I am not on Facebook and have only nominal involvement with Twitter. (These posts are tweeted out automatically…when my account is not suspended, as it is now, for some reason.) And I am an infrequent contributor of Paris photos on Instagram, but don’t hold your breath for the next pic. Most of the time I can’t be bothered.
So I welcome thoughtful and considerate comments about the article below, discovered by our foreign correspondent David. The article was published in The Telegraph, generally considered to be a conservative newspaper.
Enjoy, everyone. – BGT
Why are free societies sinking into an anarchic pit of social media hate?
Big Tech’s legal obligations are a sideshow: the bigger question is where the bile and venom come from
Is it right to deny people who incite violence a public platform? You bet it is. All free societies do this to a greater or lesser extent. Open democracies which guarantee freedom of expression have always drawn lines. You cannot attend a civic meeting, or even stand on a street corner, and shout death threats without being arrested. The obvious charge would be of threatening behaviour or causing an affray. Scarcely anyone would be likely to dispute this. So that’s the easy one. There are far more difficult questions to examine in what is becoming a major political issue for our time. So while we wait to see if the Trump mob will turn up at Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday to test the principle once again, perhaps we can examine the more difficult problems, some of which are new and others of which are not new at all in spite of their technological dimension.
This is not really a debate about “free speech”. What that properly entails was established long ago and is (or was) accepted by general consensus: it involves respecting the rule of law and the rights of others to hold differing views – which is to say not threatening the safety of people you disagree with. But something peculiar has happened to public discourse in the last few years. It now has a dimension – or an arena – in which participants expect to ignore all the previous understandings of what constitutes acceptable conduct.
The hot topic has become: are the Big Tech outfits, which make available wildly irresponsible messages, publishers or simply platforms? If the former, then they are liable for what appears, if the latter they are not. The tech giants are clearly terrified by this debate since a judgment that they are, in fact, publishers would involve them in an enormous and hugely expensive extension of their duties to monitor everything that appears on their sites.
Add to this that it is precisely the uninhibited lawlessness of these venues that is part of their appeal, and a decision to classify them as publishers would pretty much put them out of business – or at least, not make it worth their while to carry on. So they are now attempting to make some concessions to these demands for social responsibility which will almost certainly end in an unsatisfactory dog’s dinner of compromise.
But this is the less interesting problem, being simply a matter of legal definition. What really needs to be asked is, where on earth has all the hatred and murderous intent come from? Why should the appearance of a new, uncontrolled medium have produced this peculiarly ugly thing? Has it always been there – vicious and bloodthirsty – simmering away in secret corners, unable to find an outlet for its frustrations?
There are those who would claim that indeed it has – and that social media performs a useful function in revealing its existence by permitting to be said what was once socially unacceptable. Established governing classes can no longer take their smug assumption of moral authority for granted. Many apologists for the Trump riots argue in this way. The assumption here is that, however wicked or criminal an impulse may be, it is better to have it out in the open than hidden.
But until very recently we believed something quite like the opposite of this: that it was the proper business of responsible government to teach people to restrain their most malignant, destructive inclinations for the sake of the greater good. That was the basic requirement of a civilised, tolerant society. Have we changed our minds about this? If so, why? Is there a complacent post-Cold War belief that the world is no longer perilous, and that the future of Western democratic values is no longer tenuous – so why not cut loose? That would, of course, be a very dangerous delusion. The threat from social disruptors has arguably never been greater now that they are nihilistic and indiscriminate rather than coherent.
There may be a significant historical point here about the anarchic forces of hate and division which proliferate on social media. Many of them (particularly the conspiracy theory merchants) make use of the techniques of Cold War political subversion. But back in the day, political activism was a quasi-professional occupation strictly controlled and disciplined by the Communist party or its dissident tributaries like the Trotskyist movements.
Now the tactics are unfettered by any need for clear objectives or understanding of arguments. And their purveyors do not even have to identify themselves: I am convinced that the anonymity (or pseudonymity) of social media has a great deal to do with the miasma which has overwhelmed it. Not only is it impossible to know who is responsible for any statement: it is impossible to determine whether that individual actually exists, or whether an apparent army of commenters is just one person posting under a great number of different identities.
What seems to be a large popular movement can actually be a small number of very busy agitators providing (as the old Cold War activists used to do) a sense of momentum that draws the discontented or confused into their orbit. Coupled with the legitimising of violent action, this weaponising of inchoate grievance is terrifying in its possibilities: it may be the greatest threat to political stability that the West has encountered.
What of the otherwise rational people who go along with this fashion? We all know of sensible people who take on a persona of gratuitous venom in their social media guise. A high profile figure on the Guardian recently tweeted a demand that all Telegraph columnists be buried alive. As you might expect, I took this rather personally – especially as not long ago, I defended the Guardian to the death over the Edward Snowden affair even though the paper’s political orientation was very different from mine.
When the then-editor wrote to thank me, he began by saying, “We may not agree on many things…” That was how grown-ups, especially in our contentious trade, used to talk. They might exchange accusations or insults in the heat of debate, but they did not call for each other to die – not even as a puerile joke. Whatever happened to that?
6 thoughts on “Anti-Social Media…From The Telegraph”
Looks like people are scared to go first. I tend to agree with this article. I use Facebook, Twitter, and barely Instagram(follow Bryon and some sport teams). I started Facebook back in 2007 and it was very innocent in the beginning. Friends made their own posts. It was fun and a new way to keep up with friends and meet new people. It slowly started to change. Eventually this innocent platform was overtaken by shared political stories and political opinions. All you see on Facebook now are shared political articles. Most people haven’t even read said article and just share based off headlines. People don’t even do their own research anymore and just make blanket statements. Everyone is an expert now because they have a platform. I used Twitter to get news fast and see what’s trending. I have even messaged you Bryon in this platform. I stuck my toes in the water years ago with making comments and arguing with people on but realized it’s a wast of time to try and convince someone or some thing(bot) that has no real identity and is posting anonymous. The ability to creat a anonymous profile has made Twitter a cease pool. It has become vile. People on all sides of political thought are guilty. Everyone is an expert and nobody really backs up their opinions. Most stuff is regurgitated opinions and not true facts. The media on both sides have run with this and stoke fires to get likes and clicks frequently running ridiculous headlines. In my opinion Social Media and Twitter specifically have created a platform that amplifies the world problems in a negative way. Anonymous trolling may be our downfall lol. Scientifically speaking, social media has created major mental issues. It has created major narcissism in modern society. They have linked getting a like on a post to a drug high. It’s dopamine driven. The dopamine driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. It’s very similar to drug addiction. The best thing I have done is take the Old Money advice and limit my exposure in social media. Protected my privacy and limit what I post if anything. Social media and the disgusting cancel culture work hand in hand. With media being untrustworthy and the social media effect you can’t even have a peaceful political conversation anymore. People are so use to going for the juggler with the anonymous social media account, when they get in the real world then don’t know how to shut this off and tempers fly. These are my short thoughts on Social Media.
I think it’s three things. First, Facebook, Twitter and some TV news outlets are not in the news business, they’re in the ratings business. They will say or do anything to increase their viewership. Provoking strong emotions in the viewer is a much more effective way to do this than providing accurate, truthful information. Second, certain politicians and media personalities have exploited and amplified the hatred for their own short term political advantage or financial gain. Third, we don’t teach civics anymore so a lot of people lack a basic understanding of how government works. Combined, these conditions can create a toxic and volatile stew.
Amy has hit the nail on the head. I would add that much of what passes for “news” no longer is. Local and print journalism are statistically more accurate than national and television news, which typically involves outsiders collecting and compressing local stories. Yet most people now get their news from national television, where more time is spent analyzing than presenting those compressed, stunted stories. People consume these media, and then (re)produce them on social media with no accountability. The goalposts move accordingly.
I find the censorship of opposing views chilling. I’m not a constitutional lawyer so I cannot comment on the legality of private companies suspending accounts.
But, I can say that it chills me to the bone and makes me feel like I am witnessing the death of free expression. Somehow the CEO’s of these private conglomerates have decided that they will control what others see and read online and I for one will applaud the day that there are other independent platforms to diffuse the power they hold and give people choice.
This authoritarian behavior makes me want to delete my accounts. If everyone dropped the big social platforms they’d change their tune post haste.
I agree. Everyone should take notice. I think the world has taken notice as well. Many leaders around the world have spoken out. After Twitter tried to silence people in Uganda’s election more leaders have spoke out. The Mexican President is now going to raise these issues at the next G-20 summit. He is joined by several other leaders.
I agree that a wide variety of perspectives should have the chance to be heard on most topics. However, I do not think that threats, harassment, or the deliberate spread of misinformation that could cause physical harm if acted upon are mere “opposing viewpoints” nor should they be given the grace of such. I understand that the decision on where to draw those lines is a contentious one, but I do believe that individual platforms are entitled to draw those lines as they see fit and that at the very least things like threats of serious physical harm to an individual need to be disallowed everywhere.
There was an online community I was a member of many years ago that often attracted complaints of “censorship” for the strictness of its moderation policy. Once, on one post, the moderation features were accidentally turned off, and what ensued made very clear to the community the reasons for the strict policies – a lot of people had no idea that what was ordinarily “censored” was THAT bad, nor that the strict moderation was the only reason on-topic discussion could take place at all.
One other thing I will say I firmly disagree with, despite using my own here, is the idea of a “real names” policy. This seems to be the simple, neat, and wrong solution that comes to many minds when the topic of people behaving unacceptably on the Internet is under discussion, and it consistently does more harm than good. There are several articles – I can provide links if that is acceptable and desired – that explain the problems with such policies. Everything from what the registration system understands to be a “real name” to the long list of valid reasons people online may not be known by, or wish to be known by, the name(s) on their legal identification to the heightened risks of identity theft that can take place when a “real name” policy makes it easy to figure out a mother’s maiden name or other common security question answers.