Issue 31

Platform or publisher?

There is no debate that social media began as a platform. As I wrote in Issue 16/2019:

"Just  to be clear, social networks are not publishers, they're platforms. If  an article is shared on Twitter, that doesn't suddenly make Twitter the  article's publisher; it's simply one of many distribution platforms for  that article... Blaming platforms because you don't like the content  people distribute on them very quickly starts to resemble blaming books  because you don't like the content printed in them."

The  censors and their legion of snowflakes have acknowledged that point, so  they've been pushing hard for social media platforms to become  publishers. And big tech is walking right into it:

"Facebook  today removed Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, Paul Nehlen, Milo  Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, and Infowars from  Facebook and Instagram, saying their accounts violated its policies against dangerous individuals and organizations.  They will be prohibited from creating new accounts, although Facebook  and Instagram users will continue to be able to create posts praising  them and their viewpoints, the company said. Facebook did not disclose  all of the incidents that led to the accounts’ removal, saying that it  had made the decisions following a period of review.

Twitter said a “substantial portion” of its 4,100-person global workforce are involved in reviewing content.

Alphabet’s  ... expenses have surged faster than revenue for much of the past two  years, concerning some investors amid increased scrutiny on the  company’s privacy practices and YouTube. Google said in its letter it  has more than 10,000 people working across the company on content  review."

These companies have voluntarily moved  away from platform status, where users are (mostly) in control of the  content shared on that platform, into the realm of publishing, where  they more closely resemble traditional media outlets (e.g. newspapers).  The problem is that in doing so, they have opened themselves up to the  same rules and regulations that publishers face, hence the enormous  expenditure on content moderation. As large-scale publishers they now  need armies of lawyers and moderators (i.e. editors) to process the  enormous quantity of content that their users (i.e. freelancers) upload  and share.

Just to clarify, I'm not saying that platforms can use  their status to shirk all responsibility for the content uploaded to  their servers; things like the shooting video in Christchurch should  absolutely have been taken down as soon as possible, as social norms  make pretty clear (unlike the Alex Jones decision, which more than 20  Facebook and Instagram executives debated for months).

But  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube barely resemble platforms any more. By  moving in a direction so far beyond the content moderation threshold  dictated by social norms they have laid the groundwork to one day be  forced to surrender their platform status. And that eventual transition  from platform to publisher creates a few problems.

First, costs  will rise enormously. Facebook, Google (sucked into this mess via  YouTube) and Twitter will find themselves spending more and more on  content moderation and defending lawsuits.

Second, it opens them  up to competition. While they have the first-mover and network effect  advantage for the moment, who's to say an alternative won't come along  and stress the "platform" aspect of its rival service?

Third and  finally, it may fundamentally change the internet as we know it. The  likes of the European union are passing privacy-focused,  innovation-stifling legislation on a seemingly daily basis. Other  countries will follow. How long until the "China model" becomes more  widespread (Australia for example is already well on its way)?

Whatever  the case, I don't like big tech's transition from platform to  publisher. There's a risk they become utilified in the process, walling  off competition and locking in an inefficient "path" for years to come.  But with any luck they'll become the architects of their own downfall  before that happens.

Enjoy the rest of this week's issue. Cheers,

— Justin


The bits

Elon's subsidies are out of this world

No, not SpaceX. Apparently the new Tesla Model 3 destined for Canada has a range of only 150km. Sounds horrible, right? But there's a catch: it has a price tag of $44,999, meaning it qualifies for a $5,000 government grant by a meagre $1. As it's the "base model", all other versions under $55,000 - including the more expensive 386km Model 3 - are also eligible for the grant. Elon really knows how to work a subsidy!

Learn more:

Apple is finding business in China very tough

Just ask Apple: it's hard to compete in a place with a completely different culture and the government helps out its local companies at the expense of foreigners. Having ridiculously overpriced products doesn't help, either.

Learn more:

Don't rely on infrastructure for security

Whether it's China's Huawei or Germany's Citycom, it doesn't matter. Infrastructure is inherently vulnerable and data need to be encrypted at rest and in transit to be secure.

Learn more:

Facebook is fighting for relevance

Facebook's F8 - what a name - and a redesign are its latest attempts to stay relevant in an increasingly privacy-focused world.

Learn more:


Other bits of interest


Image of the week

The year is 1932 and the fear of the day is... robots! Sound familiar?

"Machine energy has already rendered a part of the human race obsolete and a further part obsolescent... With robots running things mankind faces the same kind of situation which put the ox, mule and horse out of business says this writer. What we must do to keep our enormous overproduction of LEISURE from destroying US."

That's all for now. If you enjoyed this issue, feel free to share it via email


Issue 31: Platform or publisher? was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 07 May 2019. Feel free to send feedback, suggestions for future issues, ideas, insults, or pretty much anything that crosses your mind to their Keybase or Riot.im account.