A reader sent Eugene Volokh an email informing him that his blog, the Volokh Conspiracy, had been blocked in Nordstrom.
I’m at the Nordstom E-Bar coffee shop located at the Americana at Brand in Glendale, California. I am using the “Nordstom_Wi-Fi” public WIFI. I just tried to access the Volokh Conspiracy website. I got the message:
This website is blocked by your network operator.
It’s understandable, in a peculiar way, that Nordstrom would avoid controversy. They don’t need a mob attacking them for allowing offensive websites. No, if they just allowed unfettered access to the internet, it wouldn’t concern any rational person, but these aren’t rational people. They’re a mob and mobs have no mind. But Volokh?
Category: Hate and Racism
On the one hand, this might seem like a joke to anyone familiar with VC. On the other, it’s not a huge stretch to understand how the unduly passionate can find “hate and racism” anywhere and everywhere. As it turns out, Nordstrom may not know VC exists, but rather hired a vendor to keep internet controversy at bay.
UPDATE: The culprit was apparently the blacklist run by a company called Brightcloud; I asked them to review their categorization of our site, and within a few hours we were unblocked.
While that cleared up the immediate problem, it provides no answer as to the underlying problem. Who is this company, Brightcloud? Who makes them the arbiter of “hate and racism”? What basis is used to blacklist websites? How many other vendors, apps, “solutions,” are out there promising enterprises to eliminate controversy by eliminating websites from their network?
And, of course, the overarching question: are you good with the idea that some unknown entity is deciding what you may see, hear and think?
For the hard-of-thinking, this does not implicate any constitutional rights. All the players are private entities, entitled to do as they please.
Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, is feeling the pain of the unduly passionate. Is he a true believer in censorship, or has Jack made a business decision that it’s in twitter’s interests to cater to the whims of one crowd at the expense of others?
Are you the sort of person who annoys, frustrates, and offends lots of people on Twitter—but manages to avoid technically violating any of its policies on abuse or hate speech? Then Twitter’s newest feature is for you. Or, rather, it’s for everyone else but you.
Twitter is announcing on Tuesday that it will begin hiding tweets from certain accounts in conversations and search results. To see them, you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the conversation and click “Show more replies,” or go into your search settings and choose “See everything.” Think of them as Twitter’s equivalent of the Yelp reviews that are “not currently recommended” or the Reddit comments that have a “comment score below threshold.”
The characterizations are facile, but this comes from Slate, a dear and loyal friend to the “oppressed.” If a mob of a certain orientation takes umbrage with a twitterer’s twits, they can dink him and Twitter will make him quasi-disappear. There will be a mechanism to allow others to re-appear the twits of a disapproved person, but how one knows that you exist if they can’t see you is one of those great mysteries of life.
But there’s one difference: When Twitter’s software decides that a certain user is “detract[ing] from the conversation,” all of that user’s tweets will be hidden from search results and public conversations until their reputation improves. And they won’t know that they’re being muted in this way; Twitter says it’s still working on ways to notify people and help them get back into its good graces. In the meantime, their tweets will still be visible to their followers as usual and will still be able to be retweeted by others. They just won’t show up in conversational threads or search results by default.
There is no one on social media who doesn’t come across people who are, to be generous, stupid and/or offensive. It ranges from banal idiocy to threats of rape and wishes of brutal death. Even the latter, which many would shrug and concede are so far beyond the pale that they wouldn’t be upset if they were “disappeared,” ends up becoming problematic when someone pointing out an outrageous twit by retwitting it ends up being the person shadowbanned for it.
Part of the problem is what is deemed offensive. Is it left to the sensibilities of, say, the priggish scolds of the medium? Who else would spend their days pushing the “report and block” button over and over to eradicate the heretics? Most of us have better things to do with our time than carry axes and smash whisky kegs to eradicate demon rum.
But another part of the problem is how the offensive will be ascertained, and that’s where companies like Brightcloud come into play. While Twitter and Facebook will likely keep the censorship in house, they will employ similar methods, algorithms scanning every twit for keywords that the euphemistically-named “Trust and Safety” teams have deemed offensive.
Eugene contacted Brightcloud and prevailed upon them to remove VC from its blacklist. Will that be the future, begging the overlords of propriety, one at a time, to allow your words to appear? Maybe they will grace you with special dispensation. Maybe they will ignore you. Maybe they will tell you that they have deemed you a troll and banished you from their internet.
Over the past decade, the internet morphed from the wild west, where users kept their own house clean, to reliance on their masters to fix their world so that only fellow insipid members of their own Cult of Positivity would be elevated to prominence. The meek may not yet be inheriting the Earth, but they are getting the internet they desire, having it rammed down their throats good and hard. And they like it, as they will never again have to see an unpleasant or disagreeable twit.