AS CAREER progressions go, it is one of the more unexpected: that Ed Miliband, whose adenoidal rhetoric led the Labour Party to defeat in the 2015 General Election, should reinvent himself as a suave, sweet-talking radio presenter.
His regular gig is the podcast that he co-hosts with Geoff Lloyd, Reasons to be Cheerful (cheerfulpodcast.com, released every Monday). The blurb promises an “uplifting” radiophonic experience; the result of a great “banter-based chemistry” between the hosts. In other words, like most podcasts, it is padded out with wittering and self-congratulatory laughter.
But don’t be put off by the first ten minutes of the Miliband-Lloyd offering — which last week covered Miliband’s penchant for tahini, sesame, and butternut-squash soup, and asked whether the former Labour leader resembled a badger. After such niceties were set aside, we got on to an insightful discussion of social-media censorship.
Why the subject should present a “reason to be cheerful” is anyone’s guess, since it requires negotiating between the rock of Trumpist incitement and the hard place of civil liberties. Nobody wants Mark Zuckerberg to be the arbiter of propriety here; on the other hand, there is a widespread feeling that something must be done.
The approach of the expert witnesses was to blame the algorithms, whose determining logic is to create networks that can be exploited by advertisers. Algorithms don’t care that they connect the disaffected to groups who turn disaffection into violence. The oft-repeated defence is that social-media companies are platforms, not publishers. But, says Professor Lorna Woods, they should be treated like public spaces, and thus subject to the same statutory duty of care which regulates a bus stop or a theatre. If a floorboard is loose and causes somebody to trip, you cannot take the floorboard to court; but you can claim against the proprietor for a failure in health and safety.
Had Ronald Reagan had access to Twitter, would his famous speech of 1987, at which he demanded that the Soviets “tear down this wall”, have been delivered not at the Brandenburg Gate, but as a tweet? In the post-Trump era, it is hard to remember what diplomacy used to be like. As described in Archive on 4: The alliance (Radio 4, Saturday), the “holy alliance” between Reagan and Pope John Paul II loses some of its resonance until one remembers that international messaging worked at a rather slower pace.
Nevertheless, the significance of the Pope’s 1979 visit to Poland was not forgotten by General Jaruzelski, who understood it to be the detonator under his regime. The big question — unanswered here — was how co-ordinated the United States and the Vatican were in this period; and to what extent their two leaders, both survivors of assassination attacks, shared the view that they had been saved to carry out a common mission against Soviet tyranny.