The Platform is the Message
Facebook and YouTube have promised to take down Tide Pod Challenge videos. Easier said than done. For one thing, on the Internet, the line between advocacy and parody is undefined. Every meme, gif, and video is a bit of both. For another, these platforms are structurally at war with themselves. The same characteristics that make outrageous and offensive content unacceptable are what make it go viral in the first place.
The arc of the Tide Pod Challenge from The Onionto Not the Onionis a microcosm of our modern mediascape. It illustrates how ideas spread and mutate, how they take over platforms and jump between them, and how they resist attempts to stamp them out. It shows why responsible content moderation is necessary and why responsible content moderation is impossibly hard. And it opens a window on the disturbing, demand-driven dynamics of the Internet today, where any desire, no matter how perverse or inarticulate, can be catered to by the invisible hand of an algorithmic media ecosystem that has no conscious idea what it is doing. Tide Pods are just the tip of the iceberg.
Professor of Law, Cornell Tech and Cornell Law School. This essay was written for the Governance and Regulation of Internet Platforms conference at the Georgetown University Law Center on February 23, 2018. My thanks to the participants and to Aislinn Black, Gus Andrews, Chris Peterson, and Chris Wiggins for their comments. This essay may be freely reused under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0 [https://perma.cc/L9VD-NQYX].