A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece exploring a topic in which I felt that not many people had explored in to much depth, despite that topic being very popular as a philosophy. That topic, was free speech (and to a degree, free expression. Since both overlap in the digital world of memes and social media).
In this piece, I explored some of the misunderstandings of what is free speech in the digital world we live in today (property/server owners can set their own guidelines), the all or nothing dichotomy of speech trumpeted by many, and the personal misunderstandings caused by personal pressure points (everyone’s “Do not touch!” offence items). Though some may have interpreted the writing as me picking a side, it was more a combination of:
– explaining the realities posed by the privately owned digital world we live in
– an exploration of some of the criticisms I have heard of the pure free speech philosophy
– correcting thoughtless errors some may not even know they are making (personal pressure point based censorship expectations)
When it comes to Freedom of Speech, its a big enough topic that I do not feel informed enough to make any solid judgement. Yes, when it comes to the easy stuff like “Your offense is not a valid reason to quell my speech!”, then you know where I stand. But there is more to it then just hurt feelings or being offended.
For example, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”.
People (including me in the past) have used this in defence of so called Hate Speech promoters. They may spew vile ideology, but they should be allowed that right, since I also have the right to fight it.
While good as a bullet point, I have to consider what some of the (possibly) unintended affects of this will be.
For example, the head of a white supremacist organization speaks racially hateful ideology, but does not act on in (nor encourage) retaliation on this group. Despite this, someone does decide to do something nasty on the part of what they heard.
The leader did not directly order the act. But one could say that it would not have happened, had the seed not been planted.
While I understand the importance of free speech in our society, I also have to consider some of the points of the pure speech detractors, because they are also valid (if we already know a given ideology is both wrong and dangerous, why is it important that it be broadcast and potentially spread further?) .
Some view even THINKING the previous as fascist or Orwellian, but I disagree. Like many ideologies that are warped by the simple minds of those that live in boxes, there is much to be explored outside the box of the free speech dichotomy.
While the previous post was not directed to anyone in particular (these misunderstandings tend to be pretty universal in all the years I’ve been online), I have one friend whom happened to be in the intended target audience. And as expected, I got feedback.
A part of this rebuttal told me that the free speech and private property explanation didn’t sink in. Namely, a restaurant CAN ask someone being overly loud and offensive to leave. It does not matter that it is the persons federally granted right to hold bigoted views, or that peoples offense does not matter. The presence of the person is negatively impacting the experience of the other patrons. This is negatively impacting the business. As such, they can rightfully remove the person from the premises. This is NOT censorship.
Censorship would be ordering the patron out AND forcing them (somehow) to never again voice their bigoted views. They just kicked them out for being an unreasonable douche bag. Big difference.
That said, my friend did have one good point which I felt worth exploring. This was the idea that the digital world is the new Public Square, and as such, should get the same treatment as any public space.
Not just because of the emergence of digital platforms as important social hubs for the new (and increasingly, previous) generations. But also because much of the backbone infrastructure that makes usage of all these platforms possible, was often partially or fully paid for by way of federal subsidies. Though almost all of the world’s broadband, cellular and satellite ISP’s are currently privately owned (often divisions of a bigger corporation), much of the cabling, base stations and satellites of which is the bread and butter of these companies was not initially funded by them. In some cases, likely COULD NOT be funded by them.
Take the footprint of Comcast in the United States, or Shaw and Rogers here in Canada. Yes, all of these companies (along with most large communications companies in the world) grew by swallowing smaller companies into their footprint. But as they stand today, they likely would not have had (nor wanted!) to spend the money required to kick start the internet age. We know this, because many do not even like putting money into upgrading their network capacity, choosing to enforce unreasonable usage caps on users instead. Which also acts as a roadblock to digital development (since many modern applications in use today (like netflix and such services) inherently use a lot of bandwidth).
But the ISP is just the gateway to social media. The platforms themselves are another matter.
It is great that all of the platforms that we socialize on today have connected more of us then ever before, but its unfortunate that they were born more out of capitalist desires than social reform desires. While they are all platforms utilized by millions for various reasons, they are first, a business. Beholden to advertisers, its their responsibly to keep the majority appeased and clicking. Which can stamp on the toes of the controversial minorities.
One could make the argument that the success of social media is entirely attributable to the tax payer funded infrastructure it utilizes as a matter of survival, and as such we as taxpayers should have primary say.
But at the same time, the success of a vast majority of US businesses comes from being able to utilize public US road infrastructure to move their goods around for distribution (be it food, electronics and everything in between). Yet this does not stop them from often times becoming chronic federal tax dodgers.
While the digital world is the future of communications and activism, one must expand outside of the capitalistic advertising driven platforms to be truly able to utilize this tool to its full potential. Which is the problem.
A few years back, I wrote a piece condemning users of ad blocking software, calling them freeloaders of the internet. To you, all these services are free BECAUSE of the ads. Although I don’t have issues with terminating pop-ups (they are genuinely and annoying, and generally malicious), I don’t mind banners, side bars, square window or even roll-tops over videos. Its a small price to pay for, an endless ocean of content.
The ads keep your services free. Which is also where the problems with alternate social media sites lie. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to build, startup, operate and maintain these services. Money, time and effort that most of us don’t have.
Indeed, there currently exists services to build different websites. But utilizing these sites puts you in the same position as in any other social media platform . . . beholden to a parent company. Therefore prone to action due to complaints.
Though I do believe it entirely possible to have a platform online that accepts pretty much any speech, it will not be as easy as building from a template.
You more than likely will have to start from scratch in terms of building the site. Cheap if your able to do it yourself, but your first cost if you need to bring in outside assistance. Then there is server costs. Electricity and bandwidth, or some sort of rental or service fee if you make arrangements though an ISP. All costs of which go up the more traffic you get, and the more complex your material.
Take Youtube. As popular as youtube is, its Googles biggest money pit (this is why they squeeze ads in literally ANYWHERE they can fit them!). As much traffic as it gets annually, the fact that Youtube is “A giant garbage can” (Jerry Seinfeld) of the digitally connected public makes the site suck up a WHOLE lot of money in infrastructure costs.
Some services have found ways around this. Services such as Wikipedia and many alternate media outlets run on donations to keep away from corporate influences. These sites seem to hold on fairly well on the money they have donated to them.
But at the same time, these web portal’s serve a genuine purpose to their users. Wikipedia is a good source of information (just check the sources). And the alternative media provides a different prospective and viewpoint than the typical mainstream media. People love the alternative choices, and some are willing to part with cash to keep them alive.
While I have come to view a lot of the alternative/Progressive media outlets to be just BARELY better than the right wing counterparts that they like to criticize, its irrelevant. People find a use for the service, so they donate.
Another thing about both services, is that both their footprints would require a fairly small infrastructure. Since both contain primarily text and pictures (text taking up bugger all for space, and 500-600 JPEG images in 2GBs of data), its easier to fund. It grows with newly published material, but still its pennies compared to the YouTube elephant.
Which brings us to social media alternatives.
Unlike news sources presenting an alternative viewpoint to the mainstream, or a web based user built database of knowledge, it would be hard pressed for anyone aside from business owners to view social media as important. For the most part, they are what bored people turn to for quick gratification.
People like to utilize social media in its free cost state (its not really free in other ways, but what’s important is its cash negative to you. You need not pay a dime). But would people still use it if it were NOT free?
I have my doubts.
In fact, a few years back we got a fairly good answer to this question after someone started circulating a thread stating “After *such and such* day, Facebook will begin charging its users”.
Though it was indeed BS, the primary reaction (but for the people like me calling them all morons) was “FUCK NO!”. Though no one likes to pay for anything that was once free, im pretty sure that most of the complainers would have ditched Facebook.
Being how the business works, that will not happen. Zuckerberg’s bread and butter will NEVER have to worry about laying out a dime. Not when their data is worth over a dollar in value.
This does nothing for the voices of controversy however. They may also enjoy this free service, but not always uninterrupted.
The obvious answer would be to find an external source and build a completely adminstration neutral ecosystem for these people to congregate in hassle free. Im sure some people would take that challenge, but not on principal alone. It will not pay the bills.
So, yes, I do think it’s technically and legally possible to appease all parties in the free speech debate. However, is may not be personally cash negative.
Meaning that one has to ask, is my absolute freedom of speech and expression important enough to justify paying money?
I get the “public square” argument. The internet is the new place where the masses have come to congregate, so it should follow that public property laws also apply in these places.
First off, good luck getting a business that makes millions off of its users to accept THAT effective transfer of ownership. If Trans-Canada can sue the United States for violating NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in quashing Keystone XL, it ain’t happening.
Fuck Trans-Canada and their revenue neutral (to the US after construction! It will NOT majorly stimulate the economy!) carbon bomb, by the way.
And 2ed, the internet is not the revenue neutral space that a real public square is.
A public park and other public properties were already in existence, thus money spent on maintenance or lighting them is already allocated (no matter how, or who, utilizes them). Revenue neutral.
However, nothing online is revenue neutral, or just there. Someone is paying for every present and connectible server accessible online, even if its not you (directly).
Which means that for a neutral public space to exist, one would assume the taxpayer would have to pick up the tab.
But is ensuring that all viewpoints have the same uninterrupted ability to be expressed, worth the money spent on making it happen?
I am sure that many within this minority would say “Yes!”. But much like trying to get social media giants to yield control
to socialist authorities . . . good luck!
Anyone can put forward utopian dreams, talking points and ideological arguments. But when all is said and done, what is your free speech worth to you?