The Reputation They Deserve

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

I wouldn't rely on this... (Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.)
For whatever reason, YouTube has been removing "dislikes" from a video of Joe Biden's acceptance speech.

Just the News reports two possible reasons for the mass removal of downvotes: (1) an honest attempt to combat a bot campaign to make the speech look like it was viewed less favorably than it actually was, and (2) a dishonest attempt to make Joe Biden look like he fared better than he actually did. Both sound plausible to me, the second only because I keep hearing about such shenanigans as YouTube demonetizing non-leftists or making material that isn't left-wing orthodox hard to find.

Frankly, I find the whole idea of trying to game the voting system one way or the other very odd: I'll make up my own damned mind about whom (if anyone) to vote for based on myriad considerations. One speech -- barring something so good or bad I'd listen to it myself anyway -- isn't going to matter in isolation.

And as for how many other people like or dislike it, that number is meaningless in a vacuum. A high number either way could mean anything. Perhaps a bunch of Democrats heard it was good and showed up to watch it for themselves. Perhaps it was so bad that conservatives crawled out of the woodwork to get a laugh. I could even see upvotes for it on the basis of comedic value in that case.

In any event, the story centers on some pro-Trumper who is so wound up about this that she is -- incorrectly -- shouting "CENSORSHIP" (her all-caps), despite the fact that only governments can perform censorship. As Ayn Rand once explained:
"Censorship" is a term pertaining only to governmental action. No private action is censorship. No private individual or agency can silence a man or suppress a publication; only the government can do so. The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right not to agree, not to listen and not to finance one's own antagonists.
This isn't to say that YouTube, arguendo, posing as a neutral platform, but manipulating its voting and algorithms to thwart or promote a given ideology is a-okay. And what everyone seems to be forgetting is that anyone doing this -- be it a platform or a political campaign -- is damaging an important asset: its reputation.

So what is it? Is Trump such a poor choice that his supporters feel a need for bots to downvote Biden's acceptance speech? Is Biden so incapable that the first hint of opposition will doom him to defeat? And do the people who stoop to such tactics realize they are insulting our intelligence?

The proper response to an attempt to distort the truth is to be grateful that the culprits can exercise their freedom of speech -- that we might know them for the asses that they are. Current attempts to regulate social media threaten both freedom of speech and property rights, and in turn threaten to deprive us of such information, for starters.

Why did YouTube change these numbers? I have no idea, but their past behavior in other areas doesn't reassure me. Time will tell whether YouTube deserves to be known as a neutral platform deserving of its audience and advertisers. And if it doesn't, one should hope we still live in a free country where competition can fill that void.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

I've made this argument for why we shouldn't have anti-discrimination laws in hiring (affirmative action and the like). The reality is that a bigot will find a way to get rid of an employee they don't like, and most are very good at doing so in ways that don't technically violate the law. It would be better by far for everyone concerned to know up from that your potential manager hates folks like you. Wouldn't you walk out of an interview once you learned that? Who would even apply to an add saying "Women need not apply"? As a rational person who happens to be male I find the notion of working for such a moron abhorrent, and wouldn't want to risk the financial hardships that would inevitably befall me should I join such a poorly-run company. By forcing managers to hide their views--under pain of imprisonment or death--I may not know if I'm working for a bigot or not!

The response I get is telling. Everyone says "But we need jobs! We need to get hired!" There's an element of entitlement to it, sure--the idea that a job is a right, and that a choice to not hire someone somehow violates that right. But more significantly, there is a learned helplessness. The folks I talk to do not understand--militantly refuse to understand, in fact--that they have the capacity to start a business which operates under the principles they espouse. A company that refuses to hire women (or black people, or Asians, or homosexuals, or whomever) is limiting themselves; a company that hires based on skill, without regard for such irrelevant traits, would therefore have a built-in competitive edge. Folks don't realize that they have the capacity to compete in the marketplace of ideas by competing in the marketplace of goods and services. There's a childishness to this, the idea that Mommy and Daddy Government should provide and keep us safe from the big nasty scary people.

In a way, it's also a tacit admission that they don't believe in their own ideas. If Biden's speech was good, no one would care about bots or upvotes or downvotes. Great speeches and essays are read today because they were GOOD, not because people liked them (some are read because they are good and people violently opposed them). By manipulating the results YouTube is admitting that the ideas can't stand on their own, they can only survive if people can be convinced that everyone else likes them. Similarly, by demanding (at gunpoint) that businesses constrain their speech and hiring practices, people admit that they believe their views aren't convincing and cannot compete (a belief I do not share).

Gus Van Horn said...


Yes. This argument definitely applies to the realm of how to deal with the various kinds of bigotry in the workplace or in other markets. Thanks for making that connection explicit.


Snedcat said...

I had a black coworker once who said exactly that: "Don't make them hide themselves. I want to know exactly who hates me and who doesn't." He was a bit of a snake in the grass himself, so after getting bit, my sentiments were the same, word for word.

Gus Van Horn said...


True, although I thought of a counterpoint: What if people get a little TOO comfortable, like whites using the N-word in normal conversation as when I was growing up in Mississippi?

Then social pressure is working the wrong way, and it's harder to fight bigotry. You don't want censorship and you don't want the mob, rush-to-judgement equivalent, of cancel culture. But you do want people to enjoy legal protection of free speech, be it to show their asses (as my father used to say) or to express their moral disapproval of same.