MSP36: LICENCE TO SURF

licence.JPG

MSP36: LICENCE TO SURF

Is Star Wars undermining the Internet? Has hate speech undermined the mainstream? Could a licence to surf could bring us back from the Dark Side? It’s time to Mattsplain.

CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE ON ITUNES OR ADD THE RSS FEED TO YOUR FAVOURITE PODCATCHER.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Masculine inferiority. It’s something that Kulturpop’s Matt Armitage has been accused of all his life. But until last week, he thought it was just him. Now, the massed ranks of Star Wars Ultras have broken cover to try and force their views, Empire-like, across the Internet. 

Confused? You will be.  It’s time to Mattsplain.

The fanboys should be happy today: we’re talking about Star Wars.

·     Less happy than you might imagine.

·     The fan boys very much in our crosshairs this week, as well as is everyone else who thinks the Internet is the sole preserve of their point of view.

·     Everyone knows that the Internet is reserved for my point of view.

·     And when that POV is interrupted, I have to conjure up these 20 minutes sermons to bring everyone to heel.

 

You’re really full of yourself, aren’t you?

·     I’m happy to see that your holiday has improved your mood.

·     And people call me uncle angry.

·      I am full of myself. But that’s not what I’m trying to do here.

·     I’m just trying to prove a point. Everyone thinks the Internet is for them and that anyone who dares to disagree with their opinion is attacking them.

·     Or rather, threatening that little piece of the Internet they call their own.

 

And what does Star Wars have to do with any of this?

·     I’m not sure if you caught this because you been away.

·     And I’m not sure how long this post has been going around.

·     It’s a manifesto purporting to be from The fans of Star Wars, asking Disney to stop its campaign of perverting the franchise to further a socio-political agenda of inclusion that promotes masculine inferiority.

 

Yeah I saw it…

·     I’m not quite sure how having strong female characters equates to masculine inferiority.

·     Also not quite sure how promoting different sexes genders and races upsets anyone in a fictional universe populated by creatures like Jabba the Hut, a cross between a slug and a lump of faecal matter that somehow manages to be more disgusting and offensive than either.

·      I consider myself to be a Star Wars fan, and I happen to like where the franchise is headed.

·     Anyone who is flabbergasted by Luke Skywalker’s transition to cantankerous old goat, obviously hasn’t met a lot of old people and thinks that they really are like the old duffers in the Werthers Originals commercials.

 

You’re definitely going to be like Luke. You don’t even have to get much older.

·     Oi. Respect please.

·     People might be wondering what relevance this has as a topic for our show.

 

I think our listeners gave up trying to connect your dots a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

·     Bonus Star Wars points.

·     We’ve heard a lot of talk of the last few months about how the Internet is being weaponised by countries and companies with an agenda. 

·     But we can’t blame what’s happening online entirely on external actors and agents.

·     You have people like the guys who put together the Star Wars memorandum, and I’m guessing are mainly white males.

·     And quick note to those guys: Star Wars is a global franchise, when you look at the population of our planet and I’m guessing the population of the wider universe. The majority of those people aren’t white or male or probably even human.

 

And then there are the Whatsapp killings in India.

·     Yes. Rumours have been spreading in rural parts of India about people trying to steal children.

·     As a result, tourists and strangers and just generally people who are unknown to the population of the village, have been attacked by mobs and killed.

·      I think the figure I read was something like 22 people in the last few months.

·     Thing is, there’s nothing to suggest that anyone is out there stealing children.

·     It’s scaremongering that is being spread widely and instantly via instant message.

·     You can’t blame Cambridge Analytica and despotic bot networks for these rumours and killings.

·     These are the fault of normal and ordinarily sane people, blindly passing on untrue and toxic messages from one to another. 

 

We’re the ones killing people?

·     That’s not something I want to put on anyone at an individual level..

·     How many of our listeners have posted something on a social media feed about how they don’t trust the mainstream media any more?

·     Last week, a guy who didn’t trust the media any more took a gun and walked into the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis and murdered five members of the senior editorial staff.

·     The suspected killer was known to harass journalists online.

·     Once again, I’m paraphrasing Winona Ryder in Heathers: our teenage angst has a body count.

·     It’s something we’re seeing across the world, journalists are increasingly becoming both target and casualty of the so-called culture wars.

 

This is Mattsplained, so we have to assume that you have an equally unpleasant “cure” for society’s ills. What poison are you prescribing this week?

·     A radical and extreme one.

·      I think it’s high time that using the Internet required a licence.

·     Just like driving a car, you don’t get behind the wheel until you’re qualified.

·     I’m saying that if you wanna get online, you’ll have to prove that you’re licensed and insured.

 

It doesn’t sound very practical.

·     It probably isn’t.

·     But I think we’re past the point where we can sit back and do nothing.

·     When cars were first introduced you didn’t need a licence or insurance to drive. Anyone could get behind the wheel.

·     And what happened? Well, lots of people died or were horribly maimed.

·     So governments and the powers that be stepped in to regulate the sector.

·     And they pushed the regulation in both directions.

o  Drivers have to learn to drive and prove that they’re competent, 

o  At the same time companies are forced to adopt a set standards the make the car as safe as possible for the people inside it and the people and things that it might crash into.

 

The Internet’s not a car.

·     No, but it is a tool that has increasingly deadly applications.

·     We talk a lot on the show about the norms of social behaviour and how technology allows us to advance faster than the norms that govern what we consider to be acceptable social behaviour.

·      I think that, as a mass of people, we’ve shown that we are not responsible enough to use the Internet without some kind of training and responsibility.

 

Where does the insurance come in?

·     It’s like when you jump a red light and get fined by the police.

·     Or if you get into an accident and your car damages someone else’s.

·     The insurance would be like a system of fines and payments to regulate people’s behaviour online.

·     If you insult someone online, they get to claim damages from your insurer, and your premium to use the Internet increases.

·     If you commit serious infractions like using the Internet while intoxicated, you lose your licence.

·     The first time just for a week or so, and then it gradually increases to months, years or even lifetime bans.

 

What are you hoping to achieve?

·     At one end, just some basic stuff like a little more civility.

·     Put an end to the shouty people who post things in capital letters.

·     I’d make ALL CAPS a fineable offence. Text speak is fine, but bad grammar would also count against you.

·     Someone should do a study into the correlation between trolling and correct use of commas.

·     More seriously, It might also help to search out the extremists, the terrorists and the trolls who happily operate under a cloak of anonymity.

 

Who would be on your naughty and nice list?

·      I think MZ would automatically get a two year ban and mandatory sensitivity training.

·      Learnt this week that Facebook gave dozens of firms access to its data even though it claimed it hadn’t.

·      Not to mention that patient application last week, for a widget that would turn on your phone’s microphone so it could listen to your TV.

·      Facebook has persistent offender written all over it. It seems like Every other week that a contrite MZ appears to apologises for something the company had claimed not to have done in the first place.

·      It’s not good enough. Re-educate him!

 

Who else would you ‘re-educate’?

·      Forget the re-education, I would ban the entire staff of Twitter from the Internet.

·      A sliding scale. Senior execs for a lifetime, down to 6 months forentry level staff.

·      I don’t see any benefit to Twitter anymore.

·      Get rid of it and you immediately choke off the loudest amplifier of the blowhards.

·      Other social networks just aren’t as loud or as easy to troll.

·      I can think of one man whose nasty voice would instantly be muted if Twitter disappeared.

·      Also, I think it’s time we had a discussion about making voices less universal.

 

What about free speech? Don’t you risk putting people’s freedom at risk?

·     We act as though speech is inviolable. It isn’t. it has always been subject to constraints.

·     A lot of what happens online is the virtual equivalent the teenagers driving past your car and mooning at you out of the window.

·     It’s a little bit of shock horror to the victim and a quick titillation for the perpetrators, but ultimately, it’s nothing really serious.

·     But, if you wanted to, you could go and report those kids for public indecency.

·     Both of you have a choice.

·     Those kids are free to moon you but society places a tariff on that behaviour, so if you want to you can write the incident off as youthful hijinks or make a complaint to the police.

·     If you want a more serious example, I’m free to make a bomb threat.

·     But I don’t have the right to make a bomb threat.

·     That’s something we seem to be confused about online: being free to say something isn’t the same as saying that you have the right to say it.

·     Which is why society makes it a criminal offence to make a bomb threat.

·      I still have the freedom to do it, but if I choose to go ahead and exercise that freedom, I should expect to be prosecuted by society for the fear and damage I’ve inflicted. 

 

You can argue that for a lot of people. it’s just blowing off steam. It’s online. It’s not real.

·     In some countries there already laws to protect humour and satire so that jokes aren’t taken out of context.

·      I would argue that a lot of people who hide behind the lulz have no objective sense of humour.

·     What they’re doing is good old fashioned bullying and nastiness that veers into intimidation.

·     Why should the Internet be any different from real life? Where’s the logic in saying that I can insult or threaten you because it’s online?

·     It’s exactly the same as going up to someone or walking up to their front door and Saying something horrendous to them.

·     It’s a public forum. Our words and actions have consequences. 

·     The licence would help to reinforce that sense of responsibility.

 

There are some obvious and huge issues with the idea of a licence and retraining, let alone a TV show.

·      And we’ll get to them.

·      I think a lot of people agree with me that the Internet should not be a haven for hateful and horrible views.

·      The Internet is global so that presents a problem as there is no real consensus in terms of what constitutes hateful and horrible.

·      What’s hateful to one person is simply skinning a bear for dinner for someone else.

 

As I’ve always said, when someone starts skinning a bear, it’s time to take a break…

 

BREAK

 

We’re back with our basket of deplorables. Before the break, Matt outlined his plans for a Licence to Surf.

·      See, it even sounds cool. Very James Bond.

·      I should point out that no bears were skinned during that break, and it may be the first time that anyone has ever has had to make that kind of announcement on BFM. 

 

I’m happy to protect the bears. What about the licence? How would it actually work?

·      Honestly, I don’t know. That’s what engineers and bureaucrats are for.

·      I’m just doing the visionary thing we talked about last week, and envisioning.

·      Other people will have to do the hard stuff.

 

How old would you have to be get online?

·      That’s the nice thing about it.

·      The licence could control levels of access.

·      We could have a series of sandboxes for kids. 

·      They get a junior licence at the age of 2 that allows them into some corners of the Internet and that increases as they get older, like a movie ratings system.

·      And just like when you’re a learner driver, you have to be supervised by a full licence holder at all times until you move higher up the ratings system.

 

When would they graduate to the full-fat Internet?

·      You apply for your Probationary licence at the age of 16.

·      Sit the test. If you pass, and you behave yourself on the superhighway for the next two years, you get your full licence.

·      Misbehave and you lose your privileges for a year and have to start over.

 

Who can you imagine running it? It would have a lot of moving parts, not to mention the coordination aspect. Do you see it being operated with national characteristics and qualities or as more of an international thing?

·      My preference would be for it to be a supranational thing.

·      A single body that coordinated the licence globally but the body would have to be neutral and not linked to any particular government.

·      Personally I’d hand it over to Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder.

·      I’m sure he’d have some idea of the rules he’d want used to police it.

·      And then your licence fees could be used to fund the Wikipedia foundation and all of those weird bits and pieces of technology and organising bodies that the Internet relies and runs on and are chronically underfunded.

 

What about the services providers? How do they fit into the model?

·      As we know the FCC in the US made huge changes to neutrality regulations which came at force just a few weeks ago.

·       That allows telcos and service providers in the US to offer preferential access to some sites and relegate other parts of the Internet to lower-speed connections

·       One of the policy arguments to the changes was that it would make ISPs more competitive.

·       I’m getting behind the idea. Bring it on.

·      Let’s really give the providers the market treatment.

 

We could give them ratings, like Moody’s does with securities?

·      Yes. Countries and bond issuers are ranked according to their trustworthiness so let’s do the same with ISPs.

·       We’ll rate them according to factors like

o  how free and open they are, 

o  do they operate dual track systems that favour some sites over others.

o  Are they open hostile to VPNs etc.

·       Simple, if the market likes you, which means consumers, you can justify charging customers more money.

·       If consumers don’t like you, well, a low rating serves as a warning to potential customers.

·       Moody’s is already being used, so we could use Grumpy’s to reflect our typical level of happiness with our ISPs.

·       If you get a high Grumpy’s rating, you’re not pleasing your customers.

·      The lower your Grumpy’s rating, the better you’re doing.

 

Do you think any of this could really happen? We’re discussing setting up a supranational organisation to uphold a licence that individual countries would have to police and prosecute.

·      It’s basically impossible.

·      You might be able to achieve it from a process and technology point of view and it would probably be unworkable.

·      Worse than that, this is one of those be careful what you wish for topics.

·       I don’t think any of us would really want this to come to pass.

·      It would be impossible to do without a lot of Government involvement and intervention.

·      So we would likely see it being used as an excuse for censorship more than as a tool to makers behave a little bit better online.

·      It’s not to say that the problems aren’t real.

·      Rather than come up with a set of coherent solutions, I’ve outlined a sweeping and unworkable knee-jerk solution as a response.

 

Should the Internet stay as it is?

·      I don’t know.

·      Look at the Numbers of younger consumers who are either turning their backs on or simply not signing up to services like Facebook and Twitter in first place.

·      They don’t consider the Internet and these social media sites to be a safe place.

·      So maybe they’re going to places where there isn’t as much comment or discussion, like Instagram.

·      Or they’re using instant messaging apps to curate and create their own safe spaces away from the public gaze.

 

Has our, no-borders, all-around-the-world approach to the Internet failed?

·      As I keep saying, the technology moves faster than our ability to adopt codes of conduct and behaviour and for them to gain consensus across societies.

·      There’s too much information and not enough editing and that’s eroding trust.

·      We used to trust newspapers and TV.

o   Sometimes that trust was merited and sometimes it wasn’t.

o   No organisation is perfect

·      Now, someone can take some old footage of a disaster, say an earthquake or a terror incident, and cause a panic on social media by posting it and claiming it’s something happening in real time.

·      That message can spread very rapidly because it isn’t subject to the same kind of editorial control that traditional information has been subject to.

·      And it can get deadly: when you see rumours of child abductions in India turning into murders.

 

Is it something we can solve with algorithms?

·      I know it’s nice to wrap things up in a ribbon and present a nice neat package by the end of the show, honestly, I don’t think it ‘something that we can solve right now.

·      We have the tools to create it but not to patrol it with any degree of finesse.

·      The algorithms that we have right now are dumb and blunt.

·      They do what we tell them to do.

·      But they’re working in a forum that so enormously complex that we it would probably be near impossible to program them how to operate and behave.

·      The result: our current suite of solutions can’t help but fall short and disappoint and frustrate everyone in the process.

 

We’re going back to your ‘more and better AI’ argument?

·      Yes. Already know that we can’t use human beings to police sites like YouTube.

·      Too much content is posted. The volumes are too great for any kind realistic oversight.

·      The sites rely on automation and algorithms as the blunt tools, and, increasingly, to their own users, to flag suspicious content.

·      Dumb algorithms can only do half the job because they don’t understand anything.

·      What we need are machines that are capable of discussing why a piece of content should or shouldn’t be allowed with a human being.

·      It’s not just AI. There are other new technologies that I’d like to see being integrated…

 

Technologies like the blockchain?

·      Yes. There is great potential for use of the block chain in terms of copywriting content, verifying its origin, identifying the journey and the trail that it’s taken.

·      But it’s not ready to rock and roll out today.

·      Blockchain and self-loathing AI are solutions we can see but not quite touch yet.

·      We have the tools to create but not control.

o   If you want the blunt edge of control, we can opt for a more restrictive solution, like the great firewall of China.

 

Do you think that could happen? That we edge closer to Internet autocracy?

·      The lawlessness and nastiness of some parts of the Internet help to make the case  for wide-ranging censorship seem reasonable.

·      When that kind of censorship happens, you lose access to information and you lose your right to have a voice.

 

We started the show with Star Wars. Let’s end on Star Wars.

·      The world changes. And the world but Star Wars inhabits has changed as well.

·      We don’t read those swashbuckling Victorian novels about gentleman explorers with a title and derring-do any more.

·      We accept that they were racist and sexist: everything was done for It was all for the Perfidy of Albion.

·      The world has moved on, and so should Star Wars.

·      Calling yourself a fan doesn’t mean you have any more right to ownership than somebody who isn’t interested in the whole slavish adulation thing and just wants to pay their 15 bucks and enjoy the show.

 

So Star Wars is the Internet in a microcosm.

·      In a way. It gives disproportionate weight to the views of minorities.

·      By Minorities I don’t mean marginalised groups for people who have been overlooked or disenfranchised.

·      I mean people with minority opinions.

·      Sometimes it feels that we hear more from people with minority points of view than we do from the centre.

·      We have this commitment to balance, but we seem to think that means taking viewpoints from far end of the opinion spectrum.

·      But those voices don’t represent balance. They represent the extremes.

·      As a result we indulge those extremes, offering them validity, instead of calling them out for the bigotry, or racism or whatever unpleasant content their message contains. 

·      As for Luke Skywalker, his Rebellion ultimately failed. His best pupil turned to the Dark Side.

·      That’s enough for anyone to want to go and sit on an island and sulk for a few decades.

·      That’s exactly what I would do. And woe betide any stupid kid who turned up on the island offering me butterscotch.

Matt Armitage