We need better filters

What’s the opposite of censorship?

Certainly I was always taught that it was free speech. But I’ve watched online communication grow from BBS systems to the modern web, and I’m not sure I believe those are the true endpoints of the pendular swing. I think there’s a point where you go clear through free speech and come out the other side. There you emerge into a landscape absolutely awash in information…true, false, and in between…spewed from a monster firehose pressurized by the internet.

That firehose is the opposite of censorship: A flow of data devoid of meaningful filters, where truth doesn’t need to be actively suppressed. Instead, it can be buried under an avalanche of meaningless news-cycle filler. In its way, I think this may be worse than active censorship, because it produces not just mis- and disinformation, but distrust of democratic institutions. At least with censorship you can figure out what the government is trying to suppress and why. In the current circumstance, it’s at best difficult to ascribe motive and intent, even if you can drag up the story you want.

For years we’ve been promised that the free-speech paradise of the internet would be our salvation, but I fear it’s going to be exactly the opposite…the horde of ducks that ends up pecking our democracy to death. We lost trust in media gatekeepers, and replaced them with something even more cynical and crassly commercial. We need to find a way back to a system of trusted gatekeeping, to replace the algorithm with human judgment, or we are going to end up just another balkanized banana republic.

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