Online speech and publishing — Benedict Evans

This is not a ‘publisher’, in the sense that a newspaper or radio station are publishers - or if it is, then we’ve stretched the word ‘publisher’ so far as to become meaningless. A human editor chooses ten stories for the front page of a newspaper, and ten stories for the 9 o’clock news, but there is no-one sitting in Menlo Park choosing a hundred photos for your Instagram feed each morning.

This is a great example of a phenomenon that really needs a name if it doesn't already have one. The inscrutability fallacy isn't quite what I mean, but close. To contradict Evans here with some formatting to emphasize that I mean it:

Automating a choice does not mean that a person did not make a choice. Building a system to do a thing does not remove the human responsibility for the thing done.

I need to make a page on my website to gather together all the examples of problems that I think are caused by the facts jointly that a. most people don't understand how technology works, and b. most of the people who do enjoy being treated as wizards and are very content to let misunderstandings lie.

But on the other hand, a phone company does not write rules about what you can say, and social network do write rules, or try to, and they make decisions about what kinds of things should be in your feed, and why. This is not a publisher, but it’s not a phone company either, nor a restaurant.

Governance within private Internet spaces has always been a useful fiction, not a reality of power. This is something that you know when you spend time on Reddit or forums of old. The mods are corrupt! They say they're enforcing abstract principles, but they're actually enacting petty feuds! They have a personal vendetta against my 340-page Sonic fanfic! Facebook may put a shine on this process, but the incentives it has are no more democratic, no less motivated by pettiness and ass-covering, no less motivated by social factors.

Wait, that sounds bad, and it's a bit more cynical than what I mean. What's closer to the truth is that people from a democratic society are very comfortable with the ideas of rules and rights. These concepts make it easier for them to understand how to engage with the Internet and Internet communities. However, the truth is that, governance-wise, it's about as close to going over to someone's house and being told the house "rules" and afforded "rights" as a guest; this language is just being used to convey expectations. It isn't fundamentally "flawed governance" when your host tosses your drunk ass out at 2AM in contradiction of stated policies. The governance was a story you were telling each other to explain what gets on the hosts' nerves, but the reality was the dynamic wherein you were visiting someone else's house and getting on their nerves at 2 in the morning.

On the Internet, the idea of governance often feels comforting because on some level we recognize that big companies have too much power, and interacting with something sterile and bureaucratic feeling is more comforting than realizing that power lives with the caprice of Zuck's pinky. Smaller projects may work harder to not violate a sense of fairness (what up, Lemmy) but that isn't because they're more validly enacting "governance", it's because that's part of what's necessary to make the project appealing to people, and the power dynamics are different. You're more likely to be aware of how things work, and if you get mad about a mod decision, you can go use some other alternative social media that's approximately the same size and shape.

All of this comes to the point that the fact that a bar doesn't bother enumerating to its customers what behavior will and will not be tolerated does not mean that it's doing something much different than a social media site when it tosses out Nazis, and if you think that the enumeration is meaningful, you are way too sympathetic to the stories that tech likes to tell about itself.

I don't have a conclusion here. Leave a comment and tell me I'm wrong?