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I was honored to be invited to contribute to the New York Times‘s excellent “Op-Eds From the Future” series (previously), with an op-ed called “I Shouldn’t Have to Publish This in The New York Times,” set in the near-future, in which we have decided to solve the problems of Big Tech by making them liable for what their users say and do, thus ushering in an era in which all our speech is vetted by algorithms that delete anything that looks like misinformation, harassment, copyright infringement, incitement to terrorism, etc — with the result that the only place where you can discuss anything of import is newspapers themselves.

Alas, it’s science fiction that’s firmly in the mold of “If this goes on…” Between SESTA/FOSTA, the Copyright Directive and global anti-terror rules, the age of the filternet is upon us.

We can either try to fix Big Tech (by making it use its monopoly profits to clean up its act) or we can fix the internet (by breaking them up and denying them access to monopoly profits) — but we can’t do both.

And the worst part is, the new regulations haven’t ended harassment, extremism or disinformation. Hardly a day goes by without some post full of outright Naziism, flat-eartherism and climate trutherism going viral. There are whole armies of Nazis and conspiracy theorists who do nothing but test the filters, day and night, using custom software to find the adversarial examples that slip past the filters’ machine-learning classifiers.

It didn’t have to be this way. Once upon a time, the internet teemed with experimental, personal publications. The mergers and acquisitions and anticompetitive bullying that gave rise to the platforms and killed personal publishing made Big Tech both reviled and powerful, and they were targeted for breakups by ambitious lawmakers. Had we gone that route, we might have an internet that was robust, resilient, variegated and dynamic.

Think back to the days when companies like Apple and Google — back when they were stand-alone companies — bought hundreds of start-ups every year. What if we’d put a halt to the practice, re-establishing the traditional antitrust rules against “mergers to monopoly” and acquiring your nascent competitors? What if we’d established an absolute legal defense for new market entrants seeking to compete with established monopolists?

I Shouldn’t Have to Publish This in The New York Times [Cory Doctorow/NYT]

(Image: John Karborn)

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