Online Rights

The network dominates in the US and elsewhere. It says who can be elected, by banning from social media anyone it does not like, what topics can be discussed during elections. Corporations can ban you, control you. In China, they can deperson you. You cannot book a flight, get a loan, get a credit card, get online to the job sites, to the dating sites, to anything. How do you operate in the modern world when you do not have access to any of that? There are no basic rules that limit any of this. John Robb testified in front of the Senate that we need rights, rather than terms of service. Terms of service do not equal the Constitution or Bill of Rights. We need protections. We need freedom of access, both as individuals and as companies and organizations, and rules, but only the most extreme stuff can be banned or knocked out, calling for violence, etc. That has to be adjudicated in a fair court that we actually trust; not some kind of Facebook supreme court that they built on the sly.

Jack Murphy Live – John Robb

24 thoughts on “Online Rights

  1. I’ve seen the suggestion of an internet bill of rights elsewhere. I understand the impulse, but I have three reasons I think the effort is ill fated:

    1) Anything close to a “right” is already protected–what they want is superereogatory rights. What they describe as “rights”–freedom of access, protections, etc, are a significant advancement beyond “just the basics” as enshrined in the US Constitution. Freedom of Speech is not the same as Freedom of Access to twitter. Just because everyone gathers at the same club doesn’t mean the owners of that club have to let me in.

    2) Creating “protections” requires–requires— nationalization of internet infrastructure and corporations. How do you create “protections” for internet usage that simultaneously preserve entrepreneurship and private enterprise? Are social media companies a public utility performing a service the Government can’t perform efficiently, or are they private enterprises operating a business and managing that business the way they see is best? People want protections, sure, but to whom would they turn to enforce those protections? “A fair court we can actually trust”–what does that mean? Who is it? The only entity with that kind of authority is the Government. Do we want social media to become a government operated service? Because that is what will happen if we decide everyone must have guaranteed access to a private service.

    3) Either everyone has access or no one has access. When everyone has access, you have to accept that pornographers, pedophiles, Nazis, and nincompoops are all going to go onto some platform and spew filth into the ether. The hedge phrase in the graf above, “only the most extreme stuff” is opening for all the same abuses that we are witnessing now. Russia has been deplatformed from the world, Russia has been cancelled. That kind of power either must be possible by whomever is administering internet infrastructure, and must be possible as an arbitrary power we trust the administrators to use with justice–OR the internet must be closed and access to it in the first place must be tightly restricted, to guarantee that no pornographers, pedophiles, Nazis, or nincompoops get access.

    I can just imagine being a business owner who is successful and has a product that everyone wants, and then trying to manage your business and keep out the kinds of people that drive customers away, and then suddenly people start voting themselves guaranteed access to your business.

    The bottom line, to my mind: If you think social media has too much power, then get off of social media. If you think you can’t, because that’s where all the people are–then you’re right, social media has too much power. The fatal flaw to the whole argument is right there in the middle of the graf: “How do you operate in the modern world when you do not have access to any of that?” –who says operating in the modern world is desirable in the first place?

    • Scoot @ You will continue to “operate in the modern world” until you are dead. You can operate in a state of extreme alienation, and scripture gives some warrant for this, but the alienated are still operating in this world. Following the example of your business owner and his exclusive clientele, his restaurant is analogous to a site like the Orthosphere, where we can limit contributors and delete comments, but his utility company is like WordPress. The utility company has to sell electricity and gas to any legal business, so WordPress should have to sell hosting services to any legal website. If pornography were illegal, they would not be required to sell hosting services to pornographers.

      • I was thinking of WordPress as more like the restaurant than the utility company in that analogy. If WordPress is the restaurant, they can manage their business how they like, and put a sign on the door that says “no shirt, no shoes, no service”. If they are a utility company, they are required to provide power to any restaurant in their service area.

        It is important to figure out this distinction. Is WordPress providing an essential public-private utility, or is WordPress providing a service through a private business? How we think about WordPress and other social media greatly affects how we address the perceived problems with how the internet operates.

      • Exactly, and I say WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are much more like the utility company. No one says, “I think I will check out what they are saying on W, F, or T,” but rather what they are saying on particular sites, pages and feeds. No one says, “lets go get some food cooked over Atmos Gas (my local gas utility),” but rather let’s go get some food cooked in restaurant X (which happens to purchase its gas from Atmos).”

      • If WFT are utilities then it makes sense that they can’t “deplatform” people, but they certainly didn’t start as utilities. Utilities at least make their money from their customers, and WFT make money from advertisers and people who want access to their customers. Atmos Gas can’t deplatform someone for using making Nazi Soup on a gas stove, but a Christian Bakery can refuse to make a gay cake because they are a private business.

        Further still, Utilities are actually essential. I would argue that your internet service provider is the actual utility. Electricity and Gas are requirements of modern habitation–you could live without electricity and Gas but it would be a much more difficult existence. Likewise you could live without an internet connection but it would be much more difficult.

        WFT are businesses built around access to the utility–JMSmith Diner, or the Alan Roebuck Shopping mall are businesses that use electricity or gas to add value and offer a service to the people. People who pay money for the fruit of that service.

        I just am having trouble squaring “Christian bakery can refuse to make a gay cake” with “WordPress can not refuse to host the Orthosphere”. If we are paying for the privilege, we have some recourse to WordPress. But if we are not paying, we kind of exist at their whimsical permission, which they could withdraw at any moment if the political winds make it favorable to do so.

        If we accept that more than just your ISP, but WordPress et al are considered utilities, then that implies closer government regulation, which to me seems contrary to subsidiarity. I don’t think government control would make wordpress better, is the thing. And neither do I believe it would guarantee that the Orthosphere can continue to be hosted on the site.

      • My understanding is that Christian Bakery cannot legally refuse to “bake,” and more to the point “decorate” the cake. Neither can a Christian photographer refuse to photograph the wedding. I can’t give a lawyerly opinion of the legal arguments for these interpretations of the law, but the counterargument is that cake-decorating and photographing “involve” a person in their work in a way that, say, petroleum refining and plywood making do not. If I make a sheet of plywood that eventually serves as a partition in a brothel, my labor is not knowingly involved in the brothel business; but my labor is knowingly involved if I paint the lewd sign that hangs over the brothel door.

        The programers who write code for WordPress do not know what content that code will support, so their position is analogous to that of the plywood maker and not the sign-painter. It would be very different if they were ghostwriters who “worked up” content ideas provided by clients. If someone came to me and said they admired my literary style and would like me to write their pornographic fantasy in good prose, I should be able to refuse the offer. But if I were a stationer, I don’t think I could refuse to sell them paper and ink.

        I don’t think the manner of payment matters at all. I “pay” WordPress with free content that drives traffic from which they somehow profit. Thus we both give and get something in the exchange.

      • “I just am having trouble squaring “Christian bakery can refuse to make a gay cake” with “WordPress can not refuse to host the Orthosphere” ”

        You have to consider the context. The same-sex couple can go to any of numerous bakeries to get their cake, because most bakers support their position. The lawsuit is not so that they can get a cake, but so that Christians can be intimidated. But online, the conservatives are the target of a coordinated campaign to reduce their visibility, and Leviathan wants to ban entirely the public expression of certain conservative ideas. The “Gay” couple can ALWAYS get someone else to bake a cake that is just as good. The conservative author cannot always go somewhere just as good to get his message out.

        There are always legitimate questions about details and exact applications, but the general principle is very clear.

        Conservatives are an endangered species and the Wokelings are an invasive species, like coyotes. No protection is needed for the coyote; his kind are already thriving. The one who is in danger is the one who needs help.

      • @ Scoot, 2:13 pm:

        There is a grey area here. I have argued that some internet access is necessary to being alive in the modern world, whereas expressing opinions online is apparently not needed in order to keep body and soul together.

        But I have also argued that expressing opinions online seems to be important for fighting aggression against our people. In that case I say we must err on the side of caution and generally regard WordPress and the like as necessary utilities.

    • A couple points:

      One, it seems to me the contention behind an “internet bill of rights” is to restore to “courts we actually trust” rather than Facebook et al. (I tend to think of the lot of them as “Alizongle” after a comic or graphic novel that explored the communistification of capitalism and its inevitable clash with Christianity). In other words, the one point is meant to be the answer to the other: the value of moving decisions to true public authority with proper public scrutiny, is precisely that we can’t get around answering what is and isn’t socially acceptable behavior on a platform etc., but at least that responsibility cannot belong to private corporations who answer to no one! As with all problems of authority, it can’t be avoided, the important thing is to get it into the hands of someone who can actually be responsible for it. Even Alizongle’s virtue signalling about how the cancel culture they enable or the censorship they enforce is somehow “socially responsible” pays lip service to this, though in reality they were never appointed to authority and seem to respond only to the mob.

      Second, it strikes me that “are the social media companies de facto utilities rather than individual businesses?” is answered differently depending on how the internet is structured. The underlying infrastructure is decentralized, and any one website could in principle function as an individual business. But the function of search engines and social media is for people to find sites and people and businesses, plus (although email and feed readers are alternatives to this) to subscribe to updates/content/blah from them. This is inherently centralized, at least from the perspective of the end user, so ends up behaving like a utility. Improvements could be made of course. It is centralized to the end user the same way a browser is centralized to the end user, even though the browser can access a diversity of sites (at the moment, since browsers are not yet in the censorship game, all of them), and even though the user can choose between multiple different browsers. We could likewise decouple hosting content from finding content, such that Facebook cannot deplatform you but only hide you; then hopefully if your host kicked you you could go to a different host and if people who wanted to see you had their network hide you they could go to a different network. In such a scenario the standards and any hypothetical regulation for browsers or browser-adjacent network tools should be completely different from that of individual sites and businesses. The catch is getting there from here, both technologically and socially.

      (Yes, I am a nerd, and this is just the elevator pitch for something in which I’ve gone into a great deal more depth on how it would have to work so that I can actually begin to design and plan it. Pray for me, I am tied up in personal troubles that prevent my having focus to spare on the next steps of advancing this distinction between infrastructure and individuals.)

      • (Seeing my comment after the fact, I realized I missed the end of my first sentence: to restore the decision of what is “the really extreme stuff” to those courts.)

      • I just heard that the one unpolitically manipulated browser Duck Duck Go will now manipulate going forward was a bummer. They just lost their point of differentiation from Google- other than supposed “privacy.”

      • I heard the news about Duckduckgo from a friend. Legitimately makes me angry, and I don’t get angry easily anymore.

        Why sell oneself on allowing people to decide for themselves political spin they want to look at (look at, not even necessarily believe), only to make exceptions in international affairs where the differing claims – though certainly still capable of falsehood – are most likely to be based on something other than petty internal party politics, and one’s own side’s view harder, not easier, to see through without outside perspectives? If one doesn’t want to show people government propaganda, how will one know what is government propaganda – that another government says so, perhaps? Shouldn’t they worry more about US. government propaganda, a la the denials of funding the lab in Wuhan? What about non-government or only quasi-government propaganda such as CNN that leads to armies of karens demanding we deny the evidence of our own eyes?

        Maybe my fear of propaganda is too low because I myself am traditionally inclined and lack the liberals’ paranoia about authority, but hypocrites now, hypocrites are a class of people I don’t trust.

        Anyway, it’s a good example of how competition counts for very little if there’s only a few competitors: the activists know who to lean on. Maybe search needs open standards and open source implementations so there can be more providers; although, certainly part of the challenge of competing with Google is simply collecting as much from the internet as they have… That’s one thing “social” media seems to do an okay job at: providing an alternative discovery mechanism to raw search. Open-ended questions abound.

  2. Scoot,

    While what you say is basically correct, you are missing some rather important facts.
    First, internet access is today a prerequisite of living in the modern world. To have severely curtailed internet access is tantamount to banishment. And not just banishment to another nation, but banishment to the wilderness.

    Second, sages ever since ancient times have agreed that the primary function of a good king (= government) is the protection of the people, and our people need protecting. Part of protection is the administration of justice (punishing the guilty, vindicating the innocent). But there is more, and that includes protecting the people from marauders, invaders, wicked strongmen, and so on.

    Your points add up to the fact that there is no procedural solution. Certainly not within the existing System. But that does not change the fact that the people need protection.

    Existing Structures will not provide a solution, but we need a solution or else mankind will be enslaved. Even more enslaved, that is. Since a solution is needed and the existing System is incapable even in principle of providing it, thinking and acting outside of the “Box” is needed.

    For one thing, there can be no procedural solution. No “idiot-proof” solution. Men of virtue are needed. Sometimes you need to be a nation of men, not laws.

    • These are good thoughts, Alan, and I certainly appreciate your perspective on things. If there can be no procedural solution, then what is the purpose of an “Internet Bill of Rights”? The Bill of Rights only matters because the preceding document was a Constitution of procedures. Otherwise the Bill of Rights is a statement in principle with no force or effect.* Rights–at least, as construed here (there is a more complex discussion to be had on them in general, but keeping things simple for now)–Rights require a mechanism for enforcement. If my Freedom of Speech is being impugned, I have recourse to the Constitution and the legal system of the US Government.

      *Afterthought: As a statement in principle, I bet Facebook and Twitter would even agree to them, as long as you include the hedge that “only the most extreme stuff” can be eliminated. Then business would continue as usual. They certainly consider Trump extreme, and he was deplatformed without hesitation the second he left office. I havent been following to know whether he has found a new platform or been let back on, but i suspect he hasn’t.

      I agree there is a problem with social media and beyond social media. I have observed that companies like Apple can enact an embargo on Russia independent of American foreign policy. What if Corporate diplomacy and National diplomacy were at odds? Can America encourage trade with Scootland but Apple refuses to do business? Letter of the law says it can. Can Twitter and Facebook not deplatform Russia for the same justification as Apple? Likewise, if Social Media can deplatform “Nazis” (to use the most popular boogeyman)–then we acknowledge that Social media can discern which kinds of people are allowed on their platform, and sometimes we might disagree with that. But the power is not unjust to a private business. If we take that power away from a private business, we are giving it to the government. And I don’t believe that is better than what we had before, even if we agree what we had before was bad.

      The real problem is dependency on the internet. This whole line of argument is that “internet access is a prerequisite for living in the modern world”–but is Facebook a prerequisite for having modern friendships? Is twitter a prerequisite for free speech? The internet makes modern living easier but there is nothing about the internet that is required to live properly. There are plenty of places in the world that do just fine without the internet, and all of human history before the internet went along just fine, too. So the argument sounds to me like a drug addict saying that a hit of cocaine in the morning is a prerequisite to getting through the day. It is obviously NOT required but makes getting through the day much easier.

      I do agree men of virtue are needed, but I hope those men of virtue are not so dependent on the internet that they are afraid of being cut off from their social media profiles.

      • One must distinguish between internet-met desires and internet-met needs. Much of what is available online are not needs. But lacking all (or most) internet access and services is so debilitating as to constitute de-facto banishment.

        In the middle are functions that are beneficial but not strictly needed for the individual, such as being able to influence one’s fellow citizens by posting online. I can live comfortably without being able to express my beliefs online, as long as I have access to other internet services, such as banking, evaluating retailers, working remotely, non-biased sources of news, and so on. But if most of the people deplatformed are the non-woke, deplatforming becomes a de-facto threat to our nation, as it ensures that only woke propaganda is seen by most people and therefore most people will come to think only woke thoughts.

        As for an “Internet Bill of Rights,” it still can have value even if a real solution cannot be purely procedural. Procedure still has value, as it allows for occasional victories and also serves as a concrete expression of what is needed which can guide and inspire noble people, even as it causes the base to wail and gnash their teeth.

        Existing institutions and norms still have value, even as they are deeply corrupted and in need of repair or replacement. “Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater” is more useful advice than most people realize.

  3. One fundamental problem is that a diverse society has too few norms to govern behavior, and so must place more and more behavior under legal and quasi-legal control. Another fundamental problem, for us, is that the people writing these laws and terms of service are hostile to our norms. They aim to protect speech that offends us and to prohibit speech that affirms us (some of it proceeding from our own mouths).

  4. I’m not sure that Scoot appreciates the onerous DEI and Americans with Disabilities Act, Title IX, etc. requirements currently implemented on businesses without nationalizing them. Just ask Kristor.

    I actually cannot do my job without the internet. I have Zoom classes and I use Blackboard. I find out about jobs via the internet. Academic adjuncting jobs are advertised nowhere else. I categorically cannot function without email. The internet is not optional at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised if even farmers need it for paying bills, ordering seed, etc. If civilization collapses or you live in a third world country, then we can live without it – except most of us will be dead if we return to subsistence farming third world style because a) Most of us know squat about farming b) There are too many of us to feed for that method of food production.

    In the John Robb article, he mentions that the US govt. cannot censor all the people they want to, so they get the social media companies to do it. This couldn’t happen if social media companies had to follow the same rules the government does. The New York Times has to follow anti-defamation laws without the NYT being nationalized.

    Perhaps the issue of scalability enters the picture. When some things that are innocuous reach a certain size or speed they turn into something else all together. You could never kill me by throwing a bullet at me, but a bullet turns into something lethal at the speed of sound.

    Some social media, when it reaches a certain size and scope, simply become too powerful and become a new entity – perhaps something to treat as utility not a normal private business. 500 million to 2 billion users is just not the same as 300 readers of a typical Orthosphere post.

    A comparison could be made with your restaurant analogy. A small restaurant can turn people away at will with no huge consequences for society. Yay, private enterprise. If, however, we all had to eat at the same giant global restaurant the phenomenon of the restaurant turns into a new thing. I’ve given you a list of things the Chinese govt. can do to its citizens without the internet. There is literally a global left wing conspiracy to impose transgendered Wokism on as many people as it can. Social media – WordPress – etc. is one of the few avenues of vocal opposition to it. Links to The Orthosphere are banned on FB. Even on Messenger. When Trump supporters turned to an alternative social media platform, the large corporations simply shut it down. We tried to open a new alternative restaurant, but we couldn’t. Elections are arguably a sham at this point but leftist control of the means of communication very much determine who gets elected. Eating at a restaurant is optional, but controlling the means of communication by dissidents simply strengthens the stranglehold the left has on all major institutions and stops us from even complaining about it.

    Marx worried that companies could become so big that they could buy the government and take over the state. He was right about that one. The weakened nation state cannot control these behemoths and the deplatforming of Trump proved it. Protecting the rights of gargantuan companies is of no interest to me. If they could be sued for capricious leftist censorship that would be a start.

    • Marx worried that companies could become so big that they could buy the government and take over the state.

      There’s a book by author Max Barry called “Jennifer Government” that presents a satirical take on that concept. It’s very clever, and perhaps insightful given the current state of things. I recommend it whenever I can.

      I suppose I am too jaded for my own good. A while back I had a good dialogue with Alan about politics in general and my attitude was more or less “let them burn themselves out”. My main objection is that I don’t believe this desire to regulate “protections” into social media will have the effect that people want it to have, and I especially fear that the government involvement will hasten the deplatforming of crimethink like the Orthosphere. Government regulation does not guarantee protection of free speech, it guarantees protection of Government sanctioned speech. WFT might be arbitrary tyrants but at least they have made a business out of it. Taking the censors out of their hands and putting them in the governments hands doesn’t look like a golden age of internet freedom to me. I see that as abdicating control of a stronghold into the hands of the enemy.

      • Fair enough. I guess I see them all controlled by the enemy; a left wing tyranny. A network swarm seems even more alarming than the government because the government generally has some pretense of rules of some kind. The whole thing is headed for system collapse, then we’ll see what comes next.

    • That is a good and important point you make about scale. It was long ago recognized that certain businesses worked best as virtual monopolies (railroads, telephone), but that monopolies powers must submit to government regulation.

      We daily see more and more examples of the government circumventing its own laws. Using media to violate the First Amendment is one example. Making bioweapons in foreign laboratories is another. Renditioning prisoners to foreign torture chambers is a third.

  5. An important consideration is how authority is exercised. Even small private businesses shouldn’t refuse to serve people arbitrarily and capriciously. If censorship is in the government’s hands and it must handle it with legal regularities–what exactly is forbidden being explicitly promulgated with all else legal, punishments adjudicated and appealed in a reasonably transparent way, this would be a massive improvement both morally and practically.

    If we are talking about my ideal, I would insist that censoring “Nazis” should not even be a goal. Fascism has important insights, and any currently popular definition of “fascist” or “Nazi” is going to include me. I abhor democracy (“ours” or anyone else’s), I think intra-ethnic loyalty is commendable rather than sinful, etc.

    The distinction between government and corporate acts is now practically irrelevant. They all agree with each other and they are all part of one regime. Old classical liberal arguments for an independent civil society assumed that private actors were ideologically diverse and coordinated only by price signals. That’s nothing like the world we live in. If anything, it is the private sector that is now more monolithically and unalterably hostile to Christians, whites, and conservatives. The question here is whether we would prefer the hegemonic progressive faction control our discourse through its public arm or its private arm, given each one’s modes of operation.

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