Patreon banned conservative political commentator Lauren Southern and thus deprived her of a big chunk of her income. Patreon CEO Jack Conte has made a video trying to explain this decision. The reasoning presented in the video is mistaken.
A fundamental mistake in the video is a reliance on a concept called “Manifest Observable Behavior.” As described in the video (my transcription below):
Content policy and the decision to remove a creator page has absolutely nothing to do with politics and ideology and has everything to do with a concept called Manifest Observable Behavior. The purpose of using Manifest Observable Behavior is to remove personal values and beliefs when the team is reviewing content. It’s a review method that’s entirely based on observable facts: what has a camera seen? What has an audio device recorded? It doesn’t matter what your intentions are, your motivations, who you are, your identity, your ideology; the trust and safety team only looks at Manifest Observable Behavior.
This seems like the primary description Patreon offers for this concept, as I couldn’t find one on their site.
The emphasis on looking at behavior is kind of odd. How would you judge another person’s intentions other than by their behavior? What else is there to go on besides their behavior?
Also, what behaviors are considered good or bad depends on a person’s values. The person judging has to judge behaviors he sees as good or bad. So you can’t make value free judgments about behaviors. It’s impossible.
The idea that one makes judgments based directly on observations and free from one’s values and beliefs is a refuted mistake. As explained at the link:
[Karl] Popper was giving a lecture and at the start he said, “Observe!” People said, “Observe what?” There is no such thing as emptying your mind and just observing and being guided by the data. First you must think, first you must have ideas about what you’re looking for.
Despite their claim to the contrary — that they’re just judging value-free according to the contents of video and audio recordings — it’s literally impossible for Patreon to do what they’re claiming to do. The observations involved in “Manifest Observable Behavior” will involve ideas about 1) what to observe, i.e. what is significant or meaningful behavior 2) interpretations as to what the observed behavior means, 3) value judgments as to the morality of the behavior.
And sure enough, what is presented in the video is an argument involving value judgments and particular interpretations of facts in politically controversial matters (presented below). So “Manifest Observable Behavior” fails on its own terms.
What is Patreon’s argument for banning Lauren? From the video (my transcript):
From a high level, we removed [the pages of Lauren Southern and the members of Defend Europe] because they directly obstructed a search-and-rescue ship in the Mediterranean. And they made a variety of statements and outlined plans to obstruct similar rescue ships in the future. And that’s a violation of a section of our content policy that prohibits creators from threatening to take or from taking action that could lead to harm or loss of life.
Then Jack shows Lauren disputing that she’s part of Defend Europe. Jack continues:
Questions like “Is Lauren Southern an activist or is she a journalist?” “Is she a member of Defend Europe or is she not a member of Defend Europe?” … those sorts of binary questions, turns out they just matter less than Manifest Observable Behavior. You can’t use Manifest Observable Behavior to say who someone is. That’s just a more nebulous claim. You can use Manifest Observable Behavior to say what someone did or didn’t do, and whether or not those things are or are not against your content policy.
If you judge Lauren’s actions and decide she was participating in Defend Europe’s activities, you are in essence saying she was an activist and not a journalist, whether you make that claim explicitly or not. The Patreon guy is trying to make judgments while avoiding responsibility for making them by hiding behind a buzzphrase. This is ridiculous and should not fool anybody.
Patreon accuses Lauren of doing stuff likely to cause harm:
So what are these ships doing? Who is Lauren stopping, and why is that bad?
Bad?? Sounds like a value judgment! 🤔 Continuing:
They are search-and-rescue ships that save people attempting to cross the oceans to Europe.
Jack then claims the ship Lauren & Defend Europe stopped was a response to stuff like refugee kids drowning.
Lauren disputes the characterization of the ships being stopped as rescue ships:
It's not a rescue boat – it's a ferry service. There's a reason even the EU are trying to stop dinghy boat sales to Libya.
— Lauren Southern (@Lauren_Southern) July 29, 2017
See also this video explaining the mission and discussing the NGO ships:
The nature of the activities of the alleged “search-and-rescue” ships is a controversial matter, and getting more information on what the NGO ships were doing was part of the stated purpose of the Defend Europe mission. Patreon chose one side in a controversy according to their political and ideological values, and then wants to pretend they just watched some video and saw the Clear Truth.
Whether Lauren was doing anything that could cause people harm is an issue that should have gotten discussed and sorted out by an objective, non-biased third party before her income got taken away. Despite the fact that Jack acknowledges that “the authority to take away a human being’s income is a sobering responsibility,” he does not appear serious. If Jack and Patreon were really sobered by this responsibility, they’d incorporate elements of due process into their review process, like the opportunity to argue why an account ban shouldn’t occur, the right to present evidence and witnesses, etc.
These are well known elements of due process that our society has been developing and refining for centuries. But Jack/Patreon aren’t actually serious about the responsibility they have; they just want to virtue signal that they are responsible and serious because that plays well with their audience. Their communications with Lauren made it clear they would not consider an appeal. Their after-the-fact, incoherent explanation, and a vague commitment to implementing some sort of “appeals process” that won’t apply to Lauren, doesn’t come close to meeting their responsibility.