Social Media: When Does “Actively Working With the Government” Become Censorship?

Criticism of Facebook
Criticism of Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a September 21 post, Mark Zuckerberg shared nine steps the  site he started is taking “to protect election integrity and make sure that Facebook is a force for good in democracy,” by “actively working with the government” and “partnering with public authorities.”

The day before that, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Theresa May, used the United Nations General Assembly as a forum to demand that social media networks “ensure terrorist material [read: content that May disapproves of] is detected and removed within one to two hours.”

From the current Red Scare (“Russian election meddling”) and other nation-state attempts to limit speech they define as foreign propaganda or support for terrorism, to ongoing efforts to “combat hate speech,”  the cycle of demands from government and compliance by social media giants is speeding up regarding what the rest of us are allowed to read, write, watch, and share.

Newer social media networks like Minds.com and Gab.ai have been growing as the targets of these efforts abandon Facebook and Twitter. But those upstarts are themselves facing backlash of various sorts from service providers such as web hosts and domain registrars.

An increasingly important question, especially for libertarians (of both the civil and ideological variety), is:

At what point does “actively working with the government” and “partnering with public authorities” cease to be private, albeit civic-minded, market activity and become de facto government activity?

Or, to put it differently, when does it cease to be merely “you can’t talk like that in my living room” (exercise of legitimate property rights) and start becoming “you can’t talk like that, period” (censorship)?

My own answer: When Mark Zuckerberg starts using the phrase “actively working with the government” as if that’s a good thing, we’re well into the danger zone.

Fortunately, the situation is (or at least can be) self-correcting. Companies rise and companies fall. The positions of Facebook and Twitter atop the social media pile may SEEM unassailable at the moment, but there was a time when few expected a new generation of retailers to bring Montgomery Ward or Sears, Roebuck to their knees. If you’re not too young you may remember how that turned out.

Social media already serves two masters: Its users and its advertisers. One more master — the state — is one too many. If Facebook and Twitter don’t stop playing with fire, let market demand for free speech burn them to the ground.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Jamie Dimon is Right to Fear Cryptocurrency

Bitcoin (stock photo from http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com, CC0 license)
Bitcoin (stock photo from http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com, CC0 license)

When JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon called Bitcoin a “fraud,” what ensued looked a lot like a “poop and scoop”  con: The practice of driving down a thing’s price by saying bad things about it, then buying up a bunch of it before the price bounces back. After Dimon’s comments, JPMorgan briefly became one of the cryptocurrency’s biggest buyers. The company claims it was purchasing Bitcoin on behalf of clients, not as corporate policy, but it looked bad.

Now Dimon is badmouthing cryptocurrency again. And, as before, he clearly either has no idea what he’s talking about or has sinister motives.

“It’s creating something out of nothing that to me is worth nothing,” Dimon told CNBC. “It will end badly.” He also warned that as cryptocurrencies become more popular, government crackdowns will drive them into the black market (that’s happening in China right now).

The key words in Dimon’s “to me [it’s] worth nothing” are “to me.” Value is subjective. What’s a thing worth? Whatever it’s worth to you, or to me, or to Jamie Dimon. Each of us may find that thing more valuable, or less, than do the other two.

Dimon considers cryptocurrency “worth nothing” for one reason only: Because his company — the largest bank in the United States and among the largest in the world — doesn’t control it. And that’s one of several reasons why others find it very valuable indeed.

Cryptocurrencies run on blockchains, “distributed ledgers” without central authorities. Dimon prefers fiat currencies, which are created by governments, managed by central banks, and funneled through institutions like his, legally privileged choke points taking generous rake-offs from wealth created by others but forced to pass through them.

Neither crypto nor fiat currencies are backed by physical commodities like gold or silver, but the resemblance ends there. Crypto is backed by the work of maintaining its ledgers, called by the imaginative name “mining.” Fiat currency is backed only by your trust in the governments (and the Jamie Dimons) of the world.

“Creating money out of thin air without government backing is very different from money with government backing,” he says. He’s right. Money with government backing pays Jamie Dimon. Cryptocurrency threatens his business, his paycheck and his way of life.

His prediction of government crackdowns isn’t just a prediction, it’s a fervent wish. He’s desperate to see cryptocurrency crushed, unless he can find a way to force it through the JPMorgan toll booth.

Dimon should be careful what he wishes for. If cryptocurrency is forced entirely into the “black market,” that market will, sooner or later, bury his. His only chance is to co-opt blockchain and cryptocurrency methods into the fiat system. Here’s hoping he fails.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

W3C Turns the Clock Back on an Open Web

A man protests Digital Rights Management in Bo...
A man protests Digital Rights Management in Boston, USA as part of the DefectiveByDesign.org campaign of the Free Software Foundation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On September 18, Ars Technica reports, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published a new specification recommendation, Encrypted Media Extensions. The recommendation, which natively implements a “Digital Rights Management” scheme in web browsers, marks a giant step backward for user freedom and an “open” World Wide Web.

W3C is the Web’s  “international standards organization.” Simply put, its recommendations are the reason you can load almost any web page in almost any browser and expect to see the same things on your screen. When W3C recommends something, it’s a lead pipe cinch that all the major browser creators will incorporate that recommendation in their products ASAP.

In this case, W3C’s recommendation is the equivalent of a printing standards body deciding that henceforth printing presses should only emboss cuneiform characters in clay tablets. That is, it calls for universal adoption of an obsolete — to the point of silliness — way of doing things.

The purpose of Digital Rights Management is to allow creators to control the use of, and prevent the copying of, “intellectual property” — in the form of copyrighted informational works or proprietary hardware creations — after its original sale.

The 30-odd year history of DRM is one of consumer dissatisfaction and sequential failure. Every DRM scheme is broken sooner or later (usually sooner), after playing hob with purchasers’ ability to actually make use of the products they’ve bought. Lately, in addition to trying to improve DRM, Big Content and Big Manufacturing have begun asking politicians to criminalize cracking of DRM. That’s not going to work either. The only winners in the DRM saga will be the companies which drop the whole idea and come up with revenue models that don’t require them to screw their customers in the name of preventing copying and modification. The false hope of EME puts off that day.

Until the Encrypted Media Extensions scheme is broken in some fundamental way (a way that can’t be fixed with browser updates to the EME code itself), Internet users are going to increasingly find themselves frustrated in copying material they own between their devices, making archival copies, or grabbing snippets under the “fair use” provisions of copyright law.

EME has also already produced a gigantic breach in trust within W3C itself. As Cory Doctorow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out (in an open letter announcing EFF’s resignation from the body), “W3C is a body that ostensibly operates on consensus,” yet EME was imposed on behalf of Big Content and over many objections by the body’s director, Tim Berners-Lee,  and adopted by a vote of less than 60%. Berners-Lee and the proponents of DRM may well have permanently wrecked W3C’s reputation as a trustworthy creator and evaluator of standards for the Web.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY