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What’s the point of Parler? The dream of a digital public square available to all is being weakened by economics, not just politics

Katie Hopkins has taken her traffic to the "Right-wing Twitter". Credit: Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty

Katie Hopkins has taken her traffic to the "Right-wing Twitter". Credit: Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty


July 8, 2020   6 mins

In his classic short story The North London Book of the Dead, Will Self finally answers the question of where the departed go.

Crouch End. They live in Crouch End, where they just sort of
 get on with life, while being dead. It’s when visiting the anonymous suburb while on business, that the hero of Self’s story runs into his own dead mother. It comes as quite a shock.

I imagine you might get a similar sensation when you sign up to Parler, a new social network. It’s Crouch End for the online Right. So, hello Milo Yiannopoulos (terrible infant; removed from Twitter July 2016), hello Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin (vlogger; banned August 2017). G’day Gavin McInnes (edgelord comedian, Proud Boys founder and ex-VICE editor; went to meet our digital Lord, August 2018). Wotcha Tommy Robinson (just a regular geezer; May 2018). Oh, and hello darkness my old friend: it’s Katie Hopkins (obverse churnalist; finally deleted from this life June 2020).

Parler is where the dead live — and right now, many of the living are weighing-up joining them there. The site has had a sharp spike in traffic since Hopkins’ one million follower account was banned by Twitter last month and she took her shtick there. Some are no doubt signing up simply because they cling on to Hopkins’ every word. For many more, though, the Hopkins defenestration has presented a place where they can escape the vast gravity of the progressive-run social media giants. We’re a community town square,” Parler co-founder John Matze told CNBC. “An open town square, with no censorship.” Matze’s heroes include Thomas Sowell and Ayn Rand.

So is this moment the real balkanisation starts? Could Parler be the Fox News of social media, to rival Twitter’s CNBC of social media? I suspect the makers of Parler, despite their claims of non-partisanship, would love it to become the ‘Right-wing Twitter’. The site already has tie-ins with Fox, Breitbart, and various Republican congressmen, including Ron Paul and Ted Cruz.

Parler’s timing is bang-on. Or more accurately, Parler’s time has finally arrived. All culture wars are a battle to frame our understanding of reality. But it’s only lately that the fact that the Left hold the commanding heights of most media has become The Story on the Right.

Since the BLM protests, as they have watched opposing narratives play out between their phones and their TV screens, many have increasingly lost faith in the public square. They no longer believe in the possibility of dialogue. Big corporations back Black Lives Matter; then say they aren’t talking about that Black Lives Matter. Hermetic lockdowns are vital; then they’re not. A mainly peaceful protest injures 27 cops; then a man pissing near a monument is jailed for a fortnight.

All of this cognitive dissonance has all led to a kind of mass demoralisation, a despondency which is well captured in the drift to Parler. It’s the same gust of frustrated energy that has fuelled the recent Defund The BBC campaign. The temptation is to take the toys back. After all, the first rule of any civil war is to build barricades across the major entry roads.

The dream would be to be to own the means of cultural production — and thereby, to reverse the biases of the progressive elite. But the dream is stupid.

There’s an old libertarian saw which says that you just have to “build a better mousetrap”, and the market will do the rest — yet every attempt so far to build an online space for the Right has proven why that isn’t the case. For a start, Parler itself is only the latest in a long line of attempts to create that. Depending on what year it was, the life raft might have been Gab, Telegram, Minds or Discord. None of those has reached critical mass because, first, critical mass is vast. Twitter has 300 million active monthly users. Second, because sitting in a digital room only with people who agree with you is boring, and sitting in a room with people who espouse a condensed, calcified view of your ideology is actively unpleasant.

Gab is the best warning of what happens when you concentrate a tendency. Once, it was billed as ‘free speech Twitter’. Its libertarian founders wished a hundred flowers to bloom. Soon, though, only those who needed the most free speech could stand to hang around in the speech swamp. It’s now better known as ‘Nazi Twitter’.

In the long run, it turned out that the Friendster and MySpace paradigm — the idea that the social networks would be subject to regular waves of Schumpeterian creative destruction — was a blip. The real answer was exactly what economists would have predicted: ‘network effects’, deeply embedded, would entrench a monopoly. The leading social networks at the start of the last decade were leading the race at the end. There is no reason they won’t lead us to the next decade.

Twitter, undoubtedly, has its head rammed up its own San Francisco filter bubble. It undoubtedly applies its ‘terms of service’ with cynical selectivity. But for the online Right to take this personally is to miss how much of the problem is mere economics. The big social media providers understand that certain strands of opinion just don’t prettify the place, and they must prune their garden to make it attractive to advertisers.

The most transparent illustration of this rule was in February 2017, with YouTube’s ‘Adpocalypse’. Then, The New York Times’ in-house offence archeologists dug up a puerile old gag from the world’s biggest vlogger, PewDiePie, Felix Kjellberg. A moral panic in corporate advertising circles ensued, at the end of which, YouTube had limited and demonetised a wide range of commentators, mainly on the Right, effectively ending the livelihoods of many who’d spent years building up an audience.

YouTube had made good ad money off hundreds of accounts for many years, yet they were happy to sacrifice the cash in the name of a broader goal. At heart, these platforms are advertising distributors — that’s their business model — and so, on the whole, they would prefer it if the foul stench of political combat went away altogether, so that the world could be made safe for the sale of Dove Go Fresh Aerosol Body Spray and Doritos Poppin’ Jalapeño.

Over the past couple of years, Facebook has consciously adopted building a low-conflict environment as their goal — deprecating posts about politics, and elevating cosier conversations. That still hasn’t stopped the CEO of Unilever imposing a moratorium on Facebook and Twitter ads until after the November US election, citing the toxicity of the online environment.

Which is why, as the political temperature has yet again risen in recent weeks, there has been both an imperative and an opportunity to send in the bodysnatchers. It’s obvious that certain people have been in the crosshairs for a long time. The present moment simply offers enough covering fire. When Tommy Robinson was disappeared from Facebook, it had been so long-telegraphed that it felt as though it had already happened years before.

Last week, YouTube deleted the channel of Stefan Molyneux, a libertarian and self-styled ‘philosopher’, also patently on their long-term kill list. Molyneux was an early adopter: he had been broadcasting for 13 years, amassing thousands of hours of content. The garden looks a bit brighter now. His livelihood is effectively over.

The naive might quibble at the distinction between Graham Linehan (RIP, last week), and Molyneux. One is the floppy-haired father of Father Ted whose views only skewed Right when it came to transgenderism. The other has a curious fixation on Islam and population replacement rates.

But from a commercial standpoint, the logic is consistent. Both can be answered by the question “What does the marketing director of Procter & Gamble think that public opinion looks like?”. The marketing director of Procter & Gamble thinks that the public thinks that transwomen are women and Islam is a religion of peace, because these are the low-conflict ‘inclusive’ views that cause the minimum of fuss, in the short term at least.

The hard reality is that the progressive Left controls the envelope of our digital public squares, and will do for the forseeable future. And, that’s at least a better option than the full dystopia of each tribe each retreating into their own balkanised echo chamber.

The first part of improving on that reality lies in recognising we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future. Because the thing we’ve learned over the past few years is that being banned isn’t simply a matter of setting up your stall elsewhere. Banning actually works. Milo Yiannopoulos’ fame died off spectacularly after he was expunged. Tommy Robinson has been reduced to a rump. Heard from Gavin McInnes lately? I suspect the same will happen to Hopkins, who has a broad but not deep fanbase — in that sense she’s a hard-Right version of Buzzfeed: click-farming gone malignant.

The irony is that this weakening of the dream of a digital public square available to all is driven as much by libertarianism’s red lines — the notion that any social media company has total purview over who it lets on — as it is is by the Left’s censoriousness. Parler is a Right-wing answer to a problem that can only involve crossing those red lines: acknowledging that some technically private things also have big public consequences. As such, it might be well a great mausoleum to internets past. But it can never be the internet’s future.


Gavin Haynes is a journalist and former editor-at-large at Vice.

@gavhaynes

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Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

There seem to be some flaws in the way you have thought about this and it has to be said that your piece comes across as rather childish. By excluding the views of the majority, that is conservatives, from its platforms, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, etc. do not prevent those people from holding those views, they do not turn those people in to socialists or make them actually believe that trans women are women, to use your example.

The service that is provided by censoring majority opinion, in order to appeal to advertisers does advertisers a disservice and to leads them up a dead end. Look at what people thought of Gillette when it assumed men wanted to be got at by the #MeToo movement.

Ultimately if money talks it does not speak of women with penises, it does not speak of Winston Churchill being a Fascist, it does not speak of the majority ethnic population being evil because they have pale pink complexions and they bear the collective guilt of the antecedents of a very small number of them who ran the Empire or traded in slaves.

When you pretend that highly insulting and degenerate ideas are the norm, that child abuse and grooming (which is what brainwashing children into undergoing life changing, sterilising chemical treatments is) you repulse your audience and they stop buying your product. It is not cultural conservatives such as Katie Hopkins or defenders of the rights of working class girls like T.R. who are out of step with the majority, or even JK Rowling, it is the Marxists. Until we live under Marxism people will freely choose to buy products made by companies which do not choose to insult them, or their intelligence.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

His piece is ‘childish’ because he emanates from Vice, which offered some interesting and original journalism and reporting when it started, but rapidly become ‘woke’. I believe it is now losing money and laying off staff, along with most other such forums (Buzzfeed, Huff Post etc).

That aside, Alison, you have given us another brilliant post.

Adrian
Adrian
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Disagree with you here.
When money talks it is called advertising.
Although advertisers have learned not to espouse the most militant views (after eg. Gillette told men to buy their razors or consider themselves woman-haters), they mostly want to control the conversation in the media.
They have learned not to espouse far-left or right ideologies, but are also committed to dropping any association with those who are in any way off-message, in the media.
And most of the media is run by touchy feely people who like words. That’s how they got to work in the media.
And most advertising is aimed at the impressionable with money in their pockets (i.e. the young).
Interestingly this means that if you work in a customer facing industry you’ll get sacked for your views if enough hoo-haa is drummed up about them.
In a non-customer facing industry, you have more of a chance, viz. PWC who kept on a young Islamist in their ranks on free-speech grounds. Because calls to boycott PWC will go unheard.
This is the mechanism by which a hard-left tail wags the centre-ground dog. It has been otherwise in history. Back in 30s Germany their was widespread boycotting of businesses, by socially committed nationalists, and it worked despite the fact that they were not the majority.
The boycott is the thin end of the totalitarian wedge.

John McCarthy
John McCarthy
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Excellent post.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

> When you pretend that highly insulting and degenerate ideas are the norm

I think you’re saying the Gillette ad was “degenerate art”. Have you got a Gab account, by any chance?

(The actual effect on Gillette’s sales seems hard to work out: they were already losing out to the trend for beardies and to mail order razors. The woke ads don’t seem to have arrested the decline but I can’t find much evidence they made it worse either).

John Greg
John Greg
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

From my own perspective I haven’t bought a Gillette product since. Switched to an online subscription service for razors and found them to be a far better product.

Robert Montgomery
Robert Montgomery
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Some of what you wrote I agree with but some not, this is what free speech and thought is about. I take particular issue with the notion that only a handful of “pink skinned people” benefited from slavery. It’s an absurd contention on its face. Much of the wealth of western nations came directly from both slavery of “dark skinned peoples” and massive exploitation of the resources of the lands they were stolen from. In Australia for eg the so called “South Sea islanders” or Kanaka were brought from what are now Vanuatu and Solomon Islands to clear the land for huge sugar plantations. It was into the 20th century before this ended, thousands are buried unrecorded under those cane fields, the offspring of those slave owners are wealthy, the economy of especially N Queensland was built on their backs.

Neil Papadeli
Neil Papadeli
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Alison, I think you and the author disagree on what ‘money talks’ means.
Currently, I tend to agree with him, money talking (in the social media economy) sounds like:

“What does the marketing director of Procter & Gamble think that public opinion looks like?”. The marketing director of Procter & Gamble thinks that the public thinks that transwomen are women and Islam is a religion of peace, because these are the low-conflict ‘inclusive’ views that cause the minimum of fuss, in the short term at least.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago

Essentially
Shut up you facists
because we don’t like you how dare you try to go somewhere else?
Pathetic article

rattie.girl.x
rattie.girl.x
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

I think this patronising article sums up exactly why there is a need for Parler.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
3 years ago
Reply to  rattie.girl.x

….Parler is near death already. The only hope is that the social media have at last unlawfully colluded within the existing Anti-Trust rules, to eliminate a competitor. Generally those rules don’t apply, because we don’t pay for joining Facebook etc.

I think people are misreading this article though, it’s a description of where we are at, not a defence or advocacy for it.

Neil Papadeli
Neil Papadeli
3 years ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

I agree. There seems to be an amount of shooting the messenger. I haven’t looked at Parler and have no desire to, but I suspect it is doomed to fail for the reasons the author gives.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

‘The marketing director of Procter & Gamble thinks that the public thinks that transwomen are women and Islam is a religion of peace,’

if that’s whet the marketing director of P&G thinks, he is totally out of step with public opinion. That aside, this is an article in defence of an establishment social media that censors and bans at every turn. Sooner or later one of the ‘alt-tech’ forums will break out to challenge Twitter.

Adrian
Adrian
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It’s not a defence. It’s an explanation of what is going on, why the social media works this way, which way the money is flowing and so on.

The only point the article missed out is that your Granny doesn’t buy her make-up based on the opinions of Youtube influencers, but 15 year olds do.
Thus “the marketing director of Procter & Gamble thinks that the average sixteen year old thinks…” might be more appropriate.

This is the way this particular disfunctional system works. It won’t change until people discuss (freely!) how it works.

Gabriele
Gabriele
3 years ago

It is a sensible analysis. However, this does not really propose a solution to the problem of how to create a real public square where there is space for different opinions.

In particular this statement seems a contradiction:

The hard reality is that the progressive Left controls the envelope of
our digital public squares, and will do for the forseeable future. And,
that’s at least a better option than the full dystopia of each tribe
each retreating into their own balkanised echo chamber.

If the progressive Left already control the digital public squares, does not this means that we already live in balkanised echo chambers? It seems that the author is saying that the right should just admit defeat. Personally, I think that all parties should just try to create a more civilised public square where violent statements are censored rather than “wrong statements”.

croftyass
croftyass
3 years ago
Reply to  Gabriele

Spot on-but conservative /right wing views are prima facie deemed “violent” and wrong and progressive(“sic”)/left wing views are deemed morally virtuous & correct-irrespective of their content.So whilst a more civilised public square is a noble objective its just not going to happen and “balkanisation” is inevitable if the conservative view is to be heard.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
3 years ago

It certainly is hard to build an alternative to Twitter but in my own life I’ve completely replaced the BBC from my browsing lists. It’s been with some pleasure I’ve watched it slip further and further down my most visited sites, as I’ve found better replacements.

Alex
Alex
3 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

I cancelled my TV licence about 2 months ago, haven’t missed it at all or felt tempted to reconnect my aerial!

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago

This is actually unbelievably daft.

Take political left/right out of this for a moment – I know shock horror! But bear with me..

If you ban a segment of people from multiple platforms, and a platform that doesn’t ban people crops up, you cannot then lambast the platform and those people for turning up in the one place they’re allowed.

It would be like the 16th century Venetian authorities blaming the Ghetto for being overly Jewish….

Thomas Laird
Thomas Laird
3 years ago

A Libertarian myself, I never had Fb or twitter and got along swimmingly. The Scottish Libertarian Party of which I am a member use both and Parler.
I think the writer makes a salient point about advertising revenue. However, If you build it they will come. Eventually. Parler may or may not be that edifice. But the more serious attempts that are made the better. Provided those who do believe in freedom of speech and expression are prepared to dig deep and foot the bill till the advertisers smell the blood.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago

This is generally a good exploration of the themes here but is completely undermined by its biased perspective. This sums it up:

The hard reality is that the progressive Left controls the envelope of our digital public squares, and will do for the forseeable future. And, that’s at least a better option than the full dystopia of each tribe each retreating into their own balkanised echo chamber.

Which is a very odd thing to say and shows your bias. In short you’re ok with censorship and shutting down debate whilst people you agree with are in control. This is appalling journalism as whatever your views you have a duty to uphold the principles of free speech but be articulate enough to distinguish your views from the common ground.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

…hate to keep repeating , but Haynes is explaining the status quo, not advocating for it, beyond making the obvious point that any public square is better than none, ie where info channels are balkenised. That would be a recipe for a real civil war. The Right needs to continue to speak in the square even if the chanting of the mob is making it hard to be heard. There is no alternative, except chaos.

cererean
cererean
3 years ago

We don’t need another YouTube, or another Twitter.

What we need to do is to once again divorce content hosting from content delivery. Have a meta-twitter, where you sign in with your Twitter & Clones accounts, get a feed collected from all those you’re signed into, and can post and share to all. If a user is banned from one, their content still shows up in your feed.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  cererean

Isn’t that basically Mastodon?

Funnily enough, Gab is a Mastodon instance, but most other instances don’t talk to it because it’s full of Nazis.

Steve Dean
Steve Dean
3 years ago

This free speech lark is complicated isn’t it? As soon as you start saying things like acceptability and being held to account for what you say, then you are not supporting it. But isn’t that what it should be? But then who decides where the line is. Won’t work.

One point you can help, me with. I suspect free speech was thought up by some Greek chap. But my understanding was if someone didn’t like what you said, another Greek chap may we’ll enact a Greek tragedy upon you.

I am posting this because I was trawling (not trolling) through a massive tweet earlier, full of bile and vitriol, when suddenly I came upon two people who had a civilised discussion. They didn’t agree at beginning, or end, but all the same parted, understanding a bit more about each other’s views. Helped me as well. A veritable oasis!

It seems we need to mandate this type of discussion. Oh no, here I go again, straying off the path…

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Dean

You are a rare but precious breed in the social media dystopia.

G Matthews
G Matthews
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Dean

Not an oasis, just the exception that proves the rule.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago

I’ve a better idea. Why not ban everybody from twitter, and from parler (whatever that is), and all the rest. And when everyone’s been cancelled, bury all these so-called platforms in a deep, deep bomb-proof shelter in some god-forsaken uninhabited area, Scotland perhaps. The ‘public square’ can then be reclaimed by the grown-ups, who will discuss ideas in pubs and cafes, read books and newspapers and attend public meetings and debates. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place?

andy thompson
andy thompson
3 years ago

Do you write for the Guardian by any chance?

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago
Reply to  andy thompson

Worse: Vice.

Fiona E
Fiona E
3 years ago

What passes for ‘journalism’ these days is very sad; there’s so many activists passing off their opinions as ‘journalism’, it’s no wonder the level of public discourse is so low. Even when they’re trying to appear ‘unbiased’ as this poor man probably is they still come across as partisan hacks to me. The condescending tone didn’t help of course but the article was vapid and I’m surprised UnHerd bothered publishing it.

Dennis Wheeler
Dennis Wheeler
3 years ago

These monopolistic companies are now effectively the “public square”
and should be treated as such or broken up, just as MaBell and others
monopolistic private companies were once broken up. The only reasonable solution is for “platforms” like Twitter, Facebook, etc. to be declared “common carriers,” and for the legal exemption which allows them the liability protections of “platforms” while exercising the editorial authority of “publishers” to be ended. Strict first amendment protections for all speech on the platforms should be required (at least in the US – what other countries do in terms of allowing the platforms to be seen and used within their countries is up to them, but US based platforms should be subject to US law. If another nation wants to prevent users from accessing through censoring incoming and outgoing connections to certain sites, that’s their business).

The latest spate of de-platforming of conservatives on YouTube a few days ago is only another round in a long war that will not end until the Left has seized control of all viable platforms. Facebook just established a 20 member Board of Oversight (i.e. Board of Censors in non-Newspeak), most of whom have ties to George Soros and his leftist empire, to police what can be thought and said there. We need strong action to be taken by all governments to preserve true open debate and free speech, not policed speech controlled by Big Tech monopolists.

michael67
michael67
3 years ago

Interesting take on the failure of SocMed platforms to function as any kind of digital town square. Otherwise, the author writes as if trying to gently translate reality for the obstinately-racist, slightly-dim and forever parochial Western world, festering in ignorance below the moral Olympus of Woke…shepherding outliers back towards the flock of the dominant narrative. I don’t see it your way,but am happy you took the time to pop in and share it with me.

I came to read it because I’m interested in Parler. Over time I expect it to give an unobstructed view of life beyond the ridiculous extremes of other Left-dominated platforms… it could devolve into a bunch of screaming idiots, true. Let’s just see.

If I need to peruse multiple platforms to find a balance then so be it – given the utter failure of journalism it seems our lot now.

I’m writing here as a Centre-Left Libertarian clinging to the tattered remains of his patience with traditional Labor (here in Australia). While I did vote for them, I found myself very OK they lost to the Conservatives (Liberals) and a year later still unremorseful of the fact.

I’ve zero sympathy for the hard Left – and prepared to harden rightwards rather than drag the whole political spectrum into Leftie Lala-land and watch Western Civilisation get toppled in the process.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago
Reply to  michael67

How can there be a “digital town square” when one side will not tolerate the existence of the other side(s)?

Kabosu San
Kabosu San
3 years ago

From the long-term standpoint of a civil society, ideological banning is a pyrrhic victory. Disagreements are pushed underground, not resolved, and will resurface, sooner or later, in different forms. Unfashionably conservative voices that are interested in broader dialogues leading to political change are forced into echo chambers populated by groups that are less squeamish about the mechanisms of change and the collateral damage to those who oppose them. Those populations already have more guns, more military training and more easily defended terrain than the urban commissars who police thoughtcrime. Why not force articulate prophets of social doom into their ranks? What could possibly go wrong?

G Matthews
G Matthews
3 years ago

This article was written before Twitter banned Trump. I think there will now be a large exodus from Twitter, what is the point to remain there if you can’t see the key content you want? On the other hand, Trump is aware of the value of his audience and will not give it to Parler for free, hence he has not yet joined. I imagine once he has left office he will make a deal with them to take a % ownership of the company in exchange for his audience.

Mike H
Mike H
3 years ago

I think there’s an underlying assumption in this article that conservatives or libertarians somehow can’t create tech firms. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact the firms that are now shutting down conservatives en masse were largely built by libertarians.

Twitter of course used to call itself the “free speech wing of the free speech party”. It was highly libertarian in outlook.

But I used to work at Google, in the old days (2006 era). As part of a new team being set up in Europe, both my immediate manager and the long-term employee sent over from the US to train us were hard-core small state capitalists who weren’t afraid at all of expressing their political views. And that was pretty standard.

In recent weeks we read about some Google employees creating what they called a “union”, a union which isn’t going to bother with collective bargaining or any of the usual activities a union would do. From the launch announcement it’s clear that it’s just a hard left activist organisation, devoted to cancelling customers and employees if they aren’t left wing enough. They’re probably using the term union to abuse union law, as otherwise political activists could be easily fired. Expect this tactic to become increasingly common in the next 10 years and for it to be the final nail in the coffin for anyone who isn’t hard left in the Valley tech industry: making full time left-wing activists literally un-fireable will destroy those industries just as surely as it wrecked many other unionised industries.

This “union” announcement made me laugh because it reminded me of an event that happened early on in my employment. April 1st rolled around and some wag sent an anonymous mail to the whole engineering team with a poster calling for unionisation to get better workers rights. Everyone found it a hoot, because of course there was no workforce in the world better treated than us. So in 15 years Google has gone from a place where people treated unions as literally an April Fool’s joke to a place where there is actually a major problem with fake organisers trying to formally take over the firm from management, which they will probably succeed at because Pichai is one of the weakest CEOs in America today.

A similar pattern can be seen in academia and other institutions that used to be far more balanced, with many conservatives. Leftists appear to have systematically purged academia over the decades and now like to claim that as a consequence, conservatives don’t agree with “science”, even as the mockeries that modern “sciences” like sociology or epidemiology make of the term become ever more disconnected from reality. In tech firms the dynamics were slightly different: there have certainly been a lot of anti-conservative jihads in recent years but the problems started long before, as the group of people that made the companies successful in the first place “called in rich” and started drifting away. The sort of open-to-all free speech loving libertarians who used to work at Google have all left now, leaving it to an influx of perma-students who have never had to make a hard decision or tradeoff in their life. If you’ve never even had to make a budget and have been surrounded for life by people telling you how brilliant you are, it’s easy to see why you could end up with absolutist views and having no understanding of the value of free speech.

The real question is therefore not “how do we create a free speech Twitter/YouTube?” (technologically very easy), or even “how do we get network effects?” but rather “how do you stop your new tech firm or other institution being slowly taken over by leftist activists?”.

You also now have the modern problem that institutions already captured by the left will refuse to give any explicitly non-leftist organisations any services, thus freezing them out of the parts of the economy they control. For example Parler is in the process of being shut down, Ruckus (a free speech reddit) had their servers yanked without warning earlier in the year, Parler and Gab are both banned from having mobile apps and so on. This is problem tech firms themselves didn’t have in the 2000s when they were growing like crazy by explicitly serving everyone regardless of beliefs or creeds.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution for leftist institutional takeover. Conservatives are willing to co-exist with people who disagree with them. Leftists are not. The latter will always, deep down, be trying to wipe out the former, as has been seen in communist countries across the world. At some point the right needs to find a philosophical or practical solution to this, lest we all end in Marxist “utopias”.

David Jones
David Jones
3 years ago

“The marketing director of Procter & Gamble thinks that the public
thinks that transwomen are women and Islam is a religion of peace,
because these are the low-conflict ‘inclusive’ views that cause the
minimum of fuss, in the short term at least.The hard reality is that the progressive Left controls the envelope
of our digital public squares, and will do for the forseeable future.”
That seems a non-sequitur: that’s not control by “the progressive Left”; that just means mainstream centrist public opinion is broadly inclusive. By the same token, conservative ideas like low tax and free markets are also seen as low-conflict views that cause the minimum of fuss.

Adrian
Adrian
3 years ago

Wow, we have all gotten a little hot under our collars because a prediction about whether a particular online forum will grow and grow has come down on the side of ‘probably not’.

Really, reread this article, and answer the question ‘What views would I attribute to the author of the piece if he had come down on the side of “probably”?’

The assault on free speech is systematic. Various interests, laws, social media platforms, professions and opinions have converged in such a way that free speech is being squashed.
Until we understand how and why this process happens free speech will suffer.

Labelling every article as “pointless” when it doesn’t predict glorious and immediate uplands for conservatism is pretty sad stuff. Getting back to a free society is going to be a long hard slog, deal with it.

emmelinaogilvy
emmelinaogilvy
3 years ago

Parler isnt another Gab. It is growing massively and they are a whole bunch of different people there. The author seems to forgets that Twatter doesnt favour everyone except the far right….the truth is that only the far-left are really welcome there…That leaves the vast majority of the political spectrum who have gladly made a truly free platform their home. What a nasty smug piece…Your shit stinks same as the rest of us buddy…

aelf
aelf
3 years ago

[…] many have increasingly lost faith in the public square.

Well, when you’ve been hounded out of it . . .

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
3 years ago

Good to see that Unherd has broadened from po-faced opinion and commentary. I read the first sentence which has both “Will Self” and “classic short story” and I couldn’t stop laughing. Please keep this up.

Robert Sieger
Robert Sieger
3 years ago

“The hard reality is that the progressive Left controls the envelope of our digital public squares, and will do for the forseeable future. And, that’s at least a better option than the full dystopia of each tribe each retreating into their own balkanised echo chamber.” — The first sentence is obviously true. The second sentence is debatable. I am not sure if it would not be better to have “each tribe … retreating into their own balkanised echo chamber” because the latter option would at least demonstrate that there is still more than one POV on almost every issue, regardless of what the powers that be at Twitter and the New York Times and CNN would like to believe. If “each tribe” had “their [sic] own balkanised echo chamber”, that would be an equality of sorts rather than the dictatorship of the Lunatic Left.

nick harman
nick harman
3 years ago

Crouch End is the way it is as it has no Tube Station. It is a highly liberal and thus highly wealthy area though

gtaylor41
gtaylor41
3 years ago

If I am going to read an essay that expouses concepts and ideas i do not agree with I at least want it of be well wrtiten. This is that essay