What the hell is beeping?

and how do I turn it off?

Seven Questions on Texas' Big Tech Anti Censorship Bill

... and no answers

The Texas Legislature's S.B. 12 is another example of clueless legislatures performing political grandstanding instead of solving a real problem. Federal and state regulators should instead focus on making Big Tech less big.

Texas legislatures have passed Texas Senate Bill 12 Law here in response to conservative Republic concerns that conservatives are being unfairly censored on major social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others.

Sec. 143A.002. CENSORSHIP PROHIBITED. (a) An interactive computer service may not censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person based on:

  1. the viewpoint of the user or another person;
  2. the viewpoint represented in the user’s expression or another person’s expression; or
  3. a user’s geographic location in this state or any part of this state.
Texas S.B. No. 12

Florida has also passed and implemented an anti-big tech ‘censorship’ law. That law is currently blocked by the courts for being unconstitutional. The judge called it “an instance of burning the house to roast a pig.” Details here

Legislators without a background in technology, when legislating technology, usually cause lots of unintended consequences. Once again, Texas legislatures are showing their incompetence in technical matters.

Is commercial spam speech?

Twitter currently bans “commercially-motivated spam”, “inauthentic engagements”, “coordinated activity that attempts to artificially influence conversations” (no sock puppets). Policy here All of the other major social media platforms have similar restrictions on commercial activity. Removing this type of commercial activity is censorship by Twitter and would not be allowed by Texas bill.

I’m old enough to remember when email spam was not a mostly solved problem; and the machine learning algorithms, bayesian filtering, and other techniques were novel. For a period of time, email became painful to deal with. Regular advertisements for male enhancements, ‘free’ vacations, adult content, unsolicited loans, and degree mills dominated my inbox. I had to waste time every day to clean out these useless emails.

Spam is truly obnoxious - it wastes readers’ time; it only makes bad actors money; and it often carries malware. Yet, there is no exceptions in Texas’ bill for social media platforms to filter out useless commercial solicitation. After all, one person’s car warranty spam is another person’s goldmine.

What about hate speech?

Twitter also bans hate speech such as Nazi swastikas, KKK imagery, and images depicting others as less than human, among others. Policy here

Under the Texas bill, these types of hate speech also cannot be discriminated against. Similarly, terrorists groups - historically Al Qaedia, Daesh, the Taliban - all would have a basis to argue that their speech is political - and thus protected by S.B. 12. Twitter, Google, and their ilk would not be able to remove terrorist content.

Similarly, language used to incite violence against minorities, other races, genders, orientations, and so forth; or portrayals of them as subhman also leads to negative outcomes such as riots or violence against people. Cases where this happens have been widely documented such as the Reddit community MGTOW and other incel groups leading to mass shootings. Example 1 2 3 4

While the Texas legislatures may not have intended to empower incels and the Taliban (maybe they’re cut from the same cloth), that is what they have done.

What about cyber bullying and Doxxing?

Twitter bans unwanted sexual advances, aggressive insults with the purpose of intimidating others, and wishing people harm. Policy here Cyberbullying already is a significant concern on the major tech platforms as well as others. 60% of US teens and 15% of tweens experience cyberbullying. 35% of teenage girls receive unwanted explicit images.

Social media networks - such as Reddit - prohibit doxxing, or publishing personally identifying information such as names, employment, phone numbers, addresses, and so on - for users without their consent.

These type of rules keep people safe in real life and help reduce the chance of swatting, stalkers, vigilantism and so on. Under the Texas law, doxxing, bullying, and cyber stalking could not be censored or removed.

What about pornography and other adult content?

Facebook - but not Twitter - blocks most types of adult content and profiles. Yahoo famously banned porn on Tumblr which led to a 33% drop in traffic. S.B. 12 would also not allow Facebook or Tumblr to remove adult content. Given that the Texas legislature also objects to inline fact checking and hiding sensitive content with this line:

“Censor” means to block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression.

Texas S.B. No. 12

…it appears that even Twitters hiding of adult content behind this warning:

Twitter Sensitive Content

isn’t allowed - nor would algorithmic sorting of adult content be allowed.

So now citizens of Texas will be required to look at hardcore porn while also reading the latest updates from their family members.

Should government mandate that private companies carry all types of speech?

I have never claimed to be conservative, but this rule from the Texas legislature seems to betray the free market values that conservatives so often argue for. Essentially, government is telling is telling companies what speech they must carry on their platform. It’s akin to telling a fruit seller that they must carry similar numbers of apples as durians.

Legislatures have also not done themselves any favors in that the rules seem to be applied capriciously. Texas, for example, seems to have set the market cap in the rule specifically to include Facebook and Twitter, but not the beloved Parler. Similarly, in Florida, legislatures have cut out special exemptions for Mickey Mouse. So not only do state legislatures seem to be limiting the free speech of private enterprises, they are making the rules up to favor some firms over others.

The Florida social media law that prohibits networks from censoring politicians for “alternative facts” has already been blocked by federal judge due to this issue.

A better way forward

The problem with the Big Tech companies isn’t that they censor spam, require Donald Trump to post factual content, or that they keep people from buying male enhancements; the problem with the Big Tech companies is that they are Big and that they benefit from network effects, big data, and switching costs. Adding legislation to reduce these network effects and limiting the monopoly power of Big Tech would go much further than political grandstanding from the Texas legislature.

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