That Funny Feeling

Brent Donnelly is a senior risk-taker and FX market maker, and has been trading foreign exchange sin

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  1. I feel like I’m in the minority here when I say: “society” has to think about restrictions on free speech or we will destroy ourselves. Perhaps this seems histrionic, but on the current path we’re on, with mutual antipathy and distrust so high, substantial numbers of people believe things that are simply not true and cause actual harm to the general public by perpetuating those beliefs.

    I feel like we are hidebound by the notion that almost any censorship is bad, something that is (IMO) a social feature of the 20th century but resting on a misunderstanding of an 18th century document. And I understand that then some entity or institution becomes an arbiter of the truth, but, as you point out, the harm is manifest so the social media companies are pursuing censorship anyway.

    Answers are elusive, but I thought this piece was a good counter-argument to the two stances I normally hear.

  2. I disagree. Put no limits on free speech; however, bring back responsibility for actions and inactions. You tend to self govern a lot better if you’re responsible for your own decisions. I don’t mean the tech censor, and I don’t mean #cancel culture. What I mean is those are your opinions. They don’t matter. What matters is when you make decisions. Those decisions should come with responsibilities and repercussions. Right now bad decision making does not come with a consequence, whereas opinions do. That needs to be inverted.

  3. I’m of many minds about free speech limits/no limits.

    How do you see this responsibility unfolding for free speech scenarios such as calls to arms or encouraging abhorrent and/or criminal behavior in a world of human frailty.

  4. I am not sure that all bad decision making escapes consequence. I think mostly consequences are inevitable. Not always, but mostly.

    Opinions made public get batted around in a public way. You express an opinion publicly, get eviscerated by the peanut gallery, it gets noticed.

    Consequence seems to be a more private affair, many will not share misfortune publicly plus casualty can be difficult to prove even without denial being present. Self governance only exists if there is self awareness and it seems to me we have bred a 100% right 100% of the time mindset that it not conducive to the necessary self examination to produce that awareness.

  5. Brent:

    I do look for parables within our popular culture. Your piece reminded me both of “Brazil” ( so don’t assume you can project insignificance on chance incidents) and " I Robot" ( the robot calculates the odds of survival and let’s the kid die and saves the adult). As someone who generates content for a living I can see how the thought of a machine judging the intent or value of your work would be very unsettling to you so thanks for pointing that out .Hope I got your point right.

  6. On free speech I am extremely hands off with very few limits. Harassment, inciting or threatening imminent violence, fraud. Those things are justifiable limits for me and subject to normal US court process with rights to defense etc. The idea of being hard to be found guilty of a violation of free speech is a feature, not a bug.

  7. I’m looking more towards consequences of our leaders actions/inactions. A glance at today’s headlines today gives a few examples of actions/inactions that should lead to serious consequences but will end with nothing burgers: Boris Johnson for locking down everyone else while throwing elaborate parties for cronies. Insider trading at the Federal Reserve. Fauci covering up his involvement with Peter Daszak and squashing scientific inquiry into Covid’s origins. Powell’s entire “transitory” fraudulent narrative. There’s so much to add to this list. Our leaders’ actions only have negative consequences on the public, rarely are the leaders themselves negatively affected. The positive consequences are usually the inverse.

  8. I think the approach here depends on which version of free speech you’re talking about. Is it free speech or Free Speech :tm:? Because they’re different things. The former is the right of every American to criticize their government (or anything else) without fear of said government silencing them. The latter is the belief that you can say anything you want on any platform and live free and unencumbered by consequences. I think Free Speech :tm: is an unrealistic expectation that is used more often than not as a cover for people to attempt to get away with being jerks, or stirring controversy, or enriching themselves through some elaborate grift.

    The bigger problem is the one that’s embedded in the sort of meta issue that you’re (not incorrectly) concerned with. It’s the feeling that ‘somebody ought to be doing something about this’. I think we all feel that way to some degree. I’m as close to a free speech absolutist as you’ll find, but even I get that uncomfortable feeling when I think about the sort of insane shit that exists on Facebook. But now the embedded problem: if Facebook/Google/Twitter/et al are in the business of controlling the flow of information, and they are, then how do we categorize them in terms of what role they’re playing in society? Those companies all operate monopolies with the tacit blessing of the Federal government. Lots of people in government don’t like those monopolies and have the regulatory power to disrupt them. But if you’re too scared or too uninformed to use your power then do you really even have it? Breaking up Big Tech :tm: is the potential energy that’s stored in the D-cell battery that fell behind the couch and you forgot about two years ago. Maybe one day you’ll find it and put it to use, but for now it will always remain in the state of readiness without having anywhere to go.

    So if nobody is willing or able to regulate a thing then we have to say that whatever that thing is doing has the approval of said regulators. Right now, today, the United States government approves of what Facebook/Twitter/Google/et al are doing. Doesn’t that sort of make Big Tech :tm: a form of shadow government? Is DC really our nation’s capital or is Silicon Valley truly the seat of power?

    From a purely corporate law standpoint Facebook should be able to determine what their users can say or do. It’s their toy and they can tell you how to play with it. But if Facebook is a quasi government enterprise–in operation but not in law–then does that change their right to control the content? If we view these companies as sovereign authoritarian states instead of as regular corporate actors how does that change the way our actual, real government treats them?

    There’s no clean answer because we’ve just never been here before. These guys are all the East India Company. Once you’ve handed over the rights to control trade and colonization it’s hard to walk it all back in an orderly fashion.

  9. I just listened to an interesting podcast interview (The New Abnormal E179 time 18:30-35:00) that appears to provide more illumination on this problem.

    My summary understanding in a nutshell is that many (if not all) non-subscription “engagement by enragement” websites are primarily financed by advertising $$ channeled via GooG/Facebook. What is less known is the behind the scenes ad buying companies (“dark money” if you will) doing the directing of these $$.

    Without these ad dollars supporting their “free speech”, these political grievance entrepreneurs, grifters and con artists might have to go get more socially beneficial jobs and a goodly chunk of the mis/dis information might dry up.

    An unintended consequence of this, apparently, is that Mr/Mrs small biz owner buying ads through Facebook/Google might find their ads showing up on some website or embedded in some youtube video whose political philosophy/cause they do not support or agree with at all i.e. white supremacist, Qanon etc.

  10. That sounds pretty interesting. When you think about the massive fortune that Facebook and Google have accumulated it’s useful to remember that it all started as a way to generate ad revenue. One of the things I repeat (seemingly endlessly) is that the point of any TV show, network or cable, isn’t to inform you or entertain you, it’s to sell Tide and Liberty Mutual Insurance. CNN and Fox run their dumb programming not because of some moral obligation, but instead as fan service to the marks who they hope will eventually spend a little extra money buying something made by Proctor & Gamble.

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