If Twitter doesn’t want to be an echo chamber, then it should eliminate the retweet

The democratization of the internet was supposed to open up avenues of expression for the American electorate. According to progressives, the commercial faction doing the most damage to freedom of expression on the internet was the broadband internet access provider. These firms, which include AT&T, Comcast, Cox, and Verizon, posed a threat to democratic expression because they could potentially block access to a consumer’s preferred website, manipulate the speeds at which a content provider could transmit data to a consumer, or put their content ahead of content provided by another website.

Proponents of the concept of net neutrality, where broadband access providers would be prohibited from favoring their content over those preferred by their subscribers, throttling the speeds by which content providers transmitted data, or blocking access to websites, had only in their gunsights the broadband access provider. The masses of net neutrality followers were never fully informed by their leading strategists that if commercial activity was looked at in its entirety then edge providers such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google, would have to be placed under their scopes as well.

The net neutrality faction seemed to be advancing politically and legally. After taking what appeared to be marching orders from President Barack Obama in late 2014 on implementing net neutrality rules, former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler delivered by issuing in 2015 a set of net neutrality rules based on the Communications Act of 1934. The following year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia would seemingly affirm net neutrality after denying a court challenge of the rules by Verizon.

Unfortunately, all honeymoons end and proponents of democracy on the internet would find out over the next two years what the real challenge to democracy over the internet is: contentiousness.

For those of us who advocate in cyberspace, we know that social media can be unforgiving. Trolls hiding behind goofy looking avatars hurling one-liners and expletives make the notion of free expression a joke. Bad manners and narcissism go viral with a hashtag, the digital banner around which many, unfortunately uninformed, tend to rally. Politics is fun to watch at times, but in the end, it is low-frequency chimp shit where most of its participants vibrate at highly emotional levels.

Emotions around net neutrality were expertly manipulated by strategists to distract consumer and policymaker alike from the other side of the freedom of expression debate: a business model driven by algorithms and advertising fees.

The cynic will argue that for the edge provider, “open internet”, a term used interchangeably with net neutrality, means a business model opened to advertisement by foreign agents and the ease of infiltrating a democratic system. Dig a little deeper and the cynicism goes away because democracy is an open system that, in theory at least, allows for wide participation. Combine democracy with an open market driven by digitization and you actually lessen the argument that democracy as a political system can be attacked. Rather, democracy is increasingly susceptible to crude, direct manipulation as the alleged Russian interference with the 2016 elections demonstrates.

Russia was able to play on the contentiousness of the American political system, a system where debate is highly polarized; where communities can be quickly established around a Twitter hashtag and discussions, debates, and pronouncements made to go viral with a retweet and nary any deeper research to verify the tweet.

Maybe something for proponents of openness on the internet to consider, that while keeping their eyes and rants on the broadband access provider as gatekeeper, the focus should also be on the retweet as the Trojan Horse. To an online democracy, is one worse than the other?

The Russian attack on democracy was ineffective because they don’t understand democracy.

American democracy is about the creation of a political marketplace where the taxpayer receives certain protective services in exchange for her vote. These services include police services, fire services, transportation services, commercial trade platforms, cultural services, legal and regulatory frameworks, and education services, to name a few. They are delivered by local, state, and federal governments and their costs are recovered by government in the form of property, sales, and income taxes and other fees.

Politicians squabble before, during, and after the election season on how best these services should be delivered, how much the government should pay to deliver them, and how much of the bill the taxpayer should foot for the government’s efforts. Classical liberal, progressive, and conservative philosophies collide during these debates and the clash of perspective is most apparent during election season when more people are paying attention. To secure the majority of voter approval for position and philosophy, politicians engage in the blood sport of electioneering, a blood sport that includes embellishments, character assassinations, and a lot of misinformation.

Reports abound of how a Russian firm, the Internet Research Agency, entered the political fray between 2014 and 2016 and used social media posts, tweets, and blogs to upset the elections. Their activity during an election year would have been business as usual were it not for their status as foreign agents conducting these activities. Whether or not they upset the political markets with their activity will be hard to determine.

For example, will investigators be able to say that the cost of the exchange of the vote for services increased due to Russian interference? I see no data that describes politicians seeking higher taxes for government spending as a result of any information provided by Russian trolls.

Did any information introduced into the political markets by the Internet Research Agency cause voters to leave the market? I have heard one argument that black voter participation fell because of Russian disinformation about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has drawn the ire of some blacks as a result of her description of black teenagers as “predators” and her Clinton Foundation taking financial advantage of earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. It is questionable whether any additional misinformation by the Russians could have created any further negative view of Mrs Clinton by blacks. She may have done enough on her own.

American democracy bases societal cohesion on the vote, the ability of the masses to elect its leaders. Leaders promise, as I laid out before, protective services. But what would happen to the democratically-based cohesion if the dependence of Americans on protective services were drastically reduced or eliminated? What if more Americans had 3-D printers and could manufacture their own tools or furniture? What if more Americans grew their own vegetables in their own apartments? What if more Americans were able to take advantage of devices that use unlicensed spectrum in order to form their own local communications networks and reduce their communications expenses? What if more Americans used solar or wind to energize their homes? What if engineers could design apartment buildings such that each unit could take advantage of solar energy?

A true attack on American democracy would be a demonstration of how to live independent of the political elites that thrive on the electorate’s unwillingness to be or ignorance of independence. Whether a democracy or an authoritarian regime, nation-states are about centralizing power. When they attack each other, destroying the core is all that is needed for the knockout punch. Given the Russian Federation’s history of allowing true freedom, an attack on democracy based on independent sovereignty would be thinking way outside the box.

No, American democracy was never really attacked by the Russians. It simply got poked by a player who didn’t have the legal credentials to enter the ring.

 

When the #internet was just for #academics….#broadband

Democrats are wary of Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Hillary Clinton’s loss in the November 2016 elections allegedly compounded by a misinformation game played by the Russians via social media has the Democrats in Congress asking themselves if a little more transparency i.e. regulation of social media practices is necessary in order to prevent any more shenanigans from Russia.

In the net neutrality debates, Democrats and grass roots progressives have taken the position that due to their gatekeeper position, internet access providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are in a position to negatively impact the innovative internet portal and social media services that Facebook and Google provide. Democrats argue that we don’t want to discourage the creation of the next Facebook by allowing Comcast to throttle speeds from potential upstarts or block a consumer’s access to the new Twitter. Now these members of Congress appear a bit wary of the cat that they have been snuggling up to; being scraped by the FANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) is not fun.

What I find ironic is that these congressmen were no where to be found as the FANGs were busy building a business model on acquiring consumer data from the droppings that consumers leave all over the internet. This data collection didn’t impact the politicians, who thrive on political intelligence so having a master information collector or two on their donor page didn’t hurt. It wasn’t until the FANGs messed with the source of a politician’s livelihood i.e. the vote, that the FANGs fell under deeper scrutiny.

It is up to the individual to choose whether to use FANG services. I have little to no use for Facebook myself. Amazon, Google, and Netflix deliver pretty much what they promise: logistics and content. What’s amusing is that highly educated, professionals in the Congress have yet to figure out the business model that social media relies on for its survival.

I think it is best that the internet go back to what it was meant to be: a way to connect information seekers with data. The irony is that internet service providers have been providing their networks as a part of the larger data transmission scheme for over two decades but seem to be catching the most heat from congressmen that support the companies providing the most abuse.

ISPs, not edge providers, reflect the reality of communications and connectivity

Within the Communications Act of 1934, Congress created the Federal Communications Commission for the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communications. Congress intended the Commission to make available a rapid,efficient, nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communications network and provide that network at reasonable rates for the nation-state’s consumers. Congress wanted a nation-state, barely a hundred years into its industrial revolution and in the middle of its worst recession, to have the ability to connect all of its citizens.

The episodes of connection via a phone call were not expected to take up the 135 minutes a day that the average person spent on social media in 2017. Earlier today in an op-ed on Axios.com, Evan Spiegel wrote about the difference between social media and his communications app, Snapchat. In his words:

“The personalized newsfeed revolutionized the way people share and consume content. But let’s be honest: this came at a huge cost to facts, our minds and the entire media industry.

This is a challenging problem to solve because the obvious benefits that have driven the growth of social media – more friends! more likes! more free content! – are also the things that will undermine it in the long run.

  • New alternatives for self-expression, including services like text messaging, WhatsApp, and Snapchat are part of a shift towards using communication applications to express yourself rather than posting on social media, because communication apps are oriented around talking with your close friends, free from judgment.
  • Social media fueled “fake news” because content designed to be shared by friends is not necessarily content designed to deliver accurate information. After all, how many times have you shared something you’ve never bothered to read?”

Social media is a bulletin board that you placed on the front of your dorm room, open to a myriad of Post-It notes left by dorm mates and easily read by everyone else, is my summation of Mr Spiegel’s distinction between his service and Facebook. Snapchat; another form of private communication similar to texting or voice calls versus the barroom brawl that is social media.

As concerned as progressive congressional Democrats appear to be about Russia’s ability to use the permeability of Facebook, Twitter, and Google to allegedly upend an election, they do not appear to be in any rush to apply onerous privacy rules to social media, a business model designed for fake news.

Social media was a “god send” for the State. Social media aggregates people into groups that can be operationalized and manipulated. A lot less expensive than tapping phone lines in order to get the pulse of society. Facebook, Twitter, and Google are media outlets and as such are in a position to create messaging and target it toward certain groups. Facebook doesn’t ask “What’s on your mind” for no reason.

Some consumers want balance. They are using the ear buds to create space in the real world and don’t mind connecting where there is value in social media exchange, but they want the option of withdrawing to a position where their smartphone, at the end of the day, is merely for texting and sending/receiving voice calls.

Congress and the Commission should keeps their focus on the infrastructure aspect of communications and leave the bulletin board behavior to the kids.

Manafort and the bond market.

The Wall Street Journal today reported that investors did a little flight to safety moving money from equities into the bond markets as a result of today’s federal indictment of Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald J. Trump. The increased demand drove up bond prices while sending bond yields down.

According to The Journal, yields fell to 2.374% from 2.426% for the ten-year Treasury note. Investors believe that the indictment will divert Mr Trump and Congress’ attention from tax reform and other economic growth initiatives. As the investigation continues and hearings for Mr Manafort get on the way, investors probably believe that the Administration will be in denial and prevent mode between now and mid-terms.

I believe that this indictment alone should not engender this type of fear and that by tomorrow it may pass.

My more experienced litigation posse may confirm this, but you are supposed to make your strongest argument up front, and if your argument is that there was complicity between the Trump campaign and Russia but your indictment of the campaign manager doesn’t even include the word, “Russia”, something is wrong.

Maybe Shonda Rhimes wrote this indictment or is running this investigation. Maybe she wants Mueller to do a Perry Mason and build up to a dramatic finish at the end.

So far, however, failure to properly vet a campaign manager is not an impeachable offense although one could raise questions about the judgment of Mr Trump.

Maybe there is a surprise ending being written in this script, details forthcoming. In the meantime, I don’t see the Trump administration being overly distracted by this indictment. I expect them, however, to create a few more of their own as their inside the Beltway experience grows.