An impromptu primer on how to deal with YouTube tosspots.

Listen to Kara Swisher’s interview with Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube). There is a portion regarding rules/codes of conduct/community guidelines. I want to memorialize my thoughts here.

I’m not going to put words in Wojcicki’s mouth, but there’s an interaction where she tries to put contours around what it means to create community guidelines and rules. What she’s talking about, at least as I hear it, is due process. That word is tossed around a lot but it has meaning: namely, that we have a set of rules created before anything happens, process we use to enforce those rules, and we use that process for everybody.

Due process is important because it creates a sense of fair play and justice. This is more important when we’re talking about laws dealing with peoples’ lives and liberties, but it can be just as meaningful in cultivating a sense of community – a community that people buy into and of which they want to be a part.

Businesses that have poor communities often have poor user experiences, so your service better be exclusive or so exceptional that people eat the cost of having a bad experience with others. Tech companies should take note, in my opinion, that people are being offered more alternatives and developing higher expectations in this area, so I wouldn’t hang my hat on riding this out. Get community moderators, folks. /end self-promotion

In law – the “codifying” to which Wojcicki refers – due process can be boiled down to two core components:

  1. Notice – have you told people how they’re supposed to behave before you enforce that standard of behavior?
  2. Hearing – is there an opportunity to make their case to whomever is enforcing that standard of behavior?

When talk about how to enforce a law, we apply the code to a specific set of facts. Let’s make our use case Logan Paul, who I believe is, at best, an irresponsible and juvenile opportunist who needs to grow up and, at worst, an utterly insensitive knuckledragger with no understanding of common decency towards other people.

Nevertheless, he was a user of YouTube and presumably agreed to abide by their Terms of Service (TOS) which outlined an assortment of rules to which he is bound, including a three-strikes rule, which is exactly what it sounds like. Swisher asks (paraphrase): why don’t you just get rid of him? You make the rules, change the rules.

Agreed, but that doesn’t solve our Logan Paul problem, at least not right away. Paul was bound to a set of rules that, in my opinion, exposed a gap in behavioral expectations for the YouTube platform. It behooves YouTube to change the rules, capture this behavior and close the gap.

What it doesn’t mean is that it’s a good idea to retroactively apply this rule. Remember “notice”: you want to tell people before they act what the expectation is. Removing content that is abhorrent without a codified rationale undermines this principle. There are always going to be exceptions such as an imminent and credible threat to a person’s life, or something so grossly vulgar that the better risk calculation is to take it down and eat the cost of dealing with the aftermath. But, these are exceptions, and we don’t make rules based on exceptional behavior. We make rules based on things that are commonplace and easily understood such that most people find it possible to comply with them.

Additionally, we don’t create rules to target a specific person. It would be dubious to create a rule that seems neutral but, in application, only results in the removal of Logan Paul. Sure, it’s Youtube’s prerogative to remove whomever they want, but I’m coming from a place that assumes YouTube wants to (1) create a consistent user experience; (2) brand as a media platform that doesn’t pick favorites, and; (3) provide a cogent rationale to its stakeholders and users such that they don’t come off as frivolous or erratic.

I’m losing steam since I need to prepare for a meeting, but my roadmap would essentially boil down to the following:

  • Do a gap assessment on YouTube’s rules as of the date of the Logan Paul suicide forest controversy. He may have engaged in questionable behavior in the past but this is the clear marker of what crossed the line in such a way as to enter the cultural zeitgeist and create national controversy.
  • Once you’ve discovered the gap, ask yourself if a rule would have captured this. Sometimes the behavior is so extraordinary that you could make a rule but it wouldn’t, in practice, police anything because it was such a one off. Other times it’s behavior that defies codification. This doesn’t preclude policing it, but it does probably mean you need to preserve in your ToS a level of discretion for content moderators (which you should have) and training for those moderators to spot red flags, etc.
  • Amend the ToS as needed. Make Logan Paul and others click “agree” to participate on your not-a-media-service platform.
  • Penalize all users for non-compliance, including Logan Paul should he run afoul after the new ToS have been socialized.

I don’t have much to say about hearings here. This is something that is a lot more important in traditional legal situations. From what I hear, you can appeal after three strikes and so forth and this is, frankly, a marketplace. You have options to go elsewhere even if they’re shitty options, YouTube isn’t a basic human necessity to which you have some inherent claim.

I can spell “Wojcicki” off-hand now. Boom.

A plea to my friends: be political.

I’m done with the posts on my Facebook feed apologizing for being political. I tire of the lamentations about how many political posts there are.

Over the past few weeks – almost three! – we’ve heard so much about the importance of checks and balances. Yes! This is completely true! And let’s not forget to pepper this blog post with some important Founding Father quotes, who bequeathed this concept (enshrined in our form of government) to us. Let’s begin with James Madison in Federalist No. 51:

In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.

But I want to note the important point in the following paragraph:

A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

That word: auxiliary. “Auxiliary”  means “additional; supplementary; reserve.” It does not mean “primary, foundational, first, chief, principal.”

Our inheritance is therefore not simply that of checks and balances. it is the intellectual tradition of being an active representative in good government.

Institutions are merely conglomerates of people. Checks and balances are not self-executing. Checks and balances are designed to work alongside a galvanized and informed citizenry. There’s no basis for believing that checks and balances will magic themselves into responsiveness. The only way checks and balances work as an auxiliary is if the primary bulwark against tyranny does its job first, and that bulwark is us: the American people.

Likewise, it requires people to act. Acting can be anything: reading, writing, listening, speaking up, going to a rally, running for office, whatever. I’m writing this as a plea, not an argument. Being apolitical is to remain indifferent to the health and status democracy. To stand aloof to the problems facing government – and there will always be problems – is to either say that you don’t care, or that it doesn’t concern you. If you read this and think “That’s not me; I care,” then the next time a political thought enters your mind, fear of alienating your Facebook feed should not be part of your decision tree.

Our country’s philosophical tenets were fundamentally active. They require movement and participation. They require education, and not just schooling, but the commitment of a literate population to understand and think about the issues surrounding them.

I’m sure I’m a bother on my Facebook page, but I frankly don’t care at this juncture. My goal is not to go out there and change everyone’s mind. My goal is to remain engaged and to surround myself with other engaged people. I want people who associate with me to take this role of citizen seriously and understand the gravity of maintaining the integrity of our republican form of government.

I gave up a long time ago on this kind of language because it sounded to romantic, lofty and idealistic. I’ve since begun embracing it again. Too often I hear people speak in platitudes about American political identity. I really want to emphasize that we should strive to breath meaning back into this foundational concepts. Freedom and liberty are not self-defining any more than our checks and balances are self-executing. It’s going to require this generation of Americans to add contours to those principles. We’ll do this by maintaining our own library of thoughts and democratic experiments, but that’s only possible if can get past this notion that to be political is to be uncouth. Being political is a feature, not a bug, of living in a democracy.

Blogger’s Remorse.

I’ve been quiet the past few weeks. In large part, that’s because of the holidays. I’d be lying, however, if some part of that wasn’t fear of blogger’s remorse. Blogger’s remorse is the retrospective embarrassment of having permanently written down your thoughts somewhere, only to reconsider them or regret them for fear of being wrong or saying something stupid.

Then I listened to the Ezra Klein Show – or maybe it was The Weeds – where Klein contrasts his experience building Vox with his experience as an early blogger. He laments that now, as a more established journalist, the dialogue is more about establishing and potentially proving a thesis (paraphrase) rather than the more exploratory task of musing on a blog. With a blog, he recounts, it felt more like a conversation where a person was free to be wrong, but there was a net intellectual gain in that exploration, so it wasn’t viewed negatively.

I’m trying to bear this in mind as I continue practicing my blogging. The whole point of using this was to memorialize my thoughts. If I come back and change my mind, fine, that’s good, reflection is good. If people who read it think I’m an idiot, they can go fly a kite. Besides, my audience is small, and most of them know me personally enough to actually have a conversation stem from these posts, and I’d consider that a pretty beneficial thing.