This just in, from a recent Guardian article:

The inventor of the world wide web always maintained his creation was a reflection of humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly. But Berners-Lee’s vision for an “open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries” has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators.

“I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,” said the British computer scientist.

“The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned,” said Berners-Lee, who in March called for the regulation of online political advertising to prevent it from being used in “unethical ways”.

But things don’t have to be this way:

“We are so used to these systems being manipulated that people just think that’s how the internet works. We need to think about what it should be like,” he said.

9 thoughts on “The Internet: crashing itself?

  1. The first linked article begins with the rumor that the British PM had performed an unspeakable act. Recently you mentioned the Black Mirror TV series — as I recall it was the very first episode of that show that took the unspeakable act rumor to the Nth degree — did you catch that one?

    “When a fact begins to resemble whatever you feel is true, it becomes very difficult for anyone to tell the difference between facts that are true and “facts” that are not.”

    This is related to your comment about habits over at my place. One’s overall orientation, the larger reality in which one is immersed, shapes the specific habits one forms, tending to believe one sort of report to be true while dismissing another sort of report as fake news without bothering to confirm or refute the claims with evidence. So which is a better approach: to police the news, or to equip the equip the citizenry with the ability and the desire and the moral imperative to distinguish shit from Shinola?

    So if media make money from ads, and if ad views depend on clicks, then getting to the clicks is more important than getting to the truth. And who benefits from the ad revenue? Increasingly not the journalists and columnists, who in most online media don’t get paid much if anything. It’s the owners of the media outlets and the owners of the platforms who benefit.

    What benefit do the online readers get from clicking and reblogging and liking and so on? Is it to feel like you’re in the flow of the contemporary scene, in the know? Is it to draw attention to yourself as a source of clickable content, as a nexus in the social network, a kind of attention economy in which traffic = popularity = social power?

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  2. Ficticities: “So which is a better approach: to police the news, or to equip the equip the citizenry with the ability and the desire and the moral imperative to distinguish shit from Shinola?”

    I think that either solution is doomed to fail, because capitalism is skilled at co-opting these solutions. Regulations can be changed by well-funded lobby efforts, and relying on individual change can be commodified — I used the example of Burning Man over at your blog — Burning Man is a ecological festival celebrating mother earth and sustainability, etc., and does so by generating an absolutely massive carbon footprint. It’s a brilliant example of people thinking that they are “woke” yet all the while making the problem of ecological destruction even worse than they would have if they would have just stayed home and smoked ganja, the latter being my activity of choice when the time comes for the Burning Man festival.

    There are other options, though, one of which is creating alternative communities, like ficticities, and the other is underground armed resistance, to take down the capitalist system by any means necessary. Yet another is to seize the means of production, which I recently blogged about.

    Ficticities: “What benefit do the online readers get from clicking and reblogging and liking and so on? Is it to feel like you’re in the flow of the contemporary scene, in the know? Is it to draw attention to yourself as a source of clickable content, as a nexus in the social network, a kind of attention economy in which traffic = popularity = social power?”

    Yes, I think that gets to the heart of it. Social media creates a virtual community. As of now, it’s a commodified community that financially benefits the few. Again, it’s fairly easy (for me) to imagine that people could co-opt the platform and democratize social media. But maybe it’s only easy for me because I have exposure to socialist/anarchist/Marxist ideas, which as of this point in time (after capitalism’s decades-long monopoly on economic ideas) have become a sort of alternative reality and a fiction of their own.

    But yes, being on Facebook, sharing and clicking, it’s all a form of social capital that one accumulates, and I think you word it well: “you’re in the flow of the contemporary scene…”

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  3. I should add that there are some striking examples of non-commodified Internet success. Wikipedia is a shining city on a hill. Wikipedia has a very small staff and runs a highly efficient organization, in contrast to the increasingly bloated bureaucracies of Google and other tech companies. Another similar example of open source success is WordPress, the blogging platform you and I use.

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  4. Gotta go, but briefly, it’s from 2011, season 1, episode 1 of Black Mirror, titled “National Anthem,” thumbnailed by Wiki thusly: “To return a kidnapped member of the British Royal Family, the Prime Minister is instructed to have intercourse with a pig on live television.” It’s an over-the-top show, which makes it perversely satisfying. I think my favorite ‘sode is “White Christmas,” from 2014.

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    1. I investigated this situation, namely the situation wherein I thought I’d watched season 1, episode 1, and yet I’d never seen the one you’re referring to…..It seems I started on season 3…..So I haven’t yet watched National Anthem, but I’ll restart and watch through.

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    1. Interesting timing. Just a few hours ago I was working on a post about Net Neutrality — it’s going to be abolished, hence we will pay more for less, bigger Internet bills for less service. It gives us a chance to rethink the whole thing, though, and my suggestion is that we should socialize the entire Internet. The Internet should be considered a public service, a matter of infrastructure, much like a public utility.

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      1. I agree completely about the public utility idea. In these times everyone pretty much needs to have internet access, not just those who can afford it. Most of the costs are fixed — routers, cables, etc. — whereas the cost per user is close to zero: just plug and play. Selling internet as a continuously depleting commodity, one subscriber at a time, on and on and on, when it should be close to free for each individual user, is a huge ripoff. Even in a world of privately owned internet providers it should be possible for local populations of users to join forces, negotiating much reduced fees. E.g., a city government could negotiate a deal for all users within city limits. It’s problematic though because the internet providers often have local monopolies, enabling them to set prices without concern that competitors will underbid them. And since everyone needs the service the demand curve is pretty inelastic, so prices keep going up even as costs keep going down. Our local library has free broadband and a whole bank of desktop computers; those computers are in use all the time.

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