Free Speech Selectivity

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Billionaire free-speech absolutist gets terrified at the thought of protecting free speech. In the meantime, maybe you should stop working yourself to death and find cool stuff on the small web instead. Or don’t, it’s really up to you.


Psst, I’ve now committed to doing one of these posts every Thursday going forward. That might increase to Tuesdays and Thursdays if I find the time.

Free Speech Selectivity

While I cover a lot of tech news in my work, I generally make a point not to cover certain subjects that the media have already overanalysed. For instance, I’ll only discuss AI if I think there’s a genuinely interesting perspective to add to the conversation. By the same token, I almost outright avoid any news concerning a certain billionaire and his god-awful social media platform. I simply feel that said billionaire gets enough attention as it is.

But where there’s some good indie journalism to be shared, I’m gonna do my thing and talk in the margins. So yes, today I’m breaking my silence on Musk. Rest assured, I’ll take no offence if you skip this section, and that this won’t be a common occurrence.

Keeping up with the escapades of Elon Musk feels reminiscent of trying to keep track of what Trump was/is up to - overwhelming. But I did recently have the joy of catching Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales take aim at Spaceboy for Musk’s recent decision to bow down to pressure from the Turkish government:

Long story short, the Turkish government asked Twitter to censor their political opponents in the run-up to the presidential elections. And according to the “free speech absolutist,” himself, Twitter was helpless to do anything but comply. “The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?” he tweeted in response to one journalist on the subject.

To be clear, this is bollocks. And one person who knows full well that it’s bollocks is Wikipedia co-founder, Jimmy Wales. Why does he know this? Because Wikipedia has been in Twitter’s position, and not only did they come out swinging, they won the fight. The encyclopedia was banned in Turkey some years ago, but Wikipedia had the ban overturned after a legal battle in Turkey’s highest court.

With this in mind, Wales made a not-so-subtle remark regarding the whole situation on Musk’s bird platform, tweeting that Wikipedia “stood strong for our principles and fought to the Supreme Court of Turkey and won. This is what it means to treat freedom of expression as a principle rather than a slogan.”

Now we could get into whether it’s fair to compare the two situations, but whatever you think of this remark, it is worth noting that under Musk, Twitter has agreed to more than 80% of all government censorship or surveillance requests. Before that, the platform had agreed to a somewhat more respectable 50%. Doesn’t exactly sound like the actions of a free speech absolutist to me, but okay.

However, the problem with calling Mr Absolutist out on his failures to protect free speech, is that Musk has a very different perception of what free speech entails. For him, it seems that free speech has little to do with protecting the rights of citizens against corrupt governments or corporations. Instead, it’s about protecting the rights of bigots to punch down on marginalised people without repercussions. If this wasn’t the case, he probably wouldn’t spend his time banning journalists who disagree with him or mislabeling whole organisations as governments fronts:

He also, as Robert Stribley notes, wouldn’t be weaponising his whole platform against transgender people. But that’s exactly what he’s doing.

Some of these attacks are blatant. Take Twitter “quietly” removing any mention of trans people or transgender hate from their hateful conduct policy. Musk also made reinstating a right-wing satire account banned for its transphobic comments one of his priorities when he took over the platform. In fact, he did so on the first damn day.

Many of Musk’s anti-trans tactics are far more subtle but no less insidious.

As Stribley points out, the billionaire frequently highlights and interacts with transphobic profiles, often under the guise of plausible deniability. “Is this accurate?” he asks under one hate-filled outburst. “Is it really true that four-year-olds are receiving hormone treatment?” he asks another far-right account. But that’s okay, he’s just trying to get the facts, right? Only, Musk never follows up. He never responds to the people telling him no, this isn’t true. Nor does he ever return with an answer to clarify to his followers.

“This dynamic plays out consistently: Musk highlights and amplifies misinformation, is corrected on it, but does not correct himself or the accounts he has already amplified.” - Robert Stribley

Musk isn’t just bumping into these accounts because his own app’s algorithm is broken (I mean, it is broken, but that’s another story). He’s intentionally following, and, as journalist Mark Binder recently highlighted, paying to see anti-transphobic content.

How’s that for trickle-down economics?

But this tangent is already getting long, so I’ll leave you with this passage from Robert Stribley’s article on the subject, which I implore anyone to read. In the meantime, maybe you should finally make that switch to Mastodon you’ve been thinking about (or make a blog and be done with the whole charade).

“Musk has basically given a pass to the platform’s most notorious and belligerent transphobes—a wink and thumbs up to continue with their harassment, misgendering, mockery, deadnaming, and dogpiling. Go ahead. He’ll not only allow it, he’ll amplify it. For the low, low cost of 8 bucks a month. All on Elon Musk’s no good, very bad, incredibly toxic transphobia-amplifying machine.”

Being Productive Can Suck

Productivity is the ultimate buzzword of every self-help guru and is sold as the key to all of modern life’s ills. In the age of ever-decreasing real wages, major layoffs and superpowered AI (fuck, I’m talking about it again), what else can you do but do more? What hope is there than to “be more?”

Don’t get me wrong. Productivity is generally good, actually. I for one, like doing work(!). I like the satisfaction that comes with a job well done.

But productivity has a darker side. That is the normalisation of workaholism.

The irony of being a workaholic is that it drains all the joy of doing work. A workaholic doesn’t do work because they want to see a job done. They do it out of compulsion. The only potential benefactors are the company they work for (be it in a freelance or employee situation.), though they rarely end up getting anything of value either.

Yet today’s culture continually romanticises hustle culture. Everything from slogans to song lyrics permeates this idea that success, or achieving plain old happiness, requires great sacrifice. Just go watch an episode of The Apprentice (Just for reference, I’m referring to the British one) if you don’t believe me.

On the flip side, is the fantasy of chasing that “first million.”

So what if you’re living off of ramen noodles in the car where you get your four hours of sleep? One day you’re going to be able to cash in all that suffering, and it will all be worth it. And if you don’t have the mental or physical fortitude to hack it, then there must be something wrong with you.

Life coach Melody Wilding gives another six examples of toxic productivity in action:

  1. Acute awareness of “Wasting time”

  2. Obsessed or reliant on optimizing your performance with tech

  3. Conversations always turn to how busy you are.

  4. Your phone is an extension of your body, particularly the email folder

  5. Overcome by feelings of guilt or stress when you don’t complete your to-do lists

  6. You Rationalise putting things that are important to you off eternally because you’re “swamped”

I can relate to more of these points than I’d like to admit. And I know plenty of people who tick all six.

But disregarding cultural pressures, there are other ways someone might fall into the trap of toxic productivity.

As FreeCodeCamp teacher and developer Beau Carnes notes, the problem often starts because we conflate efficiency with effectiveness.

It might be highly efficient to micromanage my every waking hour, but it’s unlikely to be effective. Effectiveness requires rest, it requires sleep, and it requires fun.

There’s another thing that Carnes notes we conflate too, hard work and workaholism:

“There is a big difference between hard work and workaholism. You work hard to get something done. A workaholic, on the other hand, works out of compulsion — fear of some sort. Workaholism is unhealthy and destructive. Hard work is healthy, invigorating, and can be practiced up until the day you die, whereas workaholism leads to burn-out.” — Jim Collins

So what’s the answer? Well, I think a blogger by the name of Dostoynikov probably puts it best. Sometimes you’ve just got to say, “You know what? fuck productivity.”

Life is, in fact, too damn short.

From The Smol Web

Have I ever mentioned that the small web (or indieweb, web 1, whatever you want to call it) is really cool? You know what else is cool? Documenting cool things. But more important perhaps, is the documenting of why those things came into existence in the first place.

WebWeekly is one attempt to do just that by interviewing web masters on the small web and archiving content for future generations.

Unfortunately, three interviews in and the site has gone quiet. But hopefully, this is just a break and we see more interviews in the future.

In any case, it’s worth checking out what’s already there.

What I’m Up To

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