I’m sure we’ve all seen the news that Donald Trump has been banned from Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, Shopify, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Pinterest, Discord, and Reddit have similarly cracked down on Trumpy content. Parler, a social network for people that find Twitter insufficiently extreme, has been banned from the Google Play store, and Apple has fired a shot across Parler’s bow that will probably end with the app being banned from the App Store. (Thanks to commenter Wyatt Salamanca for the above link and the reminder to write this post.)
Is this good? That is a difficult question. It isn’t hard to whip up a slippery-slope argument. It also isn’t hard to say that Trump’s social media accounts present a truly unique problem at this time, which justifies a unique response. But is that special pleading? It’s easy to argue the importance of free speech, just as it’s easy to ask what the true goal of enlightenment principles were, and whether slavish adherence to them will get us where we want to go. But is ditching principles for two weeks going to weaken them? Should it? Reasonable people can disagree (not that all of the people disagreeing are reasonable).
I’m interested in a different question, though. How did we find ourselves grappling with this problem in the first place? Much as I’d like it to be Donald Trump’s fault, it really isn’t. This is an inevitable result of how the Web works 2021: walled gardens and closed protocols have concentrated informational power in the hands of a few companies, companies whose every action affects the structure of our press and our democracy. As a wise man once said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”
So, what’s to be done? I don’t know, but I do know one way we could have done it better. So, if you’re interested, join me below the fold for a discussion of distributed social networks.