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[liberationtech] Fw: [progressiveexchange] Facebook interfering with activism Pages

Yosem Companys companys at
Tue Sep 21 13:01:17 PDT 2010

Exactly, and think about the fact that corporations are a fairly modern
phenomenon.  We didn't really have corporations in the US until after 1860,
and corporations did not dominate the US economy until the early to mid 20th
century.  What today is done in corporations was once done in the US in
voluntary associations, or more rarely, in corporations of the era, which
were joint ventures created by the government to engage in large-scale
projects such as building canals, ports, railroads, etc.

In the 1800's, public spaces proliferated in the US.  By the 21st century,
most of these public spaces have been replaced by corporations.  If private
places are exactly the same or better than public spaces, this is not a
problem.  But can we always say with certainty this holds true?

No doubt we need private incentives to get things done in society.  But
Nobel Prize winner Williamson has also shown that private incentives can
sometimes turn perverse such as in the principal-agent problem (someone
needs to monitor the agent or the agent can engage in activities counter to
the interests of the principal).  The problem with for profit corporations
is that there is no moral incentive, so everything is fair game as long as
it is legal; norms play little or no role in regulating their behavior,
unless there is a potential sanction.

The type of organizations that mediate technological innovation is important
for outcomes.  Technologies do not exist disembodied of their context.  It
matters whether the technology is embedded in the military and concerns over
nuclear annihilation (e.g., the Internet as a distributed system to survive
a nuclear war) or in the private sector vs. civil society (e.g., centralized
electricity plants vs. distributed energy firms in the early 20th century;
the former killed off the latter through legislation, even though the latter
were more efficient).  In turn, the outcome, both in terms of good and bad,
is a function of the institutional context in which the technology is
embedded (e.g., are they created for profit, for the greater good, etc.).

On Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 12:30 PM, Gregory Maxwell <gmaxwell at>wrote:

> On Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 2:03 PM, Jim Youll <jyoull at> wrote:
> > I guess that was my point.
> > Application makers don't control those "substantive rules."
> > Even perfect net neutrality can't make terms of service go away
> completely,
> > for content- or action-driven offenses, can it? As cool as it would be
> (and
> > interesting to me as something I think about a lot) self-enforcement just
> > doesn't exist in either policy or architecture. Could be a very long time
> > before it does, if it ever does.
> [snip]
> This bag of problems isn't at all unique to the Internet. In the US at
> least there are increasing problems where the most important public
> spaces are increasingly privately owned— shopping malls, even outdoor
> "city centers". People attempt to express themselves freely and run
> into conflict with the right of the private owners to use their
> property as they see fit.
> I'm certainly not trying to put the blame on corporations here— there
> is a real conflict of rights at play.  Outside of the Internet one
> solution to this problem is the existence of public spaces (though, as
> I mentioned these currently have the issue of declining relevance, but
> at least they exist).
> On the internet there is no direct equivalent. The entire
> infrastructure is the summation of many privately owned parts. You
> lose anytime these private owners exclude you, and sometimes you're
> vulnerable to any of several at the same time. (Your ISP, A datacenter
> provider, A web service, a far end ISP,  and the governments and
> markets with powe to influence any of them).
> This could be solved— at least in part— by regulation, but I think
> that is unreasonable and unrealistic. It can also be solved with
> technology (and perhaps just enough legal help to keep the
> technological solution viable)— by, more or less, inventing the
> commons for the Internet.
> I'm specifically not mentioning any particular development in this
> space, because I doubt any of them have nailed it yet— and I doubt
> that we need a single solution in any case.  I'm also not pushing on
> any single design— "peer to peer" is over-hyped in the extreme.
> What we need is a system that doesn't leave any single party (or small
> collection of parties) solely responsible for the availability of
> someone elses information. There are many ways to achieve this
> technically, no doubt many of them have yet to be imagined.
> Simply expecting parties (private corporations or not) to play nice
> and respect free expression is a tall request and I think we already
> have reliable evidence that it can't be counted on when it really
> matters.  No one wants to suppress "adopt a kitten day", the real test
> is social, political, and artistic speech far less agreeable than even
> a BP protest.
> I don't think it would be fair to require Facebook to spend their
> money hosting a "why naziism is best" page, but if we want people to
> be able to express honest and frank views about controversial or
> unpopular subjects some mechanism must be provided which enables this.
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