Centralised systems? (or Twitter/Facebook bans Trump)

I'm a bit conflicted over the recent bans of Trump from social media. Not because I support Trump, and not because I support centralised/corporate-controller social media platforms. But because I'm trying to reconcile how a decentralised and federated social media system would cope with the current scenario.

Over the past couple of days, Twitter and Facebook banned Trump. Google and Apple banned the Parler app1 from their app stores. This has effectively removed Trump from social media. He now has no voice on social media of his own, but can still do press calls if he really wants to reach people.

I'm conflicted because I really like the idea that Trump can't tweet or post on Facebook/Instagram any more. However, I hate the idea that corporations can effectively silence people on the net. The idea that you can be removed from social media at the whim of a corporation is disquieting, assuming you agree with the idea of free-speech, and also (I'm guessing) agree with the idea of consequences of free-speech2. This is akin to Google deciding that you've violated some TOS and disabling your account so you can't access email and other Google services.

The alternative to centralised social media systems is federated ones. This means that there is no centralised system and it is not controlled by a single, usually corporate, entity. Instead, the services are run by individuals or small groups and they 'federate' posts between them. The key is that no individual entity 'owns' the network, and each, federated, node in the network can decide what is shared and subscribed to on their small be of the fediverse.

So could someone like Trump amass millions of followers in a federated social network? Maybe? I'm not sure, either way. Each group or individual has to make the choice as to whether to subscribe or block an account. Group admins can block for the whole group. Each group (or individual) sets the tone for acceptable use on their part of the network. I could see a scenario where millions of Trump fans would find his account and subscribe. Someone would run nodes for these followers who supported Trump's posts. People would follow them. But would they reach millions?

As the account (typically, in the fediverse) is tied to a node name in the network, it's easy to identify it and block it. That's not to say that people would.

However, it would be difficult to completely silence him. It might be possible to make it difficult; e.g. IP banning the node that the account is linked to at an ISP level, but that's easy to get around with VPNs. Obviously, there are technical counter-measures to censorship, but would the millions of supporters be capable of understanding and using them? That largely depends on how consumer friendly the fediverse is, and at present, it at least requires a bit of 'nous' to understand the concepts around it.

In summary, I'd still promote a federated social media universe rather than a centralised one. One where open, standard, protocols enable collaboration and sharing, rather than corporations that are there to make money; after all, if the service is free, then you are the product, not the customer! Of course, this comes with the problem that silencing dangerous, lying, narcissistic, would-be king/dictators is a bit more of a problem. But then, maybe a federated/distributed social media universe wouldn't have the problem in the first place?


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  1. Parler seems to be is a favourite amongst right-wing conspiratory-theorist leaning people, and is/was the go-to if you got banned from Twitter (apparently).↩︎

  2. Free to shout 'fire!' in a crowded theatre, but also free to suffer the consequences of subsequent prosecution. Or "your freedom to swing your fist ends in front of my nose."↩︎