On the Ban

Three Reasons for Optimism and Three Reasons for Pessimism

Some folks have been asking me for my opinion on the recent decision to deplatform Donald Trump from major social media platforms. As this is a newsletter about the future, let’s take a look at some potential long-term implications.

  1. The timing of this decision can’t be disconnected from the fact that the Democrats will soon be in control of the White House and Congress, and that new regulations are on the horizon. It is rational to assume that publicly-traded companies will work to preserve their bottom line, and the bottom line is always affected by where the political winds are blowing. The evidence for harm has been there for a long time. What took so long?
  2. While it’s tempting to assume that authoritarians around the world on social media will start to realize their actions online may have consequences, Silicon Valley is not the only tech game in town. Government leaders around the world will not readily yield their power to platforms in California. The Chinese and Russian models of internet governance and control are going to look awfully tempting right now.
  1. A close analysis of Trump’s content in the past week doesn’t necessarily have obvious incitement in the language. It’s only through knowing the contextthe Capitol has been breached after a Trump rally — that the violence/potential violence of his words makes sense. This is an important case study for the inclusion of context as part of content moderation decisions. Ultimately, the thorniest content moderation problems require a close understanding of context in relation to content.
  2. Just as public pressure has compelled action on climate change, public pressure can compel action on internet governance decisions. Yes, these are private companies, but right now, they answer first to their shareholders, and then to the public interest. The movement on content moderation accountability is helping bump up the public interest in priority. We’re seeing the playbook come together, thanks to tech workers, outside activists, media narratives and key politicians.

Written by

author and technologist. words and commentary in ny times, bbc, atlantic, hyperallergic, etc. meedan. opinions my own.

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