I think we may be on the verge of a new wave of independent media. We had a previous wave and it gave rise to websites, blogs, and news aggregators. Then there was a great consolidation where large corporate publishers bought up some of the most influential sites. Many of those sites and bloggers became disillusioned with their corporate overlords and again went independent. This is now happening in the podcast and vlog space. Pushed forward by YouTube, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, and Twitter de-platforming accounts we’re beginning to see less dependence on “big tech.” 2020 has proven that these silos are interested in protecting their ad revenue in the guise of protecting the public from “fake news” and bad information. This is not good for free and open discussion.
TV and radio haven’t served the public good for decades and the product is dumbed down to the point of being unwatchable. Independent podcasts, vlogs, and other video productions have risen to fill the void but have only made it into the mainstream by utilizing the platforms of big tech. When anything remotely controversial arises big tech de-platforms the offender out of fear of losing advertising revenue. This situation is untenable. Freedom of expression cannot survive by the whim of advertisers. That’s why media needs to get more fragmented and federated than ever before.
It’s already happening with audio. An audio file takes up very little hard drive space and is easily distributed via RSS using podcast apps. You can start a podcast using just your phone and basic audio editing tools. The barrier to entry is virtually nothing. You can find an audio podcast on virtually any subject and it’s very difficult to censor. The Podcasting 2.0 endeavor to redefine the podcast index and prevent de-platforming by Apple or Spotify (those are not really podcasts but instead are wholly owned Spotify shows) is gaining steam and they are even innovating with new features for independent podcasters that will help them compete with big tech.
Video is a different animal however. While you can also start with just your phone and basic editing tools the larger files and the bandwidth necessary to deliver the content has a much steeper barrier to entry. While hard drive storage is extremely cheap and it’s easy to store terabytes of video on any home computer the bandwidth to serve that video is still expensive. You could lower the resolution to create smaller files but that is not good for the audience. Internet service providers also keep upload speeds much lower than downloads because they do not want people serving content from their homes. The cost of a commercial connection to the Internet is still out of reach for the average person. Right now the only economical solution is to use big tech platforms for storage and delivery.
The problem here is if you have a controversial opinion the risk of getting de-platformed is very high. Recently YouTube infamously stated they would ban content that said there was wide-spread voter fraud in the 2020 election. The power to just shut down one side of an argument is more powerful than a TV network’s ability to ignore a story. What good is a one sided argument? Moving to a competing service like Rumble or Parler is no help. They’re just different platforms with their own terms of service that will eventually succumb to the ignorance of the mob.
Big tech, with their constantly changing terms of service are not designed to allow the free flow of ideas. They are built to censor. What’s needed is an affordable content delivery network that does not discriminate and does not censor files uploaded to its servers. Is this even possible? Yes. Big tech builds server farms and data centers all over the world. But how can any company ensure that only legal content be stored there? They can’t and toleration of this fact is key to maintaining a free and open Internet.
The answer is to keep section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) and allow true content platforms to host any files… even the most offensive content. When unlawful content is found law enforcement needs to arrest and prosecute the people responsible for producing and distributing the content. This is what we do now. For example, no one is stopping child pornographers from purchasing cameras, paper, printers, and binding machines. And, no one holds the manufacturers of those products responsible for the content produced using those products. But, if an individual or a company like the New York Times started publishing child porn or libeled someone they could, and in the case of the former, should be prosecuted.
Maybe an amendment to the CDA is needed to protect a content agnostic content farm and specifically exclude protections for tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter because they are making editorial decisions. Those editorial decisions in my mind make them publishers and not platforms. If we can make this distinction maybe content farms will propagate and make federated audio and video content affordable to the masses. This way the only entity that would be capable of de-platforming a user of the service would be law enforcement through existing law.
The concept of a content agnostic content farm could be the future of media. Combined with what’s happening in the podcasting space with podcastindex.org I can see a future where news is no longer controlled by big media and big tech.
The Internet IS the content platform not the content silos. The future of media can be us if we want it to be.