The Future of Rights, Civil Society and Social Media

That Was The Week, 2021, #1

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Happy New Year and welcome to the first edition of That Was The Week for 2021. I arrived back from a family visit to my wife's country - South Africa - on Tuesday the 5th of January. The 6th was a day never to forget. The USA's sitting President spoke to his "troops" gathered in Washington DC and declared a march on the Capitol which he promised to join. What unfolded is now history, and the House has impeached him for a second time. The same day the Republicans lost control of the Senate after losing the Presidency.

What Trump did was a criminal act of sedition. He must face the consequences to the full extent of the law. Only Joe Biden could save him, with an undeserved pardon. A Presidential pardon is not likely, but it would potentially be a smart political move, not unlike Nelson Mandela executed when forgiving the former white nationalists following the fall of Apartheid. They would never rule again, and that would be a deal we would love Trump to make.

Democracy was created out of a revolution against colonizers, and a civil war against slave-owning confederates. It did not come for free. It includes the right to free speech and the freedom of assembly. It even has the right for citizens to bear arms. But it does not include the right to overthrow a lawful government by violence and force or to stop the execution of laws. The clear roles of the legislature, executive and judicial branches of government are well understood. On top of this lives civil society and the market. Both are subject to the law of the land. A private company cannot ban pro-gay or anti-racist speech without being subject to laws on discrimination or censorship. A newspaper cannot print words that breach the first amendment.

So, you might be surprised that this editorial disagrees with the decision by Twitter to ban Donald Trump permanently. It also opposes Apple, AWS and others who forced Parler - the social media app preferred by Trump supporters - out of business. Jack Dorsey's Twitter stream from Thursday 14th of January leads this weeks collection. It was a very good attempt to describe how inappropriate it is that Twitter had to act. Although he defends the decision. He warns that it sets a "dangerous pecedent". He charts a possible path forward where social media is an open source, distributed, platform. Not unlike Bitcoin architecturally. Twitter would simply be a client to this new platform. It is a bold and good vision.

But for now, my belief is that Twitter and Facebook are now a form of "public square" due to the proportion of the human race using them. The Supreme Court of the USA agrees.

In 2017, the US Supreme Court ruled in Packingham v. North Carolina that social-media platforms are the new “public square,” and access to them is protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech.

From Quartz

And from the American Bar Association:

But, in 2018, speech takes place online much more so than it does in traditional public forums, such as public parks and streets. People communicate on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, more than in any offline venues. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this reality last year in Packingham v. North Carolina (2017): “While in the past there may have been difficulty in identifying the most important places (in a spatial sense) for the exchange of views, today the answer is clear. It is cyberspace—the ‘vast democratic forums of the Internet’ in general, and social media in particular.” (Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S.Ct. 1730, 1735 (2017).)

From the American Bar Association

The Harvard Law Review discussion of Packingham vs North Carolina is very clear that it is unconstitutional for social media bans of a sweeping nature to be imposed.

This weeks newsletter is called "on Liberty", borrowing the title of John Stuart Mill's essay from 1859. Mill was a foundational thinker in favor of freedom and democracy. He focused on that difficult trade-off between the rights of the individual and the needs of society. He was quite visionary in his view.

"But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

The permanent ban on Trump and the likely death blow to Parler are examples of civil society and the private market (not the government) restricting individuals' rights. It is no different than a mob shutting up a street corner orator. If society allows one group of citizens organized as a digital mob, led by large powerful companies, to silence another, rather than have the law arbitrate, then the rule of the street has replaced the rule of law. The most powerful in society should not gain the right to censor. Civil society and the market behomoths cannot replace the law as the arbiter of what is permitted.

To allow the law to be by-passed by private interests is not good for the future of civilization. In the USA the first amendment should explicitly be extended to include social media. Social Media businesses should limit themselves to applying the law when required, as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states.

Because Twitter and Facebook and AWS are private companies, not a part of the executive branch of government, they should not arbitrate society's intellectual or ideological battles. Their role should be limited to implementing rules determined by the legislature, policed by the executive branch of government and tried by the judiciary. In the USA, that means the implementation of the first amendment to the constitution. A permanent ban on Trump, and the effective closure of Parler goes way beyond that.

Mostly this would be common sense. Except, our collective hatred of Trump and the opinions of his followers has dulled us to the rights and wrongs. Anything goes to silence him and stop his people. I have sympathy with that instinct, but sympathy and agreeing are not the same.

Commercial interests, owning platforms used by most in society, as a modern printing press, are no more suited to decide what is allowed to be published than the first printing press owners were suited to determining what newspapers were allowed to print. There is now pressure on Substack and others to block objectionable content and meet offensive content with bans. This is not a trend I welcome.

Let's put Trump in prison for crimes if he remains unpardoned. But let's not create a precedent that allows social media management teams and owners to determine what is and what not published.

Thomas Paine said it well:

"He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."

--News Of The Week:



And the rest is here:

News You Can Use: For Founders

The Best of the Rest: For VCs

Startup Of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

--News Of The Week:


Twitter chief says Trump ban was right decision but sets ‘dangerous precedent’

Technology | The Guardian

  • Speaking out for the first time since the social network took the remarkable step of permanently suspending the president’s account following a violent attack on the US Capitol, Dorsey said the company faced “an extraordinary and untenable circumstance, forcing us to focus all of our actions on public safety”.
  • Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, has said that banning Donald Trump from the platform was the “right decision” but that it sets a dangerous precedent.

Big Tech and Censorship

Silicon Valley should not be given control over free speech

The Economist

The Economist

The first reaction of many people was one of relief. On January 6th, with 14 days remaining of his term, the social-media president was suspended from Twitter after years of pumping abuse, lies and nonsense into the public sphere. Soon after, many of his cronies and supporters were shut down online by Silicon Valley, too. The end of their cacophony was blissful. But the peace belies a limiting of free speech that is chilling for America—and all democracies.

The bans that followed the storming of the Capitol were chaotic. On January 7th Facebook issued an “indefinite” suspension of Donald Trump. Twitter followed with a permanent ban a day later. Snapchat and YouTube barred him. An array of other accounts were suspended. Google and Apple booted Parler, a small social network popular with the far-right, from their app stores and Amazon kicked Parler off its cloud service, forcing it offline entirely.

Germany’s Merkel hits out at Twitter over ‘problematic’ Trump ban


  • LONDON — German Chancellor Angela Merkel blasted Twitter’s decision to ban U.S. President Donald Trump .
  • Seibert said that, while Twitter was right to flag Trump’s inaccurate tweets about the 2020 U.S. election, banning his account altogether was a step too far.

How we save the world

Doc Searls Weblog

  • To put this in a perspective, start with Joy’s Law : “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.”
  • It’s how resourceful and helpful (and not just opportunistic) people can be when they have the tools.

E17: Big Tech bans Trump, ramifications for the First Amendment & the open Internet

Apple Removes Parler From App Store Due to ‘Inadequate’ Measures to Address Dangerous Content


  • Apple today confirmed that it has chosen to suspend Parler from the App Store, stating that the self-described “non-biased, free speech social media” app has failed to take “adequate measures to address the proliferation” of “threats to people’s safety.” Apple said there is “no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity,” and noted that Parler will remain unavailable on the App Store until if and when these issues are resolved.
  • Parler has not upheld its commitment to moderate and remove harmful or dangerous content encouraging violence and illegal activity, and is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.

AWS boots Parler from its cloud, citing calls for violence surrounding Capitol attack


Parler, the social media app under fire after the role its users played in organizing Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol and subsequent calls for further violence, will have to find a new cloud provider.

The woke purge

spiked — humanity is underrated

  • Not only does cancel culture exist — it is the means through which the powerful, unaccountable oligarchies of the internet era and their clueless cheerleaders in the liberal elites interfere in the democratic process and purge voices they disapprove of.
  • The new capitalists’ cancellation of the democratically elected president of the United States is a very significant turning point in the politics and culture of the Western world.

It’s Time for Social-Media Platforms to Permanently Ban Trump

New York Magazine, @karaswisher

  • Twitter — Trump’s favored online communications vehicle — says as much in its civic integrity policy, noting that “you may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes.”
  • Twitter says “you may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes”, but by their actions, clearly the opposite is true.

The Capitol Attack Doesn’t Justify Expanding Surveillance

Feed: All Latest

  • Right now, a growing chorus is demanding we use facial recognition, cellphone tower data, and every manner of invasive surveillance to punish the mob.
  • We don’t need facial recognition, geofences, and cell tower data to find those responsible, we need police officers willing to do their job.

The Day After

On my Om

Today is the day after. It was one of those mornings where you wake up and wonder if yesterday was, in fact, real-life — or was it some movie or staged reality show that you watched? Today is the day after we realized that democracy always hangs by a thread. It is just one step away from being overrun by a demagogue and his lunatic fringe. Many of us who are not from here know this all too well. But many of my fellow Americans are just waking up to the reality that you have to work hard to keep your ideals, your freedoms, and your democracy.

Facebook Chucked Its Own Rulebook to Ban Trump

OneZero — Tech and Science News, and Articles About the Future — Medium

  • Over the last several years, we have allowed President Trump to use our platform consistent with our own rules, at times removing content or labeling his posts when they violate our policies.
  • That’s when Facebook vice president Nick Clegg announced a broadening of the company’s “newsworthiness” exemption for posts by political leaders that would otherwise be subject to fact-checks or otherwise violate its rules — an exemption it had created, not coincidentally, the year Trump took office.

--News Of The Week:


The Case for and Against Investing in Bitcoin — The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal

  • With bitcoin trading at more than $40,000 apiece last week — and quintupling in value over the past year — the question arises for investors: Get in or stay out?
  • In November, digital-payment processors handled just $269.7 million of merchant sales world-wide in bitcoin, according to research firm Chainalysis.

SPAC Magic Isn’t Free

  • In the merger, the target private company gets the money in the pot and the SPAC shareholders get shares in the new combined company; the result is that the target company has raised cash and gone public through the merger.
  • In this case the free money is being subsidized by the target company, which is selling very underpriced shares to the SPAC to go public.

Billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya is the next Warren Buffett, Ritholtz chief Josh Brown says

Business Insider, @Theron_Mohamed

The billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya might just be the next Warren Buffett, Josh Brown said on the YouTube channel The Compound this week.

"I think he's the new Buffett," the Ritholtz Wealth Management chief and "How I Invest My Money" coauthor said, adding that Palihapitiya "has that aura about him."

"He's not there in dollar terms yet, but he seems right now to have figured out a lot of things before other people, and he's executing very well," Brown added.

Palihapitiya is a former Facebook executive, the founder and CEO of Social Capital, and a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors.

News You Can Use: For Founders

Apply to YC on Your Schedule

Y Combinator

  • If we receive your application by Thursday, January 27 at 8pm PT, we will consider you for an early February interview (instead of regular interviews, which begin in late April).
  • If you apply by the early deadline (January 27), we’ll reply to you in early February to let you know if we’d like to interview you early or if we need more time to review your application.

The Super-Simple Guide to What VCs are Looking For Today


  • Pre-IPO investing, i.e. unicorn stage, are looking in general for at least 2x-2.5x returns.
  • Series B and Series C, and later-stage Series A … anything much higher than a $60m valuation or so … is looking to 10x their investment in you .

USV Climate Fund

Union Square Ventures

At USV we describe ourselves as a “thesis-driven venture capital firm.” For our core fund, we have been investing against Thesis 3.0 for some time. Over the last couple of years, we have been developing a separate Climate Thesis, including making investments in companies such as Leap and Wren.  We are excited to announce that we now have a $162 million Climate Fund specifically for that. Like our Opportunity Fund, this new Climate Fund will be managed by all the existing USV partners.

The Best of the Rest: For VCs

Why LP’s Passed on Seed Funds 10 Years Ago (And What’s Happened Since)

Blog — NextView Ventures

  • But 1) many of the best companies were created by rookie founders and 2) there are legitimate reasons why an experienced founder who could raise a large series A might choose a right-sized seed for better alignment, optionality, and early support.
  • It turns out capital is not a weapon, especially in the early stages of building a business, and even experienced founders who can raise huge sums often realize this and right-size their asks.

The Simple Reason There Are So Many SaaS Unicorns Today


  • More SaaS companies growing fast enough to get to $100m ARR x stock market valuing them 3x higher than before = lots-of-‘corns.
  • How can there now be 100s of SaaS Unicorns (startups worth $1B or more) … vs just a handful 5–6 years ago?

Startup Of The Week:

Max Levchin’s Affirm surges in Nasdaq debut — New York Post

New York Post

  • Shares of lending startup Affirm Holdings, founded by PayPal’s co-founder Max Levchin, soared in their debut on Wednesday, giving the company a market capitalization of over $22 billion.
  • Affirm’s shares opened at $90.90 on the Nasdaq, 85.5 percent higher than their upwardly revised initial public offering (IPO) price of $49 apiece.

Tweets Of The Week: