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?

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.

Google and Facebook: When humans are the fuel for social media farms

For several weeks, social media firms Facebook, Google, and Twitter have faced scrutiny from media and Congress over their alleged facilitation of Russian messaging during the 2016 presidential elections. Nitasha Tiku shared last month in an article for WIRED how social media companies have been catching heat from both sides of the aisle for allowing Russia-based or backed entities to buy ads on their platforms and direct subscribers to messages designed to misinform, mislead, or otherwise influence readers.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter are leaders in the “attention economy“, where social media companies buy (more like hack), package, and sell the attention they glean from their subscribers. Keeping your attention is their business, keeping it in sufficient quantities to attract advertisers who wish to market product to you. Attention, not information, is in short supply. That is the true gold nugget.

Congress, while not having yet passed any significant legislation, is still scrutinizing how social media companies manipulate consumer behavior. For example, today the U.S. House energy and commerce committee has a hearing on how companies use algorithms when making decisions on consumer behavior. This should provide some insight on where Congress wants to go next on the issue.