Jim Rutenberg is concerned about the flood of hate speech that’s been accelerating over the last few years. He has examples, including himself — I guess you shouldn’t use Twitter if you have an obviously Jewish name. Or a woman’s name. Or a black name. It’s a medium that’s only safe for us True Aryan Males, I guess, and that’s a problem that’s affecting their bottom line.
Now that Twitter is contemplating putting itself up for sale, we can only wonder what lucky suitor is going to walk away with such a charming catch.
Twitter is seeking a buyer at a time of slowing subscriber growth (it hovers above the 300 million mark) and “decreasing user engagement,” as Jason Helfstein, the head of internet research at Oppenheimer & Company, put it when he downgraded the stock in a report last week.
There’s a host of possible reasons for this, including new competition, failure to adapt to fast-changing media habits and an “open mike” quality that some potential users may find intimidating.
But you have to wonder whether the cap on Twitter’s growth is tied more to that most basic — and base — of human emotions: hatred.
Yes. I suspect the answer is “HELL YES.” Twitter might look to their competition, 4chan, which is also experiencing problems and might be up for sale.
All good things must come to an end and as it stands now, 4chan will probably be gone before the end of the month. Or at least several of its boards will.
Ever since 4chan was sold by Christopher Poole (Moot) to Hiroyuki Nishimura about a year ago, the new owner has come to realize that paying several millions of dollars for an anonymous image board probably wasn’t a very good idea. 4chan is good for trolling, raiding, shit-posting and doing basically anything, it just isn’t a good business venture. No corporate brand wants to advertise their products on a website where users nonchalantly joke about rape, death and every other politically incorrect topic you can think off. Even as owner of 4chan, Moot has stated several times that 4chan was in several ways, a liability. It costs more to maintain the site than the revenue generated from it.
But don’t cry for 4chan. There might be a white knight riding to the rescue. Martin Shkreli. They belong together.
The problem is that we have advocated free speech, as in free from all responsibility, rather than free speech, as in free of political and economic restrictions. We want a medium where Exxon and North Korea don’t get to control what people say about them, but instead we have a medium where racists and misogynists and shitlords get to abuse everyone, and we don’t yet have a tool that strikes a balance between permitting criticism and permitting open hatred, or even between truth and lies. I’ve been watching the growth of so-called “satire” sites that follow the rule of anything goes — you can lie in a clumsy, ugly way about anyone or anything if you slap a “satire” label on it — and I’m not the only one who finds them to be a threat to the integrity of information on the net.
It is easy to be a free-speech fundamentalist. I’ve been one as long as I can remember without ever breaking a mental sweat. It requires belief in only two basic tenets, the one more feel-good than the other: that people are essentially decent and smart, and that truth always wins over lies in the long run.
The internet has proven both to be wrong. Social media shows that people are essentially a mob of thoughtless arseholes, and the “post-truth” political era shows that the dark side is, in fact, the more powerful.
The dark side is only more powerful if we uncouple free speech from incentives for honest speech, which is the status quo right now.
Unfortunately, that’s a very hard problem, and there is no easy solution. It is, however, easy to see that the balance is totally out of whack right now.