive use of Signal and Element. But even e-mail is enough to notify your tribe that you were purged.

The second thing is tidy up your tribe. In an environment where friends and family members are bragging about selling each other out, it pays to raise some walls between your social circles. Take a page from the freedom fighter book and establish cells. Despite what social media encourages, not all of your friends have to know all of your other friends. Not every person with whom you sleep needs to meet your parents. It makes sense to separate your social circles into cells. Treat your family as one group. If you’re a Linux enthusiast, treat your Linux enthusiast friends as another group. If you’re also an anarchist, treat your anarchist friends as a third group. You may have friends who fall into multiple groups, which is fine. The purpose of tidying up your tribe isn’t to separate all of your friends from one another, it’s to separate those who ideologically opposes one another. Having family members is great. Having fellow anarchists is great. But some of your family members may be orthodox thinkers and thus ideologically oppose your heterodox thinking anarchist friends. If those family members know who your anarchist friends are, they may choose to report them (possibly to the authorities, possibly to the service administrators, or possibly to both).

The third thing is to establish appropriate long-term methods of communicating with your cells of friends. If your family are mostly orthodox thinkers then phone calls, standard text messages, e-mail, and even social media sites (if you haven’t already been banned) may be appropriate. Your Linux cell is likely more technologically savvy but still mostly on the up and up in the eyes of orthodox thinkers so tools like Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Discord may be appropriate. Your anarchist cell will be populated by heterodox thinkers so secure communications, preferably using decentralized and even more preferably self-hosted tools, will be appropriate.

The final thing only applies to cells with an external mission. You and your cell need to determine appropriate ways of publishing your propaganda. The more orthodox the thinking of a cell is, the easier this is. Your Linux cell is still mostly free to post its propaganda on social media sites. But your heterodox thinking cells need to put more effort into this. Anarchists, for example, can’t rely on social media platforms. They need to consider setting up self-hosted websites, establishing mailing lists, etc. Distributing local propaganda may require resorting to old-fashion pamphlets.

Mainstream acceptance of free expression ebbs and flows. We are currently in an ebb, but just because acceptance of free expression is moving back out to sea doesn’t mean it won’t return. It also doesn’t mean we can’t express ourselves. We just need to practice more caution and exercise more creativity.

One-Sided Contracts

Yesterday I once again reiterated the fact that if you don’t own your infrastructure, you’re at the mercy of whoever does. Today I want to discuss why third-party providers can so easily pull the rug out from underneath you.

Businesses all over the world rely on third-party providers for any number of goods and services. They do so without too much concern that those third-parties are going to suddenly kneecap them. How do they accomplish such a feat? The answer is contracts. Large business deals aren’t made by one business clicking the accept button on a provider’s terms of service of end user license agreement. They’re made by lawyers on both sides negotiating terms. If one party only offers a deal where they can do whatever they want and the other party simply has to accept it, the other party will likely walk away. But such one-sided deals are common with online service providers.

If you sign up for an account on Amazon Web Services, Digital Ocean, GoDaddy, or any other hosting provider, you are presented with terms of service that you have to accept in order to use the service. There is no opportunity for you to negotiate. If you bother to read the terms of services, you’ll realize that they tend to put a lot of obligations on you as the paying customer but almost none of them as the provider. The terms of service usually allow the provider to cut you off for any reason without notice. But do you get any guarantees in return? Do they guarantee you uptime, reliability, or anything along those lines? If they do, do they agree to pay a financial penalty if they fail to provide what they guarantee? Do they offer a concise list of specific terms that are the only terms under which they are allowed to terminate the agreement without paying a financial penalty to you? They don’t.

I’ve been fortunate enough to observe contract negotiations between businesses. It’s both an interesting and painstaking process. They can take weeks, months, and even years. During that time both parties will strive to ensure every detail that could impact them is hammered out. Neither party wants to be in a position where the other can screw them.

Every end user license agreement and terms of service you’ve accepted over the years was likely entirely one-sided. The company you’re paying probably reserved all of the power for themselves. It’s likely that they dictated who will arbitrate any disagreement between them and you (if any disagreement is even allowed to you under the terms). This is one reason, perhaps the biggest reason, you can’t rely on a third-party service provider. If you decide to host your site on Amazon Web Services, Digital Ocean, GoDaddy, etc., they can remove your site for any reason without any advanced warning. In return you get to take it and ask for more.

No competent business would knowingly enter a one-sided contract. Take a page from their book. If you’re looking to purchase a good or service and the only offer is a one-sided agreement where the provider gets all of the power, walk away.

Silence!

The 2020 presidential election turned out exactly as I and anybody else who has witnessed two children fighting over a toy expected. The only thing missing was Biden giving Trump a wedgie and calling him a poophead after his victory was certified.

What has been far more interesting to me is the response by our technology overlords. It seems that online service providers are participating in a competition to see who can best signal their hatred of Trump and the Republican Party. MSN is acting as the high score record keeper and listing every online service that has banned Trump or anything related to the Republican Party. Some of the entries were predictable. For example, Facebook and Twitter both banned Trump and Reddit announce that it banned /r/DonaldTrump.

Some of the entries are a bit more interesting (although still not surprising). Apple and Google both banned Parler (basically a shittier Facebook marketed at Republicans) from their respective app stores. Then Amazon, not wanting to be shown up, announced it had banned Parler from using its AWS services (which Parler stupidly chose as its hosting provider). For over a decade I’ve been telling anybody who will listen about the dangers of relying on tightly controlled platforms and other people’s infrastructure (often referred to as “the cloud”). These announcements by Apple, Google, and Amazon are why.

If you use an iOS device, you are stuck playing by Apple’s rules. If Apple says you’re no longer allowed to install an app to access an online service, then you’re no longer allowed to install an app that accesses that online service. The same is true, although to a lesser extent (for now), with Android. Although Android is open source Google exercises control over the platform through access to its proprietary apps. If a device manufacturer wants to include Gmail, Google Maps, and other proprietary Google apps on their Android devices, they need to agree to Google’s terms of service. The saving grace with Android is that its open source nature allows unrestricted images such as LineageOS to be released, but they generally only work on a small list of available Android devices and installing them is sometimes challenging. I’ve specifically mentioned iOS and Android, but the same is true for any proprietary platform including Windows and macOS. If Microsoft and Apple want to prohibit an app from running on Windows and macOS, they have a number of options available to them including adding the app to their operating systems’ build-in anti-malware tools. The bottom line is if you’re running a proprietary platform, you don’t own your system.

Anybody who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I self-host my online services. This blog for instance is running on a computer in my basement. Self-hosting comes with a lot of downsides, but one significant upside is that the only person who can erase my online presence is me. If you’re relying on a third-party service provider such as Amazon, Digital Ocean, GoDaddy, etc., your online service is entirely at their mercy. Parler wasn’t the first service to learn this lesson the hard way and certainly won’t be the last.

I’ve had to think about these things for most of my life because my philosophical views have almost always been outside the list of acceptable ideas. I developed absolutist views on gun rights, free speech, and the concept of an accused individual being innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in school and continue to maintain those views today. Opposing all forms of gun and speech restrictions doesn’t make you popular in K-12 and especially doesn’t make you popular in college. Being the person who wants a thorough investigation to determine guilt during a witch hunt generally only results in you being called a witch too. However, that list of acceptable ideas has continuously shortened throughout my life. Absolutist or near absolutist views on free speech were common when I was young. They became less common when I was in college, but the general principle of free speech was still espoused by the majority. Today it seems more common to find people who actually believe words can be dangerous and demand rigid controls on speech. It also seems that any political views slightly right of Leninism have been removed from the list.

If you hold views that are outside of the list of acceptable ideas or are in danger of being removed from the list, you need to think about censorship avoidance. If you haven’t already started a plan to migrate away from proprietary platforms, now is a good time to start. Likewise, if you administer any online services and haven’t already developed a plan to migrate to self-hosted infrastructure, now is actually at least a year too late, but still a better time to start than tomorrow. Our technology overlords have made it abundantly clear that they will not allow wrongthink to be produced or hosted on their platforms.