It's the Moderation, Stupid: Conservative Platform Gettr Faces 'Sonic the Hedgehog Porn' Issues

It's the Moderation, Stupid: Conservative Platform Gettr Faces 'Sonic the Hedgehog Porn' Issues

WASHINGTON — After the tumultuous collapse of Parler earlier this year, the current turmoil around adult content posted on startup platform Gettr highlights the problematic paradox at the core of marketing “free speech” platforms aimed at conservatives and others on the political right.

In one word: moderation.

In a few more words: the same moderation issues that have vexed internet theorists and lawmakers since the dawn of the web. The very same moderation issues that gave birth to the Section 230 compromise, the so-called "First Amendment of the internet” that political leaders most aligned with Parler and Gettr want to nuke out of existence.

And therein lies the paradox.

A new editorial by Casey Newton for Vox Media’s tech news site The Verge probes this issue.

“Lots of questions about social networks are hard,” Newton wrote for The Verge’s Platformer vertical, which he also edits. “This one isn’t. If you create a place for people to upload text and images, you have to moderate it — and moderate it aggressively. You have to draw hard lines; you have to move those lines as society evolves and your adversaries adjust; you have to accept difficult trade-offs between users’ wellbeing and their right to express themselves.”

As Newton pointed out, Parler and Gettr “offered their conservative users an attractive mirage: a free-speech paradise where they could say the things they couldn’t say elsewhere. It never seemed to occur to anyone that such a move would only select for the worst social media customers on earth, quickly turning the founders’ dreams to ash.”

It's the Moderation, Stupid

Although free speech advocates have been saying for decades that adult content is the ultimate canary in the coal mine for First Amendment controversies, the wealthy right-wing backers of “Down With Big Tech!” operations like Parler and Gettr seem consistently surprised that any loosening of moderation on the grounds of “freedom” would result in, say, an onslaught of deliberate promotion (bots hawking sexual content) and Dada-esque trolling (Sonic the Hedgehog porn).

Such a situation inevitably stirs up calls to moderate this thing but not that thing, and maybe this other grey-area thing, and defeats the purpose of a free speech platform — just as the theorists of the internet anticipated from the 1940s until the mid-1990s, when far-thinking lawmakers like Chris Cox (R) and Ron Wyden (D) devised the Section 230 compromise.

As XBIZ has reported, a vast number of Republican and Democratic public officials have expressed their desire to destroy or seriously amend Section 230, after the bipartisan FOSTA/SESTA exception opened the floodgates to put an asterisk after “free speech” if “human trafficking” could be invoked, however remotely, and regardless of accuracy.

Yet another case of sex workers as canaries in the coal mine for much larger political and social issues.

Conning the Cons

Newton’s smart analysis also entertains an idea by his colleague, Ryan Broderick, that Parler and Gettr may just be a grift, a shady scam to "con the cons."

Broderick broke down the plausible grift as follows: “Loudly launch a site no one will ever use, claim it’s a free speech sanctuary for Republicans, do the rounds on all the right-wing news outlets and wait for it to fill up with the worst people on Earth, refuse to moderate it, wait for Apple to ban it from the App Store, and then go back to the right-wing news outlets and screech about liberal cancel culture impacting your ability to share hentai with white nationalist flat-earthers or whatever.”

At first, Newton assumed Broderick had been exaggerating to make a point. "Given the extremely predictable turmoil that emerged from Gettr’s content policies, though, I wonder if there isn’t something to this: a false-flag social network, set up only to watch it burn to the ground," he said.

To read “Conservative Social Networks Keep Making the Same Mistake: On the rise and fall of Gettr,” visit TheVerge.com.

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