My Internet Mea Culpa – Rick Webb

Source: My Internet Mea Culpa – Rick Webb

I believed that the world would be a better place if everyone had a voice. I believed that the world would be a better place if we all had no secrets.

If I had known in 1994 that this whole internet thing would have brought generations — generations — of pain before the solution came, it would have been a totally different decision process for me to help it out.

Perhaps everyone on the planet needs to learn how to use all of this new power responsibly … And, again, perhaps it will take generations.

With both of these explanations for what went wrong, there is still a strong argument to keep at it. … But there is another possibility to consider: What if we were fundamentally wrong? … What if we were never meant to be a global species? … What if information doesn’t want to be free?

I would like every one that sold me — and everyone else — this bag of goods to address these possibilities. Failing that, I’d like them to offer other explanations for where we’re at now, and how we get to the promised land.

A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention

In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

— Herbert Alexander Simon
“Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World” in: Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest, by Martin Greenberger, Baltimore. MD: The Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 40–41.

‘The Basic Grossness of Humans’

Source: ‘The Basic Grossness of Humans’

Content moderators review the the dark side of the internet. They don’t escape unscathed. … As you might expect, reviewing violent, sexual, and disturbing content for a living takes a serious psychological toll on the people who do it.

“The questions I have every time I read these statements from big tech companies about hiring people are: Who? And where? And under what conditions?”

— Sarah T. Roberts

Pro-Neutrality, Anti-Title II

Source: Pro-Neutrality, Anti-Title II — Stratechery

Any regulation, including those around net neutrality, should be put to a cost-benefit analysis. In this case regulation advocates come up short.

I am amenable to Congress passing a law specifically banning ISPs from blocking content, but believe that for everything else, including paid prioritization, we are better off taking a “wait-and-see” approach; after all, we are just as likely to “see” new products and services as we are to see startup foreclosure. And, to be sure, this is an issue than can — and should, if the evidence changes — be visited again.

What is worth far more attention is the state of competition in broadband generally: ISPs have lobbied for limits on public broadband in 25 states, and many local governments make it prohibitively expensive for new ISPs to challenge incumbents (and Title II requirements don’t help either). Increasing competition would not only have the same positive outcomes for customers that T-Mobile demonstrated, but would solve the (mostly theoretical) net neutrality issue at the same time: the greatest check on an ISP is the likelihood of an unsatisfied customer leaving.


Part 2: “Light Touch”, Cable, and DSL; The Broadband Tradeoff; The Importance of Antitrust — Stratechery

I absolutely support regulation of ISPs and the preservation of the neutrality (at least in terms of blocking content), I just think we should stick to ex-post instead of ex-ante until there is compelling evidence of systematic abuse.

The question that must be grappled with, though, is whether or not the Internet is “done.” By that I mean that today’s bandwidth is all we all never need, which means we can risk chilling investment through prophylactic regulation and the elimination of price signals that may spur infrastructure build-out … But what if we aren’t done? What if … all kinds of unimagined commercial applications? I certainly hope we will have the bandwidth to support all of that!

Who, though, will build that bandwidth? … And yet, the fact that wired broadband in particular is a natural monopoly remains, raising the question of how you incentivize investment in ever faster broadband?

These tradeoffs are brutally difficult.

What is not at all helpful, though, is framing these trade-offs as moral choices. It is to society’s detriment that this really rather esoteric issue has become so tribalistic in nature: how can we properly evaluate and balance the trade-offs we need to make in issue after issue if everything is cast as good versus evil?

The Pollyannish Assumption — Stratechery

Source: The Pollyannish Assumption — Stratechery, by Ben Thompson

Moderating user-generated content is hard: it is easier, though, with a realistic understanding that the Internet reflects humanity — it is capable of both good and evil.

One of the seminal Stratechery posts is called Friction, and while I’ve linked it many times this line is particularly apt:

Friction makes everything harder, both the good we can do, but also the unimaginably terrible. In our zeal to reduce friction and our eagerness to celebrate the good, we ought not lose sight of the potential bad.

This is exactly the root of the problem: I don’t believe these platforms so much drive this abhorrent content as they make it easier than ever before for humans to express themselves, and the reality of what we are is both more amazing and more awful than most anyone ever appreciated.

The point of user reports is to leverage the scale of the Internet to police its own unfathomable scale … That approach, though, clearly isn’t enough: it is rooted in the pollyannish view of the Internet I described above — the idea that everything is mostly good but for some bad apples. A more realistic view — that humanity is capable of both great beauty and tremendous evil, and that the Internet makes it easier to express both — demands a more proactive approach. … alas, being proactive is a sure recipe for false positives.

focus on being neutral … actively seek out and remove content that is widely considered objectionable, … take a strict hands-off policy to everything that isn’t … far more transparency than currently exists … make explicitly clear what sort of content they are actively policing, and what they are not