Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
Alex Jones, Patreon and the Technocrats of Silicon Valley

12/24/2018 01:46:56

In an effort to be stunningly clear, I'm going to iterate my three major points up front. I want to ensure that the signal does not get lost within the noise. First off, I despise Alex Jones and virtually every single opinion the man has. Secondly, free speech is a core principle that I am not willing to compromise on in any way. Thirdly, the companies of Silicon Valley have officially crossed the Rubicon from the amoral-ism of purely tech oriented pursuits and wandered into a full-throated culture war that they absolutely cannot be allowed to participate in.

With that having been said, let's go back to the beginning. This is clearly a rant. If you've been paying attention to the Internet at all over the last few months, you are probably at least aware of a brazen new trend that is emerging from Silicon Valley. The slang term for this trend is de-platforming. What is de-platforming? Well to answer that we first need to define what a platform is.

Within the world of tech, the term platform is unbelievably ambiguous and relatively amorphous. However in this particular context it basically refers to any website or application through which a service is being offered. Some of these platforms are closed and some of them are open but for the purposes of this particular rant we will only be dealing with open platforms dedicated to the dissemination of content. An open platform essentially refers to one that allows new people to freely participate on it without requiring any sort of membership fees, entrance exam or levying any other kind of requirement that could be defined as anything other than inclusive. For example, requiring a new user to have a device capable of connecting to the Internet is a relatively inclusive requirement as these types of devices are relatively widespread. On the flip side, requiring a new user to pay a fee, pass a test or meet some social threshold in order to be able to participate makes it a closed platform.

Traditionally social media platforms have been considered to be inclusive. That list contains entities like Twitter, Facebook and even the soon to be buried Google Plus. People could freely sign up for these services and there were no minimum requirements they had to meet except for having a device capable of accessing the Internet. There are a variety of other platforms out there such as YouTube and Patreon which have also been considered to be inclusive. The point being is that each of these services allowed anybody who was interested to participate while requiring little to nothing from them in exchange. Please note: I am overtly ignoring any and all privacy concerns here as they aren't relevant to the vast majority of this rant.

So what does Alex Jones have to do with this? A few months ago he was de-platformed almost simultaneously by YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Facebook and Twitter. To be clear: Alex Jones is utterly insane. His conspiracy theories are indicative of a very damaged and deranged mind that is in desperate need of therapeutic attention. However that having been said, he should not have been de-platformed. Not everybody agrees with this point of view of course. All of these people are absolutely entitled to their opinion despite the fact that the arguments they are making are self-serving and ultimately stunningly short-sighted.

Whether or not Jones will suffer as the result of his de-platforming remains to be seen but ultimately it is irrelevant. That's because in the land of free speech there is only one legitimate way to shoot down an idea or an argument. That way is to generate a superior idea or argument and make the case for it. The political contingent which insists upon de-platforming (which to be clear does seem to largely center around certain extreme leftist elements) has apparently grown tired of making the case for their ideas and arguments and has instead resorted to silencing those that they disagree with.

Ultimately this is caustic and will negatively weaken the very fabric of our society. While the endless stream of discussion and the seeming constant re-introduction of old and debunked ideas and arguments can become tiring, it is important to remember that this system also exists to allow for participants to freely introduce new ideas and new arguments. In a world where de-platforming becomes the norm, we will have effectively handed control of what ideas and arguments are introduced over to the entities in a position to pull that trigger. Given the track record of these entities, there are the last ones we should be considering handing this responsibility over to.

But I want to be clear that the track record of the entities in question isn't the issue here. While it does make for a convenient point of attack, focusing on it would only serve to prove that I myself have missed the point. So what is the real point here? The point is that free speech is not a value that we can afford to compromise on. It is likely prudent to mention that I realize that the US Constitution effectively only guarantees a right to free speech in regards to government interference. It doesn't guarantee anything when it comes to corporate interference. This is deeply unfortunate as it has become increasingly clear since the advent of the public form of the Internet that the government is incapable of interfering with free speech in any effective way whatsoever. Case in Point: Despite a sustained campaign against radical Islam over the last two decades, the US Government has proved utterly incapable of eradicating it from the Internet much less anywhere else.

In today's modern world the primary forms of dialog are controlled by multi-billion dollar corporations. Though as time has marched on it has become increasingly clear that these forms of dialog are consolidating and are now controlled by an effective cartel of companies located primarily within Silicon Valley. For years we as a society have allowed this situation to develop unhindered. It is only now though in the age of de-platforming that we are beginning to realize what we gave up in exchange for this centrally controlled platform utopia.

The reality is that this is not a utopia at all. In fact it appears that corporations like Google, Twitter and Facebook are free to discriminate in any way that they choose when it comes to the content made available through their platforms. These companies should not have the power to decide what content, ideas or arguments are suitable for public consumption. That's a responsibility that rests firmly on the shoulders of the public. It cannot be outsourced. It cannot be ignored. It cannot be side-stepped.

So if you aren't in the know you are probably wondering, "Why is he ranting about this now?" That's a good question. The incident that inspired this rant most directly was Patreon de-platforming Sargon of Akkad despite the fact that he did not violate any of their policies. What I have realized after researching this issue is that this has been happening for awhile. However the banning of Sargon has proven to be catalyst for the opposition and Patreon has experienced an exodus of both creators and patrons alike since pulling the trigger. Why is that? I presume it's because Sargon is somewhat less objectionable than the victims and entities who were targeted prior to this point. That opinion may be driven by personal bias mixed with a tinge of self-awareness as that is primarily why I have decided to rant about it now rather than a few months ago when Alex Jones was de-platformed.

I was not sorry to see Infowars and Alex Jones go. However that was a mistake on my part. We all should have been crying foul back then as we are beginning to cry foul now. But if we are being really honest then we'll need to also admit this started before that. Patreon first dipped their toe into this controversial pool way back in 2017 when they de-platformed Lauren Southern and attempted to justify it with a video response from their CEO Jack Conte. This of course in retrospect was totally unacceptable. While others may not be willing to do so, I would personally like to apologize to anybody who was effected by this trend whom we as a community did not speak up for. In the utopia in which I would like to live, the community must ultimately decide what is acceptable and what is not. Sadly we largely failed to hold up our end of the bargain there. Still it warms my heart to know that everybody didn't fail here.

Nevertheless, this isn't about Patreon and their horribly misguided ethos or their inconsistent application of a misleading set of community guidelines. It's about Silicon Valley as a whole. Remember in the beginning when I told you that Alex Jones had been simultaneously de-platformed by "YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Facebook and Twitter"? Yeah this goes far beyond Jack Conte and his disintegrating empire of shit and instead strikes at the very heart of what we have allowed Silicon Valley to become.

Silicon Valley isn't just in the business of providing simple services, shiny devices and useful software. It's gone far beyond that. They are monitoring us, tracking us, running the data through machine learning algorithms and even going so far as to censor us now. They have effectively begun to wage a war on the culture itself. If they are allowed to execute their strategy to its logical conclusion then they will end up with all of the information, power and control required to permanently alter the discourse and the very manner in which society evolves.

Who elected them to this position? Did we ever vote to hand the reins of society itself over to them? I sure didn't. I'm pretty sure you all didn't either. Last I checked this was a Democracy and the people were in charge. So whether you consider yourself a member of the left wing, the right wing, somewhere in-between or just think of yourself as being above all the bullshit it's time for you to wake up and realize: The society upon whose laurels the foundation of your privileged lives rest absolutely requires a constant stream of ideas, arguments and discussion in order to prosper and thrive. Without that, it cannot and ultimately will not survive.

That having all been said, I'd like to leave you with a poem written by Martin Niemöller which bears quite a bit of relevance to the situation at hand:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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