Website or platform?

By what process does a private space become a public one? One answer seems to be “When the government starts heavily regulating what goes on there.” Owners of these spaces have good reason to be complacent: as the regulation adds up so do barriers to entry, and soon competition becomes impossible. On the other hand, the loudest subset of customers may also end up dictating the space’s policy.

That’s what is happening with Facebook: in Germany, the government is ordering Facebook to commit to removing “hateful” content within 24 hours of it being posted. Meanwhile in San Francisco, gay groups are meeting with Facebook representatives to demand changes to certain features that will be more accommodating to members of these groups, on the basis that Facebook is a “platform”–not a private website.

To adapt Christopher Caldwell, one moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which there can be no private websites because victim groups are too weak to a world in which there can be no private websites because victim groups are too strong.

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