Normalize Dark Corners!

There’s Nothing Wrong With Rolling Your Own.

A dark, rainy city alleyway, the walls daubed with graffiti.
Franck Michel/CC BY 2.0

Whenever something terrible happens on the internet — a coordinated harassment campaign on one of the big social media platforms, say, or a criminal conspiracy to traffick in child sex abuse images or promote a scammy cryptocurrency — inevitably we learn that this all took place in one of the net’s “dark corners.”

Maybe the plotters hatched their scheme on 4chan, or 8kun, or just a private message board. They might have gathered in a private Telegram channel or Discord. These days, you can’t turn around without reading about the shadowy corners of the Fediverse, such as Mastodon servers that welcome and shield actual Nazis.

When people get kicked off the major platforms for being racist, or organizing mass-harassment campaigns, or doxing their enemies, they end up on right-wing fever swamp apps like Parler and Truth Social, and, inevitably, they are said to have retreated to “the internet’s dark corners.”

But you know what?

Dark corners are good, actually.

The reason all this bad stuff happens in “dark corners” is that it’s not allowed on the big platforms.

If the big platforms were perfect arbiters of good and bad speech, it would make sense to equate “Banned on Facebook” with “Something no one, anywhere, should be talking about.”

But the big platforms are far from perfect. Indeed, they are very, very bad at deciding what is and is not acceptable speech.

First, this is because they have set themselves an impossible task. There is no set of moderation rules nuanced enough to be fit for purpose in regulating the speech of three billion Facebook users in more than 100 countries speaking more than 1,000 languages.

No matter how much money Facebook spends on human moderators, it will fail at this monumental task.

But second, Facebook also cheaps out when it comes to moderation.

There are lots of reasons to want to talk with the people who matter to you without being manipulated, observed, targeted, interrupted and advertised to by a giant social media company.

But social media is a network effects business: you have to talk with your friends where they are, not where you wish they were. If your friends are on Facebook, that’s where you have to be. Once you’re on Facebook, other people have to join in order to be with you.

Getting kicked off Facebook sucks because it means you lose those communities that matter to you — but one thing about it that doesn’t suck? You’re not on Facebook anymore. That doesn’t suck at all. That’s a feature, not a bug.

One of the very weirdest things about this moment where the internet consists of five giant websites, each filled with screenshots of the other four is that using a website other than one of those giant silos has become intrinsically suspect. Hell, even hosting your own email is practically an admission of guilt these days. The other day, I dialed into a podcast for an interview with a great show and their recording system wouldn’t let me in. The only way to connect to it was with a login from one of the giant platforms.

This is alarming stuff. We’re at the threshold of a world where it’s hard to exist without the platforms to one where they are the sole gateway to the who digital world. Ironically, this is happening even as the Big Tech’s momentum is finally dwindling in the face of ghastly scandals and ass-showing clown-shoes by the industry’s most celebrated “geniuses.”

It’s not too late. Dark corners are cozy places. Everyone deserves one. Go find one of your own. Take a walk on the wild side. Why should trolls and Nazis have all the fun?