Would more Nazis and terrorists on social media make our internet more free?
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, speaking today at a panel on the “future of internet freedom”, asked and answered this question in staunchly libertarian terms, calling out YouTube, Facebook and Twitter’s purported double standards against conservatives and identifying them as the “actual threat” to the open internet. Pai’s critics say net neutrality repeal will lay the groundwork for ISPs to fragment and meter out the internet, but, speaking on a panel hosted by libertarian think tank R Street Institute, Pai said Silicon Valley – wicked, liberal Silicon Valley – already does this by promoting some viewpoints while suppressing others.
His first target: Twitter. Twitter openly supports net neutrality, which Pai argued is hypocritical because they differentiate between users based on their viewpoints.
“I love Twitter,” said Pai. “But when it comes to a free and open internet, Twitter is part of the problem. The company has a viewpoint and it uses that viewpoint to discriminate.”
Discriminate against whom? Just wait.
“To say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users accounts as opposed to those of liberal users,” said Pai. “This conduct is many things but it isn’t fighting for an open internet.”
Twitter’s recent verification kerfuffle, of course, began early in November when the company verified Jason Kessler, the organiser of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally. Realising this is essentially an endorsement – verified users are rewarded with better security features and their tweets appear in more feeds – Twitter removed his verification and promised a more meritocratic system of verification, ultimately un-verifying Nazi-adjacent figures such as Richard Spencer and “Baked Alaska”.
So what’s Pai saying? That by de-verifying neo-Nazis (not banning them, as all these people can still use Twitter, obviously) Twitter is making the internet less open? What does Nazi ideology add to the internet? Why did Pai say “conservative” when this anecdote clearly refers to white supremacists?
Don’t expect any ideological clarity. Pai’s speech was a shallow, dishonest collage of conservative talking points, and it only became more ugly and disjointed as he continued.
“Edge providers,” he said, “are a much bigger actual threat to an open internet than broadband providers, especially when it comes to discrimination on the basis of viewpoint.”
Pai went on to list a few examples, none of which are related to net neutrality or even to each other: YouTube removing Dennis Prager’s videos, Facebook’s algorithmically determined news feed, Reddit’s 2016 admission of editing user comments, and American companies “craving to foreign governments demands to block certain speech”, presumably referring to foreign courts forcing Facebook and YouTube to block radicalism and recruitment.
Censorship is a complicated topic, but how will repealing net neutrality solve any of these problems? Does he have any alternatives? It’s an empty bad faith argument. Pai wants to say de-verifying Twitter users is bad, but won’t engage with what’s being said or why. He wants to be outraged when content is removed, but not discuss what the content is. He wants to point out the hypocrisy of big internet companies, which is valid, but won’t acknowledge the intractable moral puzzles created when content is created at an astronomical scale, as in YouTube and Facebook’s case.
In short, Pai thinks regulation is bad full stop and support for net neutrality is just Silicon Valley trying to game the system.