Pluralistic: 25 Mar 2021

Today's links

Zuckerpunch (permalink)

A monopolist's first preference is always "don't regulate me." But coming in at a close second is "regulate me in ways that only I can comply with, so that no one is allowed to compete with me."

A couple hundred mil for compliance sounds like a lot but it's a bargain if it excludes future competitors.

That's why Facebook and Youtube flipped and endorsed the EU plan to mandate hundreds of millions of euros' worth of copyright filters in 2019.

Mark Zuckerberg may be a mediocre sociopath with criminally stupid theories of human interaction that he imposes on 2.6 billion people, but he is an unerring bellwether for policies that will enhance Facebook's monopoly power.

Pay attention whenever Zuck proposes a "solution" to the problems he caused (not just because creating a problem in no way qualifies you to solve that problem) – the only "problem" he wants to solve is, "How do I monopolize all human interaction?"

Today, Zuckerberg is testifying about his monopoly power to Congress. Hours before he went on air, he released a proposal to "fix Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act."

CDA230 is the rule that says that the people who publish unlawful speech should be accountable for it – not the service providers that hosted the speech (but it does allow online services to moderate speech it finds offensive).

CDA230 is among the only good technology laws the US Congress ever adopted, and without it, no one would ever host your complaint about a business, your #MeToo whistleblowing, your negative reviews or your images of official corruption or police violence.

The GOP hates 230 because it lets online platforms delete disinformation and hate speech without obliging them to have a "fairness doctrine" rebuttal (e.g. deleting both Trump's exhortations to inject bleach AND messages from doctors saying don't inject bleach!).

The right hates 230 because their 40 year program to create unlimited corporate power by nerfing antitrust law has created…unlimited corporate power, which is sometimes wielded against them.

Rather than limiting corporate power, they want to make it possible for rich people to sue Big Tech platforms for shadowbanning them. This is standard cognitive dissonance nonsense, and par for the course for Reagan's brainchildren.

But in a weird reversal, progressives have picked up on this, joining hands across the aisle to demand the right to sue platforms for things users say, despite the fact that this is a gift to giant corporations and ruthless plutes who want to silence their critics.

Seriously. CDA230 is 26 words long. It's not hard to understand. if you think abolishing CDA230 will hurt Facebook, you've been fooled. Just read this:

If that doesn't convince you, consider this: Zuck wants to get rid of CDA230, too.

Zuck does not propose rules that hurt Zuck.

Zuck is an unreliable narrator, but his regulatory proposals for Facebook are unswervingly perfect indicators of "Things that benefit Facebook."

Here's Zuck's proposal: CDA230 should only apply to platforms that use "best practices" to eliminate bad speech. What's a "best practice?" It's what the "industry leaders" do. Who's an "industry leader?"


Zuck's proposal then, is, "To solve the problems Facebook creates, we should mandate that everyone do what Facebook is doing."

There's two big problems with this.

First, Facebook sucks. The "AI filters" and army of moderators its uses to moderate content are tuna nets that catch entire pods of dolphins.

Consider three sentences:

I. "Shut up, you [racial epithet]!"

II. Then he told me, "shut up, you [racial epithet]!" and,

III. "The candidate is ending his campaign because it was reported that he told a message-board user, 'shut up, you [racial epithet]!"

No filter can decide which of these to block. Indeed, human moderators often get this wrong.

If you hate Facebook's moderation, I invite you to consider that the problem isn't that FB isn't trying hard enough – it's that making speech judgments about the discourse of 2.6b people in 150 countries speaking hundreds of languages is an impossible job.

Which brings me to the second problem with Zuck's proposal: it is incredibly expensive, which means only companies that already as big as Facebook would be allowed to compete with Facebook, and that means we can only have services that are too big to moderate effectively.

Importantly, it means we have to kill proposals – like the 2020 ACCESS Act – to allow new services to interoperate with FB, which would allow groups of users to have the autonomy to make their own moderation choices, booting out the toxic trolls and harassers FB welcomes.

Zuck's proposal to fix the problem of Facebook, then, is "We should fix Facebook by not changing Facebook at all, and making it illegal to make a service that interoperates with Facebook, starving it of the monopoly rents it uses to evade real regulation."

This is such a shameless piece of self-serving bullshit, it should be comic. But it's not. It's terrifying. It's exactly the kind of "solution" that low-information lawmakers love – something that lets them "get tough on a bad actor" without risking campaign contributions.

Don't be bamboozled. Please. The answer to Facebook will not come from Facebook. You can't fix something from the inside that shouldn't exist in the first place.

Facebook doesn't have a "Nazi problem" or a "disinformation problem." It has a Facebook problem.

The answer to Facebook is giving the public technological self-determination. Use interoperability so FB can't hold our friends hostage anymore. Force breakups so FB can't use predatory acquisitions to deprive us of choice. Block mergers.

But don't address Big Tech by making Bigness a requirement to simply operate online.

(Image: Brian Solis, CC BY, modified)

Good news about news co-ops (permalink)

Today, the Global Investigative Journalism Network reprints The Nonprofit Quarterly's exciting story "A New Business Model Emerges: Meet the Digital News Co-op," by Tom Stites.

Stites documents the rise-and-rise of national news co-ops in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Mexico, and the rapidly proliferating local co-ops in Canada, Uruguay and the UK.

A news co-op is a news organization owned by its readers, whose membership fees pay for open access journalism – no paywall – usually organized as nonprofits (an IRS rule-change lets for-profit newspaper convert to nonprofits).

The reader-owners of the co-op get to read the news, vote on the co-op's policies, elect its board, ensure their communities are being reported on, and get members' access to private forums where the co-op's business is discussed.

Co-ops court advertisers for inclusion in a supporter's business directory, and ads in a news co-op's publications demonstrate a business's connection to its community to both the co-op's members and the community-wide readership.

Stites draws a comparison to the credit union movement, which is larger – in aggregate – than Wells Fargo, but whose control is decentralized among 5,133 community-oriented financial institutions (I love my credit union).

US news co-ops are on the rise, including The Devil Strip and The Mendocino Voice. Stites describes how his nonprofit Banyan Project serves as an incubator for news co-ops:

The much-lamented local newspaper industry was an historic accident: newspaper families connected sports-score-hungry readers with local appliance store ads, and spent some of the profits that generated to cover city hall and the state-house out of a sense of patrician duty.

Long before Craigslist, long before the Googbook ad duopoly, these weird, contingent structures were crumbling, as newspaper families sold out to vulture capitalist raiders who gutted the papers and looted their rainy-day funds.

The news part of newspapers was never a standalone business, irrespective of whether readers paid for the news or got it free – for general news, there's always been a cross-subsidy that was a mix of market forces (appliance ads) and civic duty (patrician news families).

The news co-op model acknowledges that news is, in part, a public good – news that isn't widely available is not "news," it's a "secret." The premise that paywalls and ads will give us back the local news that covers readers' liveaday issues has not been borne out.

Paywall success stories are a mix of specialized news, often catering to the ultrawealthy (WSJ), superstar news orgs focused on specific national and international news (NYT) or news with billionaire backstops (WP).

The civic function of news is not met by any of these models. But reader-supported, open access news, like Canadaland and The Halifax Examiner are filling in the gaps. The co-op model is a most welcome adjunct to these success stories.

(Image: Co-Op; Paul Williamson, CC BY, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Kleptones new mashup double-CD free to download: “24 Hours”

#15yrsago Monks in Wisconsin refill printer cartridges

#10yrsago Wisconsin GOP uses sunshine laws to harass prof who speculated about links with pressure group

#5yrsago STUCK: Public transit’s moment arrives just as public spending disappears

#1yrago Posties are key to America's emergency response

#1yrago Toilet paper separator

#1yago Doctors hoard choloroquine

#1yrago Trump's Bible study teacher thinks coronavirus is God's wrath

#1yrago Kaiser threatens to fire Oakland nurses who wear their own masks

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 539 words (119798 total).

  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Yesterday's progress: 304 words (10131 total) (FINISHED)

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." Yesterday's progress: 1091 words (39444 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Free Markets
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  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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