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Jan Dvorak
Jan Dvorak

Posted on

Open Platforms and Gatekeeping

Those of you who are read in political texts will notice the play on The Open Society and Its Enemies from Karl R. Popper. A heavy book that I'm currently reading through. Still the basic thesis is a well known conundrum. Specifically if you tolerate the intolerable, then eventually the intolerable are going to overthrow your tolerant society.

Many people today use this in some way to to justify different versions of censorship on online platforms. Be it censorship of "fake news", "misinformation", "propaganda" and other terms use to remove undesirable content from ones platforms. Although you might find those being noble goals things turn sour once these become wielded as a weapon against you as the organization itself is infiltrated by the enemies of open society and then using nice sounding words like "safety", "facts", "authoritative sources", etc. We have seen this on all the mainstream platforms as political divides intensify or other societal tensions raise. With mounting pressures from politicians its easy to justify restrictive measures and with a bit of arbitrary enforcement (always denied, obviously) they can then sanitize the platform to become a propaganda source for their political views (after all contradictory news is fake news, misinformation or propaganda that they remove), or make sure that it is the dominant narrative.

But the enemies of Open Societies don't stop there. Their desire is to have total control. In their words: "everything is political". So once one area is controlled they move onto the next, starting from hobbies all the way to your personal relations. I would suggest that most of us don't want to deal with politics in our hobbies or on platforms that are not dealing with today's politics or news.

So if you are building a platform or enjoying a hobby how does one prevent it being taken over while also remain open?

For hobbies, YouTuber Arch has been discussing Gatekeeping. At first that sounds contra-productive and it might seem that your are adapting the tactics of your enemies. Quiet a conundrum and that is one of the reasons why you need to think about this early and hard. As we have seen with large platforms being open and supporting free speech for everyone has gotten them very big. Also being pro-free speech meant that they didn't have to spend resources on policing the content. But as they grew they had to build tools to deal with spam, copyrights, law violations and today we see that it has snowballed into full suite of censorship tools (or tools to discourage user from posting the undesired content).

To compound things even more your platform will need these tools if you want to operate in totalitarian countries like China. Once they are build it is then easy to be deployed everywhere and I have no doubt that there are many in the democratic countries who would love to use them. Free speech and open societies after all go against our human nature of tribal belonging and once something that we don't like appears the desire to remove it, is strong. From experience and talking with other people I know that stopping oneself is a learned thing and doesn't come naturally. The more emotional reaction something provokes the harder it is for you to allow for freedom of speech.

Now then, what is one to do? How is one to protect their open platform/space? I don't think there is one answer to suit everyone or that is always going to work. As such I'm really interested in what your ideas are. Please let me know in comments. Following is what I'm thinking at this point in time for my use case.

My use case is a creative writing platform. As such I want to protect against agents who would limit free speech or would be inclined to support such a movement. Even though my platform is in Beta and has minimum traffic I already had to fend of two attempts to infiltrate it from ideological players (communists in particular). As such I have already resolved myself that I won't hire anyone in the future who has any connections to totalitarian regimes or is in any shape or form connected to organizations that are for limiting or outright against freedom of speech and in this I will also count their actions and history. For example many totalitarian regimes and organizations publicly state support for free speech, but once in power they strip it away or apply it only for those that support them. I'm planning to apply this into the Terms of Service. I'm not a lawyer so this is probably not the best formulation, but here goes:

By accepting these terms or using this site you are hereby proclaiming that you are not part of, closely associated or support organizations that support or participate in violation of human rights or limit or oppose freedom of speech. If you have any such association then you are not allowed to use this site or any of its services.

Probably not the best formulation and is vague on purpose. This means that it will require an additional explainer somewhere else to go more in depth (or not), but this ambiguity is similar to what we see elsewhere. This allows me to be as permissive or restrictive as I want. Since I will be permissive then I can enforce this rule if someone starts making demands for censorship. This is Gatekeeping and the main purpose is to prevent infiltration of people who would then fabricate controversies or use other issue that arise from running a platform to demand the control of what content will be allowed.

Sadly there is no technical solution (and there probably never will be), but I believe that having rules like these can provide you a sword against those who want to impose themselves and their political ideas on you and your platforms/communities. Like with all security this is just one layer of defense that can be mustered. Another one is to prevent infiltration into the organizational structure and with companies also into the ownership structure (almost impossible for publicly traded companies, so staying private is probably the best here, but all of these are topics for other articles).


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A heavy topic, but please let me know what you think!

Top comments (2)

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jankapunkt profile image
Jan KΓΌster

I think this is one form of gatekeeping and it's rather some kind of "household's right" (to protect your platform from being overtaken), which is legitimate IMO. The bad form of gatekeeping is IMO when people tend to call for being representative of a certain social group or social context and want to dictate, which rules apply to whom of the group/context.

This has much different consequences, because in your case you are indeed a representative, the platform owner, and people could take direct action against you. For the non-representative gatekeeper, people cannot take direct action, because this person is not a real representative, people can only either ask for help from the real representatives or the social group, which is much harder, because if the gatekeeper prevents people from contact to the group then there is no chance to ask the group for help.

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storytellercz profile image
Jan Dvorak Author

I love the "household's right" term maybe with a bit more of a tweaking we can get a better term to describe what is the main point. "Gatekeeping" as a term is very much connected to the media and censorship and as such tends to have a negative connotation. This is more a kin to "household rules" or "entry rules".

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