Learning from the Google+ suspensions

With all the anger over the Google+ mass suspensions, I’ve seen quite a few people post that they’re going elsewhere. Rainyday Superstar has suggested that she might go use Tumblr more. Other people are talking about Diaspora, DreamWidth, even (gag!) staying with Facebook.

I think those people are all failing to see the big picture.

Google’s behavior towards its users is a surprise only because we’ve come to expect better from Google. I learned from LiveJournal and Facebook that sooner or later, almost any corporate entity that becomes popular enough will stop caring about its users. With LiveJournal, it got to the point where even Brad Fitz stopped caring–he had his exit strategy sorted out, and just told people he was no longer in charge of the ship.

Furthermore, freedom of the press in America has a simple rule: if you don’t own the press, you don’t get the freedom. The Constitution only applies to government censorship; private commercial entities get to censor as much as they like. If you are reliant on someone else’s platform to distribute your writing, expect limits on your speech.

This is why anything I write that’s of non-trivial length goes on my web sites. (One for work-related stuff, one for more personal matters.) I’ll post links to it on Google+, Facebook, and other social networking sites, but the actual content stays on a site I own and control.

I use free, open source software (WordPress) which can be deployed to any commodity $5-a-month web hosting provider. I own the domain, and have it registered through a separate company, so if my hosting provider goes rogue they can’t stop me from moving my site and domain somewhere else. (Yes, I’ve seen that happen.) The data is backed up automatically every night to a server in my house, so at most I’d lose a day’s postings and comments. I use rdiff-backup for the nightly archives, so that if someone hacks in and corrupts or destroys the site database I can wind back to the last intact version.

I could have my web site content destroyed, but it would pretty much take a government raid on my house and ISP to achieve that. At that point I’d have bigger problems to worry about, and the US Constitution would (theoretically at least) start to apply.

(I even picked the domain name partly because it’s a command used by every dial-up modem and by many Unix WiFi drivers, so it would be difficult for some tool like Richard Branson to grab a trademark or copyright registration and try to take the domain away from me. It also has no commercial value at this point. Hayes tried to stop other modem makers from using their commands using every legal trick in the book, but they ultimately failed.)

You might think that my web publishing setup is overkill. I’m not exactly Julian Assange, after all. But the other thing that LiveJournal taught me, and which the Google+ fiasco is also making clear, is that you never know what trivial thing is going to make a company use the ban hammer. LiveJournal booted me for posting information which was publicly available to the entire world on the subject’s web site. Google+ is giving people the ban hammer for having names like “Winter Seale” and “Laurence Simon”. So even if your idea of controversy is saying the word “fuck”, you might want to consider a setup like mine, at least if you put any time and effort into what you write. It isn’t hard to set up and use WordPress; arranging the automatic backups is a little more technical, but it’s not rocket surgery.