Online speech and publishing

Facebook has close to 2bn users, posting over 100bn things each day. The global SMS system, at its peak, had 20-25bn messages a day.

This is not a ‘publisher’, in the sense that a newspaper or radio station are publishers - or if it is, then we’ve stretched the word ‘publisher’ so far as to become meaningless. A human editor chooses ten stories for the front page of a newspaper, and ten stories for the 9 o’clock news, but there is no-one sitting in Menlo Park choosing a hundred photos for your Instagram feed each morning.

But on the other hand, a phone company does not write rules about what you can say, and social network do write rules, or try to, and they make decisions about what kinds of things should be in your feed, and why. This is not a publisher, but it’s not a phone company either, nor a restaurant.

Really, asking whether these systems are ‘platforms’ or ‘publishers ’ seems about as useful as people in the 1930s asking whether a radio station is really a book or a newspaper. Yes, it has aspects of both, but it isn’t either of them - it’s something new. I have no sympathy with the idea that somehow rules don’t apply to the internet, but rules do need to understand what it is and how it works. Rather than trying to wrestle it into familiar metaphors, we probably need to engage with the thing itself.

The metaphors are appealing, (Read more...)