Free speech and tech giants

(58 Posts)
DonkeySkin Tue 30-Jun-20 13:24:08

Thread to discuss the implications of public discourse being controlled by a handful of private companies in the US, and what (if any) remedies are available.

This issue concerns everyone, obviously, but has particular implications for women, given the dominance of men in tech.

Tech companies are the new seat of world power and they are overwhelmingly male. While women have been diligently working towards getting equal representation in government, men have been building a 'Brotopia' in Silicon Valley.

The term 'Brotopia', should not be regarded flippantly. It is a quite literal description of a society designed solely according to (mostly young) male preferences. Previously such men would have had to negotiate with young female preferences, the controlling hand of older men and, particularly, the wisdom of older women. Read Emily Chang's research on what happens to social norms when young (or youngish) men don't have to cleave to traditional strictures designed to curb the extremes of male behaviour:

The creation of a Brotopia doesn't even have to be deliberate. It's purely a numbers game. Men gravitate to tech in much greater numbers than women, hence the priorities of tech will reflect the priorities of those men (many of whom have ASD traits). The result is that we are heading towards a society almost totally devoid of the wisdom of grandmothers. AFAIK that has never happened before in human history.

That might seem tangential to the issue of free speech on the internet, but I think it is connected, in the sense that if speech is seen to threaten men's sexual freedoms (to mimic women for pleasure, or to access the desired number and variety of women, or to sexualise children), then that speech will be shut down. As we are seeing currently, with reddit shuttering r/gendercritical while leaving up subs dedicated to documenting and eroticising rape and female sexual trauma for male pleasure.

People who say 'How can women talking critically about gender be 'hate speech', while rape pornography is not?' are missing the point. 'Hate speech' is the pretext for what is really the assertion of male sexual freedom as the supreme value: rape porn is obviously protected under such a rubric, while women talking about paraphilias and child protection is a threat, so reddit's logic is entirely consistent.

I don't discount the impact of other factors here, not least of which is the wholesale abandonment of enlightenment values on the left, and the widespread mob madness induced by social media, which seems designed to cultivate our worst instincts.

I just wonder what we are going to do about it. It feels like everything is rapidly intensifying. New and creative thinking on the part of feminists is required.

OP’s posts: |
DonkeySkin Tue 30-Jun-20 14:33:56

Shamelessly bumping in the hope that others will want to talk about this. This is serious stuff.

@RoyalCorgi said in the gendercritical thread:

My fear is that eventually feminists will be banned from all the major public platforms. Twitter has already removed numerous outspoken feminists. Facebook frequently deletes feminist content, though there are mercifully some gender critical groups on there. If TRAs keep targeting advertisers, and they carry on withdrawing from MN, my worry is that MN will have to close down (or remove the feminism boards). Eventually there might not be any online spaces where feminists can talk.

I think this is what's happening, but can we turn it around?

@NonnyMouse1337 had some interesting suggestions in the same thread:

I think in the near future there will be growing political discussions on how we as a society deal with social media platforms in terms of free speech and the rules of censorship around it... Legislation and legal cases will be needed to bring tech giants and social media platforms to play by the same rulebook and have a base level of consistency in what's allowed and what isn't...

Anyway, these are just platforms. You can't shut down the internet. Women are resourceful and talented. There's no reason why alternatives can't be developed and used. I think that's what Spinster and Parler are for. It's a shame that people will end up in silos or echo chambers, but it will have to do for now...

If a rival was established that genuinely promoted free speech and applied rules and bans impartially and consistently, then it would see significant membership growth and revenue.

OP’s posts: |
dayoftheclownfish Tue 30-Jun-20 14:40:44

This is a really important issue. But what also needs to be taken into account is the business model of the giant tech companies, the FANGs.

Will it be worth it to them financially to shut out and piss off so many women?

OhHolyJesus Tue 30-Jun-20 14:47:12

I need to read more on this to engage effectively, but it's a really interesting area. I just need to learn more - maybe it ties in a bit with toxic femininity? Sort of?

"Toxic masculinity also makes women feel locked into a performance of their bereft of the normal impulses we have toward independence, sexual agency, gender, volume, messiness, ugliness, and being a tough bird to swallow."

If women display toxic feminine traits then these are tactics women use to survive oppressive misogyny—or they suffer from internalized misogyny."


I need to have a think...will be back to read more here though.

BovaryX Tue 30-Jun-20 14:56:03

There is a section in The Madness of Crowds on precisely this issue, titled The Impact of Tech. Silicon valley is dominated by a specific, narrow, political dogma. Tech is not neutral. Its moderators are not neutral. Do a search for 'women killed in 2020.' What do you notice about the results? Do a search for 'straight couples.' The latter is an example from Murray's book. What do you notice about the results?

there is a phrase variously attributed to the Danish computer scientist Morten Kyng or the American futurist Roy Amara, that the one thing we can say with certainty about the advent of new technologies it is that people overestimate their impact in the short term, *and underestimate their impact over the long term* The Madness of Crowds

Collidascope Tue 30-Jun-20 15:00:18

I feel like your first post is almost too smart and well-informed, Donkey! Feel like I need to do some proper reading before chipping in with a half-arsed thought.

It does show why so many people are furious with Mumsnet though, doesn't it? A predominantly female space where free speech is permitted in a way that the male-controlled forums would never allow.

I don't know what the solution is though.

Collidascope Tue 30-Jun-20 15:02:36

Also, UK-based. And despite shared language and TV etc, UK and US cultures still have significant differences.


Eveta Tue 30-Jun-20 15:04:26

I agree op. I've been thinking about this recently, ie the power these companies have in controlling discussion and information, and positioning it in the direction they want.

JKRismyhero Tue 30-Jun-20 15:04:58

You're right of course. I do agree as well that the US and UK are completely different ballgames.

WTFSeriously Tue 30-Jun-20 15:09:19

This is a massive concern for me. I'm
ill equipped to know where to start but posting to keep a tag on this.

NonnyMouse1337 Tue 30-Jun-20 15:14:20

Oh thanks for starting this thread, DonkeySkin. It's a very good topic. My comment was a bit of a throwaway one based on my impressions as someone who is not very well read in this area.

I spotted an article in my email this afternoon though. Apparently the recent crackdowns are part of wider demands.... So I guess it turned out to be a convenient excuse to get rid of GC and feminist spaces at the same time.

Social media platform Reddit, one of the world’s most popular websites, has announced a new set of rules around hate speech and purged thousands of subreddits (forum-like sections dedicated to certain topics) considered to be hateful or consistently rule-breaking. Notably, the most popular subreddit dedicated to Trump (r/The_Donald) was removed after a year under quarantine for rule-breaking, including explicit incitements of violence.

Among its new rules, Reddit will now restrict posts containing hate speech, such as posts mocking people with disabilities; characterising ethnic minorities as sub-human; defending rape, or saying that ethnic minorities should be stripped of voting rights.

I thought the GC sub didn't break any rules. Does Reddit admin have justifiable evidence of persistent rule breaking? hmm

DonkeySkin Tue 30-Jun-20 15:15:17

Will it be worth it to them financially to shut out and piss off so many women?

I think it will be. It's only a small minority of women at the moment who are aware of the harms of trans ideology - most women are oblivious, and they will remain so if we can't talk about this in mainstream forums.

Then of course there's the fact that a significant cohort of women on the left are religiously devoted to trans ideology and are fervent about the need to stop heretical women from questioning it.

The only answer that I can think of is that women need to create their own platforms. But even that would leave us beholden to search engines and hosting sites. What can be done about that?

Male control of the internet is a serious issue for women's and children's rights worldwide. This is only going to become more obvious in the next decade. We need to be aware of this issue now - it's much bigger than reddit and twitter and the trans debate, as huge as those are.

OP’s posts: |
NonnyMouse1337 Tue 30-Jun-20 15:16:32

Silicon valley is dominated by a specific, narrow, political dogma. Tech is not neutral. Its moderators are not neutral.

Very good point, BovaryX.

Deliriumoftheendless Tue 30-Jun-20 15:17:15

I have absolutely nothing to add to this thread but I also hope it has lots of engagement as it is extremely interesting and I would really like to know more.

Zoikes Tue 30-Jun-20 15:18:24

I was going to start a thread about an article I read last night but it relates to this.

The power of social media is being abused to control and misinform and it isn't just about feminism or child protection but all basic science and fact. The internet has moved from inception to being an initial wild west scenario to a dictatorial propaganda surveillance device and we need to claim it back.

The scientific community is losing the battle against this digital leviathan of misinformation. A well-reasoned and highly placed op-ed on this topic is not going to move the needle, no matter how well it is crafted to adhere to the best practices in science communication. Neither is a perfect trade book, television appearance, or speaking tour by a scientific leader. The only way to win this fight is to harness the same sophisticated tools in the name of science that are being used to tear science down. With social media companies afraid to challenge the misinformation machine, even when their own platforms are being misused, the task is daunting. But we can at least move on from the idea that if we could just find those perfect, persuasive words, everyone would suddenly realize that facts are facts with no alternatives.

TheProdigalKittensReturn Tue 30-Jun-20 15:25:09

This is very much an issue. What you're seeing now is what happens when maladjusted young men are allowed to control public debate. It's not good for anyone, and societies are going to have to figure out a way to grapple with it.

KaronAVyrus Tue 30-Jun-20 15:27:26

Very interesting. I’ve long been concerned about just how powerful these companies are (and not just from a deee speech angle) but their insane wealth and influence is very worrying.

EarlofEggMcMuffin Tue 30-Jun-20 15:33:34

@BovaryX I googled the terms you suggested.


Zoikes Tue 30-Jun-20 15:38:11

There needs to be a tactical approach as suggested in the science article. I never thought about it that way before, that actually just providing facts and evidence isn't enough.

We have the power to move to free speech platforms and ensure as much as possible that the platforms we use enable us.

Think back to a couple of years ago when MN was under immense pressure to shut us all up and (although compromise was made) resisted successfully. We have power. We need to continue that on all platforms used by insisting that trolling is reported and avoiding derailing.

CharlieParley Tue 30-Jun-20 15:49:18

Good point, DonkeySkin and an important conversation to have. I view this as a serious problem which is already negatively impacting on women and on the women's liberation movement. I am however feeling less bleak than you might, because I am involved offline in campaigning for women's rights. And what seemed impossible on Twitter and Facebook is decidedly not so in real life.

That tech is dominated by men puts us at a disadvantage, yes, but when has that not been the case? We have always had to fight an uphill struggle and we will not give up, just because the hill is getting steeper.

Imnobody4 Tue 30-Jun-20 15:49:54

I think this is one of the most important issues of the decade.
Interestingly Index of Censorship is aware of problems. Ruth Smeeth is their new CEO.
they aren’t the only threats to freedom of speech and expression. As a country we’re becoming increasingly polarised and there seems to be no room for debate. Each Twitter argument makes it clear: you’re right or you’re the devil. The fear of a Twitter pile-on is silencing conversations.

There is no room for debate — it’s too quickly becoming hate. You just have to look at the current conversations around gender and identification or Black Lives Matter or even whether the schools should be open to see it happening. This isn’t as extreme as a journalist being arrested for doing their job – but the impact can be just as chilling and long-lasting.

Personally I don't have concrete ideas on how to tackle but I think it again needs a cross party political brainstorming, alliance to reign them in.

OvaHere Tue 30-Jun-20 16:01:45

Vey good post OP. It's a very remarkable and dangerous phenomenon and one I feel most politicians have yet to understand and get to grips with.

This is sort of going off at a tangent but I feel like it's broadly related to the issues the OP outlined because it immediately came to mind.

Someone on Twitter last week made a thread pointing out that Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General was only 24 when he embarked on his crusade of persecuting women and in particular older women.

DonkeySkin Tue 30-Jun-20 16:09:22

I am however feeling less bleak than you might, because I am involved offline in campaigning for women's rights. And what seemed impossible on Twitter and Facebook is decidedly not so in real life.

But Charley, did you first become aware of this issue on Mumsnet, or some other internet forum? And is this what motivated you to organise IRL?

I'm not trying to play down the importance of IRL action - it is absolutely crucial - but the fact remains that without the ability to discuss this on internet forums and social media, which are the new public square, most women will simply remain oblivious.

That tech is dominated by men puts us at a disadvantage, yes, but when has that not been the case?

I think the challenge we face now is not comparable to any other time in history. The internet and associated virtual tech have changed democratic societies so profoundly, and so quickly, and things are only going to get more intense.

OP’s posts: |
TheProdigalKittensReturn Tue 30-Jun-20 16:13:26

We are having these discussions on a platform (the internet) built by nerdy young men to meet their needs. That is the fundamental problem, and everything else flows from that. Even when tech companies have employees who're female, or working class, those employees have to adapt to the prevailing culture in order to keep their jobs. The result is visible in every single aspect of the internet. Imagine an internet built by women that reflected our concerns. Would it be saturated in porn, and would it feature violent threats aimed at women as a regular and tacitly accepted price of admission?

wrongsideofhistorymyarse Tue 30-Jun-20 16:18:43

Have you seen this? Google is attempting to drum up support for amending the GRA. I'm seriously worried.

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