To Make Big Tech Better, Make It Smaller
Decreasing the salience of tech’s errors is as important as reducing its prevalence
Back in 2018, Frank Pasquale published “Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem,” in which he proposed a taxonomy of tech reformers: Some of us are “Jeffersonians” and others are “Hamiltonians.” (In 2018, this was a very* zeitgeisty taxonomy!)
Here are their positions:
- Hamiltonian: “improving the regulation of leading firms rather than breaking them up”
- Jeffersonian: “The very concentration (of power, patents, and profits) in megafirms” is itself a problem, making them both unaccountable and dangerous.
In a new article for EFF, I make the case for Jeffersonian theories of content moderation, or, as the title has it: “To Make Social Media Work Better, Make It Fail Better.”
Let me start by saying that Big Tech platforms suck at moderation and do a lot of things wrong. We helped develop the Santa Clara Principles, which lay out concrete steps that platforms could and should take to improve their moderation:
But even if they do all that, they’ll still suck, because they’ve set themselves an impossible task. Facebook says it can moderate conversations in 1,000 languages and 100+ countries. That’s an offensively stupid claim to make.
Communities are partly defined by their speech norms. Some words are considered slurs by some communities and not by others — and some communities may only consider a word a slur if it’s used by outsiders, but not members of the group.
That means that moderators — possibly relying on machine translations from a language they don’t speak — have to figure out not just whether a word is acceptable or not, but also whether the speaker is a bona fide member of the community in its eyes.
This is how you get the familiar parade of moderation horrors, which Mike Masnick documents thoroughly on Techdirt: