“There’s Something Here That Appeals to Everyone…Due to the Strict Guidelines Set Forth By Disney”

September 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

We report, you decide.

Jonathan Zittrain, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (2008)

You guys the Internet is in trouble! We’re Wile E. Coyote headed right the fuck off a cliff. Or maybe that’s not the best metaphor (ahem according to your humble editor), maybe the best metaphor (ahem according to your humble editor) is that the Wild West is giving way to Celebration, FL (AHEM YOUR HUMBLE EDITOR SAYS SEE ABOVE LOL). Granted, the Wild West could be dangerous and disorienting, but Celebration is so much worse, stifling and completely predictable in ways that should make us pine for the days when at any moment we could be shot in the face! Because equal to the risk of getting shot in the face was the possibility of finding gold I tell you PRECIOUS GOLD! To return to our regularly scheduled program, early PCs and the early Internet may have been somewhat volatile (clearinghouses for bad/malicious code etc) but at least they were generative. With good reason, since their trajectories were never established; this allowed for a robust sort of flexibility and inherent potentiality. Unfortunately the very qualities that made the early iterations of these technologies so amazing also caused, and continue to cause, anxiety for those users who look at unpredictability as a liability. As a consequence, more and more people are opting for sterile appliances that allow for minimal or nonexistent post-hoc tinkering, either via third party software or jailbreak-type hackery. These pastures might be safer but they are by no means greener, since the resulting institutional lockdown (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, APPLE) stifles the collaborative and creative spirit that drives innovation, in many cases the very innovations from which people are now running!

tl;dr Lockdown –both within technical and content layers– sucks way more than having a bunch of bullshit running wild. That said, and given the implications of so much free-range bullshit (namely future/further lockdown) we simply must do something about all this bullshit.

Reflections on this fine analysis 

Goddammit, all roads lead back to Facebook. Well for me they do, due to HATRED (remember, kids, the opposite of love isn’t hate, the opposite of love is indifference). In this case, I couldn’t help but apply Zittrain’s crusade against lockdown to Faceblah’s pushback against trolls and trolling behaviors, which clearly meet the criteria for generative social patterns — FB trolling flew under Zuckerberg’s radar for months & from the very beginning was highly productive, highly inclusive, extremely open-ended and wildly impactive. Just as Zittrain predicted, the influx of trolls lead to an even greater influx of failtrolls, who made it impossible for Facebook to ignore what was happening. In response, Facebook began to fight back, perfectly mirroring Zittrain’s schema: they attempted to preempt trolls by tweaking the registration process, altered their terms of use, group creation and privacy policies, and began deploying who-knows-how-far-down-the-rabbit-hole protective algorithms as well as the so called “Hate and Harassment Team” to spy on, suss out and ban offending accounts. Initially, this resulted in naught but more trolling, an outcome written in Zittrain’s stars — give a troll a set of laws and five minutes later I’ll show you a pile of broken laws. Give a troll a self-regulated, non-hysterical community and five minutes later I’ll show you a troll-free zone.

Which isn’t to say that Facebook doesn’t have every right to police itself in whatever ways deemed necessary — as a taxpaying (lol jk) American citizen it can do what it wants. But it is to say that this kind of lockdown, though perhaps successful in mitigating a particular threat, also places “normal” users in much tighter strictures. I mean sure, after Facebook began waving the b&hammar like a drunken panoptic cyclops, there was a sharp reduction in conspicuous trolling. But all new accounts are now required to provide a cell phone number, and are being monitored by god knows how many algorithms (and actual human eyeballs). The fact that hate groups –the KKK being the most obvious example, but also individual bigots, like the idiots who celebrated Hurricane Irene as a sign that God and Jesus are mad about gay marriage– are still allowed to do and say whatever they please challenges the efficacy of these policies. At the very least, Facebook’s apparently selective concern seems to be less about responding to real-life hate (i.e. bigotry proudly proclaimed by real people on real profiles) and more about restricting behaviors that give Facebook bad press. That’s a lot of power in a very limited number of hands, especially considering that those same hands are primarily motivated by profit margins.

In conclusion, I have to side with Zittrain on this one.

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