Pluralistic: 10 Jan 2021

Today's links

Busting myths about the Night of the Short Fingers (permalink)

The Night of the Short Fingers saw many of the US's largest tech companies blocking Trump and trumpist platforms like Parler, provoking a storm of punditry about What It All Means for the tech companies to have taken this content moderation step.

The best expert I know on the subject is Jillian C York, my EFF colleague. She's published "an ongoing list" of "everything pundits are getting wrong about this current moment in content moderation."

You should read it.

Here's some highlights:

“Deplatforming Trump sets a precedent."

York: "The only 'precedent' set here is that this is indeed the first time a sitting US president has been deplatformed by a tech company."

But political leaders around the world have already received this treatment: Lebanon, Burma, etc. Even the reach of the deplatforming is nothing new: last summer's US Iran ban saw blocks of everything, up to and including Etsy listings for "Persian dolls."

"This is the biggest online purge in history!"

York: Yes, Twitter's kicked off a bunch of (supposed) Qanon accounts recently, but that's peanuts compared to 2019's purge of 1m+ "ISIS" accounts, "with zero transparency and the 'freeze peach' galaxy brains didn’t blink."

"Kicking Parler off AWS is unprecedented/a bridge too far"

It's true that there's something fundamentally different going on when infrastructure companies do content-based takedowns than when the social media companies that use them do so.

But this has happened plenty before, most notably when AWS kicked out Wikileaks in 2010, without Wikileaks having been charged with any crimes.

Companies that have even tenuous ties to Iran have also been kicked off of infrastructure providers' platforms.

"This is communism"

York: No, this is capitalism (American style)

Me: That is, capitalism where, instead of breaking up monopolies, we deputize them to serve as de facto, unaccountable arms of the state.

"Google Play/App Store's removal of Parler is a new precedent"

York: Nope – this has happened before. Remember when Tumblr had to institute a (terrible) nudity filter in order to get reinstated at Apple's app store?

"Twitter won't let you hashtag #1984"

York: Twitter won't let you make a hastag out of any number (because the hashmark is also the number sign, and otherwise the '#1" in 'We're #1' would be a hashtag)

York's list is a work in progress and she's asked for contributions from fellow content moderation/platform regulation experts via DM to @jilliancyork.

Impeachment and realignment (permalink)

If you've ever argued with a racist Facebook uncle over Thanksgiving dinner, you probably had the fact that the Democrats supported slavery and the Republicans ended it thrown in your face. It's totally true.

What's also true is that the parties underwent a series of "realignments" where their politics were profoundly transformed.

These realignments are a regular feature of two (and even three) party systems.

The thing is, there are more than two ways to think about politics.

Each of the parties is best thought of as coalitions – often fragile ones. The Democrats were a mix of southern racists ("Dixiecrats") and northeastern trade unionists. The Civil Rights Act turned Dixiecrats into Republicans ("We have lost the south for a generation" -LBJ).

Both parties seem to be in the midst of another realignment. The Trump/Nevertrump split in the GOP is a very visible and salient manifestation of that phenomenon this week.

Writing on Jacobin, political scientist Corey Robin describes a political strategy for Democrats who want this realignment to be as painful for the GOP as possible, to send the party into powerless disarray.

Seizing the moment could "turn the state apparatus to far different ends":

  • Genuinely empower Black people (not just in terms of symbolic representation but in terms of housing, education, jobs, and criminal justice)

  • Empower a broader working class, which includes high percentages of African Americans and people of color

  • Transform all the anti-democratic vestiges of our sclerotic, ancient constitutional order (Senate filibusters, lack of statehood for DC/PR, SCOTUS, etc)

The stakes are high! To fulfil that destiny, Dems have to use impeachment and make it stand for this broad realignment. Doing so wouldn't just break the Republican party for forcing GOP official to take a side on impeachment.

It would also further the Dems' own realignment, making it the transformative party-of-the-many that we need to recover from the pandemic and survive the climate emergency.

Robin doesn't have high hopes for this, though: "But what I do know is that the Democratic Party as it is currently constituted is not prepared to use an impeachment to launch the kind of realignment I’m talking about. "

But he's no oracle, and neither is anyone else: "I don’t quite see the political forces necessary to turn these political battles of impeachment into a larger question of the social standing of citizens.

"But sometimes those necessary forces are summoned, to our surprise, through the very fact of struggle or limited political battle."

(Image: Marc Nozell, CC BY, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Levi’s to ship iPod jeans

#10yrsago Major record labels forced to pay CAD$45M to ripped-off musicians

#1yrago Boris the Babybot: a picture book about resisting surveillance

#1yrago The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: an RPG sourcebook for DMs who want to imbue monsters with deep, smart tactics

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 539 words (97342 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 26)


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