View profile

Is it worth banning 8chan?

August 7 · Issue #363 · View online
The Interface
A few days removed from this weekend’s mass shootings, one of which had been announced on the hate forum 8chan, the White House has had two contradictory responses. One is to announce a Friday summit on violent online extremism to be attended by tech companies, and to call on those companies to detect and report violent manifestos to the authorities. The other is to prepare, in secret, an executive order aimed at eliminating “anti-conservative bias” on tech platforms.
As my colleague Adi Robertson points out, these twin initiatives may be self-canceling:
One shooting was apparently an act of far-right terrorism, based on an anti-immigrant screed posted online. There was a fine line between its rhetoric and the views of major conservative figures like Tucker Carlson or Trump himself. Preemptively flagging the shooter — or one of several far-right killers before him — could have looked like egregious anti-conservative bias. And since predictive AI has sky-high error rates, it would probably catch a lot of non-violent conservative accounts (alongside those of non-conservatives) purely by accident. That’s already a recipe for a PR disaster, and it gets even dicier if Trump adds new legal punishments.
Of course, this issue becomes less pressing if you believe, as I do, that these bias complaints are intended primarily to rile up conservative voters and unlikely to become law. (It’s unclear how you would even craft a law to ensure “neutrality,” as Sen. Josh Hawley recently called for.)
While politicians trade press releases on the subject, the practical fate of hate-promoting tech platforms has fallen to the invisible hand of the marketplace. Over the past 72 hours, we’ve seen 8chan go down, come back, and go down again, as various internet infrastructure companies learn of the site’s existence and chase it off their customer rolls. (Its current status is: up? I think?)
Most people I know assume the site will eventually find stable service providers somewhere. But that has led to a debate: does kicking 8chan off any individual service provider make the world a better place, or not?
Does deplatforming down help, or doesn’t it? Will Oremus calls the move “better than nothing” but still finds it ineffective:
 The inability of any single private internet company to kill a website means that deplatforming is a battle in which victories tend to be short-lived. And that’s leaving aside the harder question of whether it really works, in the sense of not just blacklisting a given person or domain, but actually limiting the virulent spread of their ideology.
And yet, we now have good evidence that forcing hate figures and their websites to continuously relocate is effective at diminishing their reach over time. Angela Chen explains why:
After a group of tech companies kicked InfoWars founder Alex Jones off their platforms, initial interest in him spiked, but a year later, he had mostly disappeared. One 2017 study found that Reddit’s decision to ban communities like r/fatpeoplehate and r/CoonTown led to less hate speech on the site, says study coauthor Eshwar Chandrasekharan, a PhD candidate at Georgia Tech. The reason: extremely motivated users will follow a community or personality to a new place, but less-engaged members drop off completely.
Similarly, the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer used to be a central organizing space for the far right. Since it was dropped by web-hosting company GoDaddy two years ago, its influence within the movement has significantly waned, says Becca Lewis, a researcher who studies online political subcultures. “If 8chan stays down, there’s reason to believe that that would have a big impact on what we see in terms of online organizing in the far-right movement,” she adds. 
That’s good enough for me. I’d rather that Congress pass gun control, but I’ll take the deplatforming of 8chan in the meantime.
Meanwhile, Ben Thompson offers a useful framework for how to think about deplatforming. On one end of the spectrum — what he calls “the stack” — are consumer-facing platforms like Instagram and Twitter that anyone can post to. On the other are infrastructure providers like Cloudflare whose role is to provide basic access to the internet. Thompson argues that consumer platforms should moderate aggressively so as to attract the broadest possible audience — while infrastructure companies should try to limit their moderation to what is legal, so as to promote the maximum about of speech.
Thompson writes of Cloudflare’s decision to ban 8chan: “User-facing platforms are the ones that should make these calls, not infrastructure providers. But if they won’t, someone needs to. So Cloudflare did.” I think that’s the right framing — and the right decision on Cloudflare’s part.
The problem is that we have so few consumer-facing platforms that the “stack” Thompson describes looks increasingly flat. When your options for broadcasting to a large audience are limited to a small handful of companies, they start to look a lot like infrastructure. Which is precisely why politicians are making so much hay about “bias” on the platforms — they simply don’t have many other good options.
Breaking up the tech platforms would cause any number of difficult problems for executives. But it could also give them more freedom to do the moderation their users want to see.

Cloudflare Is Protecting a Site Linked to a Neo-Nazi Terror Group
Far-Right Haven Had Its Fundraising Site Shut Down By Amazon
The Dayton And El Paso Shootings Revealed The Difficulty Of Fighting Disinformation On Messaging Apps
Senators say Google’s Huawei smart speaker plan put ‘profits before country’
Trump says he’s ‘watching Google very closely’ after meeting with CEO
WhatsApp Is Fighting To Keep India’s Government Out Of Your Messages
“Patient Zero”: Facebook Tried A New Approach To Counter Disinformation In The Philippines. It Didn't Work.
Mark Zuckerberg questioned by senators over children’s privacy protections in new letter
This Top-Secret Investigator Infiltrates Hate Groups Online
Google and Amazon offer gun parts for sale, violating their own policies
Twitter tells new congressional candidates they'll have to win their primaries to get verified
Walmart Worker Claims Retaliation After Organizing Gun Protest
Instagram’s lax privacy practices let a trusted partner track millions of users' physical locations, secretly save their Stories, and openly flout its rules
Revealed: Microsoft Contractors Are Listening to Some Skype Calls - VICE
Facebook sues two app developers for click injection fraud
Facebook Hit by Apple’s Crackdown on Messaging Feature
Yelp is Screwing Over Restaurants By Quietly Replacing Their Phone Numbers
Instagram Is Hiring a Meme Liaison
Twitch is now the official international streaming partner for USA Basketball
This Hideous Emoji House Is at the Center of Some Truly Bizarre L.A. Beef
Twitter ‘Snooze’ button lets you pause push notifications for a time
And finally ...
Thanks to Rex Sorgatz for this important programming alert about a TV movie that premieres Friday on the best channel, Lifetime:
Eighteen-year-old Skylar Madison is obsessed with managing the online social media “influencer” careers of her fellow classmates and will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. That includes murder. Having already gotten away with killing the most popular girl in her school, Skylar now turns her sights on managing the career of seventeen-year-old Jessica Lake, the new girl in class and an up-and-coming fashion video blogger. But Jessica’s mother Lynn Kessling suspects the truth: that Skylar is a dangerous, amoral psychopath, who’s dark secrets may be too frightening to believe! 
After writing this newsletter for a couple years, let me just say … I believe it.
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and content moderation frameworks:
Did you enjoy this issue?
In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue