From YouTube massaging the numbers on Biden White House videos to Democrat attempts at weaponizing the FBI against social media platform Parler, it looks like we are entering a brave new world of online censorship and manipulation. Just how far will this go? Two current stories indicate that recent efforts have been just the first steps down a long road.
Parler – Just the First Domino to Fall?
Parler was the first social media platform to be, well, de-platformed in the wake of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. Now, activists and Big Tech speech controllers are going not just after public statements but also private messages – as Liberty Nation’s Sarah Cowgill recently discovered to her dismay.
When Apple and Google moved to ban Parler from their app stores, it was seen by many as an attempt to erase “undesirable” speech from the internet. Now, one group is trying to force these tech giants into removing yet another app from their platforms.
Russian-founded private messenger app Telegram is facing the ire of activists for allegedly letting extremism flourish. The Coalition for a Safer Web (CSW) and its president Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador, have filed lawsuits against Apple and Google, trying to force the removal of Telegram from their app stores due to its “role as a social media conveyor belt of hate, incitement, and extremism.” The suit additionally claims that Ginsberg has been personally targeted by Telegram users as a member of the Jewish community and seeks damages for “emotional distress.”
The organization stated in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook that: “TELEGRAM has provided such a hospitable open-door environment to ISIS, Nazis, racists, and the far-right conspiracy group QAnon, that many refer to it as ‘Terrorgram.’”
Is Telegram a dangerous hotbed of violent terrorist groups, or is this a means to remove undesirable political speech – or are both true? Telegram states that it blocks terroristic public channels, but according to the suits it does not do so with private groups – since message content is secret and encrypted.
Should Telegram be erased from the market, and its reported 500 million users deprived of the ability to conduct private conversations online? Ultimately, any platform that facilitates secret communication can be susceptible to genuine or perceived extreme content – which is why governments have been trying to gain access to encrypted messages for years. When the public can converse in secret, it cannot be controlled – for better or worse.
Twitter Birdwatchers to Steer the Social Media Flock
Twitter is bringing in a crowdsourced fact-checking program, Birdwatch. To deal with the issue of fake news on social media, Twitter – whose name has become ever more polarizing in the last few weeks – plans to deploy an army of “community-based” overseers to police what is said on the platform. The announcement read:
“Birdwatch allows people to identify information in Tweets they believe is misleading and write notes that provide informative context. We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable.”
The obvious question is, who will be granted birdwatching privileges and allowed to provide that all-important context? With positions open to the public, it’s hard to imagine that anybody but meddlesome busybodies keen to impose their views on others would be interested in applying. To join the pilot group, candidates must meet a few simple technical requirements, as well as a lack of recent notices for Twitter violations – no one who questioned the results of the 2020 election, then.
Initially, fact-checking notes will only be available on a separate Birdwatch website, but the aim is to eventually add them directly to Twitter messages, when the contributors reach a consensus. It’s not clear what kind of consensus this would be – on when the program is ready or on what facts will be accepted? In the first phase of the program, Twitter will be building ‘a broad and diverse set of contributors,’ and participants will provide feedback on each other’s work.
Twitter has also embedded into its team a member of the University of Chicago’s Center for RISC (Radical Innovation for Social Change) – not a name that screams “social engineering” at all. It would also appear that, by “integrating social science and academic perspectives,” Twitter may be employing studies in human behavior to aid the program.
The Silicon Valley heavyweight noted a positive response to the decentralized and community-minded set-up:
“To date, we have conducted more than 100 qualitative interviews with individuals across the political spectrum who use Twitter, and we received broad general support for Birdwatch. People valued notes being in the community’s voice (rather than that of Twitter or a central authority) and appreciated that notes provided useful context to help them better understand and evaluate a Tweet (rather than focusing on labeling content as ‘true’ or ‘false’). Our goal is to build Birdwatch in the open, and have it shaped by the Twitter community.”
Will the Birdwatch program truly do away with a central ideological authority, or will these fact-checkers converge, much like a flock of birds, into one unit – individual but in perfect sync with one another?
The internet has become notorious for essentially descending into a battle royale where people around the globe duke it out with insulting language and disingenuous arguments – is Twitter the forum where humanity is likely to find the community spirit for genuine and appreciated “fact-checking” among users? Or is it all too probable that those who dance past political correctness will be targeted by thousands of armchair propagandists intent on arranging the “facts” and “context” to suit their particular outlook?
Read more from Laura Valkovic.