Posts Tagged ‘Tim Berners-Lee’

Can Democracy Survive the Internet?

April 24, 2017

The title of this post is part of the title of a column by Dan Balz in the 23 April 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  The complete title of the column is “A scholar asks, ‘Can democracy survive the internet?’  The scholar in question is Nathaniel Persily a law professor at Stanford University.  He has written an article in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Democracy with the same title as this post.

Before proceeding, let HM remind you that the original purpose of the internet was to increase communication among scientists and engineers.  Tim Berners-Lee created and gave the technology that gave birth to the World Wide Web.  He gave it to the world for free to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of the humanity. The healthy memory blog post “Tim Berners-Lee Speaks Out on Fake News” related some of the concerns he has regarding where the web is going.

Persily’s concerns go much further.  And they go way beyond Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  He notes that foreign attempts to interfere with what should be a sovereign enterprise are only one factor to be examined.  Persily argues that the 2016 campaign broke down previously established rules and distinctions “between insiders and outsiders, earned media and advertising, media and non-media, legacy media and new media, news and entertainment and even foreign and domestic sources of campaign communication.”  One of the primary reasons Trump won was that Trump realized the potential rewards of exploiting what the internet offered, and conducted his campaign through new, unconventional means.

Persily writes that Trump realized, “That it was more important to swamp the communication environment than it was to advocate for a particular belief or fight for the truth of a particular story.”  Persily notes that the Internet reacted to the Trump campaign, “like an ecosystem welcoming a new and foreign species.  His candidacy triggered new strategies and promoted established Internet forces.  Some of these (such as the ‘alt-right’ ) were moved by ideological affinity, while others sought to profit financially or further a geopolitical agenda.  Those who worry about the implications of the 2016 campaign are left to wonder whether it illustrates the vulnerabilities of democracy in the Internet age, especially when it comes to the integrity of the information voters access as they choose between candidates.”

Persily quotes a study by a group of scholars that said, “Retweets of Trump’s posts are a significant predictor of concurrent news coverage…which may imply that he unleashes ‘tweetstorms’ when his coverage is low.”

Persily also writes about the 2016 campaign, “the prevalence of bots in spreading propaganda  and fake news appears to have reached new heights.  One study found that between 16 September and 21 October 2016, bots produced about a fifth of all tweets related to the upcoming election.  Across all three presidential debates, pro-Trump twitter bots generated about four times as many tweets as pro-Clinton bots.  During the final debate in particular, that figure rose to seven times as many.”

Clearly, Persily raises an extremely provocative, disturbing, and important question.

The Cyber Frontier

September 15, 2016

“The Cyber Frontier” is the final chapter of the “Cyber Effect,”an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.   She writes, “If we think of cyberspace as a continuum, on the far left we have the idealists, the keyboard warriors, the early adopters, philosophers who feel passionately about the freedom of the Internet and don’t want that marred or weighted down with regulation and governance.  On the other end of the continuum, you have the tech industry with its own pragmatic vision of freedom of the Net—one that is driven by a desire for profit, and worries that governance costs money and that restrictions impact the bottom line.  These two groups, with their opposing motives, are somehow strategically aligned in cyberspace and holding firm.”  She writes that the rest of us and our children, about 99.9%, live somewhere in the middle, between these two options.

She says that we should regain some societal control and make it harder for organized cybercrime.  Why put up with a cyberspace that leaves us vulnerable, dependent, and on edge?

Dr. Aiken writes that the architects of the Internet and its devices know enough about human psychology to create products that are a little too irresistible, but that don’t always bring out the best in ourselves.  She calls this the “techno-behavioral effect.”  The developers and their products engage our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, instead of engaging our strengths.  They can diminish us while making us feel invincible and distract us from things in life that are much more important, more vital to happiness, and more crucial to our survival.  She writes that we need to stop and consider the social impact or what she called the “techno-social effect.”

Dr Aiken argues that in the next decade there’s a great opportunity before us— a possible golden decade of enlightenment during which we could learn so much about human nature and human behavior, and how best to design technology that is not just compatible with us, but that truly helps our better selves create a better world.  If we can create this balance, the cyber future can look utopian.

Dr. Aiken argues that we should support and encourage acts of cyber social consciousness, like those of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Paul Allen, Pierre and Pam  Omiya, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of today’s internet has become increasingly ambivalent about his creation and has recently outlined his plans for a cyber “Magna Carta.”  (Go to http://www.theguardian.com and enter Tim Berners-Lee into the search box.)  Dr. Aiken argues for a global initiative.  She writes, “The United Nations could lead in this area, countries could contribute, and the U.S. could deploy some of its magnificent can-do attitude.  We’ve seen what it has been capable of in the past.  The American West was wild until it was regulated by a series of federal treaties and ordinances.  And if we are talking about structural innovation, there is no greater example that Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which transformed the infrastructure of the U.S. road system, making it safer and more efficient.  It’s time to talk about a Federal Internet Act.”

There are already countries who have taken actions from which we can learn.  Ireland has taken the initiative to tackle legal but age-inappropriate content online.  South Korea has been a pioneer in early learning “netiquette: and discouraging Internet addictive behavior.  Australia has focused on solutions to underage sexting.  The EU has created the “right to be forgotten,” to dismantle the archives of personal information online.  Japan has no cyberbullying.  Why?  What is Japanese society doing right?  We need to study this and learn from it.  Antisocial social media needs to be addressed.