In Defence of the Bright Line – Aggression and Harm in the Digital Age
By Duncan Whitmore
In a recent discussion concerning the regulation of so-called “Big Tech”, Jeff Deist has raised the question of whether the proliferation of digital technology requires us to reconsider the traditional, libertarian conception of unlawfulness:
The larger question for libertarians is whether their existing conceptions of property rights, harms, torts, and free speech still work in a thoroughly digital era. Principles may not change, but facts and circumstances certainly do. Rothbard’s strict paradigm for what ought to constitute actionable force, especially as discussed in part II of The Ethics of Liberty, requires some kind of physical invasion of person or property. In doing so, Rothbard necessarily distinguishes between aggression (legally actionable) and the broader idea of “harm.” The former gives rise to tort liability in Rothbardian/libertarian law; the latter is part of the vicissitudes of life and must be endured. Theorists like Professor Walter Block and Stephan Kinsella have expanded on this “physical invasion” rule, applying it to everything from blackmail to defamation to (so-called) intellectual property. Aggression against physical persons or property creates a legally actionable claim, mere harm does not.
But Rothbard’s bright-line rule seems unsatisfying in our digital age. If anything, the complexity of modern information technology and the pace of innovation make the case against bright-line tests. For one thing, the sheer scale of instantaneous information ought to inform our view of aggression vs. harm. A single (false) tweet stating “famous person X is a pedophile” could reach hundreds of millions of people in a day, ruining X’s life forever. This is a bit worse than a punch to X’s nose in a bar fight, to put it mildly.
To avoid taking these remarks out of context, it should be noted that the main purpose of Deist’s article is to reject the option of a “sclerotic federal bureaucracy” resolving problems created by digital technology, in favour of evolutionary regulation arising from the adjudication of real cases. As such, one suspects that Deist is thinking out loud so as to raise possible issues rather than constructing a carefully considered argument regarding the scope of actionable harm. Nevertheless, he does reach an unqualified conclusion:
Libertarians and conservatives should broaden their conceptions of tort and contract remedies, and support the evolution of what constitutes harm in a digital era.
Given such certainty, a detailed examination of the matters that Deist raises is warranted.
“The legislature, were it possible that its deliberations could be always directed, not by the clamorous importunity of partial interests, but by an extensive view of the general good, ought, upon this very account, perhaps, to be particularly careful, neither to establish any new monopolies of this kind, nor to extend further those which are already established. Every such regulation introduces some degree of real disorder into the constitution of the state, which it will be difficult afterwards to cure without occasioning another disorder.”
– Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
The debate over the power of social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook has intensified this past week when both platforms attempted to restrict the distribution of reports concerning allegations of corruption made against Democrat Presidential nominee Joe Biden. The precise details are unimportant; suffice it to say that the reports are likely to prove damaging to the Biden campaign if disseminated widely amongst the electorate. Both Twitter and Facebook restricted the sharing of the New York Post’s story on the matter, while the White House Press Secretary was locked out of her Twitter account. All of this, of course, takes place against the backdrop of “cancel culture” and the censorship of information (even from authoritative sources) that challenges the official narrative of lockdown and restriction in response to COVID-19.
Although, in this particular instance, the social media companies may end up succumbing to the “Streisand Effect” – the phenomenon whereby any attempt to ban or censor information increases its allure and, thus, leads to a greater degree of exposure overall – those on the right have responded in at least one of two ways to this latest betrayal of the apparent leftist bias that pervades Silicon Valley. Continue reading →
Read it, or spend the rest of your life wondering…
For those of you lazy buggers who cannot be bothered to click on the above link, here are a few quotes:
”The virus seems to have started out as the archetypal “Faith” virus “Generalis religica“; which begat “Generalis judaica“; which begat “Generalis christianica“; which begat “Generalis catholica” and it’s brethren; which begat “Generalis protestantica“; which begat “Generalis puritanica” about the time it was carried away to the Americas; and so on and so on.
Offshoots of these viruses include the more serious genus types of “Fundamentalis“; A species example being “Fundamentalis islamica“, a virus type which has recently undergone multiple population explosions.”
”The “Faith” virus commonly enters the human vessel via the optical and auditory systems. It is then carried via the blood to the brain where it infects the neurons of the cerebral cortex in the region of the frontal lobe.”
Bugger them. F*** them. Let them be on the bloody thing the whole time: they cannot then and therefore be doing stuff to us, only to their supposed “friends”.
FORCE THEM to spend 100% of their time and effort while “at work”, on it.
I am beginning to see the point of “face” “book”. It is a harmless and debilitating out-door relief-system for bureaucrats, who are concerned that they have no “friends”. Let the bastards use it how they bloody well like. It will keep them off our effing backs.
I have 19 friends, my son has 79 (I sort of think he does actually know most of them) and some of my students have “1,891 friends” (this is non-credible. Nobody would even send Christmas Cards to that number of people, let alone be their friend, unless they wozz a bank.)
I can’t work out what the blasted site is actually for, apart from my thoughts about harmlessly employing bureaucrats without hurting people outside.
But, Ian Geldard and Jackie Danicki seem to broadcast their innermost thoughts to the world at hourly intervals. I must be a classical liberal saddo then.
I might resign from it, but I await good advice from the commentariat.
How can one give a job, any job, where people see what one’s name is, to someone called “Ed” “Balls”, and worse, who has a wife called “Yvette” “Balls”?
That had to be a pan-galactic mistake, for a start. And to have both troughers in government at the same time? Talk about a kitchen cabinet….
Now we have caught them with their pants down, trying to expunge yet more British history from the “primary” “school””” “curriculum”, a multiple-tautology if ever there was one. I am not saying that the existing “curriculum”, if you can call it that, was any good as it is: but at least they did “the Egyptians”, “The Romans”, “The Saxons”, “The Normans”, “the wives of Henry VIII” (totally pointless unless you try to explain the objectives of post-medieval European statecraft, which will of course completely undermine the Gramscian part of their agenda) “slavery” (it’s our fault of course), and “children down the mines” (send them, as soon as possible please…)
Now they were planning to drop everything except two, and teach the poor little bastards about “twitter”, whatever that may be.
As it already is, the entire seven years of British Primary school education is substantively wasted: and we caught them trying to make it worse….
It is such a tragedy, that these people have been to the finest Universities that money can buy. How did they get to be the way they are?
You wouldn’t just hand a child of, say, 13, a chain-saw, simply because he/she said he could cut down a tree faster with it. You train it (the child, not the saw.) Then, since our homes are now bursting at the seams with computers and networks, you train a child about what’s important: that’s all.
Then, he does not think he needs a Facebook account. His dad’s got one, immature dude that he is.
This just in, from Madcomputersolutions. I don’t know about these “social networking sites”, really, do you? I blame “celebrities” slebs myself, which means that, like everything, it’s all the fault of socialism and its inbuilt deliberate degrade-strategy, for decreeing that these person-trons ought to be created in the first place.
In a Libertarian society, as it must of course be in Heaven, everybody will of course be working so hard, for such great reward, that there will not be time for public self-preening in the way people seem to do on these places.
Better to get a blog. Then, not only will nobody know much about yourself except the important bits (like opinions and philosophy) which you choose to reveal, but you can save the world at the same time.