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How to make big tech do the right thing

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(or as someone said recently, "easy, they're all coin operated", meaning, they only work if you give them money)
    
https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2019/03/17/492557/how-to-make-big-tech-do-the-right-thing#

Tech industry veteran Paul Brislen says big tech firms are complicit in weaponising hate speech online. He details how New Zealand can force them to abandon their ‘passively incompetent’ way of dealing with it.

I know where the Christchurch gunman was radicalised. I go there every day. I see the tsunami wave of lies and paranoia engulf any who come near it and sweep away all but the last vestiges of decency among the people who visit. I see anger, I see hatred, I see death threats, I see rape threats, I see bile and invectives and trauma.

Social media is complicit in the murders that took place in Christchurch this week, in a city that’s already seen far too much grief, in a country totally unprepared for such actions. That’s not what we do here, we said. This isn’t us.

But all too often it is and the very people who you meet every day on the street, in the café and online in social media forums of all kinds and who believe this white supremacy, isolationist rhetoric are as much a part of the fabric of New Zealand as the people who are appalled by this senseless slaughter. What has changed is they’ve found an outlet, and a community of sorts online.

Social media is largely about finding your tribe, finding your people. For the quirky, for the oddballs, this has been a godsend. I might be the only person in New Zealand who wants to discuss Welsh folklore and its implications for Arthurian legend and for Brexit, but I bet you I can find a forum where that’s all we talk about.

Social media at its best is a fantastic way to find people like you and to engage with them. It’s family and it’s tremendously powerful.

The flip side is, of course, that social media also allows the angry, the disenfranchised, the misinformed to band together to support themselves in their views.

We’ve seen this in New Zealand with issues like the moon landing (hoax!) cellphone towers (radiation!), smart electricity meters (they’re tracking your movements!), and yes, white supremacy. It’s easy enough to find a group that supports your particular world view and says welcome, come on in, we believe you, they are out to get you.

That then is the crux of the social media dilemma. Tremendous reach, the ability to bring people together, the fabulous platform that allows content of all kinds to be shared. It’s the ultimate democratic instrument but sadly it also enables the crackpots, to conspiracy theorists, the white supremacists and the Nazis to band together, to plot and to share and to crow about their victories.

Lack of responsibility

From a technical point of view there are two issues – the first is the posting of the initial video or content and the second is the sharing and re-sharing of that content.

Facebook Live is Facebook’s video publishing service that allows users to upload video to all viewers as it happens and consequently it has been home to dozens of murders posted live to the internet.

The real problem is the lack of responsibility social media platforms take when it comes to the content they proffer up and their willingness to turn a blind eye to content that is objectionable and yet makes them some money.
Sure, Facebook takes down the videos afterwards but it’s not able to pre-vet the content because of course it’s screened live, as it was by the Christchurch murderer.

The second and bigger problem is that the internet is (to borrow a phrase) a giant copying machine. Everything is copied repeatedly and shared widely and trying to stop something from spreading (“going viral”) is seen as something of a nightmare. However, in the perverse world of the internet, technically it’s pretty trivial to do.

Whenever a video is uploaded to a service (YouTube, Facebook, Paul’s Video Sharing Service, whatever) the video can be tagged with a certain identifying code (called a “hash”) so the service can track the video as it’s shared around the world. When word comes down that the video is illegal, it can be found and removed relatively quickly.

Facebook and YouTube do this today – although typically it’s done for copyright reasons, not because of hate speech, criminal activity or objectionable material, but there’s no reason why these companies couldn’t make this a requirement of publication on their platforms. That would solve the issue of how broadly the footage could be shared.

But this is a technical fix to a problem of video distribution. It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter and the reason why social media is complicit in these killings.

The real problem is the lack of responsibility social media platforms take when it comes to the content they proffer up and their willingness to turn a blind eye to content that is objectionable and yet makes them some money.

In the old days publishers paid content producers to create content. They would then share that content through the appropriate service. Newspapers published articles written by journalists. Film studios published movies created by the industry. Book publishers released books written by authors, and so on.

That model has been swept away and instead publishers build platforms that allow anyone to publish anything they like.

What to do about it?

Until now we’ve been told New Zealand couldn’t possibly go it alone – couldn’t introduce laws that would stop Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, Apple and Google from doing whatever they like. But that simply isn’t true. The tide is turning against the power of the giants and this is a pivotal moment in that movement.

Because these social media companies are complicit in the murders in Christchurch, and in the hate speech, the fake news, the rape threats, the tidal wave of abuse and hurt. They allow it, they often enable it and they pretend they have no mandate to manage it.

Facebook won’t turn its back on the New Zealand market if we introduce a law that bans hate speech. Facebook cheerfully operates in Germany where it routinely makes sure it doesn’t violate Germany’s anti-Nazi memorabilia laws.
Writing in The Washington Post after the killings, media commentator Margaret Sullivan described the social media companies as providing “passive incompetence” that enables this kind of activity. They have built the platforms that connect extremist groups together, given them the tools to organise and to share their messages and then stood back - abrogating all responsibility for anything that is said or done in these communities.

From Facebook to 4Chan they hide behind the defence of “free speech”, defining it as they see fit to avoid responsibility.

Yet when faced with pressure from copyright owners, these same companies move swiftly to institute rapid take-down notices, proactive monitoring of sites for music or video infringements and aggressively target those who breach the rules.

Like all companies, social media giants are built around one thing: making money. Threaten that, and they’ll respond.

So this then is how we change things. Through local regulations, through international agreements, through tougher penalties that actually make a difference because nothing else matters to these companies other than the bottom line.

Facebook won’t turn its back on the New Zealand market if we introduce a law that bans hate speech. Facebook cheerfully operates in Germany where it routinely makes sure it doesn’t violate Germany’s anti-Nazi memorabilia laws. Google has found it in itself to operate within China’s strict policies prohibitions around Taiwan and democratic movements. Sure, those markets are huge but do you really think the social media giants will walk away from a well-educated, English speaking, mature online market? They will not.

However you look at it, New Zealand has changed for ever on that sunny afternoon in March. All we can do now is try to define who will be and what we want our future to look like. And we can work damned hard to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

* Paul Brislen is a veteran technology journalist and PR man and a long-time consumer and user of social media.

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and if you've made it this far, my opinion : prosecute the Facebooks and Youtubes etc etc, as if they were newspapers, who had published such content.

 

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