Read Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech by Mike Masnick (knightcolumbia.org)
Altering the internet's economic and digital infrastructure to promote free speech

Meanwhile, politicians from the two major political parties have been hammering these companies, albeit for completely different reasons. Some have been complaining about how these platforms have potentially allowed for foreign interference in our elections.3 3. A Conversation with Mark Warner: Russia, Facebook and the Trump Campaign, Radio IQ|WVTF Music (Apr. 6, 2018), https://www.wvtf.org/post/conversation-mark-warner-russia-facebook-and-trump-campaign#stream/0 (statement of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.): “I first called out Facebook and some of the social media platforms in December of 2016. For the first six months, the companies just kind of blew off these allegations, but these proved to be true; that Russia used their social media platforms with fake accounts to spread false information, they paid for political advertising on their platforms. Facebook says those tactics are no longer allowed—that they’ve kicked this firm off their site, but I think they’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”). Others have complained about how they’ve been used to spread disinformation and propaganda.4 4. Nicholas Confessore & Matthew Rosenberg, Facebook Fallout Ruptures Democrats’ Longtime Alliance with Silicon Valley, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/17/technology/facebook-democrats-congress.html (referencing statement by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.): “Mr. Tester, the departing chief of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, looked at social media companies like Facebook and saw propaganda platforms that could cost his party the 2018 elections, according to two congressional aides. If Russian agents mounted a disinformation campaign like the one that had just helped elect Mr. Trump, he told Mr. Schumer, ‘we will lose every seat.’”). Some have charged that the platforms are just too powerful.5 5. Julia Carrie Wong, Up Big Tech: Elizabeth Warren Says Facebook Just Proved Her Point, The Guardian (Mar. 11, 2019), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/11/elizabeth-warren-facebook-ads-break-up-big-tech (statement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)) (“Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor. .”). Others have called attention to inappropriate account and content takedowns,6 6. Jessica Guynn, Ted Cruz Threatens to Regulate Facebook, Google and Twitter Over Charges of Anti-Conservative Bias, USA Today (Apr. 10, 2019), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/04/10/ted-cruz-threatens-regulate-facebook-twitter-over-alleged-bias/3423095002/ (statement of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)) (“What makes the threat of political censorship so problematic is the lack of transparency, the invisibility, the ability for a handful of giant tech companies to decide if a particular speaker is disfavored.”). while some have argued that the attempts to moderate discriminate against certain political viewpoints.

Most of these problems can all fall under the subheading of the problems that result when social media platforms algorithmically push or accelerate content on their platforms. An individual with an extreme view can publish a piece of vile or disruptive content and because it’s inflammatory the silos promote it which provides even more eyeballs and the acceleration becomes a positive feedback loop. As a result the social silo benefits from engagement for advertising purposes, but the community and the commons are irreparably harmed.

If this one piece were removed, then the commons would be much healthier, fringe ideas and abuse that are abhorrent to most would be removed, and the broader democratic views of the “masses” (good or bad) would prevail. Without the algorithmic push of fringe ideas, that sort of content would be marginalized in the same way we want our inane content like this morning’s coffee or today’s lunch marginalized.

To analogize it, we’ve provided social media machine guns to the most vile and fringe members of our society and the social platforms are helping them drag the rest of us down.

If all ideas and content were provided the same linear, non-promotion we would all be much better off, and we wouldn’t have the need for as much human curation.

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:13AM

That approach: build protocols, not platforms.

I can now see why @jack made his Twitter announcement this morning. If he opens up and can use that openness to suck up more data, then Twitter’s game could potentially be doing big data and higher end algorithmic work on even much larger sets of data to drive eyeballs.

I’ll have to think on how one would “capture” a market this way, but Twitter could be reasonably poised to pivot in this direction if they’re really game for going all-in on the idea.

It’s reasonably obvious that Twitter has dramatically slowed it’s growth and isn’t competing with some of it’s erstwhile peers. Thus they need to figure out how to turn a relatively large ship without losing value.

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:20AM

It would allow end users to determine their own tolerances for different types of speech but make it much easier for most people to avoid the most problematic speech, without silencing anyone entirely or having the platforms themselves make the decisions about who is allowed to speak.

But platforms **are **making **huge **decisions about who is allowed to speak. While they’re generally allowing everyone to have a voice, they’re also very subtly privileging many voices over others. While they’re providing space for even the least among us to have a voice, they’re making far too many of the worst and most powerful among us logarithmic-ally louder.

It’s not broadly obvious, but their algorithms are plainly handing massive megaphones to people who society broadly thinks shouldn’t have a voice at all. These megaphones come in the algorithmic amplification of fringe ideas which accelerate them into the broader public discourse toward the aim of these platforms getting more engagement and therefore more eyeballs for their advertising and surveillance capitalism ends.

The issue we ought to be looking at is the dynamic range between people and the messages they’re able to send through social platforms.

We could also analogize this to the voting situation in the United States. When we disadvantage the poor, disabled, differently abled, or marginalized people from voting while simultaneously giving the uber-rich outsized influence because of what they’re able to buy, we’re imposing the same sorts of problems. Social media is just able to do this at an even larger scale and magnify the effects to make their harms more obvious.

If I follow 5,000 people on social media and one of them is a racist-policy-supporting, white nationalist president, those messages will get drowned out because I can only consume so much content. But when the algorithm consistently pushes that content to the top of my feed and attention, it is only going to accelerate it and create more harm. If I get a linear presentation of the content, then I’d have to actively search that content out for it to cause me that sort of harm.

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:39AM

Moving back to a focus on protocols over platforms can solve many of these problems.

This may also only be the case if large corporations are forced to open up and support those protocols. If my independent website can’t interact freely and openly with something like Twitter on a level playing field, then it really does no good.

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:42AM

And other recent developments suggest that doing so could overcome many of the earlier pitfalls of protocol-based systems, potentially creating the best of all words: useful internet services, with competition driving innovation, not controlled solely by giant corporations, but financially sustainable, providing end users with more control over their own data and privacy—and providing mis- and disinformation far fewer opportunities to wreak havoc.

Some of the issue with this then becomes: “Who exactly creates these standards?” We already have issues with mega-corporations like Google wielding out sized influence in the ability to create new standards like Schema.org or AMP.

Who is to say they don’t tacitly design their standards to directly (and only) benefit themselves?

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:47AM

👓 The Next Platform | Pierre Levy

Read The Next Platform by Pierre Levy (Pierre Levy's Blog)
One percent of the human population was connected to the Internet at the end of the 20th century. In 2017, more than 50% is. Most of the users interact in social media, search information, buy products and services online. But despite the ongoing success of digital communication, there is a growing dissatisfaction about the big tech companies (the “Silicon Valley”) who dominate the new communication environment. The big techs are the most valued companies in the world and the massive amount of data that they possess is considered the most precious good of our time. The Silicon Valley owns the big computers: the network of physical centers where our personal and business data are stored and processed. Their income comes from their economic exploitation of our data for marketing purpose and from their sales of hardware, software or services. But they also derive considerable power from the knowledge of markets and public opinions that stems from their information control.

Transparency is the very basis of trust and the precondition of authentic dialogue. Data and people (including the administrators of a platform), should be traceable and audit-able. Transparency should be reciprocal, without distinction between rulers and ruled. Such transparency will ultimately be the basis of reflexive collective intelligence, allowing teams and communities of any size to observe and compare their cognitive activity.

The trouble with some of this is the post-truth political climate in which basic “facts” are under debate. What will the battle between these two groups look like and how can actual facts win out in the end? Will the future Eloi and Morlocks be the descendants of them? I would have presumed that generally logical, intelligent, and educated people would generally come to a broadly general philosophical meeting of the minds as to how to best maximize life, but this seems to obviously not be the case as the result of the poorly educated who will seemingly believe almost anything. And this problem is generally separate from the terrifically selfish people who have differing philosophical stances on how to proceed. How will these differences evolve over time?

This article is sure to be interesting philosophy among some in the IndieWeb movement, but there are some complexities in the system which are sure to muddy the waters. I suspect that many in the Big History school of thought may enjoy the underpinnings of this as well.

I’m going to follow Pierre Levy’s blog to come back and read a bit more about his interesting research programme. There’s certainly a lot to unpack here.

 

Annotations

The Next Platform

Commonality means that people will not have to pay to get access to the new public sphere: all will be free and public property. Commonality means also transversality: de-silo and cross-pollination.


Openness is on the rise because it maximizes the improvement of goods and services, foster trust and support collaborative engagement.


We need a new kind of public sphere: a platform in the cloud where data and metadata would be our common good, dedicated to the recording and collaborative exploitation of our memory in the service of collective intelligence. According to the current zeitgeist, the core values orienting the construction of this new public sphere should be: openness, transparency and commonality


The practice of writing in ancient palace-temples gave birth to government as a separate entity. Alphabet and paper allowed the emergence of merchant city-states and the expansion of literate empires. The printing press, industrial economy, motorized transportation and electronic media sustained nation-states.


The digital revolution will foster new forms of government. We discuss political problems in a global public space taking advantage of the web and social media. The majority of humans live in interconnected cities and metropoles. Each urban node wants to be an accelerator of collective intelligence, a smart city.

The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley reengineered journalism | Tow Center for Digital Journalism

Read The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley reengineered journalism by Emily Bell and Taylor Owen (Tow Center for Digital Journalism)

The influence of social media platforms and technology companies is having a greater effect on American journalism than even the shift from print to digital. There is a rapid takeover of traditional publishers’ roles by companies including Facebook, Snapchat, Google, and Twitter that shows no sign of slowing, and which raises serious questions over how the costs of journalism will be supported. These companies have evolved beyond their role as distribution channels, and now control what audiences see and who gets paid for their attention, and even what format and type of journalism flourishes.

Publishers are continuing to push more of their journalism to third-party platforms despite no guarantee of consistent return on investment. Publishing is no longer the core activity of certain journalism organizations. This trend will continue as news companies give up more of the traditional functions of publishers.

This report, part of an ongoing study by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, charts the convergence between journalism and platform companies. In the span of 20 years, journalism has experienced three significant changes in business and distribution models: the switch from analog to digital, the rise of the social web, and now the dominance of mobile. This last phase has seen large technology companies dominate the markets for attention and advertising and has forced news organizations to rethink their processes and structures.