The Laboratorium (3d ser.)

A blog by James Grimmelmann

Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire afin
d'être violent et original dans vos oeuvres.

The Platform is the Message

I’ve posted a new essay, The Platform is the Message, although “rant” might be a better term. At the very least, it fits into the less formal side of my academic writing, as seen in previous essays like Big Data’s Other Privacy Problem. I presented it at the Governance and Regulation of Internet Platforms conference at Georgetown on Friday, and the final version will appear in the Georgetown Law Technology Review as part of a symposium issue from the conference. I’ve been told that my slide deck, which starts with a Tide Pod and ends with the Hindenburg, is unusually dark, even for an event at which panelists were on the whole depressed about the state of the Internet today.

Here’s the abstract:

Facebook and YouTube have promised to take down Tide Pod Challenge videos. Easier said than done. For one thing, on the Internet, the line between advocacy and parody is undefined. Every meme, gif, and video is a bit of both. For another, these platforms are structurally at war with themselves. The same characteristics that make outrageous and offensive content unacceptable are what make it go viral in the first place.

The arc of the Tide Pod Challenge from The Onion to Not The Onion is a microcosm of our modern mediascape. It illustrates how ideas spread and mutate, how they take over platforms and jump between them, and how they resist attempts to stamp them out. It shows why responsible content moderation is necessary, and why responsible content moderation is impossibly hard. And it opens a window on the disturbing demand-driven dynamics of the Internet today, where any desire no matter how perverse or inarticulate can be catered to by the invisible hand of an algorithmic media ecosystem that has no conscious idea what it is doing. Tide Pods are just the tip of the iceberg.

I have very limited ability to make revisions, but I would still be happy to hear your comments and suggestions. I’m still working through my thoughts on these topics, so even if I can’t incorporate much more into this essay, I hope to revisit the issues in the near future.

UPDATE July 29, 2018 : I have posted the final published version; the link is unchanged.