Book the digital republic makes a thoughtful case for regulated digital media. The central problem of the modern internet, writes the author, is its “unaccountable power.” Whereas in the earliest days of cyberspace, power was largely wielded by libertarian-inclined technologists who knew how to code, today it’s in the hands of corporations and wealthy individuals who resist being regulated and tend to a kind of “market individualism.”
As the author writes, “unlike in medicine, there are no mandatory ethical qualifications for working as a software engineer or technology executive. There is no enforceable industry code of conduct. There is no obligatory certification. And there is no duty to put the public ahead of profit.
There are few consequences for serious moral failings; no real fear of being suspended or struck off.” The author suggests the development of a code, even a body of law that protects individuals from depredation and manipulation while at the same time calling for “as little state intrusion as possible.”
The author takes a cautious, reasoned approach to the attendant problems, noting, for example, that “the simplest form of platform power is the ability to say no.” While he reckons that Trump had it coming when he was banned from Twitter, the hammer could also come down on anyone who displeases an administrator or owner—say, Elon Musk. But this is not the digital republic.
The question of free expression and what constitutes transgressions against community standards looms large, beginning with “clearer policies, digestible summaries, standardized language,” and the like, including standards specifying that media platforms employ one moderator for every 5,000 users instead of relying on dubious algorithms that too often mistakenly censor comments. Susskind’s analysis of inadequate government is well presented, though those who currently control the internet are unlikely to yield power unless compelled to do so. The Weekender