Friday, May 15, 2020

In Which The FT's Izabella Kaminska Comes Dangerously Close to Thoughtcrime

From the all-knowing one:
In the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell, the word thoughtcrime describes a person's politically unorthodox thoughts, such as unspoken beliefs and doubts that contradict the tenets of Ingsoc (English Socialism), the dominant ideology of Oceania. In the official language of Newspeak, the word crimethink describes the intellectual actions of a person who entertains and holds politically unacceptable thoughts; thus the government of the Party controls the speech, the actions, and the thoughts of the citizens of Oceania. 
From FT Alphaville:

From Fahrenheit 451 to “censortech”
Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns. It symbolises the decay of democracy and human rights because there is nothing more indicative of totalitarianism than the suppression of “dangerous ideas” through the act of burning books.

Censortech, as we would like to coin it, is the skilful art of deploying algorithms to suppress “fake news”. Could it be we are at the stage that this tech is becoming the modern-day equivalent of book burning? (We must be careful to differentiate censortech from Censortec, which is — we kid you not — a company specialising in “herd management systems”. Of the bovine variety though.)

Everyone will by now be familiar with internet-platform warnings not to trust questionably sourced social media content about coronavirus, or content that deviates from official government-approved messaging about the outbreak.
On top of that, approved messages are continuously being pushed on us, like in any Covid-related YouTube video:...
.....These messages are largely a result of the content-policing strategies adopted by major social media platforms in the wake of the fake-news election-interference fiasco of 2016. Back then, the platforms were deemed guilty of behaving like neutral platforms instead of editorial outlets whose job it is to filter, prioritise, scrutinise and fact-check the news. In response, platforms introduced everything from editorial oversight boards to human adjudicators, in order to help neutralise content and make it more acceptable to consensus thinkers*. Never again would inaccurate (even if financially motivated) politicised content be allowed to destroy democracy.

With the coronavirus, however, it seems some of these measures have been extended to Soviet-style mastheads reminding the population that only official government advice is the pathway to truth. (Regardless of how convoluted, contradictory or unclear that advice and information is. WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. GO TO WORK, DON’T GO TO WORK. GO OUTSIDE, DON’T GO OUTSIDE.)

With social media cracking down on open dissent of either government policy or consensus thinking about the virus (with the latter arguably leading the former rather than vice versa), it’s no surprise that a lot of troublesome content has been heading into the messaging apps instead, where it can be shared more discreetly through direct contact channels.

In that vein, in a bid to do its bit for fake-news prevention, WhatsApp (aka Facebook) decided a month ago it would limit the forwarding of messages that were being heavily shared — or going viral — to slow the dissemination of fake news.....

The world would probably be better off had Ms Kaminska composed this piece on the Twitter platform and run it through the latest offering from Twitter's Trust & Safety Council:

Twitter tests telling users their tweet replies may be offensive
Twitter Inc will test sending users a prompt when they reply to a tweet using “offensive or hurtful language,” in an effort to clean up conversations on the social media platform, the company said in a tweet on Tuesday.
When users hit “send” on their reply, they will be told if the words in their tweet are similar to those in posts that have been reported, and asked if they would like to revise it or not....
Reuters, May 5 
Offensive and hurtful.
For some reason I just flashed on the executive suite at Andreessen Horowitz:
"Marc, it's that Kaminska woman again"
[A16Z is an investor in both TWTR and FB]