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Slope, slippery, 1 each

Word comes that Microsoft is (or maybe was) threatening to cut off Gab, which is a Twitter-like social media platform that has been primarily co-opted by folks on the right because of Twitter’s SJW-driven standards committee that’s been shutting down conservative voices while letting some pretty wild shit coming off the keyboards of some pretty wild lefties stand without comment.  To give a recent example, the racist bitch recently hired by the NYT to sit on their editorial board has a history of posting pretty racist stuff — mostly that she hates white people and would like to see lots of them die or at least suffer a lot.  (She’s Korean, not that it particularly matters.)  When conservatives turned one of her recent posts around and inserted “Jews” where she’d said “Whites” (and said, “what would NYT readers say if this is what she’d said”), they in turn got time-outs from Twitter.  She, on the other hand, is still posting racist trash, and even after her Twitter history was exposed, the NYT simply shrugged and said, “So?”

OK, noted.

Anyway, Gab apparently runs on Microsoft Azure servers.  A lot of services run on Microsoft Azure, or Amazon’s AWS hosting, or any number of other cloud hosting services.  The fact is, in these days, most startups can’t simply stand up a small computer room, get a high-speed link, and run their own web show, whatever that “show” might be.  They can’t afford it.  They’re usually dependent on a cloud host to do that, and to be quite honest, it makes a great deal of sense for companies who aren’t heavy in the tech department to let someone else run and maintain the machines for you, leaving you free to spend your technical time developing and extending your company’s offerings instead of replacing hard drives, upgrading memory, worrying about downtime, and so forth.  (The company I work for makes quite a bit of coin on hosted services that run our own, in-house software, but we do have our own computer room and I can attest that we spend a lot of time keeping machines healthy.  Conversely, something like this site is hosted in the cloud and I don’t have to do anything with the hardware and things like backups and such are handled automatically so I don’t have to deal with that, either.)

The problem Gab has is that not just “safe” conservatives hang out there.  Some of the truly nutbag right-wing idiots hang out there, too.  Yes, we do have them, just like the left does.  Although most of the fuckups on our side are so far to the right that they actually curve back around to the left — the neo-Nazis and suchlike.  (As I have explained MANY FUCKING TIMES, Nazis are socialists — it’s in their very name.  Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei == National Socialist German Worker’s Party.  Fascists, contrary to left-wing belief, are also men of the left.  Mussolini’s great idol was Woodrow Wilson, the progressives’ sweetheart.  So stick that in your Juul and vape it.)

In this case, Microsoft was aroused by some far-right cocksucker who couldn’t keep his racist shit from dribbling off of his fingers into his keyboard and thus onto Gab.  So they handed Gab an ultimatim:  Shut this guy up or we’ll shut your whole service off.

Now, you have to understand, Gab’s business model is based on the concept that they’re not Twitter.  They don’t have a censorship committee that hands out time-outs or kicks you off the service altogether for being an asshole.  Their attitude is that speech is free and you’re free to block or ignore someone if they offend you, but Gab isn’t going to swing a banhammer on your behalf.

So far, it appears that the cocksucker has removed the offending post and apologized, but Microsoft hasn’t responded to Gab with regard to whether or not they’re going to be persona non grata on Azure.

And that is where I have a problem.

The problem with the Internet is that it depends on large, near-monopolistic entities like Microsoft who provide the basic infrastructure upon which social media applications are built (as already noted). You want a server and a network connection to stand up a new social media app, the easiest and cheapest way to do that is to use a virtual server in someone else’s cloud. The problem is, that “someone” you choose to do business with may decide they don’t want to do business with you because you don’t conform to their worldview.

I’ve seen people comment that this isn’t a First Amendment issue.  That’s correct as far as it goes, but if that’s the case, well, we’ve seen recently that businessmen and women have been forced to bake that cake and take that photograph, regardless of their personal worldview to the contrary.  Courts have told them that they have a duty to treat all comers equally, and if they refuse on religious grounds to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple, or refuse to photograph a gay wedding, tough shit, their religious objection to doing so is meaningless, shut up and bake the cake and photograph the wedding or we’ll put you out of business.

Unfortunately, while paying lip service to the concept of equal protection and public accommodation, it misses the point that these folks’ First Amendment religious rights have been violated — regardless of how the rest of the world may feel, e.g., “That’s not such a big deal, what are you going on about?”  We can argue all day about how “your religious views discriminate against my big gay wedding” and “your gay wedding is an affront to the laws of God, if no longer those of man”, but in the end we find ourselves arguing in circles and we’re just exhausted.  And the arguments are just about as juvenile as “You got peanut butter in my chocolate.”  “You got chocolate in my peanut butter.”  Too bad these arguments aren’t Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups; they’d be a lot more palatable.

So getting back to Gab and Microsoft — What exemption does Microsoft have from that general “bake the cake” rule? I don’t see that they have a leg to stand on, even less of a leg than the cake bakers or the photographers, because they don’t even provide a finished product — just one of the major ingredients for it.  It would be interesting to see a judge’s take on that.*

At this rate, even if you have your own server room running your own machines, eventually your ISP is going to be able to shut you down for something you or one of your customers say, write, or do that someone else finds offensive.  This cannot be right.  It’s like running to your friend’s mom and telling her he hit you, forcing her to punish him, instead of popping the little fucker in the mouth in return and not involving your parents in your little disagreement.  When I was a kid, doing the former got you labeled a tattletale.  Doing the latter got you, if not your way, at least some respect for the fact that you’d stood up for yourself.**

The newspaper here used to have a little cheery quote at the top of the editorial page:  “I may not approve of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  This is words put into Voltaire’s mouth by an historian, alleging to be close to what he might have said to his buddy Helvetius.  Whether or not Voltaire actually said this is irrelevant — the quote captures the essence of free speech, and more importantly, does not allow for a carve-out called “hate speech”.

I don’t approve of people talking smack about Jews or blacks.  I might ask such people to tone their shit down.  But I would never go to some supposed authority and say, “You need to shut this fucker down,” nor would I support anyone who said, “We need to shut this fucker down.”

Why?  Because if I disagree with someone, but my arguments for the contrary position aren’t more persuasive, I need to come up with better arguments — not with bigger guns.  Sure, eventually there comes a time when diplomacy fails and battle begins.  For instance, I think the Israelis have waited far too long to absolutely wipe Gaza of human (?) life, burn it to the ground, and salt the earth so that nothing can grow there.  On the other hand, I don’t live there, and yeah, I know, Arabs kill a thousand Jews and nobody cares, Jews kill one Arab and it’s all over the evening news.

But in our personal dealings with other people, we can’t go with a scorched-earth policy.  For one thing, the authorities get testy when you get that extreme.  Well, unless you’re the Berkeley Police and antifa is on the rampage, I guess.

So let’s get back to Gab and Microsoft.  Microsoft is saying to Gab, either shut this guy up or we’re going to scorch your earth.  Gab, on the other hand, is not responsible for what its members say on its site — that is all on the member, and people are free to engage him and explain why he’s an asshole, or they can block him and never be bothered by him again.  The latter is the Voltairean solution — “Sure, be an asshole, I won’t stop you, in fact, I’ll tell people you’re completely within your rights to spout off even though I disagree with you,” with the unspoken corollary, “When other people also tell you you’re an asshole, maybe you’ll finally wise up.  Or you’ll just be a sad little hateful person with no friends and lots of enemies.”

In the current case, Microsoft is taking the fascist*** route and telling Gab, “Only that speech which is permitted may be published on your service, and we will be the arbiters of what is permitted on your service.”  Say what?  Fuck you. Take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut.  Take a flying fuck at the moon.  It’s not like you’re donating the service, Gab is paying you good coin (and a lot of it, from what I see in your pricing structure for Azure) to provide servers on which to run their service.

This is not, by the way, like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Spotify**** deplatforming Alex Jones (which, even though I think Jones is an idiot, still seems like a violation of his rights).  The Microsoft/Gab situation is as if those services’ ISPs told them to deplatform Alex Jones or they’d shut them off.  Naturally, the big dogs aren’t going to be treated that way by their big dog ISPs — the big dogs hang together because money.  But Gab isn’t one of the big dogs, so Microsoft felt no qualms about going all doberman bully on the little schnauzer barking from its cloud service.

Unfortunately this fits into the general attitude on the left that speech that promotes causes and values that the left doesn’t like can be shut down by means other than persuasive argument.  Look at what New York State is doing to the NRA.  Look what banks and credit card companies are doing to gun shops.  Capture of large financial organizations by the left is resulting in freezing out of small concerns that are pursuing legal business of which lefties don’t approve (and which they make no bones about shutting down completely if they ever regain sufficient power).  Look at the idiot Association for Library Service to Children who renamed their Laura Ingalls Wilder Award because of some innocent racial slur found in one of Wilder’s books — that she herself repudiated when it was shown to her years later.*****

This has to stop.  It’s unAmerican.  It’s anti-freedom.  It empowers one group at the expense of another, and leaves the latter wondering why it bothers to keep its powder dry and be nice.******

And down the slippery slope we go, unless we can somehow find a way to put on the brakes.

How do we stop it?

For corporations, break them the fuck up.  Stop allowing all these mergers that create hypergiant media firms that control (or claim to control) all aspects of speech.  (While the AT&T/Time Warner merger may be legal, the Trump Administration’s position is, at base and in my read, that it’s anti-freedom.  The problem is that the Trump Administration is not expressing that well.)  Prosecute Facebook for its creepy privacy violations.  (Did you hear that Facebook wants banks to give it private information on their clients?  Fuck you, Zuckerjerk.)  Punish companies like Twitter that have been overrun by social justice warriors who want only their version of the truth to be published.  Break up giant newspaper companies, TV and radio networks, giant printing conglomerates that control what books get published.  (In fairness, the traditional book publishing companies and the newspapers are already on their way out.  They’re dead, but the tail hasn’t yet gotten the message from the dinosaur’s tiny brain.)

For government, clean out the swamp and go back to the Federal Government performing its Constitutional duties, devolving everything else back to the states.  Government should be small and be our servant, not huge and our master.  We are not its slaves, we’re its bosses.

For people — give your temper a fucking rest, already.  Turn off the TV, quit reading inflammatory sites on the web, get out and take in the fresh air and the nice view.  Don’t let the other side rile you to the point of feeling like you need to react.  Sooner or later they’ll realize they aren’t getting the reaction they want and they’ll go find someone else to bug, or maybe get a job and settle down.  And for Christ’s sake, stop letting everything you see, hear, and read offend you.  Take a breath.  Relax.  Remember what Voltaire (the philosopher, not the band) allegedly said to his buddy.

This, too, shall pass.  But if we don’t all get a handle on the fucking rage, it’s going to pass in a way none of us really want.  I’ve got grandkids, I’ve got no interest in a civil war.

_______________

* Well, actually, it wouldn’t, because freedom of speech and expression is well-established and isn’t up to any fucking judge to arbitrate.  It just is.  Like the right to bear arms, the right to free speech pre-existed the Constitution and is simply guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.  And to say that the speech being suppressed isn’t political speech is disingenuous at best, because it’s certainly left-wing political activists who are trying to shut it down.

** Be a man, not a mouse who’s a member of the mouse committee that decides to bell the cat but can’t find anyone to do that for them.  This goes for women, too.  Man up, bitches.  Be like my wife, who won’t take shit from anybody.  Love that woman.

*** In its original meaning, not the stupid meaning antifa has attached to it.  Fascists aren’t right-wingers.  They can’t be, by definition.  What antifa really are is a bunch of self-hating losers who are projecting their own fascism onto people they hate on the other end of the political spectrum.  But the left is all about projection.

**** One invites you to consider the acronymic possibilities inherent in this mash-up.

***** The ALSC would be well-advised to read what Paul Fussell had to say about things like that:  “Understanding the past requires pretending that you don’t know the present. It requires feeling its own pressure on your pulses without any ex post facto illumination.”  If the term she used would have been used during the historical period covered by Little House on the Prairie, then Ingalls Wilder was 100% correct in using it to illustrate life and attitudes in those times.

It’s like Mark Twain using the N word throughout Huckleberry Finn.  Well, damn it, it’s what Huck and Tom and most of the whites in the South would have called them.  Huck is not Huck without his casual racism, which was pretty standard for that day and age.  Does it jar us today when we read it?  Yes, and it should!  But that’s what Fussell is trying to tell us…you can’t insert your preconceived notions into things you read about history.  You can only take history for what it is.  You are upset because George Washington was a slave owner?  How quaint.  So were most if not all Virginia plantation owners in that day and age.  You can’t judge Washington or anyone else by today’s standards.  You can only judge them within the constraints of their historical milieu.  Period.  End of subject.

****** To wit, the antifa types boasting about how they’re going to start a civil war, and the sane types nodding and saying, “Just bring that on, because we’ve got all the guns.”

3 comments

  1. Joe

    This sir, is a brilliant discussion of the First Amendment; which exists to protect the speech we find most offensive. Just another in a long list of “posts I wish I had written”.

  2. Fuzzy Curmudgeon

    Actually, and as I believe I implied, I think it is less a First Amendment issue than it is a freedom of association or freedom of conscience issue. The First Amendment doesn’t say that Microsoft or any other private entity must allow your speech. It says the federal government must allow your speech. Although traditionally we have understood that the right to free speech extends beyond simple political speech, in fact that isn’t necessarily the case once you get past the public square.

    Once we clear away the brambles of the free speech question, the question becomes, does a corporation (a legal person) have the right to refuse service to someone by policy simply because someone at high levels in the corporation doesn’t like the cut of that person’s jib? This is hardly a new question, and it certainly didn’t arise with the advent of legal gay marriage — see the 1947 Gregory Peck film Gentleman’s Agreement, for instance. Or just look at Jim Crow laws. Indian reservations and “forced removal”. “Our little brown brothers.” “Separate but equal”. Japanese detention camps during WWII. Et cetera.

    The list can go on and on and on. But it all boils down to the same question of discrimination based on some aspect of a person that someone else doesn’t like. In the present case (the Gab/Microsoft kerfuffle), it’s the political slant of a certain person who has a message that is offensive anyone but a very small, very marginalized group. Rather than spotlight the person and his message by massively overplaying your hand, Microsoft, why not just ignore it, and be like Voltaire?

    And if the corporation does have that right, what makes them different from the cake baker or the photographer or the pizza joint? The latter have been told to bake that cake, take that photo, serve that pizza. When does Microsoft get told by a judge to stop threatening to cut off a paying customer based solely on the content allowed by that customer? When does Twitter get told that they can’t play favorites when they drop the banhammer on conservatives but allow offensive speech from the left remain without comment? When does Facebook get told that Facebook jail is a violation of their users’ civil rights? These corporate “citizens” should be held to the same standard as Joe the baker or Mary the photographer. Or they should fuck off.

    There was a time when the answer to all of this was “take your business elsewhere”. The problem is, the platforms either ipso facto are, or might as well be, monopolies run by faceless boards and committees who exercise power without any apparent oversight — and there’s nowhere else to take your business, or to set up your soapbox. Is this a free speech issue, or a public accommodation issue? I think it is the latter.

    Due to the monopolistic and one-sided nature of the giant social media concerns, the virtual public square is increasingly becoming a walled garden outside of which one struggles to be heard, unless one kowtows to the corporations’ one-sided standards. The solution to this is to break up the monopolies, insist on all comers being treated equally regardless of their personal and political views, and level the playing field so that everyone’s opinion can be heard.

    Naturally, at that point, you and I are free to mute those whose message is offensive to us. But that’s OUR decision, not the decision of a faceless corporation decreeing that only this shall we see.

  3. Joe

    I had not previously considered the similarity of the wedding cake/photographer and “deplatforming”. It is a good point and well worth study.

    I struggle with the idea that a public business should pick and choose customers. The segregated lunch counters come to mind. Part of me says “it is just a cake”, you are not doing the actual ceremony. On the other hand, no one should be forced to do business. On the mythical third hand, why in the hell would you want someone to bake your wedding cake who is dead set against it from the outset? I don’t want spit in my cake…

    Your point, and one with which I agree, is that if there is a legal justification to require services, it should apply to everyone from bakers to Microsoft. Again well thought out and well said.

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