Don’t Ruin the Internet Over Flukey ‘Bias’ Incidents Like the One on Pinterest

 

What passes for “evidence” of Big Tech bias against the right tends to be of the anecdotal variety. A piece of content gets blocked or hidden. An account gets suspended or banned. And then conservative media goes crazy, charging that Silicon Valley is suppressing conservative thought and thinkers.

The latest controversy involves a Pinterest employee sending a series of internal documents to the right-wing political website Project Veritas. The documents supposedly prove flagrant discrimination against pro-life groups and religious conservatives. This whistleblower claims the documents show that Liveaction.org — a pro-life informational website with more than 3 million followers on social media — was unfairly added to a domain blacklist reserved for porn domains, which are prevented from being pinned by Pinterest.

As is typical of these things, the more you look at them, the less substance that appears. Pinterest responded that Live Action site had been “actioned,” Fortune magazine reports, “for “misinformation related to conspiracies and anti-vaccination advice,” and not porn. Indeed, Pinterest was the first platform to clamp down on anti-vaccination content under health and public safety considerations. After the Project Veritas report came out, Pinterest responded by removing Liveaction.org from its porn domain list and said the list name was a legacy from an anti-porn effort years ago. Indeed, there are other URLs on the list, which have nothing to do with porn, such as ZeroHedge.

Meanwhile a privacy claim by a third party resulted in YouTube removing the video and in Twitter limiting account features on Project Veritas’ Twitter account for “posting private information.” Of course, right-wing media got pretty excited about that, too.

Yet how much do all the details of one specific case really matter given the volume of content that is posted on various social media sites? (And on Pinterest, a good chunk of that volume is pro-life in nature. A very big chunk based on my review.) On YouTube, for instance, the platform’s users upload more than 500 hours of fresh video per minute. Is it really proof of bias and conspiracy that all that content generates the odd controversy from to time? Different platforms have different content moderation policies, but they all share the problem of moderating that mass of content as well as “having policies … perennially in a state of reactive catch-up,” notes an excellent Slate piece on the content moderation policies of the various companies.

Yet that’s not a bad thing. The cycle of content moderation controversy, public backlash, then companies altering their stances may be more feature than bug and a crucial component of a useful feedback loop, notes journalist Will Oremus. (It sorts of reminds of Amar Bhidé’s work on innovation that stresses the role of early adopter consumers to provide ongoing feedback on new tech products and services.) As Oremus writes in a recent piece, “Consistency is a virtue, but so are responsiveness and adaptability. We need standards, and we need transparency — but ultimately, we’ll always need the backlashes, too.”

Every problem doesn’t demand a Washington policy response. That sort of reactiveness can make things worse (such as ill-considered calls to change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act). This is especially the case when the problem really isn’t much of a problem at all.

Published in Economics, Technology
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There are 27 comments.

  1. Basil Fawlty Member

    Content moderation.

    • #1
    • June 18, 2019, at 4:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. Brent Chambers Member

    Mr Pethokoukis, Your column sounds just like old the NY Times articles saying that the NY Times is not biased. All it does is demonstrate willful blindness. Don’t worry, their censorship will get to a level where you will be able to see it. It might even come to reach you in your ivory tower. In the meantime I will now likely pass on your material.

    • #2
    • June 18, 2019, at 4:47 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  3. Roosevelt Guck Member

    Which social network has the worst user experience? I’ve used a number of them.

    Reddit — It looks like it has a lot of promise. Love the AMAs. But they stop you from commenting more than once every five minutes, I’ve found. Very very annoying. Poor user ex.

    Facebook — Infantilizing framework that restricts your communications to “friends.” Very high school. Stupidity Gone Wild! When I think of Facebook, I see Zuck and Co. living on an island of Lost Boys, in a virtual fantasy world. With Sheryl Sandberg playing the part of Wendy. Boring. Bad ads. Over-sharing. Complicated settings. Bad user ex.

    Twitter — Like wetting your pants in a blue suit. It feels good, but nobody notices.

    Instagram — You know they’re burying your posts unless you pay up. Hashtags labels are a pretty poor way to categorize content. Only one size for photos. Bad user experience.

    YouTube — Offers the most free content. Comments can be awful. But who reads them? Not bad user ex.

    Tumblr — Never used.

    Pintrest — No so great these days. Bad user ex.

    If someone asked you which platforms to avoid, what would you say?

    • #3
    • June 18, 2019, at 5:02 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Let’s be honest. The Right can be banned from social media and that is cool. As long as the elites get rich and the Deplorables get screwed over.

    • #4
    • June 18, 2019, at 5:23 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Annefy Member

    What can you expect but anecdotal evidence? Maybe we can get @jack to publish his algorithms- that’s the ticket!

    Everyone I listen has been banned or demonetized. Tommy Robinson. Tim Pool. Scott Adams. Owen Benjamin. 

    After awhile all those anecdotes become evidence. 

    I don’t know what the answer is or how to solve the problem. But I’m outraged that a very few people in a very few companies will be deciding our future elections. 

    • #5
    • June 18, 2019, at 5:30 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  6. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    A few years ago, the fastest growing technology companies where those that where finding new ways to improve the user’s experience and productivity. Now that fastest growing technology companies are pits of vitriol and hate, that suck the thought of productivity right out of your day.

    Maybe we do need to go back to the 90s and focus on technology enhanced productivity again.

    • #6
    • June 18, 2019, at 5:36 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. James Lileks Contributor

    As is typical of these things, the more you look at them, the less substance that appears. Pinterest responded that Live Action site had been “actioned,” Fortune magazine reports, “for “misinformation related to conspiracies and anti-vaccination advice,” and not porn. Indeed, Pinterest was the first platform to clamp down on anti-vaccination content under health and public safety considerations. After the Project Veritas report came out, Pinterest responded by removing Liveaction.org from its porn domain list and said the list name was a legacy from an anti-porn effort years ago. Indeed, there are other URLs on the list, which have nothing to do with porn, such as ZeroHedge.

    PJMedia was flagged as pron for a while as well. Unless there was some naughty site devoted to women in scanty nighties in 1999, it’s hard to see how a “Legacy” list would include it.

    The occasional algorithmic hiccup doesn’t bother me much; when you have robots set to delete or flag a particular type of content, it will act dumb and ban something that seeks to debate that very content. A Twitter user got locked out b/c his book critiquing the alt-right had stars wearing pointy white hoods, and the robots thought it was pro-Klan, I guess. 

    It’s the direct involvement of people making lists that concerns me, because I suspect they’re tender but serious ahistorical youths who care deeply about making the Internet a safe space, blocking things that “cause harm” (like scary book jacket ills) and keeping out “hate,” which they define as anything that criticizes protected groups. When they do that, it needs to be exposed, and a black check placed next to the company’s image in the public mind, until they either admit they intend to have a particular bias, or prove that they do not. 

    • #7
    • June 18, 2019, at 5:40 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  8. James Gawron Thatcher

    JimP,

    I think Dr. Epstein has laid out what conservative bedrock is about.

    Libertarian – Zero Government Coercion

    Progressive – Unlimited Government Coercion

    Classical Liberalism – Limited Government Coercion

    Jim, we’ve got to decide right now what the hell is going on in social media. Between vote harvesting and social media manipulation, we can’t afford to have Trump destroyed by people who don’t understand the real threat. Take a look at Hong Kong and the 2 million people just put in concentration camps in China. This is where progressivism leads and has always lead. Only Trump can stand against this. Libertarian purism isn’t the proper response at this moment.

    It is incredibly easy for social media to manipulate their algorithms producing real damage to the democratic process as opposed to the 3-year long hoax threat from the idiot Russians. I said it before on my post and I’ll say it again. Even if it actually reduces the productivity of the internet the bad actions of the mega-platforms cannot be tolerated. Perfect libertarianism can’t exist without a country with a real government that defends liberty. If we need to sacrifice Facebook to make an example of what will happen to those who try to manipulate to obtain unlimited power then so be it.

    The internet itself need not be touched. It is the social media platforms that must get the message that they are nothing but neutral platforms. They must protect public health and stop those who promote actual violence. Only Gd knows what’s in your heart, hate or love, not some trivial lightweight like Zuck and certainly not pseudo-Marxist progressives.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #8
    • June 18, 2019, at 5:43 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. James Lileks Contributor

    Roosevelt Guck (View Comment):
    If someone asked you which platforms to avoid, what would you say?

    Facebook. Twitter is useful and illustrative of the times, Tumblr is for weirdos with fetishes for pointy-eared elves of indeterminate sex, Instagram is for lying to your friends about your life, Pinterest is Tumblr for older people, YouTube is a gold mine of independent content, and Reddit is astonishingly deep, with subreddits populated vey learned, civil people.

    Facebook is an arrangement wherein they offer to host your picture of your dog and pipe in some ludicrous political rants from people you know but would prefer not to be lectured by, and in exchange you let them sell your information to large companies as well as strangle local media outlets. CoC ’em. 

    • #9
    • June 18, 2019, at 5:47 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. lowtech redneck Coolidge

    Annefy (View Comment):

    What can you expect but anecdotal evidence? Maybe we can get @jack to publish his algorithms- that’s the ticket!

    Everyone I listen has been banned or demonetized. Tommy Robinson. Tim Pool. Scott Adams. Owen Benjamin.

     

    I suspect that most apologists view that as a feature, not a bug.

     

     

    • #10
    • June 18, 2019, at 6:33 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. DonG Coolidge

    James Pethokoukis: Pinterest responded that Live Action site had been “actioned,” Fortune magazine reports, “for “misinformation related to conspiracies and anti-vaccination advice,”

    The linked article does not mention Live Action. 

    • #11
    • June 18, 2019, at 7:31 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. DonG Coolidge

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    The internet itself need not be touched. It is the social media platforms that must get the message that they are nothing but neutral platforms.

    No, they don’t need to be neutral platforms. They are what they are and they will be destroyed as privacy regulations are rolled out across the world and state-by-state. Maybe, Indiana or France will have a law that says companies that collect demographic data must provide annual opt in on a datum-by-datum basis. Or, maybe “customers” can demand a list of all people that utilized “their” data. Because who “owns” your data is something easily legislated and the value of Facebook, et al is zero without the data mining. 

    • #12
    • June 18, 2019, at 7:40 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Okay I got your thinking. The Pinterest controversy about labeling Live Action, a pro-life group, in such a way that its censorship is fine and dandy as long as we can somehow connect some dots that show that what happened had to do with clamping down on anti vaccination discussion.

    I guess I will be more careful in my thinking then. I may be the only person on this board who is aware that over in Italy, a nation that does not allow for endless 24/7 commercials paid for by Big Pharma to advertise its products and more importantly, to also hold the news media in Italy hostage to the vaccine agenda, many of the top people have been voted out of government. This sending off of top officials is due to how Italians have had the ability to discuss vaccinations and have found big holes in the idea that vaccines are safe, and since they’ re so safe, that there is no need to evaluate each and every vaccine inside the Scientific Principle of risk vs benefit.

    I may also be the only person on this board to follow some of the brouhaha over the Gardasil vaccine in terms of the state of Maryland. There it has come to public attention that in the last 8 years, in Maryland, over 800 adverse reactions have been reported due to Gardasil, with one death occurring. I remember how when in the late 1980’s, some 40 people died world wide due to their ingesting from L tryptophan, the substance was basically banned here in the USA. But apparently when Big Pharma helps out the state of Maryland with some 100 million bucks, a vaccine that injures and kills people can continue to be distributed and even mandated.

    But above and beyond the reality of there needing to be a discussion about Science now being so totally controlled by Corporations, it is also quite necessary to realize that if the State can mandate that you or I or our children are mandated to need to have dozens of vaccines, then as a society, truly we are not that far removed from the State demanding that married couples confine themselves to one and only one pregnancy that results in a living child.

    I am on this board due to how one day, when realizing I wanted to become part of the conservative and pro Trump side of things, then I went on google and entered the terms “conservative discussion groups” + “conservative discussion forums.” Ricochet came up around the fifteenth suggestion.

    In a society that is continually pushed Left by the “liberal,” non-free-speech abiding Entities like Google, it will be less and less likely that some future counterpart of myself will be able to find this place. Today it is Live Action, tomorrow it could be Ricochet.

    • #13
    • June 18, 2019, at 9:12 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Annefy (View Comment):

    What can you expect but anecdotal evidence? Maybe we can get @jack to publish his algorithms- that’s the ticket!

    Everyone I listen has been banned or demonetized. Tommy Robinson. Tim Pool. Scott Adams. Owen Benjamin.

    After awhile all those anecdotes become evidence.

    I don’t know what the answer is or how to solve the problem. But I’m outraged that a very few people in a very few companies will be deciding our future elections.

    Forty years ago, the word “anecdotal” meant the recounting of a happy and pleasurable happening.

    Then the activists in Calif were able to educate the public as to what was happening with regards to how the Corporations were starting to control the science. And to how people were being exposed to chemicals that might be risky. The first result of this education was the passage of Proposition 65.

    Prop 65 was not that drastic a measure. It merely stated that companies that were utilizing risky chemicals that might affect the public had to notify the public that this was happening.

    But this measure terrified the pesticide industry. So immediately they began to overturn the First Principle of Science: that when an observer notices some phenomenon, their observation when combined with the observations of others could inductively create a rationale for setting up a hypothesis regarding what was being observed.

    We recently began seeing such a hypothesis come to fruition: Monsanto being slammed in court for “shielding” the public from its knowledge that glyphosate triggers non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

    But Big Industry hates the ability of individuals to compile their own observations and to then begin the process of creating a hypothesis regarding those thousands and even hundreds of thousands of observations. They came up with the term “anecdotal” as a put down. I now see it as a badge of honor.

    And you are correct that getting the low down on what the actual algorithms would be helpful. But our collecting our own observations about the entire dynamic of censorship that is getting amped up is helpful as well, due to how the Big Corporations are now having more and more control over the internet and these companies are intent to smash down how the internet used to be like the Wild Wild West. One “anecdotal observation” about censorship might not mean much, but when united to five hundred thousand other similar observations means a great deal. This process is called inductive reasoning.

    • #14
    • June 18, 2019, at 9:27 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. Franco Member

    There’s also a HUGE problem with self-censorship. People are afraid to say certain things that are obvious.

    Stick to what you know, James. This isn’t your field.

    • #15
    • June 19, 2019, at 4:23 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    All I know is that site after site on YouTube I follow gets demonotized for being conservative or against the Access Media. Twitter bans only conservatives.

    There is bias. Period. Since these sites are acting as editors, they should then be responsible, legally for content.

     

    • #16
    • June 19, 2019, at 5:23 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  17. RyanFalcone Member

    JP brings up some very sound points but with all due respect, he has his head firmly planted somewhere if he thinks that conservatives are not being targeted by these platforms on a massive and socially destructive scale. This is a serious issue.

    • #17
    • June 19, 2019, at 6:30 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    I would say Jim wins the Walter Duranty award for journalism excellence. 

    How many people does Stalin need to kill before it becomes more than anecdotal?

    • #18
    • June 19, 2019, at 7:21 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  19. The Reticulator Member

    What would be so bad about ruining the internet? 

    • #19
    • June 19, 2019, at 7:24 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. Seawriter Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    What would be so bad about ruining the internet?

    Between Pinterest, Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter I would say it is already ruined. Worries about ruining it lock the barn door after the horse has gotten out.

    • #20
    • June 19, 2019, at 7:51 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. James Gawron Thatcher

    To all,

    Here’s a good idea that a rising young conservative star is going to put forward.

    Hawley to Introduce Bill Making It Easier to Sue Big Tech Firms Over Political Bias

    The bill would make firms like Facebook, Youtube, and Google legally liable for user-generated content, unless and until they can demonstrate that their content moderation processes are unaffected by political bias.

    “This legislation simply states that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring transparency and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate,” Hawley said in a news release.

    That’s right on target exactly as far as I’m concerned. We’ve got to tackle each problem one at a time. This addresses the bias problem on social media directly.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #21
    • June 19, 2019, at 8:11 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. The Reticulator Member

    James Pethokoukis: What passes for “evidence” of Big Tech bias against the right tends to be of the anecdotal variety.

    What sort of evidence would you expect other than anecdotal evidence?

    • #22
    • June 19, 2019, at 12:22 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. Brian Watt Member

    • #23
    • June 19, 2019, at 2:06 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. Annefy Member

    Tim Pool has been all over the subject for quite awhile and I recommend everyone who has an interest to check him out.

    He mixed it up good with @jack Dorsey on the Joe Rogan podcast #1258. The subject was Twitter (obviously) and Tim understands what’s happening better than @jack.

    He YouTubes daily – he’s left of center but one of the most unbiased commentators that I’ve found. His focus lately has been on the shennanigans at YouTube. It’s a very complicated subject and he understands it.

    • #24
    • June 19, 2019, at 5:05 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  25. Franco Member

    Annefy (View Comment):

    Tim Pool has been all over the subject for quite awhile and I recommend everyone who has an interest to check him out.

    He mixed it up good with @jack Dorsey on the Joe Rogan podcast #1258. The subject was Twitter (obviously) and Tim understands what’s happening better than @jack.

    He YouTubes daily – he’s left of center but one of the most unbiased commentators that I’ve found. His focus lately has been on the shennanigans at YouTube. It’s a very complicated subject and he understands it.

    I like him but he has to stop with the endless disclaimers.

    He’s all over this and probably the best source on the subject.

     

    • #25
    • June 19, 2019, at 5:11 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Brian Watt Member

    After thousands of anecdotals it starts to smell like a coordinated effort. 

    • #26
    • June 19, 2019, at 5:31 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    But, Jim P says it just can’t be true! Ignore your lying eyes. 

    • #27
    • June 19, 2019, at 5:41 PM PDT
    • 3 likes