Tuesday 26 October 2021

YouTube's Attack on Novara Media

Social media is the class war in cyberspace. Here are two dispatches from the battle front, one relatively major, the other almost insignificant, but both revealing in stark terms the unaccountable power overseeing our networks.

Flashpoint one: Without explanation, YouTube deleted Novara Media's channel. As their statement notes, Novara are a vital part of the news ecosystem in this country and cover stories and issues that the mainstream media pass by. They are also regulated by IMPRESS which, although voluntary, has more bite than the toothless Independent Press Standards Organisation which most of the papers are signed up to. Happily, the channel has been restored and, rightly, the comrades are demanding an explanation about how the decision to delete was arrived at and why it was rescinded. Also worth noting Novara received more rhetorical support from select right wingers than elements of the Labour Party, some of whom revelled in gloating.

Flashpoint two: Without explanation, a post on this place was unpublished for "violating community standards". I could understand if it was one of my increasingly exacerbated and uncomplimentary takes on Keir Starmer, but it wasn't. The article in question was a piece of pop sociology about buying Twitter followers that has been carried on this site for nearly eight years. And just like Novara, without warning or explanation it came back.

In both cases, it's likely the actions taken by Google's minion companies were algorithmic in character. Something about Novara's output triggered the bear trap of instant deletion. Mine probably was the rejection of a spam comment advertising, you guessed it, Twitter followers left on the post critiquing the absurd practice. But ultimately we do not know. Chances are the restoration of Novara's channel required human intervention. In my low level case, who the hell knows?

As if it needed demonstrating, private ownership of media infrastructure is incompatible with democratic principles. True, no one has to sign up to the platforms that increasingly dominate our lives, but they are crucial for the reproduction of personhood in advanced capitalist societies in the 21st century. Who goes online just to read websites any more? According to internet marketing outfit Global Web Index, some 57.6% of traffic is on the platforms, and this is only likely to increase with time. They provide the architecture for "free", and they ponce off the data avatars they construct from millions of people clicking and sharing this and that, up to and including the mining of content of posts and videos produced by us. It's capital at its most parasitic and cloyingly dependent on the social capacities of human beings. Therefore, in a way the platforms are indifferent to the character of content. Incel manifestos, paeans to Richard Whiteley, photos of dinner, selfies on the bus, it's all data to be harvested, processed, and used to sell targeted advertising. At this level there are no qualitative differences. It's digitised reductionism, of taking social relationships connecting through the interwebs and crunching them up to spread billions of profitable granules on the platforms' bottom line.

In response to criticisms and the arbitrary power they wield, most platforms have appeal functions and pretend concern for the health of democratic debate. But without any due process or independent oversight, it's piffle more often than not. As Novara have rightly observed, if they were smaller and didn't attract backing from across the political spectrum would they be back so quickly or stuck in limbo for longer? This underlines the perils of depending on these firms, he writes fully aware this site exists at Google's sufferance. Building leftist institutions to organise our politics must involve developing our own digital infrastructure so there's always something to fall back on if the plug gets pulled. The revolution won't be tweeted. And politically, every opportunity we get our movements need to push for the break up of social media ownership and platform democratisation. We need social media, and therefore we have to understand its political economy and have strategies not just for using it, but overcoming and absorbing it.


BCFG said...

The biggest abuse happening on the internet is the clickbait we are subjected to every fucking day. Strange noise heard from a distant galaxy (turns out not to be aliens!), it’s going to be freezing and snowing in December (is it fuck!)..., Newcastle have exciting new manager(no they don’t)..., these 7 fruits can prevent irritable bowel(according to our dietitian Tracey)..., this is what Charlene Tilton looks like now (you scroll through 100 images and still can’t find Charlene!)..., Flight attendant warns never to do this on a plane (the bleedin obvious!), Putin launches secret weapon into space(thats a good boy, here is your treat)...

Just by logging on I feel like a whore, who is constantly being touched up by the Daily Express, Sky, Talksport, The Guardian, etc etc etc. It is quite demeaning just logging onto the pc these days.

Frankly, I think the moment social media decided to shut down the President of the USA was the moment that should have set alarm bells ringing with anyone interested in free speech. Actually, even well before this! God knows what Trump will have in mind should he become the next President!

These social media companies, which are natural monopolies (if Aunt jean is on facebook then so is Aunt Mary and Uncle Simon), need reigning in. I admit that the attacks on free speech have been forced onto social media by politicians across the world (aided and abetted by woke hysterical) and I suspect social media would like a lot more free speech than they are permitted, but still their power is too great.

As for Novara Media, I know some have said this was an ironic censorship given Novara would no platform anyone who wasn’t up to date and thoroughly intoxicated on the latest woke bullshit (their supporters response to this was lame in my opinion), but we should be ready to defend any groups from online censorship, from left to right, from Christian myths to Islamic ones and even woke hystericals.

My view is this, if you post with your real identity then you cannot be censored no matter how disgusting or venal what you say, if you are anonymous then the platform has a right to moderate you in any way it sees fit. That should be the law. Or alternatively, we should ban every single fucker who isn’t a Professor and let only them speak, and even then the Prof’s can only speak on issues related to their specialised field. Other Profs could invite them into a discussion, if that prof thinks the other Prof, who specialises in another field, can bring some useful light onto the topic.

Illegal video or imagery should of course be banned whether using your identity or not.

A final note, why are MP's on social media anyway? Why don't they create their own platform which is more suited to whatever it is MP's do? They could link users to constituencies and allow these users to ask MP's questions etc. The reason MP's are on social media and have not bothered to create a more suitable MP's platform, is because they are publicity seeking careerists whores.

Anonymous said...

This sort of thing has been predicted by people like Matt Taibbi. His rather paranoid (but since he worked for Rolling Stone, very much insider) take was that allowing big tech companies to control who had access to platform electronic media was authoritarian and benefited the rich over the general public. What you're describing looks more like bungling incompetence than Big Brother censorship, but the trouble is, once one comes to accept that one's message may be taken down at any time without explanation or accountability, won't that tend to quieten dissent?

Anonymous said...

I have much sympathy for BCFG's comments above. Most of what's on the internet is tedious, tacky & irredeemable shite. It was always going to end up like this, while short-term commercial interests dominate: the worst of ITV but on steroids.

I've watched quite a few Novara Media outputs. Some of them offer interesting leftish views but generally it suffers from being a bit like Binns (minor) from the Upper Sixth being allowed his 5 minute slot in the school assembly: too preachy, sanctimonious and didactic.

I prefer Alexei Sayle's podcasts. He is currently doing the A-Z of political theory. He recently interviewed Jeremy Corbyn. Alexei is much more irreverent & Socratic than Novara Media. He does invite professors on to his podcasts, and in the spirit of scholarly ignorance, asks them quite simple but difficult question. It's good fun, as well.

.....God's going to have to give up his favourite chair.

Anonymous said...

Does BCFG do anything with their life except post crap on here? Tragic.

Blissex said...

«These social media companies, which are natural monopolies (if Aunt jean is on facebook then so is Aunt Mary and Uncle Simon), need reigning in.»

They are being reigned in, so that they publish content only within the "guardrails" that the "right thinking majority" approves.

«My view is this, if you post with your real identity then you cannot be censored no matter how disgusting or venal what you say»

The first point here is that nothing is anonymous on the WWW, the security services etc. always know the real name behind pseudonyms.
The value of pseudonyms is in not being subject to "feedback" from your boss, coworkers, spouse, neighbours, relatives, etc.; it is a very great value.

«anything with their life except post»

Many of us just don't have a life, it has been pretty common among online communities since the times of BBSes and 1200 baud modems.

Blissex said...

«Most of what's on the internet is tedious, tacky & irredeemable shite.»

"The Economist" wrote that while people's "high brow" interests are very diverse, many people share the same "low brow" interests for sex, gossip, escapist entertainment, etc., so the way to get big audiences is to go for the "low brow" content.

«too preachy, sanctimonious and didactic»

Nothing new there, "leftoids" have been like that for the past several decades, if not centuries. Even Karl in his time had to deal with them. Still even "leftoids" do publish useful content, if only to preach sanctimoniously on it :-).

As old old Vladimir wrote in "Chto delat?", adventurism and opportunism are both to be avoided, but it is not so easy to balance realistic approaches with idealistic goals.

Mike Macnair said...

On the internet - "90% of everything is crap" - Sturgeon's Law - and the same was true of print ephemera since the 17th century.

On these deletions - and other issues - what at present needs to be prohibited is algorithmic decision-making *as such*. It is just as objectionable when used in exams (as in summer 2020) and in welfare and immigration decision-making. We need a legal requirement that *humans* take responsibility for decisions that affect other humans (and be willing to give reasons for their decisions). Without this, nationalizing the social media companies would just produce the same bad results under state ownership.

Phil said...

An update from Novara here.

Phil said...

But my post has been taken down again! Ludicrous.