A Response To Marc: Institutions, Agendas, and the "Culture War"

Earlier this week Marc asserted that Twitter is "taking a side in the culture war" wars by removing the identity-confirming blue check from the account of Milo Yiannopoulos, who is what we refer to these days as a personality, like an unusually literate Kardashian. I think Marc is blurring the difference between individual and institutional action.

But let's get this out of the way at the start: Twitter is a private company. Conservative extremist that I am, I believe that private companies have free speech rights. They use those rights to create their brand. Conservatives normally approve of this. They question, for instance, why the government should be able to force a bakery to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage when that contradicts the business' beliefs and brand. Many progressives, on the other hand, applaud such government intervention. Cases like this have an odd way of flipping that dynamic: conservatives cast about for legal theories that might let the government regulate how private businesses deal with speech they don't like, and progressives suddenly applaud private autonomy.

We feel that places like Twitter are a public place, and ought to be run like a public forum. But it's self-indulgent to mistake our feelings for reality or law. Twitter is free to us. It makes money (if it makes money) by serving our eyeballs to advertisers. Our feelings and desires are relevant to Twitter only to the extent it wants to brand itself or wants to retain sufficient eyeballs to sell. Otherwise it's irrational to expect Twitter to care what we want. In deciding how the Kylo Ren action figure ought to be posed on the box art, Disney does not consider the sentiments of the Kylo Ren action figure. Nobody's entitled to a free corporate platform run the way they like: this, too, is supposed to be a conservative ideal. You get what you pay for, and we aren't paying. Can we threaten to vote with our feet and go be somebody else's eyeball supply if we don't like how Twitter is run? Of course we can, just like we can refuse to eat at Chik-Fil-A if we don't like the owners' politics. But if we couch it as a right, we look silly.

But on to Twitter's side-taking. I think Marc probably overstates Twitter's focus and degree of deliberation. Big companies, even when run by ideologues, tend to make decisions like big companies, not like individuals. The decision-making looks less cinematic and more cynical. The focus tends to be on branding, but mostly on money-making, avoidance of unpleasantness, reduction of cost, and ease of use. Twitter's line employees are almost certainly disproportionately liberal, and by assigning command-and-control of individual account decisions to them, the impact is probably that evaluations of abuse complaints will have a liberal bias. Similarly, if you make a corporate decision to police harassment (or at least pretend to), and the people doing the policing have a bias, then the results will have a bias. But that's not the same as a deliberate decision to take sides; it's a cost-driven, practicality-driven decision. Consistency in such decision-making is expensive and troublesome. Running decisions up the chain to ensure consistency on inherently subjective calls costs time and money. Moreover, Twitter's lack of clear articulated standards about exactly what speech will get you in trouble is a feature, not a bug. If you have clear articulated standards, then there will be endless rules-lawyering about why this cases fell under the definition but that case didn't, and you will be more vulnerable to legal attacks (for instance, from people saying that you ban folks of one ethnicity for conduct but folks of another ethnicity get a pass, which could even create a viable claim). Again: the fact that Twitter kinda looks like a public forum if you squint doesn't stop it from being a big business.

In short, I think Marc substantially overstates the coherence and intentionality of Twitter's side-taking.

If Twitter is taking sides, then it's being uncharacteristically incompetent.

Look: Milo's a troll. There's nothing inherently wrong with being a troll. Some trolls are amusing. But de gustibus non est disputandum. I prefer somewhat more subtle trolls. Milo's a troll in the tradition of Ann Coulter, saying outrageous things and benefiting from both the fist-pumping of the like-minded and the profitable outrage of people who think it's sensible to feed trolls. Milo's no Ann Coulter, of course, but it seems he aspires to be number two, and number two tries harder. To my taste Milo's trolling is too loud, too precious, too busy, too edgelord-twee. Plus, he strikes me as a rather blatant huckster. Only fickle fate has led to him trying to sell me anti-feminist tropes rather than extended warranties. He says some phenomenally nasty things, and sends chortling heaps of clumsily animated body soil to threaten and curse at people he calls out. He does so to an extent that I believe Marc significantly understates. Does he genuinely hate the people he reviles? Does he actually believe the more shocking lines he delivers in self-conscious and belabored fashion, like a dull eighth-grader attempting Macbeth? I rather doubt it. He's probably indifferent to them, and to the impact of his words. But he likes the attention — the clicks and the credulous adulation and the money. Whomever Milo hates, Milo loves Milo.

Given that, Twitter's action is like throwing Milo into the brier patch and throwing hundred-dollar-bills in after him. The removal of the silly blue check is utterly insubstantial, but promotes Milo's conservatives-are-persecuted-and-liberals-are-evil narrative. It's free publicity. To his audience suggesting that he harasses ideological opponents is a promotion, not a rebuke. It's like banning a hot dog stand from one side of the park on the explicit grounds that the hot dogs are too delicious. He should be sending them some sort of fruit basket. It is, in short, more like fumbling decentralized decision-making and less like a centralized agenda.

I'd be interested in seeing Marc's evidence of systemic bias in Twitter's approach to what is harassment and what isn't. I have noticed anecdotal differences. But then I've also noticed plenty of bad conduct from "the right" that hasn't been punished. My strong suspicion is that the difference is not the result of a corporate agenda, but of a routine corporate decision to decentralize decision-making.

I'll probably stay on Twitter, knowing that I could get kicked off at any time by some low-level decision maker who doesn't like me. When I don't want to take that risk, I'll pay for my platform — like here.

[Sometime soon, I want to say more about how blurring the line between First Amendment violations and "spirit of free speech" violations leads to all sorts of bad attitudes, like thinking that your speech can suppress mine.]

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. Christopher Smith says

    Ken, you imply that conservatives have been calling for government intervention against Twitter, but all of the reactions I've seen (including from Milo himself) have been of the more-speech variety. Any pointers to examples of the implied inconsistency?

  2. rsteinemtz70112 says

    Most likely Twitter assigned some twit to enforce their harassment policy and that twit believes in "Social Justice", possibly without even knowing it (as opposed to actual justice or even criminal justice) and is just doing what twits do.

  3. Anon says

    I think this is an extremely fair and accurate assessment of Milo, as someone who doesnt mind him.

    I like to be charitable and assume the "make obama verify milo" petitions are in on the joke, too.

  4. T says

    Marc expressly stated that Twitter is "allowed" to do that. And he is allowed to call out their shit. I think there's at least a fair argument for bias where Twitter suddenly changed the administration of its certification feature to score a smug moral victory (for business/signaling reasons or otherwise) against one right-wing troll.

    Or perhaps they've done that before to other sides, and I just missed it..?

  5. says

    I tend to agree with you that Twitter's bias is not part of a conscious attempt by its senior management to go after conservatives and libertarians. It's the result of the company's unconscious bias and liberal/progressive internal culture.

    I also agree that as a private company Twitter should be able to control what happens on its bandwidth. It has the right to be arbitrary. It has the right to act stupidly. It has the right to alienate a significant part of its user base.

    And Twitter seems determined to exercise its rights unwisely.

  6. NickM says

    The point isn't that he is being punished for trolling, but that the punishment is illogical and goes against Twitter's published rules.
    The blue check mark is a certification of identity, not a merit badge.

  7. Publius says

    I've always thought of Gamergate as the social media equivalent of the Spanish Civil War: when you boil it down, both sides are run by insane totalitarians (although one side is probably more likely to be containable).

  8. Ryan says

    T:

    Bias? Definitely, as acknowledged by Ken above.

    What's being asserted is merely that the company's action falls on the broader side of Hanlon's Razor: the incompetent side, rather than the malicious side. I suppose there's a fair argument to be made that an unconscious progressive filter within the mundane, utilitarian corporate machinery still counts as participation in the so-called culture war, albeit a witless and uncoordinated participation at that. But to imagine their conduct and their opaque reasoning as the taking of a piece on the chessboard, as the Grand High Council of Twitter wrings their hands and chortles, "Today, @Nero; tomorrow, maybe YOU," is merely that: an imagination.

    I don't think Marc is expressing that suspicion, really. I think he's just expressing my supposition above, that Twitter's conduct is a lackluster and ill-considered participation in the broader progressive agenda, and should be regarded on those grounds, regardless of their conscious intentions or the dearth thereof. But then, people do tend to run with these batons farther than they should absent some explicit guidance otherwise, hence Ken's remonstration.

  9. ElSuerte says

    "and sends chortling heaps of clumsily animated body soil to threaten and curse at people he calls out. "

    Are we viewing dogpiling as a legit complaint now?

  10. AH says

    My problem is what NickM says. If they want that check mark to mean "Twitter approved" then call it that. Calling it "Verified" just says to me that "this person is who (s)he says (s)he is," I don't use twitter, so maybe the subtlety of "verified" having nothing to do with being who you say you are is something that the regular twits all understand, but I highly doubt it.

    As I said on Marc's post, I would have LESS of a problem if they just banned him. That's censorship of their own platform, which is completely their right. This feels more like they are just lying about him "we don't know if he is who he says he is," which is bullshit.

  11. Frank Ch. Eigler says

    "Does he actually believe the more shocking lines he delivers in self-conscious and belabored fashion […] I rather doubt it. He's probably indifferent to them, and to the impact of his words."

    Which / how-many more shocking lines do you doubt he means? Accusing him of dishonesty ("huckster") requires at least a wee bit of evidence.

  12. Nathan Cook says

    We feel that places like Twitter are a public place, and ought to be run like a public forum.

    Correct. Why? Probably because Twitter is a focal point for all kinds of people to meet and have excessively concise exchanges of views. Because Twitter is a focal point, it can afford a certain amount of dissatisfaction with how it moderates, without losing very many people to alternative fora. (It seems to have realised this only in the last couple of years, as the steadily increasing amount of speech control indicates.) If only there were a Twitter-Prime acting as a second focal point for all the discontents and malcontents!

    Big companies, even when run by ideologues, tend to make decisions like big companies, not like individuals.

    This is true until it isn't. Attract the Eye of Sauron and you're gone instantly and permanently. Example, Chuckie Johnson. He pissed off deray, deray is a personal friend of Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey… no more Chuckie. Probably there was a period of a few weeks where it was an employee's specific responsibility to make sure he didn't come back.

    I don't have much doubt that Milo is every bit as capable of drawing that kind of attention. Maybe he's just better at not saying anything that can be taken as a violent threat?

  13. says

    Milo's no Ann Coulter, of course, but it seems he aspires to be number two, and number two tries harder.

    Yeah, I think Milo needs to work up to being piece of shit.

    (I have an eight year old's sense of humor, and I'm remarkably OK with that.)

  14. says

    @Ryan:

    I suppose there's a fair argument to be made that an unconscious progressive filter within the mundane, utilitarian corporate machinery still counts as participation in the so-called culture war, albeit a witless and uncoordinated participation at that.

    Nyah, that's just, you know, having a culture. For my money the biggest problem with Marc's post (and, hell, culture warfare in general) is that it confuses simply having a culture with taking sides in a culture war.

  15. En Passant says

    Popehat commenters: unite and rise up! Popehat hasn't given any of us nifty blue check marks. That's systematic oppression!

  16. says

    I agree with virtually everything you said. In particular, once again, Twitter is a private entity with free speech rights and if they want to be (or are carelessly) biased in some direction, they are entitled to that. I also agree that this was more likely a decision by a fairly low level employee and not a deliberate corporate direction. After looking at some of the other information (I hadn't heard of Milo before this fracas), I even agree that Marc understated somewhat how horrible and offensive Milo can be.

    And yet, it is possible to agree with all of that and still also agree with (what I think) is Marc's core point. Twitter seems to be holding a bias without making that bias known, and that matters. First, as for evidence, I have seen it only anecdotally and as you say here it is inconsistent, but there is definitely an impression held somewhat broadly that twitter is faster to act against harassment couched in conservative terms than they are against harassment couched in liberal terms. This may or may not be true objectively, but it certainly seems a widely held belief. If it is true, they have every right to it as a private company, whether it is deliberate or accidental.

    And it matters. Twitter and similar platforms now host a non-trivial portion of the world's conversations. If, as that host, they are going play favorites, then this is something worthy of at least noting so people can make informed decisions about whether to stay or, as you said, vote with their feet. Even if this bias is unintentional, it is worth investigating to find out if it is true and then to view the company and the appearance of the conversations it hosts appropriately.

  17. MelK says

    > and sends chortling heaps of clumsily animated body soil

    Gee! Now I know why he cut all those checks to Bonobo, Inc!

  18. repsac3 says

    As I said on Marc's post, I would have LESS of a problem if they just banned him. That's censorship of their own platform, which is completely their right. This feels more like they are just lying about him "we don't know if he is who he says he is," which is bullshit.

    Having barely heard of the guy, I came away from the original post wondering who he is and whether he's someone who needs or deserves verification in the first place. Having read a little of/about him, the jury (of me) is still out…

    Seems to me these posts about him and about issues of speech, the punishment of ideas, and bias are far more interesting than Milo himself will ever hope to be (to me, anyway.)

  19. Anon says

    Twitter may be a private company but it is also a natural network monopoly. With a network monopoly, there will be only one player for a given type of social network. There will only be one Twitter in its space, and there will be only one Facebook. People flock to the biggest network in the space and it becomes ever bigger. (There are many Twitter clones out there, but the clones' US/English language market share is essentially nil).

    To those on the right side of the spectrum the bias of Twitter and Facebook is troubling. The screening certainly is not evenhanded, which is unfortunate because they have a natural monopoly.

    Think back to another earlier monopoly network. Imagine if Ma Bell in their monopoly days had decided to politically police the public's telephone calls, censoring primarily one side. Its their network, right? Private company, right?

  20. says

    Twitter's line employees are almost certainly disproportionately liberal, and by assigning command-and-control of individual account decisions to them, the impact is probably that evaluations of abuse complaints will have a liberal bias. Similarly, if you make a corporate decision to police harassment (or at least pretend to), and the people doing the policing have a bias, then the results will have a bias.

    There's also the well-documented fact that Twitter's damage-control team is still too small to handle the volume of bullshit they have to sift through.

    Now, if I was in charge of handling abuse on Twitter, and I couldn't just hire more staff to help, I would program it so the stuff that gets the highest number of reports is first in the moderation queue. It certainly wouldn't be a perfect indicator, but it'd probably be the closest feasible approximation.

    If that is how it's done, and if I were to accept that there is an exactly equal amount of abuse emanating from both tribes but only the red tribe suffers any consequences for it (which I still don't buy, but for the sake of argument I'll go with it), the only thing any of that would prove is that "SJWs" are apparently quicker to hit the 'Report Abuse' button.

  21. says

    @Brian Z:

    Is Twitter really held to so low a standard as opposed to an institution of academia? If so, why?

    Because academic institutions are dedicated to free and open debate, while Twitter is a business dedicating to enriching its stockholders?

    Because the people who are supposedly being silenced by Twitter aren't even Twitter's customers, let alone students who are attending a university to have their stupid ideas challenged, not to be punished for them?

  22. AH says

    Having barely heard of the guy, I came away from the original post wondering who he is and whether he's someone who needs or deserves verification in the first place. Having read a little of/about him, the jury (of me) is still out…

    Seems to me these posts about him and about issues of speech, the punishment of ideas, and bias are far more interesting than Milo himself will ever hope to be (to me, anyway.)

    The fact that you can go and read about him, indicates to me he should be able to be verified if he so desires. I mean, He's made a number of appearances on the Beeb, written for the Telegraph, and twice been on the "top 100 list of influential people in the British digital economy." Hell, anyone who is notable enough to have a Wikipedia page about themselves is probably notable enough to justify verification. This, of course, is not a commentary on his worth as a human being, his contribution to discourse (or lack thereof), or any assessment of agreement. It's merely saying "look, this person has got enough people interested it what he has to say to attract more trolls and satirists then my aunt posting about her dog."

    As to my assessment of his contribution to discourse… well if it was useful, it probably couldn't be made in 140 characters.

  23. DRJlaw says

    @pillsy

    Because academic institutions are dedicated to free and open debate, while Twitter is a business dedicating to enriching its stockholders?

    Because the people who are supposedly being silenced by Twitter aren't even Twitter's customers, let alone students who are attending a university to have their stupid ideas challenged, not to be punished for them?

    Jack Dorsey disagrees with you.

    Twitter chose to dedicate itself to free and open debate, and therefore can be criticized when it acts in way that appears to contradict the principle.

  24. Matthew Cline says

    @Ken:

    Twitter's lack of clear articulated standards about exactly what speech will get you in trouble is a feature, not a bug. If you have clear articulated standards, then there will be endless rules-lawyering about why this cases fell under the definition but that case didn't, and you will be more vulnerable to legal attacks (for instance, from people saying that you ban folks of one ethnicity for conduct but folks of another ethnicity get a pass, which could even create a viable claim).

    If they published the company's internal manual/guidebook on handling abuse, could that be used against them in a lawsuit?

  25. says

    @DRJlaw:

    Jack Dorsey disagrees with you.

    Twitter chose to dedicate itself to free and open debate, and therefore can be criticized when it acts in way that appears to contradict the principle.

    Criticize Twitter for whatever you want. I still think it's pretty silly to hold a publicly traded business providing a (free) service to the same standard as an academic institution, no matter what Jack Dorsey says. It seems like getting outraged when Tim Cook talks about how Apple's products "just work", even though iTunes is a complete dumpster fire.

    Like, what do you expect him to say? "Oh, Twitter hates free expression. Envision the future as a hash sign grinding down on a human face forever!" What's wrong with America today if people aren't even cynical about what CEOs say anymore?

  26. DRJlaw says

    Moreover, Twitter's lack of clear articulated standards about exactly what speech will get you in trouble is a feature, not a bug. If you have clear articulated standards, then there will be endless rules-lawyering about why this cases fell under the definition but that case didn't, and you will be more vulnerable to legal attacks (for instance, from people saying that you ban folks of one ethnicity for conduct but folks of another ethnicity get a pass, which could even create a viable claim).

    If there are clear articulated standards, then there's at least a nominal impediment to making a decision on an arbitrary basis or on the basis of an improper standard. A lack of clearly articulated standards is a feature when one has power, or to those who supports the group in power. It is a bug when one is subject to arbitrary exercise of that power, or to those who support those subject to power.

    It's easy to demand that other people be accountable for their actions. It's far more courageous to acknowledge that you should be accountable for your own.

    And despite this being a private action issue, it's disheartening to hear a lawyer who spends so much time productively employing rules to defend principles deride "rules-lawyering" that would cause someone, or in this case some thing, to be, in some minor way, accountable.

  27. Castaigne says

    And this post is why I still read Popehat. Doesn't matter if I disagree with Ken personally, he has the practical POV on the subject.

    @T:

    Or perhaps they've done that before to other sides, and I just missed it..?

    Yeah, they've done it to people before on every side. It just doesn't get publicized.

    @El Suerte:

    Are we viewing dogpiling as a legit complaint now?

    No offense, man, but have you SEEN the quality of the alt-right dogpilers? I'd rather be attacked by a legion of SJWs augmented by TERF calvary. At least I would get some INTELLIGENCE out of the dogpiling rather than crude bloviation.

    Accusing him of dishonesty ("huckster") requires at least a wee bit of evidence.

    I think that time when Milo had to be sued for payment for contributions to his failed mag (while it was still operating) qualifies. He sure tried to pull a snow-job on his employees. Court straightened him out.

    @TimothyAWiseman:

    Twitter seems to be holding a bias without making that bias known, and that matters.

    I…don't see how that matters.
    No one is required to give you reasons for anything, unless legally compelled.

    If, as that host, they are going play favorites, then this is something worthy of at least noting so people can make informed decisions about whether to stay or, as you said, vote with their feet.

    No, I disagree entirely. You can either take Twitter or leave it; they're not required to do anything else than offer you a service at a price. Or not, if they so choose.

    I think it's perfectly ethical not to disclose a damn thing, if you don't feel like it.

    @Anon:

    Imagine if Ma Bell in their monopoly days had decided to politically police the public's telephone calls, censoring primarily one side. Its their network, right? Private company, right?

    Yes, their network. Yes, private company.
    If you don't like it, build your own. Or have them regulated by government to your satisfaction. Your choice.

  28. King Squirrel says

    Does anybody *really* want Twitter to be a public forum?

    If so, I know this one wierd trick that allows you to work from home, increase your stamina, and learn the Wall Street secret to riches that THEY don't want you to know! Just click the button that turns your spam filters, pop-ups, and security measures off and we can get started on the road to a clear complexion today!!

    No?

    Then you obviously can't deal with my valid discourse. Hitler.

  29. DRed says

    Bell telephone in its heyday and twitter are not analagous. Telephone and telegraph companies were common carriers-they could not discriminate in allowing access to their transmission systems.

  30. Anon says

    @Castaigne wrote:

    "If you don't like it, build your own."

    It is a natural monopoly so this of course is not possible. Many have replicated Twitter's features to little effect.

    [Responding to the suggestion that ma bell could have politically censored phone calls back in the day:] "Yes, their network. Yes, private company."

    Lovely commitment to open society you have there. Good grief, there is a saying, scratch a leftist, find a totalitarian. But here's a little free military advice. You shouldn't lose the element of surprise by revealing all ahead of time.

  31. Anon says

    It is reasonable to suggest that the common carrier principle be applied to Facebook and Twitter, since they are in fact monopolies. This will not happen, because silencing opponents is the left's strongest argument.

    I just learned that effective June 12, 2015 ISPs became classified as common carriers. This is terrible news for the likes of Castaigne who now cannot legally get Breitbart.com's Internet connection shut off to properly put a lid on Milo Yiannopowhatsit.

  32. Castaigne says

    @Anon:

    It is a natural monopoly so this of course is not possible. Many have replicated Twitter's features to little effect.

    Is that Twitter's problem? No.
    I don't think the anti-trust suit against Microsoft was valid either. It's not Microsoft's problem that Windows is a more trusted product.

    Lovely commitment to open society you have there. Good grief, there is a saying, scratch a leftist, find a totalitarian. But here's a little free military advice. You shouldn't lose the element of surprise by revealing all ahead of time.

    *laughs* I'm not a leftist, dipshit. I'm more conservative and pro-capitalist than you are. In fact, I've been described as an ardent capitalist.

    I mean, do you realize what you're saying here? That Twitter should be FORCED to be neutral, despite being privately owned? That Ma Bell should be FORCED to be neutral, despite building its own network, being its own company?

    How should they be FORCED to that neutrality, hmmm? Government regulation? Forced nationalization? Obedience to the Master Milo Committee of Justice?

    No, really, I want to know how "My house, my rules." is leftist and totalitarian, when you are advocating marching into Twitter and Ma Bell's private houses and making them obedient to your dictates. I really want that one explained to me.

    It is reasonable to suggest that the common carrier principle be applied to Facebook and Twitter, since they are in fact monopolies…I just learned that effective June 12, 2015 ISPs became classified as common carriers. This is terrible news for the likes of Castaigne who now cannot legally get Breitbart.com's Internet connection shut off to properly put a lid on Milo Yiannopowhatsit.

    I find two things amusing.
    1) That you think I want to shut off Milo OR Breitbart. No, I want him to speak loudly and proudly and freely. Very much so.
    2) That you are applauding jackboot statist thuggery in the name of freedom. That's just…fucking fun, is what that is. :) Freedom from state intervention!…..but only on things I like. The hypocrisy is marvelous.

  33. ShelbyC says

    "for instance, from people saying that you ban folks of one ethnicity for conduct but folks of another ethnicity get a pass, which could even create a viable claim"

    Really? One would hope that the first amendment would protect them from such a claim.

  34. ShelbyC says

    "No one is required to give you reasons for anything, unless legally compelled."

    Nobody said they were required to do anything.

  35. Sinij says

    @Ken

    I don't think it matters if what Twitter done was intentional or not. It could be, and that on itself is a huge problem. Twitter inserted itself as a middle man into great deal of our conversations and that in my mind makes it more than just private corporation.

    What you should be asking, if it is still possible to have free speech if it is relegated to free speech zones.

  36. Matthew Cline says

    @Anon says:

    It is a natural monopoly so this of course is not possible. Many have replicated Twitter's features to little effect.

    The definition of "natural monopoly":

    A natural monopoly is a monopoly in an industry in which it is most efficient (involving the lowest long-run average cost) for production to be permanently concentrated in a single firm rather than contested competitively.

    This isn't the case with Twitter or Facebook. A company could set up a competitor to Twitter or Facebook which was just as cost efficient, or more cost efficient, than the original and still not get anywhere. It could set up a competitor that was more cost efficient and had better features, and it still wouldn't get anywhere. That's because the competitor would start out with no users, while Twitter/Facebook already has tons of users, so no one would have any incentive to switch to the competitor. That is, what that they have a "monopoly" on is their users.

    _________________________________________________________________________

    @Shinji:

    Twitter inserted itself as a middle man into great deal of our conversations

    They didn't insert themselves anywhere. Their entire value comes from being a middle man in the first place. Their entire value comes from the fact that they already have a ton of people to listen to and/or talk to.

  37. Matthew Cline says

    @Castaigne:

    It's not Microsoft's problem that Windows is a more trusted product.

    [must resist urge to start Microsoft vs open source flamewar]

  38. Sami says

    Either I'm crazy or a lot of other people are, but I'm still stuck on:

    it's only a goddamn tickybox they didn't remove his account they didn't "silence" him it's kind of a stretch to call this discipline IT'S A TICKYBOX

    The only "message" Twitter can be said in any meaningful sense to be sending is: "You, Milo Whoever, aren't very important." Which… he isn't. He's some random troll.

    WHY DOES ANYONE CARE ABOUT THIS

  39. xtmar says

    I think your final paragraph in the square brackets comes to the heart of the matter. Non-governmental forums of speech can publish or not publish whatever they see fit, using whatever level of capriciousness they desire.

    However, society only functions when people operate within the spirit of the law, as well as the black letter rules of it. If the best that can be said of someone's actions is "It's not illegal(!)" we're well on our way to societal breakup. Of course, this becomes much more difficult when society doesn't share entirely the same priors , so the idea of acting in accordance with societal values is increasingly vague.

    Or put more simply, how do pluralistic societies deal with people who don't believe in pluralism? How do democracies cope with people who don't believe in democracy? It's that sort of a problem.

  40. L says

    It is reasonable to suggest that the common carrier principle be applied to Facebook and Twitter, since they are in fact monopolies. This will not happen, because silencing opponents is the left's strongest argument.

    I just learned that effective June 12, 2015 ISPs became classified as common carriers.

    I don't know how you managed to write both of those things using the same brain.

  41. Anon says

    A brief comment and @Castaigne completely loses his mind. Calm down, friend.

    "It's not Microsoft's problem that Windows is a more trusted product. "

    Technology monopolies are a difficult thing to understand, apparently, if you are slow on the uptake. I wouldn't know.

    If the concept isn't as blindingly obvious to you as it is to me, this article should be essential reading:
    "In the Grip of the New Monopolists", Tim Wu , Nov. 13, 2010, Wall Street Journal

    What you will notice is that every technology monopoly named in that 5-year-old article, including Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Skype, eBay and Google, remains utterly unchallenged in its space; each has actually grown its market share closer to 100%.

    Some don't prefer 'natural monopoly', copy-pasting a definition from Wikipedia pertaining to the industrial era — then use the term Internet monopoly if you wish (although that leaves out Microsoft Windows which is not on the Internet).

    In my 10,000+ organization, the market penetration of non-Microsoft-Windows operating systems is 0.0%. Twenty years ago by contrast the market penetration of non-Microsoft-Windows operating systems was 0.0%. Yes, Windows is that amazing. In answer to the philosophical question, is perfection possible? Microsoft answers a resounding yes! (snort, reboot)

    In time it will be broadly recognized that these are monopolies, but how long will that take?

    The article notes, "AT and T's near-absolute dominion over the telephone lasted from about 1914 until the 1984 breakup" — gee that is 70 years. Fun, fun!

  42. TechSportLaw says

    @ElSuerte

    Are we viewing dogpiling as a legit complaint now?

    Legit in what sense? Dogpiling is, at its core, an attempt to silence dissenting speech and to use the threat to intimidate others. At its most benign, it's done by flooding the target in an attempt to destroy the signal-to-noise ratio of the service so that there's no particular utility in continuing to use the service. It reveals you to be a dick and a sniveling coward, but at some point we seem to have lost the ability to recognize those traits in ourselves when we heroically destroy wrongthinkers. This can be aggravated by duration (someone who can't log on to the service for weeks without a deluge of nocontent and/or harassing posts is likely to cease logging on altogether), content (the Jezebel rape .gifs, gore, shockporn), and/or breadth (changing mediums to phone or personal visits, piling on your friends, employers, and family). Even limited occurrences of these more extreme cases are useful as a threat to ensure compliance from others when first targeted. Employing them also reveals you as popular, well adjusted, and a general joy to be around.

    So is dogpiling a legit complaint? It's all on how you define legit. I think it's an annoying method of gaming the system by those who are too terrified to handle the presence dissenting speech while being too ideologically invested to admit that they need a safe space. I don't find it worth doing much about-though sites would be wise to tweak the UX to make the system less vulnerable to such attempts. On the other hand, in the broader conversation where we're expected to accept as legit the mourning for lost speech rights of a twitter user because the private service banned his accou-um, moderated his twee-um, took away his blue cuckmark… it seems odd that you'd dismissively mock the only situation presented in which speech is being silenced in any form.

  43. Matthew Cline says

    With Microsoft you have vendor lock-in, plus volume licensing deals with OEMs, which together make their file formats de-facto standards. With Google search there isn't any sort of lock-in or de-facto standard pressuring people into using it.

  44. TechSportLaw says

    @Anon

    Technology monopolies are a difficult thing to understand, apparently, if you are slow on the uptake. I wouldn't know.
    […]
    What you will notice is that every technology monopoly named in that 5-year-old article, including Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Skype, eBay and Google, remains utterly unchallenged in its space; each has actually grown its market share closer to 100%.

    I suppose there's an argument that Amazon is a technological monopoly. It'd be wrong, of course, but then one rarely expects insight and accuracy from the new WSJ (or those who tout their intellectual prowess in comment sections). It's a logistics monopoly, hemorrhaging money for two decades in service of building a chain that allows for staggering volume at minimal margin, leaving no space for competitors or desire for entry. And I suppose Twitter and Facebook are each approaching 100% market share provided that we classify the markets in a way that they aren't competitors, and Instagram isn't in the market either (ditto EBay and Amazon). Can you dig back deeper and find the one about Myspace's indomitable grasp on this new social networking concept?

    I do enjoy the return to the idea that we can just slap "internet" onto a word and the old denotations don't apply-though I much preferred the cyber/2.0 eras. Twitter's advantage is that it's where people are-which came at the cost of its old advantage, which is that it was where cool people were. Funny thing about places where the competitive advantage is "Good Presentation, Fun Gimmick, Is Trendy"-All of that is incredibly fickle (literally see also: Millionaire, Survivor, Idol and the rest of the Reality TV OGs).

    Twitter will eventually be replaced by a new insta-network, just as Digg was supplanted by Reddit and FYAD by 4Chan. And those who crave Unmoderated Internet will rejoice, for they have found paradise. Until the censors come for their new home and the Circular Firing Squad activates. Then they will travel onward again, to their Voat and 8chan. Where the process will repeat, and all that users will be left with are fleeting memories of their glory days on each site-filled with all of the same good content that was there after the social justice crowd arrived, but surrounded by wannabe edgelords and plentiful white supremacy (former kings of the circular firing squads, preparing to take back their crown in Oregon).

  45. says

    "Why are we using Sharepoint? Sharepoint is rancid garbage!"
    "But Sharepoint integrates with Word!"
    "Come to think of it, why are we using Word? Word is bullshit!"
    "But Word integrates with Sharepoint!"

  46. Castaigne says

    @Matthew Cline:

    [must resist urge to start Microsoft vs open source flamewar]

    *snerk*
    No, no – did those all years ago. So boring now. :D

    =====

    @Anon:

    A brief comment and @Castaigne completely loses his mind. Calm down, friend.

    If you call doubling over in hysterical laughter at your hypocrisy and numbnut statements losing one's mind, yes. No, I will not calm down. I will continue to laugh AT you. You were so laughable Ken even commented about you on Twitter.

    Technology monopolies are a difficult thing to understand, apparently, if you are slow on the uptake. I wouldn't know.

    I know all about technology monopolies, thank you, and my opinion on them is the same as any other private monopoly – too bad, so sad. I'd repeal all anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws if I could, in order so that the free market may have free reign.

    What you will notice is that every technology monopoly named in that 5-year-old article, including Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Skype, eBay and Google, remains utterly unchallenged in its space; each has actually grown its market share closer to 100%.

    Superior product, inferior competitors. I remember Facebook's competitors. MySpace and Livejournal have died. I remember Amazon's competitors; they too were inferior. Google? Dude, they were a johnny-come-lately. I remember Altavista, Jeeves, Yahoo, etc – they were all top of the pops until Google came along and produced a better search engine than any of them.

    They remain unchallenged for the same reason Windows does; there is no more better product out there that offers the same ease of use at the price for the widest market.

    In time it will be broadly recognized that these are monopolies, but how long will that take?

    I'll take that bet. I bet they won't be recognized as monopolies.

  47. Paradigm Spider says

    I'll take the United States vs. Microsoft on the issue of Internet Explorer (shit as it was at the time) for 400, Alex!

  48. says

    We can call it culture war or whatever. There is a bias that nobody talks about: the advertisers' bias. This place is paid for by advertisers. Hate and ugly shit doesn't sell ads, but happy fun does. People don't seem to want "twitter.gov" paid for by their tax dollars, where by law all speech would be absolutely equal. So they have to accept the bias of the person paying for the space. And advertisers are the ones putting pressure that matters. If Twitter descends into a festering cesspool of hate and death threats, it will lose whatever revenues it has because the brands will go elsewhere. That's the only thing Twitter really fears. So what their advertisers tell them to avoid, they will avoid. You're totally right that we, the users, don't matter. As soon as someone learns to monetise hate and make money off advertising to hateful people, they'll get an advertising-supported hate venue of their own. As long as the Twitter's revenues are dominated by Game of War's and Lexus's and whoever else's marketing budgets, it's Game of War's and Lexus' corporate biases that will dominate Twitter, not Twitter's own biases.

  49. DRed says

    This guy is absolutely definitely in no way categorisable as an "SJW"

    Milo? Sure he is.

    What are the characteristics of an SJW?

  50. Manta says

    I'm not familiar with how Twitter works, so I ask for some clarifications.

    How is Milo a problem for Twitter users?
    If someone doesn't want to read his twits, doesn't he simply have not to add him to his/her feed (or some equivalent action)?

    I mean, isn't "reading Milo's tweet" something that requires some active action from the part of the user, and can in any case be easily reversed by unfollowing him? How is different than subscribing to some newsletter?

    Second question: I would be interested in your opinions about how to run a "social" website (like Facebook or Twitter) in a way that is respectful both of the "spirit of free speech" (to borrow Ken's words) and of the "right not to be offended" (by which I mean the right not to hear/read your speech).

  51. Argentina Orange says

    Those that are claiming that Twitter is not taking sides in the culture war are demonstrably wrong:

    http://i.imgur.com/yfC3Rhl.png

    For those ryulongpedians out there, feel free to fall back to your argument of "gibbergoobers ist der untermench!"

  52. Castaigne says

    @Paradigm Spider:

    I'll take the United States vs. Microsoft on the issue of Internet Explorer (shit as it was at the time) for 400, Alex!

    Findings of the trial court appealed, overturned at appealed, DOJ realized they had no way to win, settled with Microsoft instead. Microsoft never actually was labeled a monopoly and the settlement was very much in favor of the company. Very few people remember that Microsoft thoroughly trounced the DOJ on that case, once it got out of the hands of the admittedly-biased Judge Jackson.

  53. says

    @Argentina Orange:

    Those that are claiming that Twitter is not taking sides in the culture war are demonstrably wrong:

    http://i.imgur.com/yfC3Rhl.png

    For those ryulongpedians out there, feel free to fall back to your argument of "gibbergoobers ist der untermench!"

    Your post contains a clear and comprehensive proof of your argument.

    Well, OK, it contains an image and some words which support your argument.

    Well, OK, it contains an image depicting something that might mean something to someone somewhere, and some strings of letters which sort of resemble words.

    Still, A for effort!

    Well, OK, C- for effort.

  54. Argentina Orange says

    @pillsy

    Ah, the old "I don't understand it, so it must be false" refutation. A classic. I can't blame you, not everyone is familiar with such esoteric subjects as autofill, particularly not in context of discussing The Twitter.

  55. says

    @Argentina Orange:

    Ah, the old "I don't understand it, so it must be false" refutation.

    More to the point, I don't understand it, so I can't possibly determine whether it's false.

    I can't blame you, not everyone is familiar with such esoteric subjects as autofill, particularly not in context of discussing The Twitter.

    Still missing: any explanation of why that screenshot is relevant to anything.

  56. Matt W says

    @Argentina How interesting. When I go to Twitter right now and start to type #GamerGate, the first autofill is "#GamerGate rainbows". Is that a Twitter conspiracy too? What, exactly, is "santorum"?

  57. Argentina Orange says

    @MattW

    @Argentina How interesting. When I go to Twitter right now and start to type #GamerGate, the first autofill is "#GamerGate rainbows". Is that a Twitter conspiracy too? What, exactly, is "santorum"?

    Probably. Unless you're actually claiming that there was either an organic or engineered attempt at googlebombing the hashtag, the fact that "gamergate," "jesuismilo," et al not only are not their own top autocomplete suggestions, but do not even appear in the autocomplete list is pretty clear evidence that someone at Twitter is fucking with the list.

    Of course, it may not be a "conspiracy" in the sense that it may very well be just one person. But it's at least one person who is speaking for the company.

  58. DRed says

    Without autocomplete filling it in for you how would you ever know where to serarch for the gamergate hashtag? I haven't seen censorship this vicious since they burned Billy Tyndale.

    Do you know how twitter generates its autocomplete entries? Have you studied other phrases to see how twitter is rigging the system against you? Or are you just mad online? Would it be more socially just if twitter had gamergate show up first? Perhaps you should go to war.

  59. Castaigne says

    @Argentina Orange:

    the fact that "gamergate," "jesuismilo," et al not only are not their own top autocomplete suggestions, but do not even appear in the autocomplete list is pretty clear evidence that someone at Twitter is fucking with the list.

    Never mind that auto-complete functions not only depend on the site you are at, but various interactions being made by the specific browser being used to access the site, along with access of history (or lack thereof) of searches made on that browser. For instance, if I go there, and type in "jesuim", the first option I get is #jesuismilo. If I put in "jesui", I get a ton of shit, because "jesui" is part of innumerable hashtags.

    Let's see, first options on "gamerg":
    – #gamergate rainbow
    – #GamerGate CN
    – #gamergate rogue

    Of course, I don't have a Twitter account. So there you go. I would suspect that when you're logged into Twitter, you are mostly searching for and/or accessing tweets that are opposing you – thus, the results you get when you try to search. I mean, if you're hunting down anti-GG people all the time, it would make sense that the first thing that appears for you is "#gamergate fascists". That's a keyword phrase for hunting all that down.

    Recommendation: Read up on search heuristics and how they're individualized these days.

  60. Blademail says

    People who don't want to use an ideologically hostile platform (which makes its wrath felt by placing trivial inconveniences in front of people it doesn't like, and not suggesting that internet attention whores who have lost blue checkmarks are the moral analogues of massacred journalists) should simply boycott the service which they so hate, thereby depriving it of the valuable advertising impressions and userbase which comes to Twitter for such things.

    Assuming Twitter doesn't about face on its patent pledge, nothing is actually stopping you from hosting your own Twitter clone except possibly for the fact that nobody wants to pay for it; and, if you had created one, nobody would use it.

  61. DRed says

    I think the reason twitter went from being the "free speech wing of the free speech party" to what they are today is they thought the negative publicity generated by their lack of any guidelines was going to cost them money. There's a lesson there.

  62. Argentina Orange says

    @DRed

    I haven't seen censorship this vicious since they burned Billy Tyndale.

    Now we're just haggling over the price.

  63. Castaigne says

    @Blademail:

    should simply boycott the service which they so hate

    But Twitter is a natural monopoly and so should be forced by the government to be a common carrier in the name of free speech! Nationalized in the name of free speech! Regulated as neutral in the name of free speech!
    /sarcasm

  64. says

    @Castaigne

    I…don't see how that matters.
    No one is required to give you reasons for anything, unless legally compelled.

    I think I may be failing to make myself clear. No, they are not legally required to give us a reason or even make the declaration. Nor am I arguing that they should be required to do so. What I am saying though is that whether or not they play favorites and hold a bias is an important topic, worthy of public and media notice and worthy of public attention. Social media in general, and Twitter in particular, play host to a significant amount of important conversations and have been directly used as tools in some historic events such as the "Arab Spring".

    I'm not saying they necessarily need to do anything. They are a private entity, and at least for some users playing favorites might be desirable. But if they are doing it, then it is a newsworthy event and something their users should be made aware of, if not by Twitter than by the media.

    No, I disagree entirely. You can either take Twitter or leave it; they're not required to do anything else than offer you a service at a price. Or not, if they so choose.

    I think it's perfectly ethical not to disclose a damn thing, if you don't feel like it.

    I do not think it is ethical of them to fail to disclose. But ethics are notoriously difficult things that reasonable people can differ on. It is certainly legal for them not to disclose their biases (if they truly have one), and I am not saying they should be legally made to disclose it. They are, and should be, free to have any bias they like, whether intentional or accidental, and it is at least possible they don't have a bias.

    But, it is a question that I want an answer to and one that I think anyone making serious use of the platform would likely want an answer to. It is something where a clear statement from Twitter would help me trust them more and something that I think journalists/watchdogs/etc. should indeed watch.

  65. Castaigne says

    @TimothyAWiseman:

    What I am saying though is that whether or not they play favorites and hold a bias is an important topic, worthy of public and media notice and worthy of public attention.

    I disagree. Their company, their rules, not my business. Just as it's not my business what other people do in their houses, so long as it is legal. Illegal – well, that's the state's business, which makes it public business.

    If I agreed to your viewpoint, that's like me saying my neighbor's biases that he holds in his own house is an important topic, worthy of public and media notice and worthy of public attention. No, I do not see a difference. Private property is private property. A private entity is a private entity. I treat Twitter no differently than I treat my neighbor.

    But if they are doing it, then it is a newsworthy event and something their users should be made aware of, if not by Twitter than by the media.

    I disagree that it is newsworthy, anymore than I think my neighbor's opinion of dog breeds that he prefers is newsworthy.

    I do not think it is ethical of them to fail to disclose.

    Ethics are personal opinions that are sometimes widely held by a group or culture. What is ethical or unethical depends entirely on your personal point of view. When ethics are codified so that everyone has to follow them, we call them "standards" or "law".

    So as far as I'm concerned, if it's legal for them to fail to disclose, it's perfectly ethical.

    But, it is a question that I want an answer to

    And I want a million dollars. Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which fills faster, etc.

    It is something where a clear statement from Twitter would help me trust them more

    Either use/buy their services or don't. Caveat emptor.

  66. Tim! says

    @Castaigne: Do you believe it is ethical for a restaurant chain to quietly use horse meat, or sawdust as cheap filler, or herbs with addictive qualities, absent government regulation requiring disclosure?

    If so, I think you and I have conflicting definitions of ethics.

    Ethics are not about what you are compelled to do; ethics describe what is right to do.

  67. Bob says

    I'm still waiting for someone actually show evidence of bias by Twitter. And by evidence, I do not mean "well this conservative guy was banned, but this liberal guy was not". That's an anecdote. I also don't mean, "give me a bunch of anecdotes". The plural of anecdote is not data.

    It will not be easy to gather the type of systematic evidence required, but it makes me roll my eyes seeing everyone to announce that twitter has a liberal bias as some kind of foregone conclusion in the absence of such evidence. Maybe they are – I don't know.

    I suspect as Ken does, that there is a decentralized decisionmaking system for deciding if someone is an ass in need of censure, and the deciders are more likely to think you're an ass if you're conservative.

  68. King Squirrel says

    I do not think it is ethical of them to fail to disclose.

    That depends a great deal on what they are failing to disclose, no?

    You can lose a badge by protecting too many tweets. If that was the offense (or one of them), I would see disclosing it as unethical – for Twitter anyway.
    You can lose a badge by being blocked too often – exactly how often is unclear. Since that could be gamed, not sure if disclosing how-to-get-people-you-disagree-with-disciplined is ethical either.

    If it's the reason a great many people seem to be assuming – CULTURE WAAAAAAGGH! – then is your ethical obligation to your stockholders, the "neutrals", the "enemy", or to who you see as the Good Guys in this battle for the souls of ALL HUMANITY!!

    Death to Xenos, all hail the Emprah.

  69. says

    @ Bob

    I'm still waiting for someone actually show evidence of bias by Twitter. And by evidence, I do not mean "well this conservative guy was banned, but this liberal guy was not". That's an anecdote. I also don't mean, "give me a bunch of anecdotes". The plural of anecdote is not data.

    Which is all I have right now – what I would call anecdotes. I'm trying to compile enough to roll out data. Who knows, once the data actually comes together, I'll prove the opposite of my hypothesis.

  70. Bruce says

    For those stating "it's just a check mark" – there are additional tools available to verified users.

    Do verified accounts have access to extra features?
    Yes, verified account holders have access to the following extra features:

    Verified account holders have access to filters in the Notifications page that let them display their Notifications via one of three options: All (default), Mentions and Verified.
    Visitors to verified account profile pages can select between two timeline options: No replies or All. No replies, which is the default setting, displays Tweets that are not direct @ replies to fans or followers. All displays every Tweet, including @ replies.
    Verified account holders have access to account analytics, including data and characteristics about Tweet engagement and followers.
    Verified account holders can elect to opt out of Group Direct Messages via the Security and Privacy settings page on Twitter.com.

    A verified user gets access to features that help separate out the noise from the signal. Very useful for those that generate a lot of attention, good or bad. Milo now has to deal with the shit that flows around him with whatever filters he can create himself. Every mention from supporters and detractors will now just fill his timeline.

    This is not Twitter saying we don't know who you are, this is them removing a perk they granted him in response to him breaching the TOS. He is a repeat offender and even managed multiple holidays under the old TOS prior to the enacting of the new harassment policies.

    On the point of "if you don't like him, don't add him to your feed." Twitter allows people to insert themselves into your feed by mentioning you or someone you do subscribe to. A user must actively block someone to avoid them completely. That's why dog-piling and sea-lioning work.

    Twitter is losing money and losing users. Their changed TOS are a response to this. I'm not sure if there a long term goal of being the platform of choice for people to screech and fling faeces at each other. And those that claim the verification removal of Milo is driving the stock price can't even point to correlation, let alone causality.

  71. Castaigne says

    @Tim!

    Do you believe it is ethical for a restaurant chain to quietly use horse meat, or sawdust as cheap filler, or herbs with addictive qualities, absent government regulation requiring disclosure?

    Yes. My guideline is "If it's legal, it's legit."

    If so, I think you and I have conflicting definitions of ethics.

    I'd agree on that. Everyone has a different ethical interpretation, due to to the subjective nature of ethics.

    Ethics are not about what you are compelled to do; ethics describe what is right to do.

    What is "right to do" is in the eye of the beholder. "Right" is very, very subjective.

    ===

    @King:

    That depends a great deal on what they are failing to disclose,

    Not for me.
    My only question is, are they legally required to disclose BLAH? If answer = no, then totally ethical not to do so.

    If it's the reason a great many people seem to be assuming – CULTURE WAAAAAAGGH! – then is your ethical obligation to your stockholders, the "neutrals", the "enemy", or to who you see as the Good Guys in this battle for the souls of ALL HUMANITY!!

    A corporation's only obligation is a fiduciary one to their stockholders, IMO.

  72. says

    @Castaigne:

    A corporation's only obligation is a fiduciary one to their stockholders, IMO.

    While I think the current complaints about Twitter are breathtaking in their frivolity, I do think this approach to corporate governance is a bad one for everyone, not least the shareholders. I really get the impression that, in the long run, it leads to corporate officers to start viewing every business arrangement as an opportunity to screw someone, and sooner or later they'll extend that attitude to the stockholders. Ultimately, I believe a corporation that takes a more expansive view of its responsibilities will provide more value to its stockholders.

    Of course, you hardly need to take your view to have a good chuckle over the idea that Twitter should have a carefully defined, public and "unbiased" process for removing little blue ticky boxes from the usernames of people who aren't even Twitter's customers.

  73. Bent says

    Thank you @Peter M from the other thread for posting this like with actual data: https://twitter.com/glinner/status/685993653425278976

    My take:

    The punishment fits the offense. Milo while doing his thing repeatedly mocked Randi for not having a verified account. "If you're so important and cool and serious then why don't you have a verified account like me? trolololol"

    With all your deep, excellent connections at Twitter and all the terrible harassment you get @randileeharper, how come you’re not verified?

    Not being mean, just wondering. I’d have thought someone of your immense stature would have been recognised by now. @randileeharper

    I think it's a fair decision to say that if one of those two people deserved a verified account then they both do, and if neither then…

  74. Castaigne says

    @pillsy:

    Ultimately, I believe a corporation that takes a more expansive view of its responsibilities will provide more value to its stockholders.

    *shrugs* OK. Your opinion has been noted.

    ===

    @TimothyAWiseman:

    It is your business what they are doing if you are doing business with them or if it will have a direct and immediate impact on you.

    My response to that is "Caveat emptor."

    If I am doing business with someone, then at least certain parts of their business have become my business.

    Only if your business contractual arrangement with that someone states so. You are free to cancel your service and go elsewhere (or sue for breach of contract, if it applies) if you are in disagreement with the level of disclosure.

    If they blast their music so loud I cannot sleep, then they have made it my business.

    Noise violation, usually against the law (depending on your local area), thus public business.

    If they work with noxious chemicals that I can distinctly smell from my house, then it becomes my business.

    Possible environmental regulation violations or possible zoning/local ordinance issues, thus public business. If neither of those apply, none of my business. Live with it or move. If it's legal, it's legit.

    When that begins to happen, how they influence the use of those tools has become my, and public, business.

    I completely disagree with your viewpoint. If you were to say "This government bureaucrat needs to do what I'm saying (that's legal) because they are the civil SERVANT and I am the civil MASTER!", I'd agree with you. Public entity, obedience is to be given to the public.

    But bringing that attitude to a private corporation? Hell no.
    If you want to have Twitter provide that level of disclosure you desire, you need to either pass laws/regulations requiring it or nationalize Twitter.

    Again, they have the right to have an explicit bias if they want

    Yup.

    they have broken no laws if their system happens to set up an implicit bias

    Yup.

    that bias or lack thereof is very much my business so long as I remain a user they welcome and/or they continue to play a major role in public events.

    Nope.

    Incidentally, other publications are looking at this as well. I read Arstechnica's coverage this morning and that articles links to a couple of others.

    I agree it makes good clickbait journalism money for the media to speculate on. Still not my business. Oh, and quote from the article:

    At last, in December, the company quit embroidering its rules page with links and simply re-wrote its rules from top to bottom. Now, as Jeong points out, the company no longer promises an uncensored service.

    There you go. Your disclosure question appears to be answered by the article. Twitter may censor as they see fit. So, why are you complaining, now that you know the rules?

  75. Jhanley says

    In general this has been a pretty unenlightening comment thread, but I have learned that Castaigne is not a student of ethics.

  76. King Squirrel says

    @Castaigne

    A corporation's only obligation is a fiduciary one to their stockholders, IMO

    Agreed – though I'd prefer "function" over "obligation" – but I was talking about sentient creatures, not their tools. Those pronouns referred to people – not sure where you got corporation.

    A corporation is never a "you", so it cannot be ethical or unethical, IMO.

  77. jd says

    Is twitter an information monopoly now? Should they be regulated to insure competition of information?

  78. jd says

    Information monopolies are unregulated. The law hasn't keep up with them like it did ATT. There is a certain violent noise level that should be censored in order for discourse to be heard. But other than that there is a need to have the medium be unbiased and left up to the tools people want to use to filter.

  79. bw1 says

    Castaigne, your assertion that the sole metric of ethics consists of the law is interesting. You've argued a pretty libertarian position on private property rights, and yet, you're essentially saying that right and wrong are to be legislated by the state, which is a pretty statist idea.

    For almost 100 years, slavery was legal in a large part of the USA, and federal laws applicable to the rest of the country existed in support of it. Was it thus ethical?

    Our laws include the concept of fraud, which, in its simplest terms, is deception in pursuit of a transaction, yet you have defended such behavior as ethical.

    You appear to be saying that the practices and policies of those with whom I enter transactions are none of my business, and I have no legitimate interest in knowing them, and, effectively, that it's somehow offensive to you if someone publicly discloses what they reasonably believe those practices and policies to be. So, by extension, is it a problem in your view for someone to disclose to Jewish and Muslim people that they saw the delivery truck of a prominent pork supplier backing up to the dock of a restaurant?

    Then there's the problem that you seem to be condemning the exercise of free speech, and the sharing of the information that even Adam Smith said was essential to the proper functioning of a free market. Your cries of private entity freedom imply that someone here is calling for Twitter to be coerced into doing something – I don't see anyone here saying anything remotely like that. People are sharing and discussing events that may be probative regarding information that other people value for deciding whether to do business with a private company.

    What we have here is an informal network of like-minded people informing each other that Twitter appears to be operating in a manner which might incline them not to avail themselves of its service. That's not significantly
    different from people saying "The new Star Wars movie is the same plot as episode 4 with different characters, so don't waste your time" – it's word of mouth negative advertising. It seems odd for someone who makes such noise about the freedom of private actors to use their property and efforts as they wish to say that, but then, maybe you're a closeted corporatist fan of companies suing people for negative Yelp reviews, rather than the property rights zealot you seem to be claiming to be.

  80. bw1 says

    @Castaigne "My response to that is 'Caveat emptor.'"

    Which means buyer beware. Part of "beware" is to seek out information that can support confidence. Do you believe the Better Business Bureau is somehow violating peoples' rights?

  81. Brian Z says

    Meanwhile in Castaigne-land:

    I went to Jiffy Lube for an oil change. I said to the guy behind the counter, "Hey man, I really love your prices, the service, the quality, the service reminders and everything. But you guys always put the service sticker on the upper left of my windshield, and I was wondering if you could put the sticker on the lower left."

    He said to me, "BITCH, we are a PRIVATE CORPORATION, and we will put our stickers where we damn well please! You can buy or service, or not buy our service, but you CANNOT tell us what to do!"

    I immediately agreed, because it was not my business.

  82. DanA says

    @Castaigne
    You are a reprehensible human being and I hope that I am lucky enough never to interact with you or any business you are involved with. While the law may be the minimum required behaviour most people hold themselves to a higher standard than 'if I don't do it I will get locked away for the protection of society'.

    Beyond the ethical grounds it is just good business to be open and honest about your products and policies. If you do so people will trust that they are making an informed decision about who to do business with rather than worrying if they are being scammed or harmed by unethical (but legal!) practices. If you are worried that you will lose business by exposing what (not illegal) practices you engage in then it should be a strong indication that you shouldn't be engaging in those practices because people find them reprehensible.

    @jdgalt
    Being a major leader in the 'anti-SJW movement' does not suggest that Milo isn't being a troll – it is pretty much a requirement for that position.

    ps. Please go Galt. Some future anthropologist will get an amazing paper over excavating the bones of you and your followers from whatever gulch you and your 'self made men' wither and die in.

  83. Tarrou says

    So let me see if I've got this straight:

    Marc thinks Twitter deserves some scorn for their behavior.

    Ken thinks they should legally be allowed to do their behavior, but since this doesn't actually contradict Marc in any way (or anyone else), is probably just tribal signalling.

    Castaigne doesn't believe in ethics. Which is handy, us being on the internet and all. Orgies for everyone!

    I miss anything?

  84. kent says

    I dunno. The idea that private ownership explicitly releases a publicly accessible communications platform from any/all obligations to society – both as a matter of correctness and as a matter of law – seems more than a bit reductive.

    If operators of a telephone system started penalizing users … say, by adding an indicator that says "this person is a potential fraud" before every text they try to send, or by removing a person's ability to utilize the phone system all together when the system is used to say "offensive" things … such policies would be considered outrageous.

    As you note, Twitter's non-traditional method of monetization doesn't change the fact that Twitter is monetizing a global communications network. And like all international communications networks, their success relies heavily on publicly financed infrastructure to reach beyond their own facilities. At some point shouldn't modern networks be required to adhere to the standards that have dictated how all previous communications networks handle the issue of 1st Amendment sensibilities in a reality of using contracted private companies to carry forward identified national objectives?

    If private industry can't (won't) meet the objectives of society while simultaneously manifesting their nature as private companies, it seems that we, as a people, have no choice but to socialize large chunks of the national infrastructure that are currently being expanded/maintained through feeding government revenue to private industry with the illusion private industry will be capable of building infrastructure on our behalf to constitutional standards.

    If the our world has evolved to the point existence as a private company explicitly means society has no claim of behavioral expectation, private companies have evolved to the point where they are no longer a viable solution to providing the underlying systems that work together to form the pieces of a crucial national infrastructure.

    When libertarians get done arguing themselves into reductive ideological truisms which simply don't work for real-world solutions, socialism becomes the most obviously effective tool available to create a systemic balance from the resulting chaos. It's like two sides of the same bad penny.

  85. deadletter dan the postbox man says

    chortling heaps of clumsily animated body soil

    Good to know that you see me as a poop golem. Really loving the disease, filth, bodily corruption, parasitic vermin metaphors. If the shoe fits, right? Ha, ha. Very confident regarding your caste not exterminating mine given half a chance. Solid, insightful model.

  86. Jackson Marten says

    I will take the revolutionary stance, as someone involved in corporate governance, that maintaining a long-term image as ethical is typically in the best interests of the shareholders.

    This is not to say you have an obligation to do so (realistically, you can be a total moron and still fulfill the very limited understanding of fiduciary responsibility we have so long as you were a total moron in good faith), but on average, barring certain industries where distaste for the very profit-generating activity itself exists in size, a good reputation has a hard to quantify but non-zero value to shareholders.

  87. Castaigne says

    @Jhanely:

    but I have learned that Castaigne is not a student of ethics.

    No, I have never been a fan of philosophy classes in college.

    =====

    @bw1

    You've argued a pretty libertarian position on private property rights, and yet, you're essentially saying that right and wrong are to be legislated by the state, which is a pretty statist idea.

    No, I'm arguing from a different premise. I say that right and wrong have no objective existence, that right and wrong is solely determined by the individual via their subjective viewpoint.

    The state legislates order in society. That's it. Whether that order is right and wrong depends entirely on your POV.

    For almost 100 years, slavery was legal in a large part of the USA, and federal laws applicable to the rest of the country existed in support of it. Was it thus ethical?

    Depends entirely on your personal viewpoint of what ethical is.

    Our laws include the concept of fraud, which, in its simplest terms, is deception in pursuit of a transaction, yet you have defended such behavior as ethical.

    If said deception does not meet the legal definition of fraud for that jurisdiction, then the behavior is legal, thus legitimate. Whether it's ethical or not is entirely up to you.

    So, by extension, is it a problem in your view for someone to disclose to Jewish and Muslim people that they saw the delivery truck of a prominent pork supplier backing up to the dock of a restaurant?

    -I- wouldn't. None of my business. I'm neither Jewish nor Muslim.
    Can't speak for you. If you told me, I would tell you that it's neither your nor my business.

    Then there's the problem that you seem to be condemning the exercise of free speech

    No, I have not done that at all.

    the sharing of the information that even Adam Smith said was essential to the proper functioning of a free market

    I don't really care what Adam Smith said. But OK.

    meone here is calling for Twitter to be coerced into doing something

    I guessed you missed all those common carrier comments above.

    Part of "beware" is to seek out information that can support confidence.

    No, I don't agree with that definition. The meaning of "Buyer beware.", in my opinion, is "The buyer should act in a way that shows the buyer knows that there may be danger or trouble." If part of that is "seeking out information", that's fine – but the seller is under no obligation to impart anything that is not legally required.

    Do you believe the Better Business Bureau is somehow violating peoples' rights?

    Nope. The BBB has does not violate any legal right granted by the Constitution and/or USG. However, I would be a fool to trust the BBB, since anyone can buy their way into "good odour" there.

    =====

    @Brian Z:

    I immediately agreed, because it was not my business.

    Crudely put, but essentially yes. If I made that request and received that response, I would either have to accept that as part of the service or Go Somewhere Else.

    Personally, I wouldn't ask.

    =====

    @DanA:

    You are a reprehensible human being and I hope that I am lucky enough never to interact with you or any business you are involved with.

    Really? Well, your choice. I always keep to my contractual terms and I always do what is legally required of me, so my conscience is clear.

    Beyond the ethical grounds it is just good business to be open and honest about your products and policies.

    I'm as honest and open as I feel it necessary to be.
    But hey, you don't want to do business with me, that's your decision. It's a free market. You don't have to buy from me.

    =====

    @kent:

    The idea that private ownership explicitly releases a publicly accessible communications platform from any/all obligations to society – both as a matter of correctness and as a matter of law – seems more than a bit reductive.

    Yes, it is reductive.

    If private industry can't (won't) meet the objectives of society while simultaneously manifesting their nature as private companies, it seems that we, as a people, have no choice but to socialize large chunks of the national infrastructure that are currently being expanded/maintained through feeding government revenue to private industry with the illusion private industry will be capable of building infrastructure on our behalf to constitutional standards.

    Translation: If Twitter won't be obedient to public opinion, they need to be nationalized.
    (Dude, seriously, bloviating and blustering and increasing word count doesn't change the meaning.)

  88. Nop says

    @NickM "The blue check mark is a certification of identity, not a merit badge."

    The blue check mark is the sole property of Twitter, & thus is whatever they want it to be.

  89. Dragoness Eclectic says

    @Castaigne, I think you're missing that Common Carrier status already applies, thanks to various court rulings Ken has written about in the past–AFAIK, as long as Twitter does not censor based on content, they are not liable for any criminal or libelous posts from their users. If they start censoring based on content, they are potentially liable for every stupid thing users say.

  90. Nop says

    @Dragoness Eclectic
    As with comment sections like this one, it's the CDA (Communications Decency Act) that protects Twitter from liability; FCC Common Carrier reg's aren't relevant to the issue.

  91. Kenpachi says

    Youtube Now Has Super Flaggers to Monitor Videos (Including Government Officials)
    https://youtu.be/lMh-VKJjfQk

    Please Ken remind us again how distinct is the corporate/private world and their management of their platforms and the governmental/state apparatus in this day and age?

    Let's expand and revisit the intersection of law enforcement, the judicial system, open platforms for expression and places of gathering (virtual or otherwise), of people and ideas…

    The conundrum is quite complex, but it's a really bad starting point when we cry "private business is private!" when it's convenient or a clear cut example, but when government officials force themselves into the corporate world to police the spread of information and the natural gathering of like-minded individuals or even opposing groups that want to debate and confront about politics and whatnot, just to name a few examples.

    Do you care to venture who are the ones that will be deemed "undesirables" first? I can certainly make an educated guess: this channel is gone in a second

    https://www.youtube.com/user/StormCloudsGathering

    For the record, I don't always agree with every point the guy makes there, (he's kind of an extremist and a little "out there") but the production quality of his videos are really top notch, and he makes some good point here and there. But that's neither here nor there, the point is it's intellectually dishonest and a reductionist move to cry "private business! If you don't like it go somewhere else" when it's convenient, but at the same time that same corporation, with or without the supervision of democratically elected officials (that let's not forget are serving a limited amount of time in their positions of office), actively police, remove and censor content that they don't want out there.

    Of course, if a critical mass abandons the platform in question, it's never about going somewhere else, because of course the same apparatus of control will be implemented EVERYWHERE, especially if the model is successful to meet the needs of the political elite, and as long as silicon valley giants keep making money. (The latter being hardly likely to change even with a "sanitizing" system).

    I know that you always want to fight for the underdog, and have a good heart, so I'd really appreciate that you could educate us all and go deeper in your analysis, even if the reality is about things we do not want to hear.

    Maybe it's just me but I thought that good lawyers and ultimately good judges (and the judicial system as a whole) were the last bastion to contain the overreaches of elected and transitive government officials who more often than not abuse their position and their duties. If the judicial system is not there to keep "government" in check and prevent if from oppressing the common citizen, the spread of information and ideas, especially controversial ones, democracy is doomed.

    Please revisit this topic, there's a lot more to say. Thanks in advance.

  92. WhangoTango says

    "Twitter is a private entity with the right to delete any posts it doesn't like! The First Amendment doesn't apply to Twitter!"

    (twitter gets sued by Tamara Fields)

    "Twitter is totally protected by the First Amendment and you have no grounds to sue them over what gets posted there!"

  93. SDN says

    Ken, all you have to do is answer one question:

    Twitter is as much of a private company as any Colorado bakery. Why should they be allowed to refuse to provide their product to transmit messages they don't believe in?

  94. Castaigne says

    @SDN:

    Twitter is as much of a private company as any Colorado bakery. Why should they be allowed to refuse to provide their product to transmit messages they don't believe in?

    Because Twitter is not refusing service based on race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation in violation of Colorado state law, unlike the Colorado bakery which was found specifically to be doing so. Now, if you can prove that they discriminating on those matters and have offices in Colorado, please, feel free to file suit.

  95. Nop says

    @SDN says: "I notice you carefully left off religion. Why do I suspect it wasn't accidental?"

    You think that Milo was discriminated against because of his religion? I wasn't even aware that he was religious.

  96. SDN says

    Certainly the Colorado bakers were; that feeds straight back into why is Twitter allowed to refuse services if the baker isn't.

  97. Nop says

    Apparently my sarcasm was too subtle for you. My point was that Twitter obviously didn't discriminate against Milo on religious grounds, so there was no need to mention it.
    So… Why do YOU think religion was an issue?

  98. SDN says

    I propose that you cannot use the legal system to tell a private business that they must deliver their normal services in a manner which forces them to help propagate a belief or message they don't share, ie gay marriage, and yet say that private business Twitter can refuse to provide their normal services when it spreads a belief or message they disagree with. And I further state that the only reason you are holding the belief that that private business CAN be forced is because the business' motivation is one that Leftist anti-theists find icky, namely the owners Christian beliefs.

    Is that plain enough for you religious bigots?

  99. Nop says

    The situations are not at all comparable, for the same reasons that Castaigne gave previously.
    Why do you Jeezoids suck so badly at logic?
    (Yes, that was a rhetorical question – the answer is that being brainwashed as a child by a cult damages a person's ability to think.)

  100. SDN says

    No, you say it's not the same. I disagree. You have provided nothing past assertion. I have at leasst laid out the same behavior and the different results.

  101. Nop says

    @SDN
    Now that you've confirmed that you're a religious nut, I won't be wasting any more time trying to have a rational discussion with you. Good bye.

  102. AL says

    Completely agree that Twitter as a private enterprise is entitled to, and responsible for, managing the content of its product. Especially since as a private business, judging by its current limbo, Twitter is likely to experience "creative destruction", which would fill me with Schumpeterfreude because irony so many levels. Already the product is experiencing a sort of "Reddit trap" where advertisers are weary of being seen associating with garbage such as @Nero. Odd of Radazza to make poser Milo a heroic cause while self-importantly invoking Kulturkampf: as if obscene misogyny could be a selling point in favor of any argument.

    However I must disagree with the implied disparagement of the Kardashians by comparing them to Milo Yiannopoulos. Whether one finds them tasteful or "literate" or not, the Kardashians are a truly worldwide pop culture phenomenon and billion dollar brand, self-made. Kim K started her career as a personal closet organizer for rich ladies and is now running a hugely successful enterprise, raising a family etc. I saw a vid of her speaking at a Re/Code conference and she is one shrewd businesswoman, certainly not innumerate. Who is Milo @Nero again? Fake Englishman who burned out in London and like so many 2nd rate Brits, came to America to shill some act with an accent. He's a typist for Breitbart, a minstrel, and Ben Shapiro is a fan, 'nuff said. If Twitter had more Kardashian and less Milo it might be profitable like Instagram, and might actually survive.

  103. JohnBalog says

    @Castaigne

    You do realize that your position is just as subjective and arbitrary as the position you are deriding, correct? Reading your "arguments" is like watching a Scientologist mock a Mormon over the unlikelihood of the origin story of their religion.

    I've often wondered why someone would cling so desperately to the "morality is subjective so if it's not against the law it's ok" line of thinking. I generally assume it's because they partake in activities they (on some level) realize are disgusting and reprehensible and need a way to justify themselves internally. "Thailand doesn't have a law against fucking 9 year olds so it's totally cool when I do it!" would be an example. I'd be interested to hear more about how you came to such an odd position yourself.

    In any case, someone who can look at things like hereditary slavery or Stalin's purges or etc etc and just shrug and say "Meh, it was legal. Who am I to judge?" is indeed utterly reprehensible. I pity anyone forced to interact with you.

  104. Protest Manager says

    Twitter's line employees are almost certainly disproportionately liberal, and by assigning command-and-control of individual account decisions to them, the impact is probably that evaluations of abuse complaints will have a liberal bias. Similarly, if you make a corporate decision to police harassment (or at least pretend to), and the people doing the policing have a bias, then the results will have a bias. But that's not the same as a deliberate decision to take sides;

    Yes, it is. You are responsible for the easily predictable results of your actions. If you have a left biased employee pool, and you give them the power to make political decisions, then you have chosen to act "left". It's like when you pay people to be poor, and you get more poor people, and more misery.

    You don't get to say "I had no idea that would happen", when every single intelligent commentator could and did tell you what would happen.

  105. Protest Manager says

    @Castaigne you are wrong. Colorado bakers refusing to do a cake for a SSM are NOT refusing to do business with someone because they're gay, they're refusing to provide a message they disagree with.

    Refusing to sell an ordinary cake to a gay individual would be discriminating based on sexual orientation. refusing to take part in a SSM is a political and religious statement that should be entirely protected by the 1st Amendment

  106. TheOldOligarch says

    I do agree that Twitter is a private company that can be as biased as they want. But if they pretend to be neutral and for free speech, they are committing fraud. Just because it's marketing to them doesn't mean they shouldn't be forced to provide what they promise to deliver. If their CEO says their goal is to make profit and we'll ban everyone who diminishes our earnings, I'd take no issue. Regarding the common carrier issue, I'm hard pressed to see how telephone companies are different than Twitter, except in a technical sense.

    Anyway, the classical liberal philosophers rightfully minded informal censorship by society more than government censorship because it's quite clear formal free speech protections from the government are irrelevant in a society that doesn't value free speech and is filled with pathetic bigots. There's little difference between the consequences of running your mouth in America and in Tito's Yugoslavia. In both you'd lose your job, become a pariah and so on just because some intolerant dim-wits took issue with your speech.

  107. TheOldOligarch says

    I love Al's arguments for why Kim has value. Apparently, if I started to enslave people and became rich as a consequence, I should be on Twitter because look at all that self made wealth. Since you know, self made wealth is a good indicator of someone's worth.

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  1. […] Twitter is a private company, free to do what it chooses with its platform, not a government entity quelling free speech. You have no inherent right to use Twitter. But as people spend more time within private networks like Twitter and Facebook, and less time in the web at large, they increasingly become the default network for many. These private networks end up functioning as a sort of "public commons." […]