Pluralistic: 07 Sep 2020

Today's links

Facebook's foreseeable election consequences (permalink)

I think Facebook is a serious problem for our democracy (and possibly our species), but I also worry that many of the regulatory responses to the company just enshrine its dominance, but imposing conditions it can grudgingly comply with, but which new competitors could not.

That's why I think that we should regulate Facebook…but carefully. Get it right and we can nerf it down to the point where it no longer dominates our society. Get it wrong and we will crown it emperor everlasting.

But sometimes, changes to Facebook that go awry aren't the result of some hard-to-foresee unintended consequence – sometimes, it's just Facebook engaging in lethal fuckery and/or stupidity.

This is one of those times. Facebook has observed that in the final days before an election, unethical political operatives can push disinformation in the form of political ads that aren't removed until after the election – after the damage has been done.

Their response is to ban political ads for the 7 days before the election, which sounds fine – until you realize that the only way local election officials can get last-minute information in front of voters is by buying ads.

That's because FB has no other facility for allowing election officials to announce late-breaking info about polling places, mail-in votes, and other nonpartisan, factual information that helps people vote.

If you're an election official – or even the Census – and you want to put something into the feeds of people in your area, you have to buy an ad – worse, FB calls that a "political ad."

And of course, this election is full of late-breaking info: changes to in-person voting due to pandemics, changes to postal voting due to USPS sabotage, changes to polling rules due to dozens of voting rights lawsuits.

To that, add the climate emergency: the Connecticut primary was disrupted by Hurricane Isaias and officials had to spend thousands to tell voters about new rules in light of the crisis.

Like I said, some changes to FB rules could just make things worse – for example, proposals to abolish or weaken CDA230 will just create a world where Facebook's terrible moderators make more stupid calls, removing legit material.

While making it legally and commercially impossible to operate a FB rival with better rules on harassment, hate speech, etc – AND snuffing out any hope of forcing FB to interoperate or federate with rivals.

(We can order FB to police its users' actions, or we can order FB to allow third parties to connect to its service, but we can't do both, because they can't do both.)

But this isn't one of those thorny problems. FB has two glaringly obvious ways to solve the problem of last-minute political ad disinfo:

I. Allow election officials to put messages in voters' feeds without buying ads; or

II. Exempt election officials from the 7-day ban on political ads.

I know we should never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to incompetence, but honestly, this is such A-grade fuckery it's hard not to go with "both."

David Graeber on Spectre TV (permalink)

I'm still processing last week's sudden, unexpected death of David Graeber – an anarchist anthropologist writer, speaker and activist who was prominent in the Occupy movement.

As I mentioned in my obit, the last time I saw David, it was when I appeared on the first episode Spectre TV, the plague-era online panel show he co-hosted, about heterodox economics and radical political economy. Now, the show's producers have put both episodes on Youtube.

Here's episode 1, "What's so basic about basic income?"

"UBI is a simple idea – each person is entitled to a monthly guaranteed income – but it's not so simple in its politics and implementation. The pandemic, however, has brought the policy into the spotlight as millions find themselves unable to work whilst mega-companies like Amazon earn vast fortunes. In this discussion, monetary thinkers, basic income advocates and a sf writer get together to debate the idea."

Here's the second episode: "Against Rentier Capitalism," with David Graeber, Michael Hudson & Guy Standing.

I hadn't seen this one, and it was a sad delight to watch.

Rest in power, David.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Yahoo rats out Chinese reporter to Beijing, writer gets 10 years in jail

#15yrsago Online Rights Group UK launches

#1yrago Marc Davis in His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Julio Linares.

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 520 words (57818 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 14)

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla