Social media and discussion - Free speech, censorship, and polarisation
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  • Recently I've been getting increasingly concerned about the way in which we talk to each other, particularly online though all this will apply in 'real life' to some degree. I'm concerned about what I'm perceiving in many online discussions as an ever increasing degree of bile and cynicism between people that disagree with each other, and how this state of affairs seems to be tacitly accepted as reasonable by many otherwise kind and compassionate folk who wish and strive for progress.

    I'm also deeply concerned about the failings of social media, in the way that they incentivise division, but also from a technological human user interface perspective where their design seems wholly inadequate for their purpose. There is a some real promise for a much better approach to a social media, but I think I should perhaps save much of that for another thread as it involves a fair bit of computing history that most people seem sadly unaware of.

    Something I think we should dive into is regulation of social media and online content, I'm worried that many here may not be considering the consequences for ushering in laws that force companies to be responsible for the content people post on their websites. These new laws could have serious implications for free and open speech in the future, not to mention viability of smaller platforms. Proliferation of hate and misinformation is big worry, but I'm deeply unconvinced that top-down regulation is the answer here, it's something that could easily come back to bite you.

    I think it would be worthwhile to discuss and define, in varying contexts and where the boundaries lie: Free speech, censorship, tolerance through to intolerance, hate, violence. Our language often lets us down by being overly dualistic or lacking words to condense complex ideas into something that can be intuitively understood and communicated, so it's worth spending a bit of time every so often to reflect on definitions.

    This is all very complicated and deep stuff to dive into, but critically important right now I think. If humanity is to have any hope of dealing with large scale problems like the environment, social collapse, pandemics, fake news and misinformation, etc, then we absolutely have to find ways to bridge gaps between disagreeing parties. There are many who seem to think that we should all just agree to disagree and live in our seperate little states away from each other and everything will be fine (see Michael Malice's take on anarchism), but these folks seem to be unaware or unwilling to think about the fact that we all share the same world, and big problems require us all to work together to solve them. It's no good just childishly drawing a line across the room and absolving oneself of any responsibility for the other person.

    EjLoAyy.jpg

    The above is something that resonates with me greatly and something that I've been thinking about a lot over the last year. Turning a deaf ear to those who's beliefs or opinions you despise does nothing to convince them of your position, a refusal to engage with compassion can only lead them further into their own harmful isolation or to others that share the same reinforcing beliefs. Just purely tactically I think that mockery, disenfranchisement, or deplatforming is generally counterproductive, it can only increase polarisation and alienation amongst ourselves. There are of course reasonable limits here, it's not a one size fits all kind of thing.

    In Sean Carroll's most recent podcast on Democracy in America that I listened to earlier he laid out some similar thoughts -
    1:14:14.4 SC: And so if you’re someone who is the target of this, if you are listening to people on the other side of the political aisle, not just disagree with you about policy, but undercut your very humanity, right? To really question your right to exist or your right to be counted as a full citizen, and sometimes this is very indirect, right?

    ...

    And so, that can be something that is very personal and very central to your identity, and it can be hard to then say, “Well, even though these other people don’t even think of me as a full human being, I have to sit down and govern with them or work with them and compromise them and reach out across the aisle.”

    1:15:25.9 SC: So my suggestion is, yes, we do, we do have to do all of that. This is what it means to live in a democracy. You don’t have to like the people who you disagree with. You don’t have to invite them over to dinner, but in some sense, you have to work with them, you have to live with them, that’s what it means to be in a democracy. So your choices are, treat those people as people, and this is completely… The idea of both sides-ism is a terrible bad thing because it leads to false equivalencies when one side is being bad and the other side is not, but this is not a both sides issue, but in every side issue, it doesn’t matter what your specific views are. The ideal of democracy demands of us that we work with the other side, that we accommodate them, that we sometimes compromise with them, and this has become harder to do because of political polarization.

    ...

    1:23:12.3 SC: There are people who are absolutely set in their ways, and nothing you will say to them or nothing you can do to them will ever change their minds, and other people who maybe you can work with a little bit or who are a little bit less intransigent. That matters. That distinction matters a little bit. So, again, this is very wishy-washy and also it’s easy for me to say, look, if you wanna accuse me of being in a comfortable position where I can say things like this. Yeah, you’re right. I know that what I’m asking is especially difficult to ask of black people. They have been spat on not just for the last four years, but for the last 400 years. And to say, “Okay, well, turn the other cheek, be the better person, try to build a better country by working with the people who have treated you like crap for centuries now,” that’s something that is a big ask and it’s not anyone asking me that. I don’t need to do that.

    1:24:03.8 SC: So nevertheless, it’s an ask that I would make. And I think it’s difficult, and I think that we need to try to do it anyway. I can’t really say any more wisdom than that. Except the last question I wanted to address here is this issue of, what can we programmatically do constructively to try to make things better, to try to change the minds of people, of those people who we don’t agree with? So as I just said, it’s easy to brush off this question, How do we reach across the aisle? How do we try to change people’s minds by saying, “Look, have you met these people? They’re crazy.” And again, both sides can say this, “They’re completely Looney Tunes, they have completely lost the plot. There’s no reaching them.”

    1:24:48.1 SC: Of course, that’s true for some people out there, and I think this is one of the times when I completely buy the critique of social media and our fractured information ecosystem, that it amplifies the crazies on any individual side. It is so much easier these days not just to find like-minded people and live in a bubble and hear only people we agree with, it’s also so much easier to be exposed to the worst of the other side, right? We see pictures of them, we read their tweets, it’s impossible to not be exposed to them. So, we can easily get the idea that there’s only two groups of people, people who agree with me and complete lunatics. And if that’s what you think, then it’s easy to lose motivation for trying to change things at all. You just shrug and you say, “Well, it’ll never happen. These people are not changeable.” But I think that’s a misimpression of the actual facts on the ground. There are crazies out there, there are extremists, there are people who’ll never change their minds, but there are also people in the middle. And like most people, most Americans, anyway, the problem is not that they’re rigid ideologues on one extreme of the spectrum or the other, is that they’re medium to low information voters who don’t care that much.

    ...

    But I think that I’m very skeptical of these studies, to be honest. For one thing, I think that they misrepresent how minds work, how people’s opinions work. People are not perfect Bayesian reasoners as much as we would like to aspire to be. People do not have a set of priors that are well delineated and then collect new data and update them according to Bayes’s formula, that’s not what people do. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t change their minds, people change their minds all the time.

    1:29:48.7 SC: What often happens is something that can be very familiar to physicists who know about phase transitions, the thing that causes someone to change their mind might not be, and in fact, rarely is the straw that broke the camel’s back. There can be a little thing that they get, the little piece of information and experience, whatever it is, that is associated in time with the moment they change their mind. But the actual cause of them changing their mind is a set of many, many things stretching back in time, okay? You have a person with an opinion, with a belief, a credence in a certain proposition, and they get data that is against that proposition, and data in the very broadest sense, it’s not like they’re being physicists, but they get information, experiences, new stories, conversations with friends, that cause them to think about that particular proposition, and then they don’t change their mind immediately, ’cause that’s not how people work, but that has an effect on them. Even if the effect is invisible at the level of their actual beliefs in propositions, hearing that thing can nevertheless affect them at a deeper level.

    1:30:56.8 SC: And if they hear something else, and something else, and something else over a period of time, they can eventually be led to change their mind without it ever being possible to associate the reason for that change with a particular piece of information that they got. Not to mention the fact that often, this data in a very, very broad sense is not data. In other words, the thing that is causing people to change their minds is not some piece of information or some rational argument, but something much more visceral, something much more emotional. Realizing that this person who is a member of a group that they have hated and denigrated for years, they meet a member of that group and become friends with them, suddenly maybe their minds change, right? You are against gay people getting married and then you have a child who turns out to be gay and wants to get married, maybe you change your mind, right? For no especially good reason epistemically, rationally, but you realize that, “I wasn’t really that devoted to that opinion in the first place.”

    1:31:55.4 SC: There are many ways to change people’s minds, and it really does happen, and all of this is just to say it’s worth trying. It’s not worth trying reaching out to the extremists, to the crazies, but there are plenty of people who are not like that. There are plenty of people who are just not that devoted. And those people might not be wedded to the views that they very readily profess to believe in right now. This is part of the challenge of democracy, those people count, just as much as the most informed voters count. And of course, there are hyper-informed voters who are extremists on both sides, so it’s not just a matter of information levels, but there are people who are, in principle and in practice, reachable and people who are not, and we should try to reach the ones who are reachable. And again, I would give that advice to the other side as well, if the other side thinks that they wanna reach some people who are on the opposite side, they can try to reach me and I’m here to be reached, right?
    To his points about low and high-information people, I think this is exactly where social media could do an awful lot to help people by more easily presenting information in a way that is cross referenceable with other articles and points of view. Again this is a complicated UI thing that I should go into another time, I'll just say that there's plenty of reason to be hopeful for technological improvements that could provide some kind of a solution to these societal problems, or at least limit the potential for damage.

    It's not easy to argue and criticise with love rather than with hate, to see with eyes unclouded and play with ideas gracefully. It can be incredibly difficult in fact, and we all constantly fail at this, but it's something well worth wrestling with ourselves for.

    If any of yous lot have ideas or interesting references to do with all this then I would love to hear them.
  • It's been in the interest of soc meeja platform capital to stoke sensation and drama for yonks, and the algos have been tuned accordingly. Until that gets dealt with...
  • Yeah it's a huge problem, I don't think the solution will lie with trying to fix these huge corporate creations but to start relatively fresh with something that looks quite different to FB, Twitter, etc. I'm thinking something decentralised or at least demonetised would make sense.



    She puts forward the idea of customisable filter templates that people could choose from, something I thought of a while ago.
  • Yossarian
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    I don’t know why you’re dismissing regulation here, it’s the obvious answer.

    Make the social media companies responsible for what’s published on their sites, it’s only holding them to the same standards as publishers have been held to for centuries, and even today, including in their comment sections. That hasn’t had any adverse effects on free speech. It’s only because these companies managed to argue that they’re platforms rather than publishers that they’ve managed to shirk this responsibility.

    We’d probably end up with very different looking social media platforms at the end of it, but that’s probably better than what we’ve currently got.
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  • It's because he follows that Russian lex guy, who's a néolibéral /libertarian who's a slave to the YT algorithm and a bounder. That lex guy is trying to keep his libertarian subs and the rest, so he's triangulating.

    It's not the first time he's mentioned him, hence this post.

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  • GooberTheHat
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    Regulation and education. That's the only way.
  • Regulation and education. That's the only way.

    Yep. For all ‘disruptive’ tech companies, from startup to behemoth.

    Yossarian wrote:
    It’s only because these companies managed to argue that they’re platforms rather than publishers that they’ve managed to shirk this responsibility.

    The gig economy, social media, dropshipping, the lot. Hold them all to the same standards as traditional organisations and companies. The whole lot of ’em rely on loopholes and get-out clauses to force profit (or at least investment) from exploitative practices which shouldn’t generate any.

    At the same time, invest time and money in properly rounded educations for all. Media criticism, social studies, history and the arts. Critical thinking has been deprioritised and bringing it back would help.
  • poprock wrote:
    Regulation and education. That's the only way.

    The gig economy, social media, dropshipping, the lot. Hold them all to the same standards as traditional organisations and companies. The whole lot of ’em rely on loopholes and get-out clauses to force profit (or at least investment) from exploitative practices which shouldn’t generate any.

    So many nails hit on the head there. The whole disruptive economy is fine in practice but it seems to bring so much bad taste in terms of practice. As you say, many of these things seem to need to bend and exploit gaps in aging legislation more than is necessary.
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  • It's because he follows that Russian lex guy, who's a néolibéral /libertarian who's a slave to the YT algorithm and a bounder. That lex guy is trying to keep his libertarian subs and the rest, so he's triangulating. It's not the first time he's mentioned him, hence this post.

    I do not follow him, I watch his interviews with interesting people to learn about new interesting ideas that I can absorb and augment my general belief structures with. Lex himself is fairly vanilla and naive, or at least comes across that way, if you watched any of the videos that would be apparent. I don't get much of interest from Lex himself other than a few ideas such as the one twitter post about. Not all of the interviews are that good, but most have something worthwhile to be gained from them. If you have some good podcasts that you would recommend then I would love to hear them, keeping in mind that I'm more interested in ideas that particular personalities.

    I have no idea what you are talking about with regards to triangulation and such, it sounds like a conspiracy theory without any references.

    I've engaged with your post in the assumption that it was made in good faith, but I'm aware that you may be doing some kind of ironic trolling thing where you emulate the sort of bizarre posts you often see across the internet that make a mockery of intelligent discussion. Either way thank you for providing a good example of how people can use unevidenced statements about someone to disparage and dismiss their arguments or ideas.
  • No it's not ironic. What was ironic, was your opening post.


    I can't really be bothered tbh. You can Google triangulation, bounder, etc. There's no point in me explaining, I'm very cynical about social media and YT algorithms.

    But you know, just tell yourself this bad SM thing delivered you this neutral, anodyne figure, and that they and you are uniquely neutral and see through all the bullshit. Everyone else is doing it!
    Don't wank. Zinc in your sperms
  • davyK
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    Someone mentioned education.

    We teach kids how to cross the road. We also need to teach them about going online.

    I would guess most kids of an age are pretty savvy but like any group there will be victims who need taking in hand.
    Holding the wrong end of the stick since 2009.
  • Ftr, I also am worried by Twitter and So on banning people, taking an editorial stand. At the same time, Trump was planning a coup and had he succeeded it would have unleashed forces that I am sure would end in my destruction. It's a shitty situation, partly created by Twitter and YT itself.

    There absolutely needs to be a public reckoning, we're conducting a massive psi op on our whole population and it's not resulting in good things happening.

    I just don't think you'll find the answers in a an up and coming like and subscribe YTer trying to be the new Sam Harris who is very keen for his antiwoke protofascist followers (not all, just a section of them) to stay with him while retaining the likes of you (that's what triangulation means, politically)

    But I also know there is literally no point in even posting this because by merely pointing out this error you're making, I'm your enemy. I've personally slighted you. I'm arrogant. I'm a cunt. How dare I.

    That's what it's doing to us, innit. The sheer fucking tragedy of it, eh.
    Don't wank. Zinc in your sperms
  • Yossarian wrote:
    I don’t know why you’re dismissing regulation here, it’s the obvious answer. Make the social media companies responsible for what’s published on their sites, it’s only holding them to the same standards as publishers have been held to for centuries, and even today, including in their comment sections. That hasn’t had any adverse effects on free speech. It’s only because these companies managed to argue that they’re platforms rather than publishers that they’ve managed to shirk this responsibility. We’d probably end up with very different looking social media platforms at the end of it, but that’s probably better than what we’ve currently got.

    There's a lot more that I need to read up on regarding this debate, so I won't make any strong statements just yet. I'm just a little shocked that people aren't more concerned about government regulation of what is acceptable speech. I've heard that these regulations may affect small companies that run forums and the like, if they become legally responsible for what people post on their sites then it could become practically impossible for them to operate. I don't know if that is likely to be true or not, I've yet to do the deeper research but it's enough to worry me at this point. I'm also concerned about the wording of what counts as hate speech etc being slippery and definitions sliding to a point that could hurt the freedom for dissent. Again, I'll be reading up on this stuff to hopefully make a more concrete statement, but would love some good references for laws, articles etc if you know of any.
  • poprock wrote:
    Regulation and education. That's the only way.
    Yep. For all ‘disruptive’ tech companies, from startup to behemoth.
    It’s only because these companies managed to argue that they’re platforms rather than publishers that they’ve managed to shirk this responsibility.
    The gig economy, social media, dropshipping, the lot. Hold them all to the same standards as traditional organisations and companies. The whole lot of ’em rely on loopholes and get-out clauses to force profit (or at least investment) from exploitative practices which shouldn’t generate any. At the same time, invest time and money in properly rounded educations for all. Media criticism, social studies, history and the arts. Critical thinking has been deprioritised and bringing it back would help.

    Yes to regulation and education.
    You need an educated populace to meaningfully participate in a democracy. If they don't 'get' the system they will switch off and fall back to distrust, authoritarianism and conspiracy theory mode. The problem with the current right is they thrive on maintaining the current class structure and polarisation. They're affraid that disturbing the status quo will effect the libertarian 'free market'; that wonderful goose laying the golden eggs for the 1%. Not to mention their iron grip on the blue collar class through tabloid/social media/tv.

    Big Tech is big business, they don't want to be regulated because that would endanger their core business of data collection and ad/disinformation/propaganda revenue. Only from the top down intervention and change is possible.

    Imho etc.
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  • Brooks wrote:
    It's been in the interest of soc meeja platform capital to stoke sensation and drama for yonks, and the algos have been tuned accordingly. Until that gets dealt with...

    The thing is the algos were not designed to do anything specifically bad, they were just asked to keep people engaged. This is why the free but advert model sucks balls. The algo picked up that humans are more engaged when they're angry, with the bonus that it's really easy and quick to get people angry, especially when it comes to the views of strangers on the internet.

    The danger with AI isn't Terminator, it's the unintended consequences of asking it to do something seemingly unrelated. Zuckerberg and Dorsey didn't program them to be awful but that doesn't disguise the fact they've let it carry on regardless. I genuinely think they think social media is a force for good, as do people whom I know and respect, but the state of the world says otherwise.
    "Plus he wore shorts like a total cunt" - Bob
  • davyK
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    I'm still not sold on the big platforms being of much intrinsic value. I'm in a few FB private groups- they are good for selling things vs eBay but not much else.

    Forums remain the best place for common interests as far as I can see. I suspect discord is the modern equivalent.
    Holding the wrong end of the stick since 2009.
  • Brooks wrote:
    It's been in the interest of soc meeja platform capital to stoke sensation and drama for yonks, and the algos have been tuned accordingly. Until that gets dealt with...
    The thing is the algos were not designed to do anything specifically bad, they were just asked to keep people engaged. This is why the free but advert model sucks balls. The algo picked up that humans are more engaged when they're angry, with the bonus that it's really easy and quick to get people angry, especially when it comes to the views of strangers on the internet. The danger with AI isn't Terminator, it's the unintended consequences of asking it to do something seemingly unrelated. Zuckerberg and Dorsey didn't program them to be awful but that doesn't disguise the fact they've let it carry on regardless. I genuinely think they think social media is a force for good, as do people whom I know and respect, but the state of the world says otherwise.

    Unforeseen consequences!
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  • I mean, if you know human beings on the internet are prone to being hooting maniacs you probably should calibrate for that if you're not actually evil.

    If you didn't know this rather plain truth you're bad at your job.
  • @Armitage_Shankburn

    I understood the words, just not what they were supposed to mean in relation to Lex Fridman. I now understand your point about triangulation and will remain vigilant about that, thank you. He has spoken openly about whether he should or should not interview certain contraversial people, FWIW.

    I certainly don't believe I'm neutral or that anyone I 'follow' is neutral. Seeing through bullshit is an ongoing project that will never be completed, I hope I never feel like I have all the answers.

    You are not my enemy, I don't think that. You just don't get to call me out by making general statements out of the blue about some error I may have made like we are all supposed to know what you are talking about without providing context or evidence, without me also calling it as best as I can see it. It didn't have to be this way, you came at me like so many people do to others, casually, on social media and comment sections everywhere. I have done similar before, we all have. My main point is that nothing good will come from this.
  • Mostly I'm not superkeen on actual legally explicit censorship of much, but I definitely want more developers to disable the ability to spam the crouch button. No excuse for that in 2021.
  • Brooks wrote:
    I mean, if you know human beings on the internet are prone to being hooting maniacs you probably should calibrate for that if you're not actually evil. If you didn't know this rather plain truth you're bad at your job.

    But the idea was to let mass communication educate and then the hooting maniacs were going to realise the error of their ways. It was a fucking terrible idea looking back but in fairness it's only become truly apparent in the last few years. But now it's also apparent it's a seemingly unstoppable avalanche of clusterfuck.
    "Plus he wore shorts like a total cunt" - Bob
  • It's been apparent from the earliest days of webfora. Christ we certainly saw those dynamics play out here in eras.
  • Yossarian
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    Yossarian wrote:
    I don’t know why you’re dismissing regulation here, it’s the obvious answer. Make the social media companies responsible for what’s published on their sites, it’s only holding them to the same standards as publishers have been held to for centuries, and even today, including in their comment sections. That hasn’t had any adverse effects on free speech. It’s only because these companies managed to argue that they’re platforms rather than publishers that they’ve managed to shirk this responsibility. We’d probably end up with very different looking social media platforms at the end of it, but that’s probably better than what we’ve currently got.

    There's a lot more that I need to read up on regarding this debate, so I won't make any strong statements just yet. I'm just a little shocked that people aren't more concerned about government regulation of what is acceptable speech. I've heard that these regulations may affect small companies that run forums and the like, if they become legally responsible for what people post on their sites then it could become practically impossible for them to operate. I don't know if that is likely to be true or not, I've yet to do the deeper research but it's enough to worry me at this point. I'm also concerned about the wording of what counts as hate speech etc being slippery and definitions sliding to a point that could hurt the freedom for dissent. Again, I'll be reading up on this stuff to hopefully make a more concrete statement, but would love some good references for laws, articles etc if you know of any.

    We already have government regulations around speech, there are libel laws, hate speech laws, laws around inciting violence, speech can fall under harassment laws. Besides which, we’re currently in a situation whereby most of the rules around what can and can’t be said are being decided upon by social media companies. Surely it’s better for the government to do this than Mark Zuckerberg.

    Besides which, the argument isn’t that we need to create more laws to police speech, it’s that we shouldn’t allow social media companies to skirt around responsibility for what’s being said. It’s not about new laws, it’s about the fact that there are no consequences for social media companies when they’re being broken.

    As I say, this situation already exists. If someone were to go into the Guardian’s comment section and say “public figure X is a child murdering paedophile”, and the Guardian didn’t take it down, public figure X could sue the Guardian. If they say the same thing on Facebook and Facebook refused to take it down, they can’t touch Facebook.

    It wouldn’t even be that tough to make exemptions for smaller communities based on the size, or by not having comment threads available via search engines or whatever.
    Don't prepare for appointment.
  • Brooks wrote:
    It's been apparent from the earliest days of webfora. Christ we certainly saw those dynamics play out here in eras.

    Yes but it's worked out ok here a bit, I think. Maybe all the non-mentals have left.
    "Plus he wore shorts like a total cunt" - Bob
  • I'm still here, buddy
  • b0r1s
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    Regulation is the only way and they actively fear it which is why all big tech companies regularly support, fund and court both the dems and GOP. Then their staff become advisors.

    But that is a relatively easy fix compared to (as Brooks mentions) the core issue with the algos. They thrive on conflict and that has led to the population being combative. Even if there is an algo change now it is still going to take years or even decades for that worldwide confrontational attitude to change.

    As for freedom of speech. I’ve seen first hand how insidious, particularly on YouTube, far right supporters are playing on a range of celebrities who are decrying woke culture and a lack of freedom of speech. The problem is that the YouTubers who want to reinforce a rhetoric are only taking part of an interview (e.g. Stephen Fry) where the answers around free speech will be more nuanced, or the people being interviewed don’t caveat free speech with the need to be responsible with it or they don’t also make it clear that they are not out to support far right movements in their desire for free speech.

    And while that last point shouldn’t need to be pointed out, it clearly does as the far right are actively leveraging the intellectual equity of people who I don’t think are racists or facist, for the own agenda.
  • Nah, I'm still here.

    Edit: dammit B0r1s...
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  • nick_md wrote:
    I'm still here, buddy

    And hurrah for that.
    "Plus he wore shorts like a total cunt" - Bob
  • davyK
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    Even allowing for the power of the cloud, algos and all that guff - I imagine the sheer volume of the big platforms make implementing rules rather difficult.

    Of course having the money to hire a huge well trained and paid workforce to meet the challenge means there is no excuse.
    Holding the wrong end of the stick since 2009.
  • I think social media can be saved if it's a paid for subscription. Then the algos hopefully focus on keeping people happy rather than making them angry. It's still algo-contrived behaviour but at this point I'll take anything. 

    The responsible publisher model is maybe the quickest way out of this but how do you automate this amount of content into law? That goes for the media companies and the enforcers. So little staff, so much stuff.
    "Plus he wore shorts like a total cunt" - Bob
  • Light touch regulation because oh noes tek sect0rz is the golden fucking industrial goose, except it turns out to have been little of the sort really and is mostly just accelerating gigwork penury and sadness for most.
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