stupidpolis

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from dave

A curious thing has happened in recent days in the world of internet political discourse. It's by no means a new thing. It happens all the time, but sometimes it happens to you. Or rather, you notice there's a concerted effort to have it happen to you, but the effort is so bizarre that it stands out as not the natural ebb and flow of internet shitposting, but something. Something weird is happening. Fortunately I'm not quite online enough to understand why this something is happening or where this something is coming from, but there is, undoubtably a something going on.

Stupidpol

The subreddit which this blog is named after has a complicated history in terms of how it has been represented to those who do not regularly post there as well as those that do. I suspect any description of it by any one individual would likely cause consternation among every other person that uses it, but I will try to describe it as I see it regardless. There will likely be parts of this description that are wrong, debatable or an unpopular interpretation. Don't tell me, I already know.

Before I discovered /r/stupidpol, it was founded by listeners of the podcast Chapo Trap House. The initial CTH fan subreddit had devolved into an insular enclave of chasers, gate keepers, egomaniacal mods, purely aesthetic leftism and an atmosphere of political correctness (ironic as it was eventually deleted for constant jokes about killing people) which stifled any attempt at conversations about class, economics, political education or organising.

Thus stupidpol was created, not only as a place with less gatekeeping and censorship, but with an intent to encourage critique of the culture wars and identity politics which made the CTH subreddit all but useless. A place to undermine arguments that distract us from identifying the actual root economic causes of problems which underlie the many social issues which have become cause célèbre for liberals and the left over the last few years. The stupidpol blend of content would become a mixture of genuinely interesting or informative political literature mixed with shit posting about the excesses of essentialist identity politics.

Shortly after is around the time I found the sub. As the stereotypical poor white working class male raised in a sink town, who entered the world of low paid work with no formal education beyond high school, finding a place where people could openly mock the excesses of the out of touch middle class moralist academic version of leftism which seemed to have taken over the mainstream of political debate was a cathartic reminder that the movement for emancipation of all people still exists.

The proclivity to joke about the predatory male feminists, white women of colour and poor rich kids that were building media careers in lecturing struggling people about their privilege, would obviously create a reaction from the targets of this mockery. Stupidpol was given a misleading reputation of being a hive of alt right reactionaries. When we watch a racist white woman torture her instinct for received pronunciation to force some kind of previously unheard “authentic” accent in order to explain that she in fact can't be racist because she is by some obscure definition not white, we're apparently not laughing because of the sheer absurdity of the spectacle, but because we're all secretly white nationalists that think a woman's place is in the kitchen.

This reputation has had effects that have actually benefited the left, and unfortunately in some ways the right too. The benefits for the left are clear from a simple search for the word “thank” on the forum which returns threads by people who felt they were being driven down the alt-right rabbit hole before being inspired by stupidpol to investigate class politics. The elephant in the room would be that it seems that any academic left trend that stupidpol mocks is picked up a few months later by the Johnson government's (and other “populist” right leaders') PR machine in an attempt to create a divisive culture war framed as being between the normal salt of the earth worker and the liberal metropolitan elite. The other common trend is the semi-regular brigading which appears to come from far right discord channels, seemingly inspired by the mistaken belief in a common enemy. The misunderstanding that we hate the dreaded SJW that wants to destroy our way of life, rather than see their shallow analysis as a distraction which sucks the oxygen away from actionable and popular policy, leads many to think it a viable avenue to draw people into their little right wing cults. Beyond helping launch the careers of a few internet famous post-left grifters these attempts tend not to go far. One recent attempt is worth talking about though because it demonstrates a classic method of far right entryism and narrative control, which it would benefit people to understand and recognise.

Ivermectin

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic medication. It works by sending the nervous systems of parasites into overdrive, making them unable to feed, reproduce or function in any way until they die. While it's not unheard of for a medication to have benefits that were never intended, studies show that Ivermectin has no effect on sufferers of Covid-19. At the beginning of this post I mentioned a something. Ivermectin is not the something but it does have something to do with the something.

When the Ivermectin disinformation hit stupidpol, it did not come in the form of claims about the medication. It came in the form of alarmism about the suppression of free speech. A dump of chatlogs from volunteer mods for Reddit were released. These logs were not at all interesting. The juiciest gossip that attention was drawn to appears to be people questioning whether it's worth having their modship removed for a protest that would likely fail. The planned protest was to temporarily close multiple subreddits to draw attention to widespread Covid-19 misinformation and force Reddit to deal with it.

Reddit, along with the other major social media companies have found themselves in a strange position. They are portrayed, and like to portray themselves as omnibenevolent public services. Presenting themselves as de facto arms of the state, they will regularly pontificate about their responsibility to uphold the first amendment, while in reality they are businesses. They are businesses and their moderation policies are nothing if not inconsistent. Many subreddits that are technically legal have been removed because they were ultimately bad for business (or as rumoured in the case of the aforementioned CTH subreddit, to provide political balance while their opposite the_donald which was bad for business, was deleted).

The real driving force behind the management of social media companies is the management of their image. The better their image, the more popular they are. The more popular they are, the more advertising slots and sponsorships they can sell. This leads them to difficult situations when it comes to things like weighing up which would be the least damaging decision when things like Covid-19 misinformation is in the news. Will they lose most by appearing to be against freedom of speech, or against protecting public health? Considering the overwhelming weight of public opinion seems to be in favour of vaccination and covid restrictions, the cynic in me can't help but question whether the real dilemma at Reddit Inc is whether they would rather lose 1'000 users that are interested in this one weird trick your doctor hates or 10'000 users that will never knowingly click an advert.

But free speech is sacrosanct. I believe this. Spez believes this. You probably believe this, and for now at least, the far right believe this. The way Ivermectin discourse landed at stupidpol is a righteous call to action, or so it seems. Obviously many people defending the right to misinform will admit that the claims made are ridiculous, but it's the principal that matters. If you don't demonstrate your commitment to free speech now, you're allowing society down a path in which the powers that be will eventually come after you too.

If you want to actually talk about the efficacy of Ivermectin, now is not the time. The right to free speech is in crisis and must be protected. Quite how it is in crisis in regards to this, is not really clear when taking a sober look at the battlefield. It seems the worst consequence anybody has faced in recent years for spreading medical misinformation is to have to write for a different publication, or lecture at a different university, or at the absolute worst be struck off from practicing medicine. Their rights to speak freely have never actually been effected.

So if their rights to speak freely are not actually effected, what is it that they really want your support for? A better question may be what is the support they really want. While they appear to want to place the actual subject on the back burner for now, it sits there in the background, ever present. Your task is to prove you believe in their right to speak, which considering there is no real threat, can be achieved by doing literally nothing. What is really asked of you is a demonstration of your commitment to their rights. The fact is though, that no demonstration will truly satisfy them. The only thing that will get them past the free speech argument is for you to go through the humiliating spectacle of soiling your own reputation by presenting them to the wider world as reputable and honest while they gleefully lie to your face.

At this point the game is lost. Honest people have allowed themselves to become conduits for propagandists. The blatantly untrue claims are now treated as being equivalent to actual facts in the mainstream discourse. Those that don't have the time or inclination to research the argument themselves are being told two conflicting stories as if this a real argument between two equally valid interpretations of reality, as opposed to a nonsense versus a reasoned argument.

While much has been said and written about repeating a lie until it becomes the truth, the big lie and well funded propaganda outlets. The real foot in the door that allows falsehoods to be presented as truth is this sort of Mott and bailey tactic. You, a respectable and respectful person, are being given two arguments, one reasonable and one ridiculous. The task is to bamboozle you into heaping the respect you have for the reasonable claim to the ridiculous one. Of course you respect free speech, you will prove it by allowing charlatans to use your platform and your reputation without interruption.

What is to be done to combat this strategy? I'm not entirely sure. It's not just random anonymous forum users that fall for it. Many a journalist who should know better has been drawn down a path of becoming a useful idiot for false causes. The best I can recommend is to keep this in mind the next time somebody presents you with a ridiculous claim.

-dave

#freespeech #reddit #ivermectin #farright

 
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from dave

As a leftist tech nerd in my mid-thirties I remember a time when information should be free was a common phrase. At the dawn of high speed internet in the home, following from the success and demise of napster, and the growth of bit-torrent there emerged an almost accidental political movement.

While the concept of intellectual property had never been unquestioned, in fact for most of human history it has never existed, the ability to efficiently distribute large amounts of data without much effort ignited a minor revolution in the way mainstream society treats intellectual property. As so often happens to revolutions though, this was defeated by a well heeled counter revolution. Like piracy replaced CDs, legal streaming replaced piracy. While some major torrent repositories still exist, the strategy of inconveniencing people that want to access media by blocking domain names and offering tolerable subscription prices effectively killed the political movement of information should be free in the public consciousness.

Long before Spotify adopted the model of creating a captive market then stealing from the artists though, there was Elsevier. Elsevier is a scientific publisher. Their business model is to charge scientists for submitting documents, copyrighting them, having other scientists peer review them for no pay, then selling them with none of this money going to the author. They don't keep all this money though; in the years 2019-2020, Elsevier's parent company, RELX donated a record $900'000 dollars to US Democrats and Republicans. Also in 2020, by sheer coincidence, US company PayPal suspended the ability to donate to a website called Sci-hub.

Sci-hub is something of a remnant of the information must be free philosophy. Founded in 2010 by Kazakhstani computer scientist Alexandra Elbakyan, Sci-hub is a free online repository for scientific papers that does not recognise copyrights. Although obscure to most people, an (admittedly unscientific) poll by Science magazine suggests 60% of respondents (the sort of people that read Science magazine) regularly use the site and 88% do not see it's use as wrong.

Sci-hub is facing multiple lawsuits attempting to shut it down, most, those in the political west are being ignored, but Elbakyan has chosen to fight a challenge brought to them in the Indian high court. Elsevier along with other scientific publishers Wiley and ACS are attempting to block the only access many Indian educators and researchers have to scientific literature.

This is an assault on what the fashionable people of Twitter and academia would refer to as the global south. The ability of poor nations, poor people, all of humanity really, to progress is being choked by billion dollar companies that do literally nothing except rent-seeking and political lobbying to protect their right to profit from others' work. So why is it that you're more likely to see support in this international battle against global capital on liberal-left than left-not-liberal Twitter?

Could it be that all this STEM stuff, this movement led by a woman is just tech-bro shit? This fight to improve education and development in poor countries is cultural imperialism maybe? Maybe it's the fact that due to economic blockades, this project which needs money is only able to take donations using cryptocurrency. And due to crypto's association with American style right-wing libertarianism, donating to the communist-leaning Elbakyan's project to make education accessible to all is just a little bit too tainted by the uncool.

Even those that see past all this aesthetic leftism and only want to talk about material conditions, those so far left they don't even recognize what passes itself off as the left anymore, and now have to refer to themselves as post left or simply as marxists, seem so distracted by their campaign to connect with the ordinary man, (the ordinary man they increasingly appear to have never seen except through the selectively edited agenda driven voxpops of conservative media) fail to recognise a genuine, popular, crucial and potentially winnable battle of people against power; of labour against capital.

Sci-hub may be among the most spectacular holdouts in the war against tech feudalism, but other, less extralegal branches of the resistance do exist. These branches, potential bulwarks against capital, however, appear to be dying before they can be fully born. Dying because apathy, fear and trend hopping amongst those imploring us to fight the power is preventing they themselves from seeding the new community owned landscape of tomorrow's internet.

While Elsevier and co. maintain power through extortion in a racket barely known to those of us who aren't scientific researchers. The well known social media companies use a different model to exploit us all. Instead of charging money, because as addictive as it is, nobody needs to pay for Facebook, our data is traded. This data is analysed to detect each individuals' intellectual vulnerabilities and sold on for profit. This data is then used by the rich and powerful to create personalised propaganda to manipulate us into giving them more riches and more power. On the run up to the UK general election of 2019 a massive 88% of Conservative party adverts were misleading. And although there are other reasons for Labour's defeat, namely dithering on Brexit. Anybody who door knocked or argued with family members knows, (even though this has now been made politically incorrect to say, ironically by anti-political correctness warriors among Frank Furedi's disciples) that social media misinformation played a massive part. It wasn't down to individual arguments but the relentless advertising barrage paid for by the powerful that created a vague but perilous sense of unease among many of the electorate.

The social media that was once expected to liberate us has now been turned into a means of control. This town square is now full of neon billboards, touts, secret police and fraudsters. It is controlled by the highest bidder. He who has most power and money can speak loudest and be heard by all, and he who has least can be disappeared or ostracised on our unknowing behalf. Free speech is not the problem on social media, paid speech is. It's not individual articles but the slow relentless grinding campaigns by those with bottomless pockets that can force us to listen to them for months on end until we've forgotten what normal is.

Democracy is in peril because of Facebook and we cannot expect regulations to fix it. Those laws would be written by the very people who maintain their power through the ability to manipulate us through these personalised propaganda campaigns. The relationship between Facebook and politicians is a mutually beneficial one. Political campaigns can lie, and when they win power they will not interfere with Facebooks business. Any entity that operates by market logic will inevitably evolve to extract more and more from those it claims to serve. Any checks on power will only lead to innovative circumventions of those checks to extract even more. The reality is that in order to save democracy, commercial social media must be destroyed in it's entirety. It is down to us to do this, and it can be done by replacing it with something that is under our control.

So far, all attempts to move en masse away from centralised social media have all fizzled out or tended towards niche insular communities. Mastodon, while the most successful project often feels stale and overly civil. For better or worse it is not the Twitter killer most would like. The Secure Scuttlebutt network/protocol and it's Facebook lite style clients are even more niche with the majority of social activity surrounding the developers themselves. Peertube, an intended alternative to Youtube, half heartedly embraced by the left appears to now mostly be french antivax videos and conspiracy theorists too crazy for Youtube.

The main problems preventing the mass movement from the huge data siloes of corporate social media to non-commercial community owned infrastructure at first seem insurmountable. Firstly, all these platforms have captive audiences. Any rival would need a huge outlay budget for advertising and creating enough content to keep users engaged long enough to add to it. Secondly, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are unhealthy addiction engines. Not only would it be technologically difficult to replicate the way in which they feed you information, it would arguably be immoral.

Replacing Youtube, Twitter and Facebook appears for now to be a non-starter, but one of these networks, Twitter, does have a vulnerability which can be exploited. This vulnerability is not on the platform itself, but due to the fact that it is a market place of self promotion. Any content of any value delivered on Twitter is most likely hosted on a second layer of social media: SoundCloud, Patreon, Medium, Substack and self hosting.

These websites in themselves do not rely on internal content discovery portals. Nobody visits to browse SoundCloud, they follow links to specific episodes of specific podcasts. While Peertube is nowhere near the YouTube alternative it proposes to be yet, it is already better at being SoundCloud than SoundCloud is. If podcasts that were intended to only be reached via Twitter and other link sharing sites were hosted on Peertube, that would begin to solve the content problem and eventually make it worth visiting just to browse.

Medium and Substack can already be replaced by Writefreely, the software running this blog. I can honestly see no benefits they have over this platform. Writefreely even allows payments through web monetization.

These potential replacement platforms; Peertube and Writefreely, are both open source and integrate the ActivityPub protocol. This is the same protocol used by Mastodon and several other federated social media platforms. This allows various interactions between all the different sites that use them. Beyond this, larger new media platforms that host their own articles, audio and video could migrate their data to Peertube and Writefreely backends and using CSS to reskin the front end or redirecting APIs, integrate ActivityPub into their own websites without changing the look and feel of their own brands. Allowing viewers and readers to interact with this media without having to create a new account, as well as subscribe to it on portal of their choice.

Once there is enough content to warrant users collating their own feeds of conversations, blogs and podcasts on one feed, then we can start to think about the problems around more ethical algorithms for recommendations.

If left wing influencers are serious about fighting back against the pernicious influence of capital, then what I've described here are realistic and attainable steps toward moving from the walled gardens of current social media in which we are analysed and manipulated, into a social media landscape which we control.

Oh and the next time you see a musician complain about Spotify, tell them to use resonate.is

-dave

For more information on sci-hub, watch this video by medlife crisis.

Please consider donating to sci-hub. If this link doesn't work, use tor

#scihub #twitter #techfuedalism #cryptocurrency

 
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