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Some thoughts on freedom on the Web, explained through a simple analogy

I'm writing this in an attempt to explain more clearly some ideas about the dangers of having an oligopoly in control of the Web, and the current difficulties of discussing that without being taken as some kind of "free speech absolutist". It's an analogy and, as in any analogy, it's only valid to a certain extent. The important thing is for it to be valid enough to explain a point.

There was a city in which four companies had ended up owning every bar, except for a handful of them in the outskirts. Upon one moment, they started to regulate which kind of conversations could be held in their bars and which couldn't, something they had a legal right to do and felt was their responsibility. So they prohibited any racist, homophobic or sexually explicit conversation, as well as conversations which they thought could carry any risk for society as a whole. Almost no one could really object to that, after all who would defend that kind of behavior? Some far right gangs said it was against their right to free speech, but they were correctly answered that they didn't have any right to determine the conversation policy of bars that weren't theirs.

Others tried to point that, while that policy wasn't inherently wrong and those companies were in their right to implement it, in the past this was dealt with on a bar-per-bar basis, and although the immense majority of bars didn't allow that kind of behaviors, they had different degrees of flexibility about different topics so bars were more varied and diverse, and you were free to choose a bar which conformed to your interests.

But they were quickly accused of defending some supposed right of that people to be given a place to discuss and organize, and sometimes even accused of defending those ideas. "If you don't like how the Four Companies manage their bars, go elsewhere".

The problem is that the far right gangs and other kind of undesirable people, when forced to leave the Four Companies' bars, went straight to the bars in the outskirts, overflowing them. Some of those bars were already owned by far right people, others though the answer to the Four Companies was to keep a more tolerant policy, and were overtook by neo-nazis. The few independent bars that didn't accept to become far right havens were forced to implement policies not that far from those of the Four Companies, or else face a far right invasion. Their clients spent a lot of time discussing wether something was off-limits or not instead of just enjoying a good time like they did before, and those bars were also very small and far away. They were interesting places, to be sure, but they were cut apart from most of the night life of the city, which took place on the hundreds of Four Companies' bars.

But now, there was a growing problem. The Four Companies had started to prohibit other subjects, for several reasons that aren't really important. Some were distasteful subjects, other were against their political interests or the city council's. But, as the far right gangs kept stabbing people and trying to reclaim their "right" to be accepted into the Four Companies' bars, most people thought that the risk they posed weighed more than anything else.

But they were missing the point. In another nearby city, there were never a handful of companies owning most bars. Still most bars didn't allow far right gangs, and discussion was diverse and fun, and sometimes helpful to combat the excesses of the city council and local police. Still, there were some neo-nazi bars, and most bars had one or two unlikable people. Neo-nazi bars sometimes caused trouble and had to be closed by the police, most were not only under police surveillance but under the neighbors' surveillance too. And, as neo-nazis were a very small minority, if you didn't support the same team as the owner of your closest bar, you could go to another bar which supported your team without it being forcefully full of neo-nazis or otherwise disgusting people.

Both cities had neo-nazis and sometimes problems in their bars, although Four Companies' bars were quite more peaceful on average, as they were heavily policed in a uniform and homogeneous way. But they were lifeless too, and lots of interesting discussions and possibilities of neighbors facing local injustice together were lost forever. Everyone ended up thinking the same, watching the same, liking the same sports and supporting the same teams. Bars weren't a fun and exciting place anymore.

This is just an analogy, so it's limited. But I think it explains well my general view and worries on the subject, which have nothing to do with leaving free way to racists and neo-nazis. It has to do with putting an end to the oligopoly before it's too late.