Saturday, October 7, 2017

Internet Emission Controls

Who would have thought the internet industry and the automotive industry would have so much in common.

Businesses hate regulation. Always have. Product safety regulations have long been the most visible and contentious. The conflicts over regulation have spawned lawsuits, laws, threats, conspiracy theories and government agencies galore.

The automotive industry has been one of the most noticeable recipient of safety of regulation. The prevalence of cars, complexity of the product,  variety of its configurations, speed of operation and potential for deadly interactions with the public makes this understandable, in hindsight.

The automotive industry has resisted regulations for crash safety, fuel economy and emission controls. Often cited reasons for opposing these initiatives include the impact it will have on the cost of production, insufficient technology to implement the rule and lack of public support for the new regulations.

The funny part is, both sides were right. The need for emission controls and higher automotive efficiency were both critical and, as it turns out, not unrelated. However because of underdeveloped technology in both areas, the ideas were, from a practical standpoint,  in opposition. It took about 15 years to begin reconciling that conflict. Some would say they remain unresolved.

A remarkably similar scenario now faces the internet industry.  The internet is shepherded by large companies. It is complex, fast-moving, and has elements within its structure which can cause serious harm in the wrong circumstances.

Private citizens and community advocates have long been calling for more progress on making the internet safer.  Companies have been saying the level control desired will strangle the usefulness of their products, if it is possible at all. Out of frustration, Governments have decided to reach for preemptive and possibly unrealistic regulatory demands.

No one is considering that they all may be right. Government may well have justification in feeling it needs to compel change, and not be terribly reasonable about it. Companies know better than anyone what is and is not possible and the level of effort it will take to achieve what they are being mandated. The public remains confused, often victimized and feeling that they are being left out of the process except in the most extreme or high profile cases.

It is time for the internet and all its stakeholders to mature a bit. All industry regulations have had phase in cycles, scheduled compliance deadlines and often extensions. Why is the internet different? Most industries have established self regulatory bodies who file reports on objectives and efforts for meeting regulatory and safety benchmarks.  Why is the internet different? Almost all industries have consistent policies regarding  how they will respond to the public on consumer safety issues. Why is the internet different?

We live in a world where the idea of being safe from toxic contamination does not only apply to food, air, water or soil. We have a problem that requires our very best ideas, demands both short and long term goals and tied to coordinated action. Or we can continue to be evasive and obstinate, and suffer the consequences. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Alliance of Conflicting Interests

Constructive disagreement has proved to be the best tool for resolving our on going problems with internet culture; not laws, not righteous indignation, finger pointing, withering criticism and certainly not flogging in the town square. When interested, directly involved groups, companies and governments come together with honest intent, great changes are possible.

It is important to remember, acknowledge and even respect, that each company, group, community and government has different priorities. Elected officials want to get re-elected, companies want to stay in business and agencies advocate for their communities. These are often competing concepts or at least, they do lend themselves to exclusionary thinking.  That is our short coming and barrier of our own making. Pulling in the same imperfect direction is better than pulling against each other and getting nowhere.

Many people still labor under the misconception that the internet is inherently good and all the stakeholders are under some moral obligation to make it so. No true. Not even close. Never has been.

The internet will never be perfect. It is reflection of us and were are clearly not perfect,  but we are good. The internet can be good.

To achieve the next phase of the internet, it will take something difficult, doable and yet amazing.  We will need to come together, try to understand each other's priorities and compromise.

It could be good. No one will be completely happy.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Freeze-Dried Hate: Just Add Internet

Let's review; in the past few weeks we have learned that internet companies have a conscience,  have standards, have a backbone, and even the most reluctant can be motivated to act when confronted with horrific tragedy.  We have also been reminded that these companies have a scary amount of power. But lastly, and maybe most importantly, even all this cannot stop cyberhate completely.

For years providers have been periodically purging hate sites from their services. Many sites simply re-emerge on another service. Until now.

Stormfront, the longest extant hate website on the internet, was taken offline two weeks ago.  A casualty of the standards enforcement awakening. Last Friday, that website's owner announced to his faithful audience that although offline, the website could still be accessed and used by those technologically durable enough to work the coding magic necessary. In other words, although greatly diminished and almost dormant, Stormfront, like Voldemort, is still alive. In fact Stormfront, which started as a dial-up bulletin board in 1985, is now surviving as a 2017 version of dial-up network. Don Black, Stormfront's creator and operator, has always played the long game. He will strive to keep Stormfront alive until he can reconnect it to the internet and use that online energy to re-infuse the site with life.

Other websites are not operated as tactically.

Daily Stormer, the now exiled, archetypal pariah hate website, is run by Andrew Anglin and a small band of hangers-on. Anglin is obsessed with attention and will say anything to get it,  including calls for physical attacks and glorifying death. However, once dropped by U.S. providers, his shortsightedness has even left his site unpalatable to internet providers in Russia and Albania. In a pathetic display of neediness Anglin recently posted a 92 page PDF for his followers. Who is going to read a 92 page online doc?

First amendment fundamentalists need not be too alarmed.  Many of the refugee hate websites re-emerged one way or the other. Those who knew they wouldn't uploaded their content to an extremist created library of hate. Equally, retains huge volumes of hateful content, and although not archive.orgs objective, that content remains ready to reuse.

Our darkest places already exist and wait,  just hoping the internet will remain their path into the light.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Our Cyberhate Failure

There is no denying the cyberhate problem. There is no avoiding cyberhate. Hate online has contributed, in some way, to every major act of racial, religious or social violence in recent history. We have made progress, but we have largely failed to mitigate hate online it in any significant way. Anyone disagree?

Let's try this - Cyberhate: victimization, marginalization, bullying, disenfranchisement, malicious defamation, racism, bigotry and intentionally destructive hatefulness is wrong and unacceptable. It should be confronted at every opportunity, questioned and its proponents should be challenged to support their positions, rather than victims having to defend themselves.  Perhaps, in clear cases, it should not be on the internet.

This is the "what".  Although some might disagree with individual points, few would agree that unbridled hate and abuse online is acceptable.  The problem is and has been,  not "what" cyberhate is, but "who" should be in charge of fighting it.

For years there have been calls for the online industry to do more. Now, in the wake of Charlottesville, they have, and the response from many sectors is shock.

Cyber civil rights advocates are indignantly questioning what right the companies have to be the arbiters of what should be on the internet.  The irony is, many of the companies would be delighted not to be put in the position of deciding what is permissible content.  Many have avoided taking a position as long as they could. Unfortunately, no one else within reason wanted the job either. Some groups did try but failed to attract a broad enough range or the industry, reach a consensus on issues or achieve critical mass. Governments outside the US have tried to step into the role of  internet enforcer, only to discover that laws regulating a border-less medium are only good if the laws are border-less as well. In some cases they have made unenforceable or unrealistic laws which look worse than no law at all.

The internet will not self regulate. That is now sadly obvious. No one group, agency, government, company or country should regulate the internet. Individual users and companies, need to take responsibility for their own content, product, posts and positions. We may yet discover that we share many of the same basic standards instead of the current assumption that we do not. Until then, we will have live with the internet we have all created and encourage anyone willing to try and make it better to keep trying.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Glory of Delete

My delete key (Delete) has always been a friend; as a scalpel and as a club, as comfort and as vengeful therapy.  Delete went from friend to indispensable partner last fall. I run many Google Alerts and other search bots, and not only was more garbage showing up, but the rate at which it was repeated was mind numbing. Delete certainly saved my sanity.

Delete has also been a great help in improving my personal relationships. It wasn't bad enough my bot army was returning mountains of crud, but some of my conservative friends and colleagues felt it incumbent on them to overshare representations of their political ideology. Delete helped me sustain those relationships. Of course I am being hypocritical as I  am also likely guilty of the same thing in their eyes.

I hope everyone honors their Delete. Perhaps we need a day to show our appreciation of this unsung hero of free speech. National Delete Day, when we excise wonderful control over our own personal environments for just one day.

Most of all. I hope that all my friends, neighbors, colleagues,  readers, viewers, community and acquaintances use Delete on my emails, posts, videos and comments as I have used it on theirs. That is free speech too. I can respect that above all else.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Free Speech Differential

For years I have followed, watched, read, wrote about, spoke about and discussed cyberhate in all its  manifestations; stalking,  trolling, doxxing, racism, anti-Semitism, spoofing, forging, marginalization, disinformation and just good old outright viciousness.

For all those years,  I have worked with the ADL in reaching out to industry players. Our efforts have not been censorship or promotion of a particular agenda, our objective has been to illuminate the depth and nature of the hate online so that the companies can establish their own, meaingful, platform relevant policies.

We have long supported the ability of almost anyone to have an online presence. That's the principle of free speech. However, when individual items, pages or players go over the line into incitement, targeting, marginalization, scapegoating and vicious bigotry, I would suggest it is time platforms give that material especially close consideration. Hate needs to be challenged.

Words lead to actions. I have long maintained this and deeply regret to have been proved correct time and time again.

The internet industry has long considered the issue of cyberhate and grappled with its implications and the damage it can and has caused. In most cases, and especially with the major companies, they have expended considerable resources to develop intricate and well-considered mechanisms and terms of service.

The events of Charlottesville have brought this issue  home to the industry in a very real way. Now,  many of the companies are interpreting and applying their long considered terms of service and we are all faced with what it means to respond to cyberhate on a large scale.

The internet industry responding to cyberhate is nothing new. It has been going on for years. Every major platform has been suspending accounts, removing posts and issuing content warnings for a long time. Now, when these suspensions happen to high profile hate websites, the question of whether or not companies should be making these decisions has come to the forefront.

The question is not should the companies be the arbiters of content thresholds, but who should be? The government?  The internet mob? Should there be no limitations at all? The companies are more familiar with this problem and its impact than anyone. Regardless of the ultimate answer, the companies are an integeal part of the solution.

No one can tell you what bumper sticker to put on your car or who to vote for or the kind of store you must shop in. Not all the issues are equal. Not all hate is equal, but if our ability and obligation to speak out against it becomes limited, the experience of Charlottesville may soon be coming to a town near you.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Born into the Age of Awful

Welcome to the Age of Awful. A time when almost no one is happy and those that say they are happy are angry most of the time. Liberals are miserable, conservatives are grouchy, libertarians are morose and fascists who are always adverse. The people who don't have an unreachable itch are irritated by the squirming from the folks trying to scratch. Compassion is running 10 points lower than the worst politicians approval rating. We could rule the world if we could orchestrate a displeasure based economy.

How did we get here? Easy, we ignored ourselves. We ignored each other. We accepted platitudes; don't rock the boat, silence is golden, do as I say and not as I do. We have been overly forgiving when someones words and actions didn't match. We have held our tongues when we should speak and it has made us false and miserable. If we had become false and happy, that might be OK. Phoney and happy is at least happy.

We have also forgotten how to listen to each other. Look at our childcan en - they don't talk or listen, they exchange. It is very different. It is an easy way to lose compassion, or maybe lose more compassion. We are drifting away from the social cues which have evolved over millennia and that loss is making us emotionally ignorant, bitter and our differences mutually abhorrent.

The good news is, we are very adaptable, Evolution is not just physical. Mental evolution is what has kept us alive long enough for the physical evolution to catch up.  We can survive this age of awful, if we choose to. Our children will, as children have before, become something new and wonderful. Awful is like manure, a smelly byproduct that will have help grow great things which can make the age of awful just history.