Big news yesterday that pretty much effects everyone in tech and journalism. Audio and video content from Alex Jones/Info Wars was banned on numerous media distribution platforms including iTunes, You Tube, Facebook, and Spotify. Let me be clear up front, I do not listen to Alex Jones/Info Wars and in fact I have seen only one Info Wars video and was not aware of who created it until the end. That video was a documentary about the human feces in the streets problem in San Francisco. I didn’t like it. I thought it was cheap and coarse. Other than that I have no direct knowledge of Alex Jones or Info Wars.
My initial impression was this was an easy one for the tech companies to sit back and say “Yeah it was a tough decision but we did it for the good of the viewers”. Everyone cheers “Your so right for banning that despicable content”. But all of a sudden tech companies from the biggest all the way to independent Marco Arment with the Overcast app have become our moral arbiters. To be honest, it didn’t suddenly happen more like suddenly realized. Need I remind anyone that some of these companies deciding what is acceptable have on numerous occasions been caught in morally ambiguous situations collecting and distributing user data. Given a different context it is hard to imagine that anyone could consider some of the tech giants as moral beacons let alone qualified to decide what any one person should be allowed to consume, yet today many are cheering or patting themselves on the back. It is not really unexpected either. Today all of our leaders, all of our media is filled with personalities and content that tells us how we should live our lives. Political correctness and the etiquette monitoring has been taken to an extreme. Almost assuming that my parents and family that spend so many years showing me the difference between right and wrong were never there.
Slippery slopes my friend. I think everyone can agree that there are people with great power these days making decisions and taking actions (even saying things) that you strongly disagree to. Do you really want those folks making more decisions for you? So here is the litany of clichés.
- History is doomed to repeat itself.
- First they came…and I did not speak out.
- The mob rules.
Clichés often prove true, that’s how they are created. The truth is that tech companies have become morality sensors. Granted they have every right to do so as they own the platforms, but some of them also position those same platforms as sources of news and information and that’s when the slippery slope comes into play. Now there is the added responsibility of being truthful if not balanced. Everyone should know that censored news content can lead to very bad places. Not only do I not trust some tech companies to make good decisions I think they need to be clear about the things that are excluded from their networks and why. Please do not confuse concern with criticism in as much as being fair and objective is an impossible task. Fair and objective in the context of editing content becomes subjective. The great concern of mine is with for profit companies with in some cases, a checkered ethical history making assessments of fair and objective.
It is not a coincidence that this post is appearing on the Watch Kast support site. I gave the app a tag line of “Freedom to explore” and that is by design. When I first designed the Watch Kast app it had recommended content and direct downloads of any free audio content available on the internet. Of course that didn’t fly and after a lot of consideration I decided to limit the app to audio files the user has available to them by other means. Which is to say download the files elsewhere and then import them. Watch Kast is not popular to be honest and every indication is that it is because users have to get their own content and that is just too much of an inconvenience. Fair enough people love their walled gardens for today. I could never imagine that Watch Kast could ever be a “go to” app playing audio because it does not restrict content, but I also would not have believed that walled garden providers would be exclusive beyond the bounds of the law yet that happened and there are about 2.9 million viewers looking at alternatives. So, today I want to make my concerns clear and also remind everyone that there are other ways to consume information. Sometimes you need to work a little to get there.
You can learn more or download a copy of Watch Kast at the link below. It is truly less than a cup of coffee to buy.
Because the words of poet Martin Niemoller are so poignant here is the text as it appears on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.