Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Public and The Private

Glenn Greenwald makes an argument:
This week, the announcement by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo that the company would prohibit the posting of the James Foley beheading video and photos from it (and suspend the accounts of anyone who links to the video) met with overwhelming approval. What made that so significant, as The Guardian‘s James Ball noted today, was that “Twitter has promoted its free speech credentials aggressively since the network’s inception.” By contrast, Facebook has long actively regulated what its users are permitted to say and read; at the end of 2013, the company reversed its prior ruling and decided that posting of beheading videos would be allowed, but only if the user did not express support for the act.

Given the savagery of the Foley video, it’s easy in isolation to cheer for its banning on Twitter. But that’s always how censorship functions: it invariably starts with the suppression of viewpoints which are so widely hated that the emotional response they produce drowns out any consideration of the principle being endorsed.

It’s tempting to support criminalization of, say, racist views as long as one focuses on one’s contempt for those views and ignores the serious dangers of vesting the state with the general power to create lists of prohibited ideas...

Except as any averagely bright eight-year-old knows, Twitter is not The State.

And so the question is moot (Using the Jesse Jackson Jr. and OED alternate definitions: "2. N. Amer. (orig. Law). Of a case, issue, etc.: having no practical significance or relevance; abstract, academic. Now the usual sense in North America."):

A fact about which, attorney Glenn Greenwald is obviously aware...
It’s certainly true, as defenders of Twitter have already pointed out, that as a legal matter, private actors – as opposed to governments – always possess and frequently exercise the right to decide which opinions can be aired using their property. Generally speaking, the public/private dichotomy is central to any discussions of the legality or constitutionality of “censorship.”
..but for some reason he really wants to pick this fight anyway, so off he goes:
But as a prudential matter, the private/public dichotomy is not as clean when it comes to tech giants that now control previously unthinkable amounts of global communications. There are now close to 300 million active Twitter users in the world – roughly equivalent to the entire U.S. population – and those numbers continue to grow rapidly and dramatically. At the end of 2013, Facebook boasted of 1.23 billion active users: or 1 out of every 7 human beings on the planet. YouTube, owned by Google, recently said that “the number of unique users visiting the video-sharing website every month has reached 1 billion” and “nearly one out of every two people on the Internet visits YouTube.”

These are far more than just ordinary private companies from whose services you can easily abstain if you dislike their policies. Their sheer vastness makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to avoid them, particularly for certain work...

Except no matter how many different ways you cut it, Twitter is still not The State.

Neither is FaceBook.

Neither is YouTube.

Once upon a time I had a boss who required me to carry BlackBerry.  I didn't want to, but there you go  On that same job I worked every day behind a cast iron firewall which made it virtually impossible to access anything cool or interesting on the internet.  Which was a drag, but I found if I hustled I could grab lunch at a local hippie joint with wifi and still post to my blog if anything newsworthy was breaking in the middle of the day.

Before that I worked at a college where we rigged it so only the software we chose -- in the configuration we designated -- existed on all +300 computers in our department.  Yes, students paid tuition, but (as we would have to explain three times a day -- peaking at 17 times a day around midterms and finals -- to some person complaining about their "rights" being violated) they didn't own the fucking infrastructure of the school.  They shared it with several thousand other humans from two dozen countries who all had very different priorities and who were also all theoretically trying to get an education and a degree.  The same institution had rules about drinking and smoking on campus which, frankly, were written to accommodate the predilections of one senior administrator who like to smoke in his office and drink with pretty grad students.

Before that I worked at a place that considered having any game on your company-assigned laptop to be a firing offense. Until the boss got hooked on Tetris, at which point that rule loosened up considerably.

These days, I occasionally have to swing by the HyVee to buy muffins for a community meeting, but I clearly understand that should I decide to do my muffin shopping pants-free one day, they're sure as shit going to "ban my content" by asking me to leave.  This arbitrary policy (obviously created by the powerful Big Trousers lobby) makes it difficult if not impossible to do my work sans culottes, so the pants stay on.  

Currently I also "work" at this blog, and by the extremely broad "a pulse, a blog and a POV" definition of the term Mr. Greenwald favors, I am a "journalist".  And and every so often when I have occasion to dig through my archives I find that about 1/3 of all the YouTube videos I have ever posted to supplement your consumer experience have been sent to the digital cornfield to copyright violations or account cancellation or whatever.  And until today I have never considered that the imprint of the jackbooted foot of The Virtual State stomping on my throat.  

By the way, you know what of those previous jobs, that college, this blog, HyVee, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all have in common?

None of them are The State.

None of them can declare war, or arrest me or in any other way compel me to do anything that I don't consent to do.

And as inconvenient or arbitrary or stupid as I may have found some of thier policies to be I understand that just as I am free not to use YouTube or FaceBook or Twitter or Instagram or Skype or NetScape or Mosaic or Archie or Gopher or Veronica or Jughead or any of the other amazing internet geegaws that have ever been, the private companies which created these toys and tools are free to do with them what they will.  They are amenities being provided virtually for free by private companies, who keep them at my fingertips because it is currently in their best corporate interest to do so, but who could just as easily zap them out of existence because they own these amenities and I don't.

Since this is so patently and obviously true, it leads me to wonder if perhaps Mr. Greenwald isn't doing this for some other reason entirely?  If perhaps, like David Sirota and Ferguson, Mr. Greenwald isn't particularly interested in ISIS...or James Foley...or Twitter per se, but is instead laying out this elaborate, ridiculous argument (and hinging much of the rational for advancing it on the comments of a 24-year-old with a failing basic cable teevee show "If you want these companies to suppress calls for violence, as Ronan Farrow advocated...") because of a deep-seated obsession with finding a way to hang his narrow agenda like a Christmas tree ornament onto every single fucking tragedy that makes it into the headlines?

Of course, I can't read Mr. Greenwald's mind.  Yet.

But I can read his words (and even add emphasis to them):
If you want these companies to suppress calls for violence, as Ronan Farrow advocated, does that apply to all calls for violence, or only certain kinds? Should MSNBC personalities be allowed to use Twitter to advocate U.S. drone-bombing in Yemen and Somalia and justify the killing of innocent teenagers, or use Facebook to call on their government to initiate wars of aggression? How about Israelis who use Facebook to demand “vengeance” for the killing of 3 Israeli teenagers, spewing anti-Arab bigotry as they do it: should that be suppressed under this “no calls for violence” standard?

A Fox News host this week opined that all Muslims are like ISIS and can only be dealt with through “a bullet to the head”: should she, or anyone linking to her endorsement of violence (arguably genocide), be banned from Twitter and Facebook? How about Bob Beckel’s call on Fox that Julian Assange be “assassinated”: would that be allowed under Ronan Farrow’s no-calls-for-violence standard?
Finally I would be remiss if I did not point out that Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and Glenn Greenwald all have at least one thing in common: nothing I say or do will affect any of them in the slightest.


Batocchio said...

Extra points for the Jerome Bixby reference.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I used to take Greenwald seriously, he's unbearable . As I type this my 4 year old nephew is adeptly watching his favorite truck videos, cartoons etc on YouTube . Is Greenwald advocating that a terrorist snuff video ought to be available on YouTube for my nephew to see? Let little kids know the harshness of reality and Western hegemony or such? Oh fuck him.

Kathleen said...

What about the Libertarian argument that corporations are people and have rights? Does Griftwald want to deny corporate people their right to restrict access?

fritz said...

Oh, that wacky Bert Gall!

Anonymous said...

That Big Trousers lobbying dollar is a GOOD dollar!

Anonymous said...

davidio sez-

Greenwald's referencing Doogie Sinatra and his weak-ass show is sadder than sad...

Pinkamena said...

I'm not sure if my high school civics teacher is around anymore. If he is, I hope he can muster the strength to go slam a book down next to Saint Glenneth's head. That's how you deal with people who don't pay attention in civics class.

Also, double irony points for Glenneth and his followers ocntinually screaming about government and Big Data but only waiting until it's an exploitable matter for their hyper-neo-feudalist our-own-freedoms-uber-alles viewpoints to agree with us that the data companies themselves might just be something to worry about. As usual, the Right's most ardent idiots, and their pseudo-Left stooges, stumble on the facts long after we pointed them out.

Part of me wants to write a book about false freedoms like the "rights" of people using private entities to get their message out declaring themselves above reproach by said entities or their critics because "my free speech". Then that voice that continually nags me for daring to think of stepping on the toes of people with actual talents reminds me that I am a hack in all things in which I am not so unqualified as to be unable to even try. (tl;dr version of that last part: my brain tells me "you suck so don't bother"). My kingdom for a cheap ghostwriter.

Also: "droneglass jackbooted authoritarian stooge drones supermax" "used to be great, now i'm leaving", "stop writing about this because you suck if it's not what i want to hear". There, now it's no longer necessary and our trolls can take the week off.

Lumpy Lang said...

Judging from this incoherent post and the ditto-head responses above, Droneglass and his lib brethren are losing braincells at an increasing rate.

Rationalizing the crimes of "democratic" U.S. imperialism will do that to people.

Adrastos said...

I laughed for a full 3 minutes over the picture of the Wizard of Glenn pic. Still chucking.

Anonymous said...

You and Cesca really deserve each other. Fucking morons.

Unsalted Sinner said...

If Greenwald actually believes that The People are deprived of their free speech if they can't publish anything they want on Twitter, he must surely be deeply concerned with the way Twitter (or Facebook, or YouTube) accounts can be closed down and users banned. If losing your account equals censorship, surely everyone should have their day in court before their account is closed?

Pinkamena said...

And as usual, a pants-pissing coward comes along to pop a squat in the middle of the room and run away before anyone can grab a newspaper.

Hey, troll, why not stick around and defend your utter lack of argument?

Potatohead said...

Between this and free speech not being a shield, I'm consistently amazed they continue to just not process any of it.

Year after year, the same garbage.

If it were not so damn morbidly interesting, I would have tuned out long ago.

Keep it up. I seriously enjoy your work.

Lumpy Lang said...

These types of essential services should be made part of the commons, and not left in private hands. But of course that will require getting rid of this sick capitalist system.

As to the underlying substance of Droneglass' tiresome attacks on Greenwald:

Free Chelsea Manning!

U.S. Imperialism - Hands off Anthony Snowden, Julian Assange!

Pinkamena said...

Does anyone hear a high-pitched sound, like the irrelevant whining of some tiny, spammy little racist? Because, thanks to Killfile, I certainly don't. Now if only we didn't have to bother blocking it out at all...

Monster from the Id said...


Now, now, Lumpy--doncha know imperial crimes only count as criminal if they're committed during a Reptilian administration? All doubleplusgood goodthinkers know that Dinocratic administrations get a free pass.


Pinkamena said...

Speaking of testicle cozies...

Monster from the Id said...

Rage is a corrosive substance; it tends to do more damage to the vessel in which it is stored than the object on which it is poured.