Julian Sanchez

What’s Wrong with Tech Companies Banning People? (#250) | Julian Sanchez on the Rationally Speaking Podcast with Julia Galef

Check out on the Rationally Speaking Podcast Page and Episode Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Julian Sanchez is fine with tech companies de-platforming users using racial slurs or other kinds of harmful speech
    • ”I don’t think anyone ought to be forced to republish or amplify content they find loathsome” Julian Sanchez
  • Three main factors that affect how concerned we should be about de-platforming
    • We should be much more concerned with banning decisions “lower in the stack”
      • An Internet Service Provider banning an application is a stronger reason for concern than a social site banning a user
    • We should worry more about de-platforming for “misinformation” than for inciting violence
      • In general, social media sites should not be arbiters of truth
      • There may be exceptions when clearly false information can cause direct harm
    • We have fewer reasons to worry if we believe that “the market will solve”
      • If platforms start being too strict on speech restriction, they will cause their users to move to other platforms

Intro

  • Julian Sanchez (@normative) is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a policy analyst, and a journalist covering the intersection of privacy, technology, and politics
  • Host: Julia Galef (@juliagalef) is a writer, speaker, and the President of the Center for Applied Rationality
  • In this chat, Julian Sanchez discusses tech companies banning users and highlights the three factors that affect how concerned we should be about it

Banning Users: a Legal Perspective

  • From a legal standpoint, tech companies are private and have the right to decide who to host on their platforms
    • Legally, it is not a violation of the First Amendment which only restricts the government
  • The ability to legally penalize speech is very low
    • Inciting violence and fraud are the few exceptions of criminally penalized speech
  • Society uses a variety of mechanisms to push harmful speech to the side

Why Julian is Fine with Social Media’s Ability to Ban Users

  • Julian is fine with tech companies de-platforming users using racial slurs or other kinds of harmful speech
    • ”I don’t think anyone ought to be forced to republish or amplify content they find loathsome” Julian Sanchez
  • These decisions influence the kind of platform the company is creating
    • For example, many social media sites do not allow pornographic images
      • There can be other sites where you find that content
    • Each platform can shape the environment it creates
  • “The barring of a particular individual from a platform is not at all the same thing as the erasure of their ideas from that platform” Julian Sanchez
    • Trump may be banned but many of his ideas are still circulating on Twitter

Generally, The Market Will Solve

  • De-platforming becomes more problematic when you have one company owning the most market share
    • In a sense, it’s difficult to compare market shares among different social media platforms, in terms of the ability to express political claims
    • In this sense, Twitter and Facebook are not monopolies
      • There are many other ways to express your political preference
      • Traditional newspapers, podcasts, youtube all end up on social media feeds
      • The percentage of Americans on Twitter is not that high
  • The dominance of these platforms is not set in stone
  • If platforms start being too strict on speech restriction, they will cause their users to move to other platforms
    • People think that network effects are too strong for social media companies to fall
      • Friendster and Myspace are both clear examples
    • Other platforms for online discourse have been growing tremendously (Parler, Discord, Twitch)
  • Is there a threshold (say the % of people using a platform) after which the network effects become too hard to displace?
    • Looking at the number of users is not necessarily a good metric
    • You can have many users who are mostly inactive on a platform

Lower vs. Higher in the OSI Stack 

  • The OSI model describes the communication functions of computing systems on different layers
    • The lowest level is represented by the physical wires that make internet connection possible
    • Higher levels are the TCP/IP and HTTP protocols 
    • The applications you run on your PC are among the highest in the stack
  • Julian would be much more concerned with banning decisions “lower in the stack”
    • If an Internet Service Provider banned a whole category of applications, it would be a stronger reason for concern
      • Changing broadband provider is much more cumbersome than signing up for a new social site
  • Amazon’s Web Service decision to not host Parler is lower in the stack
    • It deserves more scrutiny, as it affects every user on the platform
    • Even then this decision by Amazon doesn’t prevent Parler from existing

Inciting Violence vs. “False” Speech

  • It’s understandable that platforms may want to de-platform users who incite violence
  • De-platforming becomes more troublesome when they ban what they deem as “false speech”
    • At a time Youtube was going to ban misinformation about COVID vaccines
    • They defined misinformation as anything that disagreed with the WHO
    • This is dangerous troublesome because we’ve seen evidence of the WHO claiming debatable statements (e.g. ineffectiveness of masks)
  • Platforms should be a lot more careful at restaining information based on what’s deemed true
    • We often don’t know absolute truths with certainty
    • The possibility of raising counter-arguments allows us to test our position
      • If all counter-arguments are banned we can’t be as confident of a statement
  • There might be instances where it is appropriate for them to ban content that is clearly false and harmful to people
    • If someone touted drinking bleach as a cure for COVID, it could cause many people to poison themselves
      • We would want platforms to minimize the reach of that kind of content
    • The issue of election fraud was certainly more nuanced, but it also incited violence
      • People have had the chance to present their evidence for fraud, but ultimately it didn’t turn out to be compelling

Additional Notes

  • Trump’s “meritless claims” about electoral fraud were obviously harmful
    • In addition to not being true, they were inciting people to use force
    • There are many other ways that Trump can make his voice heard
  • Julian thinks about speech and heroin in similar ways
    • They ought to be legal, but not necessarily that easily available
Rationally Speaking Podcast : , ,
Notes By Giorgio Parlato

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