In a recent article, I waxed lyrical about expanding my self-hosted services into the realm of the media social with a Mastodon to call my own. The driver is not that I abhor commerce, that would be biting the hand that feeds me after all. Nor that my world view is so fragile it can’t abide contradiction, far from it. The cut and thrust of debate is largely what gets me up in the morning. I don’t go so far as to court debate as a contrarian of the ilk of a Hitchens might, but I do like to know not what is true for me, but what is true as such. A process which requires the constant testing of assumptions.
The difficulty, in an online world that is highly centralised, is that the testing or extolling of belief is often challenged by what can, without too much hyperbole, be dubbed an Index Librorum Prohibitorum v 2.0. In so far as platforms increasingly mandate community standards and then enforce them by the removal of all speech which contravenes, perhaps contradicts would be more appropriate, the orthodox view.
Ordinarily this is actually something I would endorse because I am a firm believer in society, community and the establishing or moral norms suitable for the people of the community. Thus when the orthodox view is supported by the evidence and reasoned deliberation and seeks to proscribes that which is dangerous and false, so much the better. But when it seeks to abolish that which is dangerous and true, so much the worse.
The threat is that unlike the communities of old, islands in a sea of humanity, the new community is increasingly online and on platforms which no longer police in the hundreds, but which do so in the billions. In other words, while a group of my friends and peers may be fine with my behaviour and in days gone by we could establish our own community with minimal impact on others, if we are on a platform such as the book of face or the tube of you, we are bound by the homogenising effects of an algorithm that flags, removes and even bans that which it deems unacceptable.
An example of this can be seen in FaceBook’s latest efforts to police online speech in an attempt to prevent what it calls ‘punching down’.
Stakeholders noted that humor and satire are highly subjective across people and cultures, underscoring the importance of human review by individuals with cultural context. Stakeholders also told us that “intent is key,” though it can be tough to assess. Further, true satire does not “punch down”: the target of humorous or satirical content is often an indicator of intent. And if content is simply derogatory, not layered, complex, or subversive, it is not satire. Indeed, humor can be an effective mode of communicating hateful ideas. - FaceBook Oversight Board
On the face of it, there is much to agree with and even commend in the Board’s assertions. Truly, ‘if content is simply derogatory, not layered, complex, or subversive, it is not satire’. As a lover of nuance and layered complexity in my art and literature, I revile much which dresses up pure offence in the guise of ‘social comment,’ satire, or, heaven preserve us, art. But for all that, I may hate everything a person says, but I will still defend their right to say it. Particularly if what they say is layered, complex and subversive.
A Peer’s Tube
In my researches into the history and philosophy of our world, it is an ever present joy that what I read and see is often layered and complex. At times, even delightfully subversive. The trouble I am increasingly facing is important content is being removed because of what could be classified as the trouble with algorithms.
In 2019, Mozilla embarked upon a research project:
[to collect stories] from people whose lives were impacted by YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. People had been exposed to misinformation, developed unhealthy body images, and became trapped in bizarre rabbit holes. - Mozilla Foundation
When YouTube was confronted with the complaints, their response took the form of deny and deflect. In response, Mozilla have created an app so that users can more easily document the number of times they are offended by a recommended video by YouTube.
While I am first to the barricades when it comes to any campaign to combat the veritable barrage of rubbish that gets uploaded to YouTube each minute, between Mozilla and the myriad of other pressure groups I think that cause is well covered. But there is one cause which, in part as a result of the emphasis on what causes hurt and offense, gets all too often woefully neglected: the preservation of the historical record.
This may seem to be an odd hill on which to die, in a world where the digital realm seems to offer the limitless potential to save and surface. Yet if Hegel is to be believed and ‘World history is a tribunal that judges the World’ [Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht], we have a problem. Particularly in a society becoming ever more enthralled to Foucault, Derrida and deconstructionism more generally. The reason for this is the fundamental mythconception that objectivity is neutral, when in fact it is anything but.
With notions of reality becoming increasingly hard, nay impossible, to express in today’s political and scholarly milieu without being charged with intellectual arrogance, dogmatism or prejudice, it is nonetheless critical to continue to do so because, I reiterate again, objectivity is not neutral.
Not in the sense deconstructionists understand it, transcendental narcissism or the manipulative use of evidence, but in the sense that being objective means drawing a conclusion not because of our beliefs but in spite of our prejudice, bias and personal preference. The result is a methodology that separates scholarly enquiry from propaganda and:
requires of its practitioners that vital minimum of ascetic self-discipline that enables a person to do such things as abandon wishful thinking, assimilate bad news, discard pleasing interpretations that cannot pass elementary tests of evidence and logic, and, most important of all, suspend or bracket one’s own perceptions long enough to enter sympathetically into the alien and possibly repugnant perspectives of rival thinkers. - Thomas Haskell
With the edit wars on Wikipedia and other sources of knowledge becoming ever more contested in the name of truth, it is becoming increasingly clear that the airbrushing of memory is as much a problem today as it has been in the heady iconoclastic days of yore.
This led me to think I not only need to write about our world and its past, but take increasing steps to preserve the archives so that when people engage in the wholesale denial of history, there are bastions of inconvenience which can preserve that which is being systematically removed from public view.
A self-hosted PeerTube is one such small step in this broader process. Much as Winter Ink Mastodon provides a social platform for microblogging and Muse & Reason for longer form writing, Winter Ink PeerTube will allow for the documenting and preservation of videos to which I can link in my ongoing speculations about life and art. Links, and the content they reference, which are permanent and will always work. A necessity to promote the adoption of individually-owned and controlled sovereign spaces which enable an open and healthy web.
Goodnight and good luck.