I think everyone has commented on the Infowars banishment from the halls of Social Media. Like most I consider the bans and blocks to be a mistake both philosophically (free speech means freedom for vile speech duh) and for reasons that Sarah Hoyt explains pretty well at PJM. However I think that is, in many ways, the tip of the iceberg: the Internet giants are blocking a lot of people for a lot of reasons and those reasons range from the despicable (see above for the latter as well as my previous post on the subject) to the praiseworthy.

Huh? Some of the bans are praiseworthy? A free speech advocate thinks people should be banned? explain!

The praiseworthy ones are the bans of the criminal scammers and spammers. If you set up a fake accounts in order to scam others out of their money, even if you are a real Nigerian prince, then you deserve to have the various internet giants remove your content. This applies particularly to those who are in countries with lax/incompetent law enforcement because there really is no way to take further action. In these cases, and even in the more minor ones where the scammer simply attempts to impersonate someone else on Facebook, deleting the account is almost certainly the wisest course of action and the creation of a list of identifying information (IP addresses/OS or browser type/… ) to block them in the future as soon as they show up is plain common sense. Automating the detection and banning of these crooks is indeed praiseworthy because it raises the cost to the criminal while lowering the cost of enforcement. I don’t know how many fake accounts are detected and blocked each day but it must be hundreds if not thousands across the various platforms and, given that I still see fake FB profiles, fake Amazon products and emails from gmail addresses that masquerade as something legit, arguably the automated systems and heuristics used need improvement.

All major internet platforms also attempt to crowdsource the detection of crooks who are not blocked by the existing automated systems. They all have links you can click on to report the item as spam/scam/malicious etc. and in the cases where it is used correctly this too is wonderful. I’ve had any number of “comely maidens” attempt to FB friend me and, when I attempt to report the profile as spam, I’m informed that it has already been deleted.

But here’s where we get into the murky ground where the banning is not always praiseworthy. You see otherwise mostly honest* people have figured out that they can game the system by reporting people they don’t like due to their political views as scammers too. You’ll be shocked to learn that not only do they report posts by people they disagree with as “Hate Speech” they also report them as spam, scam etc. Frequently it seems that the next step in the process after enough people have complained is a ban with very little, if any, validation by a human.

I have no idea who Freedomain Radio‘s Stefan Molyneux is (I’ve heard the name but that’s it), but based on the text above I’m pretty sure he is a “right-wing” person, and hence his Youtube channel is “controversial. I’m also pretty sure that if he had a bit about how he was pissed at Catholic priests raping kids or helping mothers get closer to daughters, he’d be perfectly fine because, as everyone has noticed, the faceless judges that rule on controversial content at these sites lean heavily in a certain direction and aren’t particularly concerned about being unbiased

Then there’s the ongoing conflict between Amazon and the various scammers of its KULL program. Every time Amazon tightens up certain rules to eliminate the latest way the scammers are gaming the system they also take out a number of legitimate authors that turn out to have something similar to the scammers. The latest case involves a couple of apparently very successful authors who have just seen their KDP accounts cancelled without anything beyond a form email

As one of the authors interviewed in that yahoo article says:

“There are some people who abuse the Kindle platform, and that’s slimy,” acknowledged Park. “But some of these cases sound to me like KDP has misinterpreted something or is not communicating well, and it’s shutting off accounts with insufficient explanation. They [Amazon] built this world to let people publish and encouraged them to get their work out there. So I really don’t know, but I am frustrated for them if they’ve truly not done anything wrong.”

I think a lot of the problem is the faceless machine that provides the person who has been banned with no simple human contact point to complain to. This is common to all of these platforms, as is the way that it seems what happens is your stuff gets taken down with no prior warning. As I note above in the case of actual scammers this is in fact what you want, but it assumes that there are no false positives (innocent victims who are not scammers but who are also banned). I don’t know anything about the authors mentioned but I do know that in cases (on Facebook / Twitter) where I, or my friends, have been banned it is impossible to get someone to explain what precisely was the problem. For example I once posted (in a private FB group) this photo and was informed that it did not correspond to Facebook standards with respect to nudity

I requested a number of reviews asking for an explanation of why this particular image was problematic given that pictures with far far more bare skin are seen all over the site and received absolutely no response beyond the basics of “it’s bad”. In my case, since there was no money at stake I just gave up and deleted the comment but if I were J. A. Cipriano and I’d just seen my 50ish bestselling ebooks deleted things would be rather different.

I’m not sure what the best fix is because in the cases of actual fraud/copyright infringement etc. you want that stuff out pronto and all the companies see dealing with complaints as a major cost center but it seems to me that if this is not addressed effectively eventually enough people will be affected that there will be a mass quitting, because really there are not that many barriers to entry for their services beyond the network effect. The fundamental problem is that the companies prefer to not explain and to disappear infringers without letting them make their case or letting people in general know why they have been disappeared. Thus the two obvious things are that these internet giants need to have more grades of banishment and clearer feedback on exactly what is the problem. Sadly I’m going to bet that none of the companies concerned will actually pay attention and thus at least one is going to hit a problem as people decide they want to do without it.

*Mostly honest – they probably don’t actually rape, murder or steal physical things. That doesn’t mean they aren’t happy bearing false witness to quote a certain set of commandments