I called Frederic because I had some questions about data centers. We also talked about the paradox of using energy to promote environmental behaviors. And he said:
Of course we should let a tweet which can saves life spread on the Web. Because it's useful and it has meaning.
Of course I already shared his point of view. What was interesting is the notion of being able to judge the content and the context of a message on the Web. A powerful video, a powerful article. But they are sometimes hidden by “noise” generated by useful content on the Internet. How could it be added as a parameter ? How can we create a parameter that decide of the importance of a message ? Can a human do it without risks of censoring ?
Charles asks: ‘How can we create a parameter that decide of the importance of a message? Can a human do it without risks of censoring?’
We can’t. Because we have no way of knowing what is important and what is not. I’ll give you two examples here.
The first is philosophical. In America ‘free’ speech is considered primordial. This is ‘free’ as in unffettered, uncensored. Technically it means that the Government may not — outside of a limited range of exceptions — block, censure or punish expression. This is part of the Bill of Rights, the original amendments to the American Constitution.
This means that sometimes forms of speech — hate speech is a clear example — will go unpunished. But the philosophy here is that the best way to combat expressions that are bad in intent, is by using expressions that are not, words and expressions that are true and not seeking to damage nor harm. That by restricting speech, more harm will be done than by allowing it.
This philosophy — fondamentally different from that existing in European culture — then permeates society, and so censure and restrictions [which are permitted to private companies] are still seen as an exception that must be justified, not as a clear and simple right.
The second point is then about our ability to distinguish and decide what is important.
I am very interested in print and printing. In France, an copy of any printed document, no matter how great or how small it is, is supposed to be deposited at the Bibliothèque nationale, the French National Library. This dates back to the beginning of printing in France, when not only was the ability to use a printing press a privilege granted by the Monarchy [!], but this was also under a regime of prior censorship.
The granting of privileges and prior censorship no longer exist, but the obligatory deposit does. And it’s pretty easy to understand that over the centuries the National LIbrary has accumulated not only a whole variety of wonderous first editions of books that changed the world — Voltaire, Diderot’s encyclopedia, the great 19th centruy novellists… but also all the ephemera of flyers, of bill posters, of newspapers, free and otherwise, or advertising handouts, and catalogues and whatever. Of course, there are occasionally cries that the Library is drowning under a deluge of ephermera, the flotsam and jetsam of the age, rather than archiving and preserving what matters. But here is precisely the contradiction. If you are interested in what mattered to people, to ordinary people in the 16th, 17th centuries and beyond, it is not in the wonderful bound volumes of litterature and the great documents that you will find it. It is precisely in all that is not important : the advertisements for public sales, the broadsheets and bill posters, the beginnings of advertising, and so on. In the cracks and crannies of society that you will find out how society see itself, what it really considered important, what were the forfilled and unforfilled needs and demands… Had these documents not been collected, scholars could be pouring over them today to understand how our ancestors lived and thought.
In the same way, it is in the mass of ephemera on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram that our future selves will be able to see what — globally and as a mass — we consider important and noteworthy. By censuring this information, for even the best of motives, the vision will be, inevitably, incomplete.