The Challenge In Content Moderation And Politics: How Do You Deal With Bad Faith Actors?
from the don't-treat-bad-faith-actors-like-they're-good-faith-actors dept
We talk a lot about the various challenges of content moderation all the time here on Techdirt, but there’s one aspect that really comes up all the time and is rarely addressed: how do you deal with bad faith actors? So much of the debate around content moderation tends to be based on the idea that there is merely a legitimate difference of opinion on what is and what is not appropriate — or what is and what is not “misinformation.” And there are important debates to be had about all that.
However, one of the biggest challenges regarding content moderation is that things that might make sense when dealing with those acting in good faith make no sense at all when dealing with those acting in bad faith. An example of this is the question of requiring (or even just demanding) that any website give a clear explanation of what rule was violated and how. This feels perfectly sensible. And when your content is taken down for reasons you legitimately feel were mistaken, the inability to know why is genuinely frustrating (ask me how I know).
But, turn that around and apply it to someone who is purposefully pushing the boundaries and gaming the system, whether trolling for lols or grifting gullible suckers, and suddenly you realize how such a request creates even more problems. Because the bad faith actor doesn’t care. They don’t actually want to learn what they did wrong to be better. They want to (1) cause problems for the site and (2) collect information so that next time, they can exploit that knowledge to engage in further bad acts without getting caught.
I was thinking about this after reading a great Daily Beast article by Wajahat Ali, acknowledging a similar issue in politics. So many of the norms of politics (and political journalism) are based on the idea that — even if you’re disagreeing with people — they’re acting in good faith and there’s simply a disagreement of assumptions or how you interpret those assumptions. But, as Ali has pointed out, all too frequently, that’s not true any more in the political sphere, and treating bad faith jackasses as if they’re acting in good faith cannot lead to any good outcome.
Most of us in this country, who have chosen life during a pandemic, are asked to coddle the unhinged temper tantrums and violent extremism of a conservative base that continues supporting the Jan. 6 violent insurrection and attacking our voting rights, and is willing to sacrifice our children as canaries in the COVID coalmine to fuel their endless culture war during a pandemic that has killed over 600,000 Americans.
Yet their elected leaders and mouthpieces, like Rep. Steve Scalise, are still treated as credible sources and normalized by being invited on news channels and by papers of record to criticize President Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a cartoonishly hardcore Trump loyalist, and ridiculous pseudo-intellectual Ben Shapiro, whom The New York Times once referred to as “the cool kid’s philosopher” and whose Daily Wire is hugely influential in pushing vaccine misinformation on Facebook, still get coveted platforms in Politico.
This is also true in the content moderation debates. Many of those pushing for new rules or changes to Section 230 are not making good faith arguments about how things should work. They’re bad faith actors, simply seeking any advantage by changing the rules in their own favor. They are trying to scam the system by pretending to have serious concerns, when their only concern is “how can I keep being a deceitful jackass online.”
Now, as with anything in content moderation (and perhaps in politics), it is often difficult to judge who is a good faith actor who might just be massively ignorant or confused, and who is just a bad faith actor looking to abuse the system. And that is a real concern — and there can be problems when legitimately ignorant people who mean well are dismissed or judged as bad faith trolls. And, of course, there is a legitimate concern about what happens when good faith individuals are dismissed as being in bad faith without considering what they say. But at some point people need to recognize that you can’t seriously bother debating with those acting in bad faith. They’re not there to be convinced. They’re not there to consider actual points.
They’re just trying to be attention-getting assholes and they win just by the very process of engaging with them as if they have something worth saying.