Disclaimer: Anything in the "Opinions" category is not representative of the opinions of the student journalism organization that I currently represent unless explicitly otherwise stated.
Everyone knows bigotry on platforms like Twitter and Facebook is growing in volume and capacity.
As evidenced by the existence of platforms like Parler and Truth, conservatives and/or other bigots really don't appreciate your silencing of their "free speech" and your removal of what they believe to be their rights.
So I'll outline some of the various problems with using the tools currently available:
Banning a user from a platform is probably the most serious action a social media platform can take. It was what Twitter, YouTube and Facebook did after Trump instigated an insurrection and refused to back down. Considering those are by far some of the biggest platforms, they did a significant amount of work toward taking the megaphone out of Donald Trump's cold, slimy hands.
But there's a big issue that I touched on earlier: it motivates them. It's what I've seen people call a "persecution fetish" where a person may feel like they need to be persecuted to seem like they have a valid opinion. It's a weapon in a flame war of escalating heat, and it's used to validate both conservative and centrist ideas.
Persecution fetishism is a tool that helps conservatives appeal to centrists, and their formula is simple.
- Say something that sounds centrist at first glance, that would offend no one in a complete vacuum, and that a lot of people are known to disagree with. For instance, let's say Texas designer Hannah Imaginaryperson talked about the number of colors there are on the color wheel,
"There are only three primary colors on the color wheel. Red, yellow, and blue. Anyone who disagrees is ignoring elementary school color theory."
- Let the backlash set in. Let experts who disagree do so publicly.
"@hannahIPtexas Yeah, a lot of the colors on the color wheel are related to those three, but that's ignoring everything that you learn *after* high school. There are colors that can't be made with RYB, and there are other ways of thinking about color where your methodology doesn't make sense. For example, additive versus subtractive color mixing."
And then get kicked out of an organization you're a part of. Maybe Pantone fires you, with the statement,
"Hannah Imaginaryperson is no longer working for Pantone due to her controversial comments on color and misunderstanding of our field of work. We wish her well."
- Go out into the world and complain about the outcasting being done to you. Go on a conservative show on a network that will tolerate opposition viewpoints. Talk about it to the overly sympathetic host, remembering to add in an incorrect interpretation of the first amendment:
Host: "So, Hannah Imaginaryperson from Texas, why were you cancelled? Seems pretty unfair to me."
Hannah: "Yeah, I honestly don't know why it happened. I thought Pantone's whole thing was letting people be creative, and I was just expressing my opinion. It's my first amendment right, and they're violating it. Pantone has been taken over by leftists, I'm telling ya."
Host: "Yeah, what the heck, Pantone? Everyone, let's start using RGB hex colors for everything. Let's see how leftist-controlled Pantone feels about that."
Hannah: "I have a message for the leftists who think they can silence my free speech: We're watching you."
Host: "The left only wants people to fall into line. Stay away from them. Call the police if you see one, they're a danger to all that we love. Come here, Hannah."
Hannah hugs the host and starts crying.
Hannah: "We can make it through."
Host: "I know we can. You're so strong."
- After that appearance, use the credit you gained with conservatives to appeal to centrists. Mobilize your base against the single name for a group that generally doesn't fit into one category. Spread bad rumors about this lump of an opposition to appeal to centrists. All the complaining about your opposition playing dirty that you did earlier will really help the centrists vote for the clear underdog, in this case you.
Allowing persecution fetishism to take place because of an action you took is a great way to screw anyone you're allied with. Banning is often the right answer, but doing it to every single person doing a specific thing is a very efficient way to remove the problem and solution from your control, because they'll all go to another platform.
So if you don't want someone to know they've been banned, what do you do? You shadowban them.
It sounds scary, but in reality it's basically adding a flag to an account that essentially says, "This account should not be recommended to as many people, or anyone at all. This account still exists, but make it hard to find."
Shadowbanning sounds like it could solve a lot of problems, but there's an issue. People really hate learning they've been shadowbanned. It's one of the first checks online hate groups do to make sure they aren't being pushed out.
My solution is a little more complex...
My (ethically ambiguous) solution
Instead of silencing extremist voices outright, break their cults up from the inside.
Hear me out:
Shadowbanning someone will lead to them eventually realizing and getting ticked off at you. So let's make it a subtler and more insidious system:
Cults and hate groups thrive on people of similar political ideology discovering them and getting persuaded to join the cause.
Algorithms already know the political persuasion and rhetoric any given piece of content spreads, so why not mess with people?
I present to you:
Instead of limiting visibility, limit interaction and discoverability within the group through any means possible. Let's say Johnny is a big fan of the previous president. Johnny is getting closer to spreading falsified, bigoted content every day, and is about to discover a conservative hate group. How do we stop him from clicking the join button?
Bubble him. The moment he crosses the invisible line between having an opinion and wanting to silence his opposition, limit his visibility of that hate group's content. Start deprioritizing their posts in his search results. Split him off from the posts of people who have similar ideas. Do this all in a way so that it isn't abrupt, like increasing the intensity of the effect from zero to whatever over the span of a week. It's called bubbling because it's putting his account into a bubble, separate from similar ideas. Slowly revert the timeline back into what it was when he had a new account as you increase the intensity of the effect.
Add friction to the spread of ideas. Kill the ad personalization algorithms. Make it harder to post while he's presumably drunk and on the toilet. Add CAPTCHAs where there don't necessarily need to be any.
Just push him off the extremist social graph without him noticing.
This could look and feel real evil if done wrong. Be careful.
But I don't know if it's even a good idea in the first place. It started as a thought experiment in my head and turned into a full-on essay.
You can use it if you want, if you're doing a study or something email it to me at [email protected] with your results, I'm curious about what would happen.
Until next time, losers,
- Blue Linden