Hate speech has no place in the world, even online

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New Zealand is a country often associated with postcard picturesque beauty, brimming with spectacular mountain ranges, mischievous parrots and locals with unfathomable accents. That temporarily changed this week after the abhorrent acts of a single coward, armed with a hoard of weapons and a brain infected with the virus of extreme right-wing ideology, perpetuated in part by online forum 8chan, a place where like-minded individuals come together and discuss which cross-sections of society should be slaughtered, for the betterment of our race.

A natural period of enquiry usually follows such a tragic event, in an effort to prevent similar occurrences, and given that it is exceptionally difficult to identify potential mass murderers, our attention turns to factors that we can control. Gun reform is already being discussed by the New Zealand cabinet, just four days after the attack occurred, testament to their progressive government and laudable prime minister Jacinda Ardern. The terrorist’s mental health is another consideration. In his rambling, racist manifesto he claims to be an ordinary white man, as though everyday, mentally-healthy people harbour urges of puncturing the organs of innocent people with bullets. As a native Australian, the shooter had access to discounted mental health programs via their Medicare system, providing him with a limited number of appointments with a mental health professional, though it’s unclear whether these were ever utilised, or how effective they would have been in steering him away from extreme ideology.

The third major consideration, and much murkier problem, is how to moderate hate-filled discussion boards on websites like 8chan. These are hotbeds of righteous discontent, loaded with reclusive figures whose pitiful anger can develop into violent, unbridled extremism, occasionally forming a character of such severity as the Christchurch shooter, so psychologically disturbed and miseducated that he considers his actions enough to prevent Muslims from migrating to predominantly white countries such as New Zealand.

The United States, UK, Australia, and many other countries fall under the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty, which includes the prohibition of certain types of hate speech, such as inciting violence against an ethnic group. The problem is one of enforcement — given that there’s no such thing as an internet police force (thank god), is it possible to systematically and efficiently censor lunatics like the Christchurch shooter, so that their violence-inciting ideology is eliminated before it reaches more gullible and mentally-unhealthy minds?

The web is enormous — over 1.5 billion sites and growing. For this reason, websites are expected to moderate their own content in an effort to keep things in accordance with international law, often through the use of self-written codes of conduct. This method is useless for websites like 8chan, which was created as a place for people to share whatever content they wanted, regardless of its illegality. It even had chat boards dedicated to child rape. Though Google does have the power to remove illegal content from its directories (it removed 8chan after child porn was discovered), the company is understandably reluctant to ban websites that host content that isn’t categorically illegal, such as right-wing ideology. It’s up to the creators of discussion-based websites to moderate their content, including having the financial resources needed to overcome the potentially gargantuan challenges that accompany moderation. Diligent physical and algorithmic moderation of content along with constant refining of rules is needed to reduce illegal and hateful content on large websites, a mammoth, ongoing task that Facebook is gloomily familiar with. For 8chan — a website created with the purpose of allowing the most vile opinions to be shared and discussed freely — moderation is unimportant. 8chan’s owner Jim Watkins claimed that he doesn’t have a problem with white supremacists talking on his site, despite it encouraging mass murder in far-flung, usually peaceful cities such as Christchurch.

With the failure of self-moderation, one might expect the responsibility of regulating hateful content to fall to a government appointment regulatory board in the country where the website is hosted, which reviews the content of questionable sites such as 8chan, with the power to take them offline if necessary. 8chan is infamous for hosting illegal content, making it a prime target for such a regulatory board. Surely a government cannot stand by while a public, highly popular website that is hosted in their country openly discusses child rape, or advocates the destruction of the Muslim faith? While this kind of moderation will be challenging beyond belief, and probably require much free assistance from the general public, the alternative is allowing destructive, hateful ideas to perpetuate among the most depressed and disillusioned minds in the human race.

Freedom of speech is essential for a democratic, fair society in which ideas can be discussed without fear of consequence. The ICCPR tells us that the right to freedom of expression is not an absolute right. This means that platforms such as 8chan cannot have free reign to host disgusting, violence-promoting content. The ICCPR exists for this very reason.

The problem with freedom of speech is that it’s also freedom to be evil. It’s possible to protect freedom of speech and censor websites that repeatedly violate hate speech laws. The difficult part is working out how to do so. Figuring out how to regulate echo chambers of mentally-deranged hate such as 8chan is an absurdly challenging task, but also an incredibly important one, worthy of the extensive time and investment needed in order to remove the soapboxes of senseless, would-be terrorists.

The Unethical Greed of Deliveroo and Uber Eats

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Home-cooked meals can be a troublesome affair. First, a savoury, nutritious meal must be chosen from what seems like an endless selection of dishes. Then a trip to the supermarket is required to locate the various, skillfully-disguised ingredients, a task more challenging than identifying a Bichon Frise in a cotton field. Finally, there’s the messy business of actually cooking the meal, during which everything must be chopped appropriately, timed precisely, and presented somewhat handsomely.

If the troublesome task of cooking is too much for us, we can visit a local restaurant instead, though this requires us to adorn appropriate clothing and the proper facial expressions, when we’d really rather sit in front of the television like blissfully comfortable, rotund slugs, with no nearby humans to offend.

Enter food delivery services Deliveroo and Uber Eats. For the lazy among us, their discovery was one of air-punching jubilance — we suddenly had access to a huge selection of local restaurants, via smartphone apps designed with such skill that not a shred of brainpower is needed to successfully order luscious food, right to your front door. Deliveroo and Uber Eats are a lazy consumer’s dream, and their popularity is unsurprising. They release us from the effort of home cooking and the social obligations of dining out, granting us the convenience of being slothful hermits, comfortable and gratified within the safety of our home.

Deliveroo and Uber Eats are wonderful for the consumer, but not-so-great for restaurants and delivery riders. Beneath their wonderfully-designed facades are business practices that appear to be hell-bent on profit, with negligible ethical considerations. Here’s why.

Restaurants get next to nothing

Uber Eats take a 35% commission on every single order, and Deliveroo an average of 30% (negotiated per restaurant). For many small business owners, that’s their entire gross profit. Each restaurant must calculate whether food delivery services bring enough additional profit to justify the work. Caitlin Crawfurd — owner of Petty Cafe in Melbourne — accused Uber Eats of acting like “feudal overlords,” and decided to remov her restaurant from the directory due to the excessive commission rates, and their insistence upon sharing the cost of order errors — another financial penalty that makes it even harder for small eateries to make profit. Burgers by Josh owner Josh Arthurs made the same decision, declaring that “you’re doing it for free with Uber Eats.” Tax specialist Cameron Keng agrees, who after comparing average gross profit margins with Uber Eats commission rates, concludes that “Uber Eats will eat you into bankruptcy.”

Mr Arthurs has also taken a reputation hit due to Uber Eats, after a customer gave his restaurant a one-star review due to the food being cold on arrival — a factor completely outside of his control.

If food delivery services are so costly, why do restaurants use them? One of the main reasons appears to be free marketing — a way to gain additional exposure in the hope that customers will forego their laziness and decide to visit the eatery in person, though it’s questionable (and difficult to measure) how often this actually happens. What’s worse, Deliveroo and Uber Eats have the potential to turn a profitable, regularly visiting customer into a non-profitable, regular delivery customer.

There’s also the palpable fear of becoming “invisible”. If a restaurant decides to abandon food delivery services, will customers bother to visit now that they have quick access to a hoard of other eateries via the apps? The existence and popularity of the apps is likely to make a restaurant feel forced to continue using them, out of fear that they’ll shrink into oblivion. Uber Eats and Deliveroo has them by the balls, which is why they can continue to charge extortionate commission rates. Maybe if restaurants rallied together and quit, the services would consider charging a fairer percentage?

Delivery riders get next to nothing, and have little power

Delivery riders for Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Foodora staged a protest in Sydney last year, claiming to earn as little as $6 p/hr—less than a third of the Australian minimum wage. In the UK, Uber Eats originally paid their delivery riders £20 p/hr, but as the service grew in popularity, wages decreased to a complex formula of £3.30 per delivery, plus £1 per mile, plus a £5 “trip reward.” Deliveroo engaged in similar tactics, initially paying £7 p/hr, plus £1 a delivery, petrol and customer tips. It shortly moved to a one-off delivery payment of £3.75. Many riders struggle to earn a living in the food delivery gig economy, lacking the protection of a standard minimum wage.

Business author Sangeet Paul Choudary believes that the creation of a well-functioning food delivery market is at odds with empowering workers, and as a result, Uber and Deliveroo are exploiting their workers in order to be successful. The platforms afford little control to their riders, setting wages, shift times, and delivery routes, without the possibility of negotiation. Delivery riders for these services simply cannot work on their own terms. In addition to this, the reputation that they build while working for Uber Eats or Deliveroo cannot be ported over to another job, as they’re technically self-employed. This makes it difficult for workers to shift to employment that is outside of the platform, which is all other employment.

There’s also the question of collective bargaining rights, recently denied by the UK courts for Deliveroo riders, due to their self-employed status. These food delivery services appear to have designed their businesses in such a way as to grant their riders as little power as possible, ensuring that collective action is impossible.

Back in Australia, a recent workers right inquiry confirmed that gig economy workers have lower wages than regular employees, and miss out on a number of other benefits. Until governments consider protective regulation for gig economy employees, food delivery services will continue to exploit their workers.

The restaurant becomes crowded

Former restaurant hostess Darby Hane believes that delivery services make the work day in a restaurant a “living hell,” cluttering up the establishment and diminishing the experience for profitable guests.

“There are more delivery people than there are restaurant patrons waiting for a table, because new guests cannot bypass this cluster at the front door.” — Darby Hane

Entering a restaurant to be faced with a wall of brightly-clad delivery workers, heads bowed staring at their phones, makes for a terrible first impression and could set a potentially negative tone for the evening.

What’s the alternative?

In light of the unethical business practices of Uber Eats and Deliveroo, what should we do instead? The obvious suggestion is getting off our arses and actually going to the restaurant. The food will be fresher, hotter, tastier, and presented nicely, rather than carelessly slung into a plastic container. The restaurant owners will actually make a profit from your visit, so you’ll be helping to support a local business, rather than handing your money over to profiteering food delivery services. You’ll also be paying less, as food pricing on Uber Eats and Deliveroo tends to be higher than the actual restaurant prices. If you’re hell-bent on staying at home, consider visiting the restaurant’s website to determine whether they offer their own delivery service. Even better — endeavour to overcome your laziness and actually cook a meal yourself. It’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper, and you’ll be learning a valuable life-skill in the process.

Though our lethargy will probably defeat us from time to time, if we have any care for the well-being of delivery workers, or the prosperity of culture-boosting local restaurants, we should consider a boycott of Uber Eats and Deliveroo. Their exploitative business practices have been supported by us for long enough.