The Collusion of Corporations and Government

The First Amendment is supposed to citizens from government censorship… unless those citizens are inciting a riot… or making a false statement of fact or saying obscene things or expressing themselves in any of the other prohibited manners. It turns out free speech in the United States is a fairy tale, but I digress.

Even though the First Amendment is a joke the idea it is supposed to enshrine, the freedom of expression, is one that seemed to enjoy majority support in the United States until Trump’s 2016 presidential victory. Those who didn’t believe Trump was able to win started looking for scapegoats as soon as his victory was announced. One of the most common scapegoats became social media. Trump’s opponents decided that misinformation spread by Russian bots on Facebook and Twitter was responsible for Clinton’s loss. It came as no surprise when they started demanding social media sites start censoring anything they deemed to be misinformation. It also came as no surprise when those social media sites, predominantly owned and operated by individuals who expressed a great deal of (deserved in my opinion) hatred towards Trump, complied. When sites like Facebook and Twitter started censoring pretty much any content expressing political beliefs slightly right of Mao, those who were being censored started screaming about free speech.

The response from those in support of social media censorship (those not being censored), like every other expressed political opinion following Trump’s election, was predictable. They purposely misconstrued the concept of free speech for the First Amendment and haughtily pointed out that the First Amendment only protects against government censorship.

Short of a revolution, which in the absolute best case is only temporary, nothing can stop the erosion of a freedom. Free expression is no exception. The concept of free expression has been eroding in the United States since the country’s founding, but accelerated significantly after Trump’s election. Now we have reached the inevitable point where the government is directly involving itself in censorship:

In terms of actions, Alex, that we have taken — or we’re working to take, I should say — from the federal government: We’ve increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General’s office. We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.

Private companies are no longer the only ones involved in censorship. The federal government is admitting, openly no less, that it is flagging content it deems problematic for Facebook (with the implication that Facebook will remove the flagged content). There is a term for a political system where corporations and the government collude. Consider looking up that term your homework assignment.

As with any government grab for power this one comes with justification:

Asked what his message was to platforms like Facebook regarding Covid disinformation, Biden said “They’re killing people.”

“I mean they really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” Biden said on the South Lawn of the White House.

Biden was echoing earlier comments from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

The justification is always safety (and always nonsensical). Air travelers must submit to sexual assault, either in being molested or virtually stripped naked by government agents, under the auspices of keeping air travelers safe from terrorists. Gun owners must fill out government forms and ask for government permission in order to buy a gun under the auspices of protecting the populace from gun violence. Every year representatives in Washington DC argue that effective encryption must be made illegal under the auspices of protecting children from rapists and human traffickers. Now the government has decided it needs to choose what is and isn’t appropriate to post on Facebook under the auspices of keeping the populace safe from a virus.

Defining Police

Those who identify themselves as left leaning are screaming about the need to defund the police and replace them with social workers. Those who identify themselves as right leaning are screaming about the rise in crime and blaming it squarely on the policies being advocated by the left. But neither side is stopping to consider the nature of policing. The policies being advocated by leftists assume police are peacekeepers. The policies being advocated by rightists assume police are law enforcers. The truth is police are tasked with both jobs, which creates a problem because the two jobs are mutually exclusive.

You cannot have law enforcers be peacekeepers or vice versa. This is because laws, with only a few exceptions, have nothing to do with peace. Consider the prohibition against cannabis. What tranquility is shattered by individuals growing, selling, buying, and smoking cannabis? None… until it’s made illegal. Once those activities are declared illegal, law enforcers are tasked with initiating violence against anybody growing, selling, buying, or smoking cannabis. Tax evasion is another example. How does avoiding paying taxes interfere with peace? It doesn’t… until law enforcers get involved.

The only way to fix policing is to separate the jobs of peacekeeping and law enforcement. However, this solution will never be achieved through politics because the State depends on one entity performing both jobs. It depends on law enforcers to enforce its will. Without law enforcers the State has no power. But a populace would not normally accept law enforcers with open arms because law enforcers necessarily prey upon the populace (laws exist, after all, to transfer wealth from the masses to the political class). So law enforcers are also assigned the job of peacekeeping. As peacekeepers police are legitimized and accepted by a populace.

While the left screams about the need to defund the police and the right screams about the need to bolster the police know that the only solution is to abolish the State.

Social Media is Impossible

The toughest barrier for a new social media network to overcome is adoption. People will refrain from adopting the new service because not everybody is already on it. This is why keeps Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media networks remain in business. Since everybody is already using them, nobody wants to migrate no matter how terrible the services become. But this raises an important question, why do you want everybody to be on the same social media network?

A small number of people can become a tight knit community surprisingly fast. These tight knit communities form norms. If a new individual wants to join the group, they are expected to adopt these norms. Likewise, established members are expected to teach prospective members the norms. However, it’s easy for an influx to new members to overwhelm the established members. When that happens, the tight knit community often falls apart.

The Usenet term for this is Eternal September. Back in the day colleges often had their own Usenets. When freshmen arrived in September, they would log into the college Usenet for their first time. Because they didn’t know the norms of the group, they would often violate the Usenet norms. In time the established members would teach the freshmen the norms of the group and those freshmen would either adopt those norms or drop out of the Usenet. This changed in 1993 when AOL provided subscribers access to Usenets. Suddenly a never ending stream of new members were joining Usenet groups and it overwhelmed the established members. This changed the nature of Usenet entirely.

The same thing happened to Facebook when it went from a social media network exclusive to college students to one open to everybody. Suddenly everybody and (literally) their grandmother joined and the entire network changed.

When a group is overwhelmed by new members, the old norms are usually destroyed. What compounds this issue is that new norms are seldom established. I often bring up Dunbar’s number when talking about social media. Humans have a limited capacity for stable social relationships. When that number is exceeded, some social relationships become unstable. What happens when the number of unstable social relationships exceed the number of stable ones? Current mainstream social media networks.

Let’s once again look at Facebook. Facebook is suffering from a widespread breakdown of social cohesion. The site administrators are attempting to force new social norms by implementing an increasingly long list of unapproved behavior. Because Facebook is trying to appeal to the largest number of people, it is making the mistake of adopting what might be considered mainstream norms. However, mainstream norms don’t actually exist (it turns out that you can’t get hundreds of millions and especially billions of users to agree on anything). So rather than establishing new norms and creating stable social relationships, Facebook is angering more users and creating an even more unstable environment.

Facebook isn’t unique in this case. Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and other large social media networks are suffering from the same problem.

I’ve increasingly become disillusioned with the idea of social media networks. Instead I’ve sought out small niche communities. I run several groups on Element and Signal and participate in several groups on both services run by other people. The groups are closed. In order to join you need to be invited. The invitation process ensures any prospective member has already been vetted. Vetting doesn’t guarantee a prospective member will fit in, but it greatly improves the odds. This is the opposite strategy used by mainstream social media networks, which try to interconnect everybody to everybody else. The difference between groups that follow one strategy or the other is stark. The groups in which I participate that are invite only, have remained stable for years. The social media networks in which I used to participate that were open to everybody, became so bad that I left.

So I return to my first question, why do you want everybody to be on the same social media network? Different people have different interests and personalities so it only makes sense that different groups exist.

Many people believed that the Internet would lead to a new era of peace because people all around the world would be able to talk out their differences. This hiccup in that theory is that people seem less inclined to invest time and energy seriously discussing their differences unless they already have a social relationship. This makes sense. Why invest the not insignificant time and energy discussing complex issues with people whom you have no preexisting relationship? That takes time away from your stable social relationships into which you’ve already invested greatly and are therefore more inclined to maintain.

In summary if you want a better online social experience, establish small groups. Social media as most people envision is impossible.

Losing Control of Your Data

There are many reasons why I advice against becoming reliant on third-party services. The most obvious one is privacy. Many service providers harvest personal information from users that can then be used by advertisers and government agencies alike. Another reason is resiliency. A service can disappear overnight. Google is especially notorious for killing of services. If you’re reliant on a service and the provider decides to stop providing it, there’s little you can do. A third reason is that providers can change the rules:

Financial services giant Intuit this week informed 1.4 million small businesses using its QuickBooks Online Payroll and Intuit Online Payroll products that their payroll information will be shared with big-three consumer credit bureau Equifax starting later this year unless customers opt out by the end of this month.

Intiut is giving customers until the end of the month to opt out… for now. Rule changes like this aren’t uncommon with online service providers. Oftentimes, as in this case, when a provider makes a significant change to the rules, it’ll give current users the option to opt out. However, as time goes by it’s common for the option to either be made harder to choose or taken away entirely.

This behavior is the norm rather than the exception for service providers. Google and Facebook are probably two of the most notorious perpetrators, but certainly not the only ones.

If you are a small business that uses Intiut services for your payroll, I suggest developing a migration strategy now. It’s much better to have a plan while you still have the option of opting out than to develop a plan after the option to opt out is taken away.