Over the past few months, we have seen the impact that an attempted fascist coup of the United States has made. Social media sites, just about everywhere, are now starting to (finally) clamp down on hatespeak, and the groups that sponsor it. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword that really points out the major defect in an algorithm-based social media world.
To wit…while the right-wing extremist groups may be effectively dealt with in these media, the people on the other side who actually criticize right-wing groups and all their hatespeak, will also be punished by these same algorithms, because it’s really hard to criticize anything without actually mentioning it.
And algorithms are only as smart as the people who program them. And even these people are given lists of words and phrases to flag.
So on the one hand you hopefully end up with effective control of hate groups, at least on the larger social media sites, but on the other hand, you also end up punishing the more liberal political and social critics, simply because of the words they need to use in their posts to clarify what they are actually talking about.
If you have ever tried to write something critical of Nazism or fascism without using the actual words, you will have a hard time getting your point across. And if you do use them, you run the serious risk of being banned for some length of time, which takes you out of the game altogether.
So far, no one has come up with a way around this very serious social media Catch 22. The most extreme solution is one which Facebook is currently entertaining, which is to ban all political material, left or right.
That of course, does nothing to solve the Catch 22. But at least it will keep those people who are susceptible to the lure of hate groups from being sucked in.
The big problem here is reality. The reality of the situation is that the vast, vast majority of hatespeak comes from extremist right-wing groups. I’ve been looking and I am really at a loss to be able to name any highly visible extremist left-wing groups although I’m sure there must be a few.
Yet these algorithmic restrictions will, in a lot of cases, apply to both the generators and the critics of hatespeak, simply because of the limitations of algorithms and the size of the digital real estate they need to protect.
At the end of the day, the left may very well have to suffer because of the right, but at the very least the right will be, to a great extent muffled in the mainstream social media.
That’s not to say that hatespeak and radical right behaviour is going anywhere, but at least it will be marginalized, like it used to be back before social media came along and gave them a free supercharger to spread their hatespeak far and wide. Back then, they used to rely on newspapers that would show up in your mailbox every so often, pamphlets on your car’s windshield, and interviews on right-wing radio programs.
Today, it’s a way different ballgame with all kinds of ways to reach out and infect gullible people, And as we have seen over the past four years, there really is no shortage of them around.
The bigger issue here is the basic question of censorship. A lot of people are debating that right now and finding out that social media sites are not news media in the legal sense of the world. They are corporately or privately owned enterprises that really provide an outlet for information and opinion.
Personally, I have no problem with being punished if I should step over whatever line they choose to draw. And I have been censured several times, as many of us with opinions have.
But I consider these experiences valuable learning about what I can or cannot get away with saying, in terms of just how explicit my disgust for hatespeak is expressed.
And believe me, I have learned a lot. LOL.