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, archive.org 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.