If we learned anything this week, it is that it is virtually impossible to censor the hive on the net. The media attempt to crucify a bunch of Catholic schoolboys was stopped by a titanic blowback by tens of thousands of unconnected individuals that only crashing Facebook and Twitter for four days could have stopped. One expects massive reordering in the media business over the next six months, as bosses figure out how to prevent the next horror show. This will only add to their current attrition. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Gannet, Vice, Vox, Mic, Refinery 29, etc have shed up to 10% of their staff recently. At Conde Nast, the once titanic Vogue is losing $150 million a year, and lynchpin Glamour, which once had a circulation of over a million has gone digital. I wouldn’t want to be sitting in a newsroom these days. Attrition is across the board and the only survivors are small operations who are hitting the actual news with regularity, and these, at present, are almost exclusively on the right and 100% digital. The Atlantic is now supported by Steve Jobs widow, and it will be a while before she gets tired of losing a hundred million a year. But she will tire of it.
I won’t belabor the media shaming of last weekend, but when I went through on-the-job training at Time Magazine before it was turned into a piece of garbage, both errors – #CovingtonBoys and Buzzfeed’s claim that Trump told his sleazy lawyer to lie to the FBI – would have led to the wholesale firing of every single individual involved. Today, of course, that would have meant that every single newspaper, magazine and network news show would have lost 80% of their reporters, editors and fact checkers, not that these latter exist anymore.
People on the right have for the past five years panicked at the attempts of the millennials in Silicon Valley to censor right-of-center thought and posters of said thought. Facebook alone has 15,000 moderators trying to work out what is acceptable speech. This has led, hilariously enough to the demand for regulation and even trust busting by ‘public intellectuals’ who have built their careers on calling for less government.
Over Christmas, the New York Times explained to us rubes just how diligent the digital emperors are in rooting out disallowed speech:
The guidelines for identifying hate speech, a problem that has bedeviled Facebook, run to 200 jargon-filled, head-spinning pages. Moderators must sort a post into one of three “tiers” of severity. They must bear in mind lists like the six “designated dehumanizing comparisons,” among them comparing Jews to rats.
In the December issue of Wired Magazine, an essayist compared Alex Jones to Voldemort and attempted to prove that Jones had to be de-platformed because he was evil. The writer then proceeds to call for a culture-wide disallowing of thought with which he disagrees.
Legislators, courts, users, and the platforms themselves have to be involved. There are some precedents we could use from older technologies. Some updated version of the fairness doctrine, which required radio and television stations to devote time to issues of public importance and seek out a multiplicity of views, could be revived for the digital age. We could come up with a kind of Fair Credit Reporting Act that gives users a right to challenge a platform banishment. There could be antitrust actions against centralized platforms (along with user protections), or upstarts could offer alternatives (with better business models). As with most social problems, we have to accept that there is no single, perfect solution, no avoiding trade-offs, and also that inaction is a decision too.
Good luck with that baby-people. The insults, mockery, job losses, humiliations, of the last few days indicates that there is no stopping humans addicted to the dopamine hit of truth-telling. Maybe try some.
Under the category ‘freaky things about publishing’ Rupi Kaur, an Indian (dot not feather) poet from Toronto, is out-selling Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury-inside-the-White House-hysteria-tome. Poetry. Four lines on every page – maybe a few more. Line drawings. A young woman, immigrant, poet, from the obscure country, which is to say, Canada, outselling the biggest book in the US market right now.
Words fail. Except to say that the heart of the world is in the right place.
Of course, The Guardian has weighed in. And Buzzfeed beat her up. And like anyone popular enough to be perceived as making unfair amounts of money, grabbing unfair amounts of attention, she has been accused of plagiarism. Nope, nope and nope. This is courage. And beauty. And courage again.