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

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at
Tue Sep 21 17:52:17 PDT 2010

On Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 4:33 PM, Jim Youll <jyoull at> wrote:
> Forgetting the money thing altogether, we have moderated mailing lists and discussion forums that tend, in my experience at least, toward rather than away from, assertions of control via mechanisms that are arguably essential to keep them from flying apart in the face of spammers and other noise sources.
> There are limitations in the physical world that do not translate to Internet space. We may appropriate some of the social pressures and embed positive features of behavioral econ into our systems, but we cannot recreate the expense or difficulty of monitoring or invading a physical space. The high RL cost of these intrusions limits their occurrence in physical spaces. The effectively-zero cost of these intrusions online makes them common.

I think you're unnecessarily conflating separate issues.

The freedom to publish or create a forum without being controlled by
someone else is more or less orthogonal to the ability to create a
forum which _is_ internally controlled and thus insulated from spam or
other garbage.

Allow me to elaborate,

Today you can not reliably publish on the internet without the risk
that service providers will disconnect you out of a desire to avoid
associating themselves with your message, or simply because someone
paid them to do so. Your only protection from these measures is the
resources you have available to find alternative hosting, and the
possibility of public outcry that may be triggered by your
suppression. The latter is little comfort when your views are obscure
or unpopular, and the former still results in a chilling effect— where
you self-censor in order to conserve resources.

In my view the ideal is that, in a liberated world, any time you have
two things: a publisher and an audience, they ought to be able to
communicate at a minimum of cost without third parties getting in the
middle and obstructing the communication...  and whatever obstruction
is allowed ought to be minimal and not allow the complete silencing of
any publisher.

Technical measures can be created which make it very difficult to
inhibit publication... but which still provide for the ability of
every publication to internally control its content.  If some
publication uses those controls to suppress your speech you can always
create your own publication.  This is a freedom which doesn't exist on
the Internet today.  We pretend that it does, but this illusion is
only effective because most views are uncontroversial.

These systems can be blocking resistant and, moreover, be designed to
result in all or nothing blocking.   Of course, if you make a
worthless publication or one with inadequate internal controls so that
it ends up full of spam then no one may want to view it…  but being
uninteresting or unusable is categorically different from being
silenced.  I can ignore the crazy street preacher, but he is still
able to get his message out to those who are interested (subject to
the constraints on how effectively you can communicate from a soapbox
in a public park).

An existing— and still immature and weak in many ways, and not exactly
meeting exactly the properties I'd expect for a free speech tool—
example of this kind of infrastructure is Freenet. I hesitate to name
any specifics, for fear of getting bogged down in the discussion of
the weaknesses of any particular system, but I want to make a clear
example of the kind of thing which can be created.

> Wikipedia is an exception. It's also had its share of troubles related to people interacting in a digital commons, and if I'm not mistaken it's been through top-down controls (granting or withholding authority, and bosses with the time and grant/donation funding who can undo things full-time) that the problems were tamped down.

This struck me as so misinformed a statement that I invited someone
with particular expertise whom isn't currently on the list, to refute

My partner, Kat Walsh is on the board of trustees for the Wikimedia
Foundation. I asked her to review the thread and she's provided a
response in a personal capacity:

"Bosses with the time and grant/donation funding who can undo things
full-time"--even if that were desirable, you may be somewhat
underestimating what sort of funding would be required...

Basically, the problems don't get tamped down, but left to stabilize
on their own; no one with a formal role at Wikimedia deals with that
sort of thing (with minor exceptions, generally legal/privacy issues).
Jimmy Wales is not staff, but has some moral authority as founder, and
sometimes uses it; it's the sort of socially-acknowledged authority
that can't be granted or taken away, while his formal role as a board
member is quite limited.

Most of the controlling of content and authority is done by the
community itself, who grant and remove authority from other community
members with very little intervention. Though as important as any
formal role is some fuzzy sense of reputation, as is the amount of
time and energy you have to spend. The community policing on Wikipedia
has its fair share of problems--but at least its problems don't
include being a rigidly-structured corporate monolith with a need to
placate advertisers and prioritize eyeballs over information. (I
mention the "community" as if it's monolithic, but that's a gross
oversimplification. There is a community of radical free speech
advocates, a community of niche hobbyists, a commnuity of educators
and librarians, a community of diehard conservatives, ad infinitum,
with sometimes conflicting ideas about governance.)

The most contentious areas (climate change, Scientology, terrorism,
politicians, operating systems, etc.) function less well than anyone
would like, but it's also there that top-down intervention would be
almost completely ineffective.

We're not a platform for free speech, or for political activism--our
radical meta-stance is that no topic should be off-limits from
documenting in a neutral, truthful manner. And it has its costs--we've
been blocked in China for years, with occasional breaks, and for
briefer periods in Iran, Pakistan, a few others as well. (And filtered
near-invisibly in the UK, for a few days, as well in Australia) We've
gotten petitions and threats from groups infuriated about our
treatment of Muhammad. (And of Xenu.) And we've chosen not to ban that
content, at the cost of being completely inaccessible to the people
caught behind those filters, and of being blocked in various places
even within the US. There have been real debates over what should
happen, though some have been easier calls than others. (And there's
one going on now, about depictions of sexuality-related content.)

We try to avoid intervening from the top down and avoid the chilling
effect of interfering in advance, but the value of refusing to bend on
such a point may be far outweighed by the loss to those who would no
longer be able to access the content.

When we are threatened for attempting to document facts, we have a
difficult decision to make—accept the censorship, accept the
threatened degree of blockage, or fight it with a loud voice in the
media (and some helpful friends in the EFF), but ultimately we don't
control the pipes; losing a country like China is a tough call to
make, but the values of the state may be so incompatible with this
sort of project that there's no way we could satisfy their demands.
But losing access somewhere with millions of people and generally
hospitable laws and values over something that, as a single piece
rather than as an example of a principled stand, is an almost
insignificant piece of the site? It would be a much more difficult
problem and the balance may come out the other way. We have the size
and reputation to give us more power against some threats, such as
coercion by ISPs, compared to smaller organizations (and individuals).
But ultimately we're vulnerable to that sort of censorship like any
other website.


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