Who decides what we are allowed to say?

the commons - shared pasture

Free speech decisions on social networks are guided by an unknown mesh of personal predilections of tech company CEOs and their boards. They are driven by profit motive and the competition of rivals. The algorithms that enforce their censorship are based on rules that we know nothing about; we haven’t participated in their design or voted on their adoption.

Surveillance has been Normalized but so has Self-Censorship

Presidio modela - panopticon prison in CubaRevelations like those from Snowden and the Pegasus Project have this same unexpected and counterintuitive effect. Instead of rejecting the control, we increasingly learn to adapt and self censor. The panopticon effect lies exactly in this acceptance of the new normal. Afraid to say the wrong thing, we self censure our discourse and the allowable range of ideas becomes more and more narrow. Those who fail to ‘check their words’ are cancelled and provide an example for the rest.

The Progress Paradox: Revisiting Steven Pinker’s Brand of Optimism

The Progress Paradox: Revisiting Steven Pinker’s Brand of OptimismIs the world a better place? Opinions vary, though the enduring Western-centric belief is that humankind has never had it better. This belief is commonly espoused by technologists who praise the information age for ushering in a new era of opportunity and prosperity. The information age, coupled with industrialization, has certainly shaped the world in ways previously thought unimaginable. Advances in technology have transformed everyday life. Facial recognition software. Artificial intelligence. Microchip implants. Renewable energy. Genetic engineering. A revolutionary mRNA vaccine designed in just two days.

Given all this progress, it’s hard not to believe in the “prosperity presumption,” the belief that the world, as a whole, is getting better. Indeed, techno-utopians who adhere to the prosperity presumption also hold the belief that any form of technological stagnation is antithetical to progress. Some of the biggest technologists fall under this category.

Substack: A Re-Assembling of the Old Media

Over the past several months, many of these reputable voices – including high-profile journalists – have been jumping ship from their safe, cushy jobs to join Substack, a newsletter-based subscription platform, to escape the onslaught of ideology, censorship, and rigid editorial control.

Some are calling this migration the “beginning of the gold rush," others are comparing Substack to the old Internet, while others are likening it to the early newsletters of the 17th century. In some ways, Substack does harken back to the old blogosphere; it is reminiscent of a former Internet, and elicits a certain sense of nostalgia. As tempting as it is to see this as a step towards building a rich information ecosystem, I fear this mass migration will simply re-organize the establishment class in new ways and create more toll booths on the information highway.

Who Owns the Internet?

The democratizing potential of the Internet echoed across the world: it was seen as a true equalizer, a force for good, and one that looked the same everywhere irrespective of one’s geographical location -- it defied all territorial borders. This vision was hardly seen as radical or controversial. Quite the opposite, it was widely embraced among tech circles, even by the likes of Microsoft.

But that Golden Age of the Internet is long gone.