I was one of the early users of Gab, the open alternative to Twitter, started by a renegade programmer named Andrew Torba. Whether or not Torba is alt-right or simply a normal male sick of the ritualized nonsense that dominates social media is debatable. He’s a Trump supporter, but that does not make him alt-right. He was part of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley “seed accelerator” that helps young startup professionals. He was evicted from the club for being an unabashed Trump supporter and not playing nice with others.
That last bit was his mortal sin. In the managerial class, “being nice” has been weaponized, so that anything that contradicts the tenets of the faith is classified as threatening and harassment. This allows the most sensitive, almost always women, to function as a canaries in the coal mine. When they begin to cry, it means someone is saying unapproved things and it is all hands on deck to root out the heretic. It’s not an accident that most of the speech enforcers on social media are women.
Anyway, Torba started Gab as a “free speech” alternative to Twitter. I put that in quotes because there is no such thing as free speech. There are always some rules. It’s like censorship. The state will always suppress subversive or revolutionary speech. The public will demand limits on speech that violates taboos. Similarly, Gab bans certain speech like child porn and criminal conspiracies. Otherwise, the goal of the enterprise is to provide an open platform for users to speak freely about their stuff.
Gab is an important experiment for a couple of reasons. One is that it is subtly demonstrating a truth about so-called free speech. That is, you cannot have free speech without freedom of association. Twitter, as the only short chat platform, could justify their crackdowns on users by claiming that other users were upset. In other words, the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, so they started policing what people posted on their platform. Coincidentally, the crackdown broke along predictable ideological lines.
The mere existence of an alternative means that users now have a choice. They can pick the ideological conformity of Twitter and its legion of SJW hall monitors or they can go out to the wild west of Gab. It’s easy to see where this is going. The sort of people who write blogs like this one are on Gab, while the people who fear being ostracized by the good thinkers will stay on Twitter and obey the rules. The result is a perfect example of how free association solves the problem of free speech and removes the need to police it.
The other important thing to watch is how the great blob that is the mass media responds to what it can only view as a threat. The evolution of social media was pitched as an organic, ground up communication medium free from corporate control. That was also the promise of the internet in the early days. Whether it was by design or by serendipity, Facebook and Twitter came to dominate the internet and become megaphones for the managerial state. Now they are trying to be enforcers for the managerial state.
It is not an accident that Facebook is heavy into being the comment platform for establishment media companies. Disqus, which is more open, resulted in a lot of negative commentary, so the big media companies partnered with Facebook to clamp down on dissent. It’s also not an accident that Facebook roots around in your e-mail and browser cache to spy on you. Facebook imagines a day when it is your permanent record, like the one school principles used to swear they had in their desks for each student.
Taken together, it could mean the managerial state is vulnerable to its own success. By that I mean the system that makes for rapid technological progress in the business of controlling and disseminating information, may make it very easy for rivals to spring up from within its ranks. The technology at the root of Facebook and Twitter is not exactly ground breaking. In fact, it is fairly crude. The edge for both companies is that they had the resources to scale up. If scale gets cheap, then anyone can scale up too.
Alternatively, what we could be seeing is the evolution of a way to resolve the conflict between the rise of tribalism and the spread of the supra-national custodial state. Big social media platforms will be the safe space that most people crave, while the tribalists will have their smaller silos out on the fringe. The folks who like their news and information with a healthy dose of instruction will get what they need, while the people convinced they are taking the red pill will have alternatives to indulge their needs.
It’s impossible to know how this unfolds. Gab could be a flash in the pan and not last more than a year. Or, it could be the butterfly flapping its wings that sets off a chain of events resulting in a great social hurricane. At the minimum, it is an excellent proof of the basic concept that has eluded us since the 1960’s. That is, free association is the key to maintaining civil liberties like free speech and maintaining social harmony. Once free association is removed, you have a prison and there are no peaceful harmonious prisons.