Free speech, not free reach

After far too long, far-right puppet Tommy Robinson has been kicked off Facebook and the Facebook-owned Instagram for flouting the rules on hateful conduct.

Which makes it a good time to link to this piece by Renee Diresta, Free Speech Is Not The Same As Free Reach.

in this moment, the conversation we should be having—how can we fix the algorithms?—is instead being co-opted and twisted by politicians and pundits howling about censorship and miscasting content moderation as the demise of free speech online. It would be good to remind them that free speech does not mean free reach. There is no right to algorithmic amplification. In fact, that’s the very problem that needs fixing.

…The social internet is mediated by algorithms: recommendation engines, search, trending, autocomplete, and other mechanisms that predict what we want to see next. The algorithms don’t understand what is propaganda and what isn’t, or what is “fake news” and what is fact-checked. Their job is to surface relevant content (relevant to the user, of course), and they do it exceedingly well.

That efficiency gives the likes of Robinson disproportionate visibility and influence, something the social media giants still don’t seem to have woken up to. If they can’t prevent the likes of the far-right from gaming the system, then they need to do a better job of keeping them off their platforms.