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E-Pluribus | August 31, 2022
Ban shadow banning, the insidious influence of progressives on college students, and how cryptocurrencies - yes, cryptocurrencies - could change our politics.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Beatrice Frum: Against Shadow Banning
Social media platforms are constantly looking for ways to avoid trouble, criticism, lawsuits and charges of censorship, but Beatrice Frum argues at Persuasion that a popular technique, shadow banning, is not the way to go. Frum says the ultimate responsibility for a platform’s content lies with the users and attempts to weed out the bad apples in arbitrary and unpredictable ways is too high a free speech price to pay.
All social media platforms have tried to develop safeguards to keep their company out of trouble. One of the most relied on tactics is shadow banning. Instagram, Twitter, and even Craigslist have been accused of shadow banning users. At times it seems completely random. And at times the reasons are more sinister. In 2019, TikTok blocked a 17-year old user after she posted a video criticizing China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. TikTok later reinstated her account after public pressure but denied using a shadow ban. In 2020, the app admitted to restricting LGTBQ+ language in Russia and Arabic-speaking countries, explaining it as an act of “localized” moderation. In the same year, TikTok may have penalized black creators during the height of the BLM protests—even when they stopped discussing the movement.
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Shadow banning is a temporary solution to the question that consumes all social media companies: How can we moderate the activity on our platforms and maintain a healthy internet ecosystem? But if shadow banning proves anything, it’s that arbitrary, wide-scale censorship cannot be the answer to the internet’s problems. It seldom works for long. Prolific social media users will always figure out a means to say what they want to say and post what they want to post. The human brain can come up with enough synonyms to get its message across. Despite TikTok’s efforts, the algorithm cannot control what their users talk about—and nor should it.
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In the end, the answer of how to maintain a healthy internet space does not lie in Community Guidelines, shadow banning, or whatever policies a platform might come up with. The answer lies in the individuals who fuel the whole mess. We need to be our own moderators, conscious of our words and aware of who could potentially hear them. We should reserve our voices for when they will be best heard, rather than shouting out to a sea of strangers.
Read it all.
Samuel J. Abrams: The Liberal College Bubble Must Burst
College is supposed to be a place where students are challenged with a wide array of information, beliefs and viewpoints so they may learn how to be productive members of a diverse society. But too often, Samuel Abrams says at Minding the Campus, institutions of higher education are encouraging and even enforcing narrow mindedness and hostility towards heterodox ideas and harming everyone in the process.
A new poll from NBC News that looked at second-year college and university students is generating attention after revealing that, “nearly half of college students wouldn’t room with someone who votes differently.” More specifically, the poll found that 54 percent of sophomores would “definitely” or “probably” be open to living with someone who supported the presidential candidate they opposed in 2020, but 46 percent said they would “probably not” or “definitely not.”
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[W]ith political ideology becoming central to many peoples’ individual identity in recent years, the hesitancy to live with someone on the other side of the aisle is not particularly novel. There may just be real areas of deep disagreement that are hard to bridge, making it easier to live with someone more like-minded—that is not unreasonable as a general proposition. What the survey found that has not made headlines and that is both striking and disturbing was that a strong partisan divide emerged when it came to being open to engaging with differences—a keystone of civil society and a healthy democracy.
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While 10 percent of conservatives say they have lost a friend over politics, 28 percent of liberals say the same. For extreme conservative identifiers, 22 percent say they have canceled a friendship, a handful of points higher than the national average. In contrast, a whopping 45 percent of extreme liberal identifiers have ended a friendship over politics—twice the figure of their conservative counterparts. Time and time again the data tells the same story: liberals, both on and off campus, are far less tolerant than their moderate and conservative counterparts. This should not be ignored.
Read the whole thing.
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Sahil Handa: Crypto May Change How We Govern
The eyes of many people begin to glaze over almost before the word “cryptocurrency” is finished being enunciated in a conversation on the topic. However, with tens of millions of users, it’s worth the trouble to try to figure out what “crypto” (as it is commonly called) is and the impact it may have on societies, which Sahil Handa asserts at Discourse Magazine may even extend to how we govern those societies.
So, you might be wondering, what exactly is crypto? Crypto is the ecosystem associated with a technology called the blockchain: a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a network. You can think of the blockchain as a kind of permanent database where every computer that can add to the database has a copy of every entry to the database.
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But why does it matter for governance and identity? The answer, it seems to me, is about coordination and privacy. The kinds of problems facing 21st-century liberal democracies are highly complex and require deep levels of international cooperation. The threats of climate change, nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence mean that there has never been a greater need for global coordination. If we are going to experiment with the voting process beyond national representative democracy, then the properties of blockchain could be extremely useful.
That’s because the blockchain can be a container for rules, including political rules. Nobody has to count the ballot boxes—or, more specifically, nobody has to be trusted to count the ballot boxes. Since you are the only person who can write into the database—and you do that by signing off with your private key—you don’t require any additional form of verification for your identity. And the systems that determine who can vote on what issues, how much votes count and how decisions are made—these systems can be experimented with at a rapid pace in an entirely transparent way.
Read it all here.
Via Christopher Rufo and Matt Walsh - the lucrative business of “gender confirmation surgery”:
Conor Friedersdorf on the cyclical nature of attacks on free speech. The fight goes on.
And finally, a teacher discovers what happens when you introduce the subject of pronouns outside of the context of grammar to high school students: