Saturday, March 25, 2017

Internet Profiteering from Pain

Freedom of speech also means freedom to speak out against those who are responsible for aiding the spread of the pain created by hate speech. Immediately people will think I am talking about Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Wrong. Mostly.

Is there hateful material on Google, Facebook or Twitter? Yes, but it is proportionally insignificant compared to the massive quantity of good content on those services. Additionally these platforms do remove content, significant volumes of content, daily. Are they perfect? No. Neither are we.

There are other platforms and services which are responsible for enabling a significant segment of the Internet's hateful material. It would not be surprising to include Reddit and 4chan. But those are not mainstream or commercially viable entities. There are however major companies who allow or facilitate the presence of hate on the internet.

The most visible is WordPress. All content complaints are shepherded through rules controlled by WordPress' parent Automattic Corp. The platform and the company envision themselves champions of free speech. This includes providing a podium for haters who make overt threats and statements meant to incite violence. Then there are blogs by recognized terrorist organizations. To be fair, WordPress states upfront that they support any content that is not outright illegal. To be realistic, WordPress has grown into a large viable company on the profits garnered from the audiences attracted by the ability to broadcast hateful, racist and malicious material. As a major, successful platform, WordPress sets a questionable example eagerly followed by other companies.

GoDaddy, maker of SuperBowl renown commercials, is another offender. GoDaddy owns and operates Domains By Proxy (DBP).  DBP is in a class of companies who offer a service which allows website owners to obscure their ownership of a site. A reasonable service when used responsibly. However, DBP is one of the most widely used proxy services by hate sites. Worse yet, DBP and GoDaddy have Terms of Service that prohibit the use of their services to "Defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten, or harass third parties;...Are tortious, vulgar, obscene, invasive of a third party's privacy, racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable." Despite these lofty ToS, DBP has no easy mechanism for reporting violations and, sadly, is often resistant to complaints.

Like so many other companies who claim to be socially consciousness,  GoDaddy has a golden opportunity to lead its segment of the industry in policy and practice, yet their actions speak to profit and maximizing users, not social obligation or good corporate voice.

We are in fraught times. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or selling something. The examples set by us in business, at home, in public and the behavior we accept from others will mold the behavior of our future generations. 

A just, moral internet is not about censorship, but about freedom from fear. Speaking out for the right things and speaking out against the wrong can be costly and difficult. That is why it has always been a quality honored above most others. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hate the Hate, Not the Hater. OK, Maybe the Hater.

There are always going to be a percentage of people who find a reason to hate. This has always been true. But why are we seeing an increase in hate?  Are there actually more haters? Not necessarily. It now appears the haters were always there, but we are certainly seeing more hate. Possibly because the internet enables haters to artificially amplify their voices beyond all reason and  reality. The more hate there is, the more the haters feel empowered to spew and victimize. They never seen to miss an opportunity.

No healthy person hates reflexively. We are naturally many things; suspicious, skeptical, curious and cautious. But hate, as an unprovoked default response, is unnatural. We should consider that the haters are damaged, small, scared people with serious problems. Of course there are those haters who are calculating and dangerous. It is not just the haters we need to worry about, but the hate itself we must challenge.

Haters come and go.  The hate itself is generally far worse than the haters themselves. The venomous posts, hateful comments and awful Tweets have a reach, longevity and impact way out of proportion to their significance.

A recent ADL study "Anti-Semitic Targeting of Journalists During the 2016Presidential Campaign" clearly demonstrates how a small group of cohorts can spread an inordinate amount of hateful rhetoric.

We rightly and appropriately sympathize with the victims of  cyberhate. We rarely feel compassion for the hater. Hate damages both the victim and culprit. The ultimate danger is making the victim a hater themselves. Responding with hate in return for receiving perpetuates the most damaging cultural phenomenon of our day.

Take the power away from cyberhate. Reach through the hate. Treat hate like fog and it becomes insubstantial. Treat victims as friends and their fear and darkness is mitigated. Reach and hold onto the things that we share instead of fixating on the things between us. Hate is not a little thing, but it is small, and we can make it smaller.