Monday, August 3, 2015

What We Have Taught the Internet and What it is Teaching Us.


Humanity continues to pour everything it can into the web; good, bad, inspired, degenerate, genius and foolishness - and the Internet has begun to talk back.

The companies who had unlimited access to the earliest data, were the first to hear what the net was saying. The data was confusing and much of it was not pretty. Criminal behavior such as child porn, scams, collusion to commit criminal or terrorist acts are all easy to call over-the-line.  Prevention is not so easy but that’s a different discussion altogether.  The intent behind the worst things on the internet is fairly easy to determine.  Online hate, in its broadest context, is far more complicated to approach. It also says some very disturbing things about us. 

We have taught the net that we have forms of behavior -- sporadic and patterns. We all get angry and say or do mean stupid things in life and online. This is sporadic behavior – a one time or rare and uncharacteristic outburst. Patterns of behavior are very different situations.  Trolling is a pattern of behavior. Racism, misogyny or anti-Semitism are all patterns of behavior. 

The online companies have learned this. They rarely ban someone or cancel an account for a single outburst, but when they detect a pattern of behavior, it is a very different story. This is very similar to a first time criminal offender getting a lighter sentence.

At some point being forgiven for a single lapse in judgement has become an excuse invoked by the perpetrator instead of a boon granted by the effected community.

Giving a gun to an emotionally unstable child or sibling in hopes of fostering a hobby does not absolve the giver when the worst happens. The big game hunter is not harmless when they "accidentally” kill a loved or endangered animal. When a serial racist or misogynist beats a women or minority, it is not a lapse.  It is pattern.

Patterns of behavior set the stage for our actions. When an action goes over the line in harmony with a pattern of behavior, it is not a first offense.  Maybe it shouldn't be treated as if it were.

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