Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Stop Hate - Ban Computers

If you’ve been following the tech news you may have heard that British MP Luciana Berger is calling on Twitter to remove all anti-Semitic language. First, her statement presupposes that the hate is only on Twitter and that other hate on Twitter is OK. These statements are problematic at best and horrible distortions at worst.  At the very least she seems to consider Twitter the source and vector for all such things. It is an election year in the UK and singling out Twitter, by Berger and others, appears little more than fashionable politicking.  

The worst part is, of course, that things politicians say receive media coverage. In receiving media coverage these statements gain credibility without consideration for the challenges and problems they represent. 

To stop anti-Semitic, or any hate speech, is an admirable objective. However, to eliminate such things from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or the comment sections of other websites, does not eliminate the hate from the world. Sometimes you need to repeat the hate in order to expose it. How is that supposed to happen when the words and phrases are abolished? The technology does not yet exist that can detect such subtlety of use. Considering the billions of users, it is impossible for the necessary army of moderators to be trained to act consistently.   With all our experience we are still seeing channels, pages and users being banned, deleted and unpublished in error. We don’t have the answer yet. 

Recently we have seen technology make it possible to block content prohibited by local law on a country by country basis.  No matter what governments mandate, if the technology doesn’t exist to comply, the laws are largely unenforceable. The future answers to hate speech online will come from technology. Governments will not be the ones to create it. 

The companies are not the problem; they are the key to the solution. For government representatives to cast industry in an adversarial role is shortsighted and counterproductive. 

There is a problem, without question.  Too often the easy sounding solution turns out to be just sound.  We all deserve a solution to online hate that is intrinsic, real and enduring. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reluctant Partners

The Internet doesn’t belong to anyone, it can’t, it’s too late for that. It is impossible to imagine how it can ever be a utility, corporation or unified power unto itself. It is a contentious, fractious, complicated, dynamic and glorious thing that rivals international politics for complexity and impact. Despite the fantasies of conspiracy theorists, the aspirations of corporations, the dreams of Governments and the doubts of the public; like it or not the internet is a partnership.

As if it weren’t enough that we are dealing with a dynamic technology the likes of which we have never experienced before, we (government, industry, public, academic) are also forced to participate with factions, entities and situations we don’t understand and don’t like very much.
Maybe it’s evolution or God is testing us or maybe it just is and that’s that.

The internet is a blurry doppelganger of our world – part public, part privatized, part politicized, part bureaucratized and completely energized.  If you think of the Internet as a world, it all becomes more comprehensible. In the physical world we discovered d├ętente, for better or worse, but in the younger Internet world the concept seems to elude us. Despite the lessons of history and the intelligence it has taken to foster the internet, each community steadfastly believes their views are unassailably correct – the governments want to regulate and legislate, the companies want to accrue and sell product (information) and the civil society believes everyone is beholding to them. No one wants to openly admit that the truth lies somewhere in the middle or delve into that truth.

So, under-informed politicians push their governments to make well intentioned yet misguided laws, companies make content policies based on their ideals and the company’s bottom line and the public wants to be able to say anything about anyone, anytime – as long as it’s not about them.

Everybody thinks their position is important, best and most valid.  But the companies, the public and the governments all need each other, one way or other, like it or not. So no one gets everything they want and that’s how a good partnership works.