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?

What resources did the public administrator charter social media to manage?

Western government has followed a basic pattern for centuries. Enter a geographic area and settle it by managing its resources. The activities surrounding the extraction, processing, and distribution of resources are regulated and taxed by government with proceeds going toward the maintenance of government operations and institutions and the promotion of the social fabric. Government administers the control of resources via private hands by issuing “trading companies” a license to carry out the economic and financial activity necessary for resource management including the sale of finished products and services to consumers.

As a side note, you will find going forward that I will refer to private sector actors as “traders” or “trading companies.” Sometimes I will refer to private actors as merchants as well. The practice of trade and its importance in the activities of national government will be addressed more in future blogs but for now when I discuss the private sector I am describing the exchange of goods and services in markets where one asset, i.e. cash, is exchanged for another asset, i.e. goods, services, and the public administrator is regulating those exchanges on some level.

You will also find going forward that I will use public administrator and government interchangeably. Most Americans include the legislative and judicial in their perception of government. While the legislature and judicial branches set the legal parameters within which public administration occurs, government is about action hence the term executive when describing the branch that takes actual action in carrying out policy. Thus, arises another reason for using public administrator when describing action taken by government.

I can at a firm like US Steel and argue that they were chartered to create a taxable event in the mining of metals used to create steel. Archer Daniel Midland was likely chartered to create a taxable event in food production. Delta Airlines, chartered to create a taxable event in transportation. And Facebook? What resources has Facebook been chartered to manage and organize?

Given its mission to connect the world, Facebook’s charter appears to have been granted for the extraction and management of personal information in order to build an audience to which traders can advertise their goods and services. The taxable events public administrators are hoping for include the purchase of advertisement from Facebook which leads to taxable corporate income, and sales taxes generated from the sale of a trader’s goods and services with taxes going to state and local governments.

I am calling out Facebook because they are currently king of social media, but this analysis of public administration and social media could apply to any other social media firm including Twitter or LinkedIn. I guess a significant number of academics would not take to the argument that the government (and by government I am referring to the entire federal-state-local structure) issued a charter to mine the data of American consumers but that is the resource that Facebook and other social media sites extract, organize, and distribute for the purpose of making a profit, a taxable event.

Facebook’s business model for garnering consumer information and converting it into profit has been on Congress’ radar for months now especially given Facebook’s poor stewardship over personal data released to third parties. Implementing modifications to how it manages privacy may have a negative impact on net income, reducing the amount available for taxation. Last week, Facebook stock took a one-day hit falling 20% in value as concerns circulated about how its implementation of new privacy initiatives might impact its costs of doing business. I doubt if this price fall included any potential Trump administration action on privacy, but if not, any additional action on the part of the Trump administration or independent “Fourth Branch” agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission may contribute additional headache for the company and its shareholders.

Happy anniversary, World Wide Web. Now, let’s go back to 1988

On 12 March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee publishes a proposal to link hypertext with transmission control protocol, the basis for the world wide web. On 6 August 1991, he launches the first web page. Prior to his proposal, the internet was pretty much a niche hideout for academics and military researchers. Berners-Lee’s proposal helped introduce ‘democracy’ to the original dark web of interconnected computers.

Democratizing digital information via open network architectures unleashed the digital demons that Mr Berners-Lee would like to see regulated today. We went from a relatively simpler system where Dr James Haywood Rolling Jr could send Dr Marshall Shepherd samples of research that could add artistic flavor to the otherwise drab depiction of weather patterns, to the current system where an 18-year old dressed in psychedelic garb can do the booty clap in front of a smartphone and send the images live from Accra. Using this information, the Digital Daemons, i.e. #Facebook#Google, and #Twitter, can create profiles based on every ‘like’ the booty clapper receives and market services and products to consumers.

Closer inspection of the history of the world wide web and Mr Berners-Lee’s criticism of today’s social media/social network companies exposes a downside of the premise that the Digital Daemons are negatively impacting global connectivity via the internet. Mr Berners-Lee is concerned that the one-half of the planet currently not connected to the internet may be at a disadvantage culturally and economically and that connecting to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that is the world wide web may be the developing world’s salvation.

Ironically, it is that arrogant premise that the world needs to be connected to a single standard that drove European colonial expansion across the globe and spawned a global financial system anchored by the Bank of International Settlements, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund to replace the colonizer when Europe entered its post-World War II decline. Whether he realizes it or not, Mr Berners-Lee’s liberal position on digital connectivity is steeped in the European DNA for conquest.

If Mr Berners-Lee and other progressives are so bloody concerned about the negative impact the Digital Daemons are having on access to and distribution of information, they should push for an internet that existed pre-1989 where communities of value-based information exchangers created their own databases, and protocols and criteria for membership in these groups. Ironically, under that type of scenario, application of net neutrality rules based on Title II of the Communications Act would be valid because the administrators and owners of the databases could more easily be defined as consumers of telecommunications in some type of corporate form.

Sometimes you have to go back to your past to find a solution to a current dilemma. Happy Anniversary, World Wide Web.

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.

Social media: Scourge of and escapism for Black America

Last week after ten years I gave Facebook the heave-ho. A friend from college sent me the invite to join back in 2007. I recall saying to him, “Kevin. Aren’t we too old for this bulletin board shit?” He responded that it appeared to be a great platform for keeping up with his kids. I said to myself that using it to keep in touch with my nieces seemed like a good idea. So I joined.

During that ten year period I connected online with interesting new people, high school and law school classmates. I have been fortunate to reconnect with family members and meet cousins on both sides of the family. In some ways it strengthened the ties within the lineages and helped drive home the importance of the tribe.

On the flip side, Facebook exposed a neurosis festering in Americans, and in particular Black Americans. Americans are divisive and lack critical thinking skills. By fueling the neurosis, Facebook, and I believe unintentionally, has contributed to the hyper-partisanship that the United States is experiencing. Facebook has made it very easy to allow its users to create near impenetrable silos thus discouraging worthwhile, thought expanding conversation and replacing it with ad hominem and vitriolic language, behavior that a civilized democracy is allegedly not supposed to reflect.

In short, Facebook has exposed an inconvenient truth; that civility is not the rule, but increasingly the exception to social interaction. It is not surprising that the Russian government was able to create fake pages and spread static loud enough to discombobulate the average voter. Facebook provides enough digital real estate for every Farmer Brown to build a silo of ignorance.

I used the word static as opposed to information. There is a reason. Facebook has built a business model on the ability of grab the attention of subscribers by encouraging them to exchange mostly valueless noise. The vast majority of static on Facebook cannot answer the question of “so what?” I believe that when you bombard the human brain consistently with meaningless noise, you erode a person’s critical thinking skills. And that is a scenario that Black Americans cannot afford.

Black American’s disproportionate use of social media is disconcerting because it feeds the narrative that Black Americans are not strategic thinkers and make political decisions based on their emotions. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are emotional cesspools, perfect places for those brave enough to opine on politics from an emotional, lack of depth perception. Making assertions based on static obtained from a cable news program is intellectually obscene given the political agendas of the cable programs on-air personalities.

Take for example the debate on net neutrality. The majority of comments on Facebook leading up to the 15 December 2017 vote were made by a vast majority of Facebook subscribers who had not read the net neutrality rules slated for repeal, had not read the section of the Communications Act upon which the rules were based, and were consistently conflating net neutrality principles with net neutrality rules. The two are different.

But when ignorance in social media post can go viral via a hashtag, the tide becomes unstoppable.

One can argue that I am being a bit uptight and prudish. Surely I should not expect every political media consumer to go out and read every bloody statute, regulatory code, etc., before making a decision. My answer is, yes, I do. Today’s political economy environment is where you extract the resources necessary for your physical, emotional, and mental survival. You are required to know it, just like your ancestors were required to understand the currents on the seas that they fished, and the terrain upon which the hunted and grew food.

Given African America’s lack of access to capital and the political abusive relationship it has with political parties, observing. extracting, analyzing, and distributing value-driven information upon which important decisions can be made is more important than digesting static filled content that passes through you as quickly as white rice, stripped of nutrients that keep you strong.