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May 2020
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Let's Talk About 'Neutrality' -- And How Math Works

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So if the First Amendment protects site moderation and curation decisions, why are we even talking about neutrality?It's because some of the bigger tech companies -- I'm looking at you, Google and Facebook -- naively assumed good faith when asked about neutrality by congressional committees. They took the question as inquiring whether they apply neutral content moderation principles, rather than as Act I in a Kabuki play where bad-faith politicians and pundits would twist this as meaning that the tech companies promised scrupulous adherence to political neutrality (and that Act II, as described below, would involve cherry-picking anecdotes to try to show that Google and Facebook were lying, and are actually bastions of conversative-hating liberaldom).And here's the thing -- Google, Twitter, and Facebook probably ARE pretty damn scrupulously neutral when it comes to political content (not that it matters, because THE FIRST AMENDMENT, but bear with me for a little diversion here). These are big platforms, serving billions of people. They've got a vested interest in making their platforms as usable and attractive to as many people as possible. Nudging the world toward a particular political orthodoxy? Not so much.But that doesn't stop Act II of the bad faith play. Let's look at how unmoored from reality it is.Anecdotes Aren't DataAnecdotes -- even if they involve multiple examples -- are meaningless when talking about content moderation at scale. Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day. Facebook has over 1.5 billion people looking at its newsfeed daily. Twitter suspends as many as a million accounts a day.In the face of those numbers, the fact that one user or piece of content was banned tells us absolutely nothing about content moderation practices. Every example offered up -- from Diamond & Silk to PragerU -- is but one little greasy, meaningless mote in the vastness of the content moderation universe.'Neutrality?' You keep using that word . . .One obvious reason that any individual content moderation decision is irrelevant is simple numbers: a decision representing 0.00000001 of all decisions made is of absolutely no statistical significance. Random mutations -- content moderation mistakes -- are going to cause exponentially more postings or deletions than even a compilation of hundreds of anecdotes can provide. And mistakes and edge cases are inevitable when dealing with decision-making at scale.But there's more. Cases of so-called political bias are, if it is even possible, even less determinative, given the amount of subjectivity involved. If you look at the right-wing whining and whinging about their voices being censored by the socialist techlords, don't expect to see any numerosity or application of basic logic.Is there any examination of whether those on the other side of the political divide are being treated similarly? That perhaps some sites know their audiences don't want a bunch of over-the-top political content, and thus take it down with abandon, regardless of which political perspective it's coming from?Or how about acknowledging the possibility that sites might actually be applying their content moderation rules neutrally -- but that nutbaggery and offensive content isn't evenly distributed across the political spectrum? And that there just might be, on balance, more of it coming from the right?But of course there's not going to be any such acknowledgement. It's just one-way bitching and moaning all the way down, accompanied with mewling about other side content that remains posted.Which is, of course, also merely anecdotal.Reposted from the Socially Awkward blog.

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posted at: 12:00am on 22-May-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Yes, This Site Uses Cookies, Because Nearly All Sites Use Cookies, And We're Notifying You Because We're Told We Have To

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If you're visiting our site today (and I guess, forever into the future if you don't click "got it") you will now see a notification at the bottom of the site saying that this site uses cookies. Of course, this site uses cookies. Basically any site uses cookies for all sorts of useful non-awful, non-invasive purposes. We use cookies, for example, to track your preferences (including when you turn off ads on the site, which we let you do for free). In order to make sure those ads are gone, or whatever other preferences stay in place, we use cookies.For the last few years, of course, you've probably seen a bunch of sites pop up boxes "notifying" you that they use cookies. For the most part, this has to do with various completely pointless EU laws and regulations that probably make regulators feel good, but do literally nothing to protect your privacy. Worst are the ones that suggest that by continuing on the site you've made some sort of legal agreement with the site (come on...). These cookie notification pop ups do not help anyone. They don't provide you particularly useful information, and they don't lead you to a place that is more protective of your actual privacy. They just annoy people, and so people ignore them, leave the site, or (most commonly) just "click ok" to get the annoying bar or box out of the way to get to the content they wanted to see in the first place.Here's the stupendously stupid thing about all of this: you are already in control. If you don't like cookies, your browser gives you quite a lot of control over which ones you keep, and how (and how often) you get rid of them. Some browsers, like Mozilla's Firefox Focus browser, automatically discard cookies as soon as you close a page (it's great for mobile browsing, by the way). Of course, that leads to some issues if you want to remain logged in on certain pages, or to have them remember preferences, but for those you can use a different browser or change various settings. It's nice that the power to handle cookies is very much up to you. We here at Techdirt like it when the control is pushed out to the ends of the network, rather than controlled in the middle.But, because it makes some privacy regulators feel like they've "done something", they require such a pointless "cookie notification" on sites. Recently, one of our ad providers told us that we, too, needed to include such a cookie notification, or else we'd lose the ability to serve any ads from Google, who (for better or for worse) is one of the major ad providers out there. We did not get a clear explanation for why we absolutely needed to add this annoying notification that doesn't really help anyone, but the pleas were getting more and more desperate, with all sorts of warnings. We even asked if we could just turn off the ads entirely (which would, of course, represent something of a financial hit) and they seemed to indicate that because we still use other types of cookies (again, including cookies to say "don't show this person any ads"), we had to put up the notification anyway.The last thing we were told is that if we didn't put up a cookie notification within a day, Google would "block us globally." I'm honestly not even sure what this means. But, either way, we're now showing you a cookie notification. It's silly and annoying and I don't think it serves your interests at all. It serves our interests only inasmuch as it gets our partner to stop bugging us. Don't you feel better?You can click "got it" and make it go away. You can not click it and it will stay. You can block cookies in your browser, or you can leave them. You can toss out your cookies every day or every week (not necessarily a bad practice sometimes). You're in control. But we have to show you the notification, and so we are.

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posted at: 12:00am on 22-May-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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