Stranger = Danger

James Bridle writes,

Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level.

Actually, trying to excerpt from the piece is almost pointless. I needed to go through the whole thing to really understand the issue, and my guess is you have to read the whole thing, too.

Toward the end, he writes,

It presents many and complexly entangled dangers, including that, just as with the increasing focus on alleged Russian interference in social media, such events will be used as justification for increased control over the internet, increasing censorship, and so on. This is not what many of us want.

My take is this:

1. The Internet has always been vulnerable to frustrating forms of abuse. Email spam is still with us, for crying out loud. The main culprit is anonymity. TCP/IP was not designed to have the network identify the sender. Instead, to the extent that identity is resolved, it is by the recipient. So spam filters are the best you can do against spam. Getting rid of spam altogether would require a more expensive protocol that puts identity checks somewhere in the network, and it seems that the cost of transmitting all the spam and filtering it out is less than the cost of putting identity checks into the network. At least, that is my understanding.

2. “On the Internet, no one knows your a dog” has always been both a bug and a feature. It is a lot easier to engage in abuse if you can remain anonymous than if you have to reveal your identity to get into the game. But if you forfeit anonymity, then you allow governments and corporations to engage in surveillance. You also increase the potential for censorship and stifling of opinion.

3. Facebook and LinkedIn created environments where you can share your identity rather than hide it, and that serves a real need.

4. In general, I can imagine a situation in which some regions of cyberspace allow anonymity and others do not. You will know that when you enter a region that allows anonymity that it will not be well policed. It will be like walking into a bad neighborhood at night.

5. It strikes me that the “fake news” problem on Facebook shows that it has been straddling both regions. Why is it easy to spam Facebook? My guess is that a lot of Facebook users would prefer a good neighborhood, so that either Facebook will get rid of anonymous content providers or lose out to a competitor who does. Same with Kids’ YouTube.

6. Some people are really against all forms of surveillance. They want the regions in cyberspace that allow anonymity to be almost ubiquitous. I think that is neither practical nor desirable. I lean more toward the David Brin approach to the problem of surveillance. But if the social norms and institutions support censorship and suppression, then the “transparent society” won’t work.

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10 Responses to Stranger = Danger

  1. baconbacon says:

    The author of the linked article is totally oblivious. Start at the basic level, why would kids want to watch people opening toy eggs, or videos with terrible animation and songs? Because all they care about are the colors/movement/soothing/familiar faces. Why is this a big deal? Because that is all mainstream “non traumatizing” videos are giving them. All the other stuff, the terrible recycled plot lines, the morality plays, the happy endings, the diversity, the main character speaking Spanish are all there to convince the parents that it is ok for the kids to watch to get their color/sound fix. Follow the link to the BBC article where the “Parent and Journalist” states that her daughter watches Peppa Pig as if this is totally fine, but some weird variation of Peppa pig is totally beyond the pale. This is like writing an article about how the king size snickers bar you give your 3 year old for dinner every night turned out to be a knock off that used high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar (I’m sure that snickers bars have both in them).

    • Nate says:

      It’s not just some “weird variation” of Peppa the pig, it’s Peppa the pig going to the dentist, who tortures her.

  2. Tom DeMeo says:

    I believe the most likely solution is for the widespread use of 3rd party identity/financial trust organizations to manage relationships between parties on the internet.

  3. Eric Hanneken says:

    Email spam is still with us, for crying out loud. The main culprit is anonymity.

    I think the main culprit is the nearly zero marginal cost of sending an email. If email servers charged senders for delivery, spam could be nearly eliminated by setting the price high enough, even if the payment system preserved anonymity.

    • Tom DeMeo says:

      Such a scheme would have to charge on the receiving end. There is no way to make something like this work from the sending side.

      This idea has been around a while, and no one has tried it yet, because it presents a number of challenges. I assume there aren’t any financial institutions that are willing to get behind such a scheme.

      In the end, you can automate such transactions easily enough, but financial transactions are dangerous unless they can be accepted and reconciled by the parties involved. Micro-transaction disputes are too trivial to monitor, reconcile or mitigate, but could aggregate to serious money for larger organizations. I don’t think human beings are honest enough for micropayments to work.

      • Eric Hanneken says:

        Such a scheme would have to charge on the receiving end. There is no way to make something like this work from the sending side.

        Yes, I know. That’s not what I wrote.

  4. MichaelG says:

    When saying anything slightly controversial can get you doxxed and hounded for your comments, do you really think anonymity is not a good idea?

  5. Lord says:

    The evidence is quite different. People bully and troll more and more extreme when using their real names because to do so is more emphatic. Extremists in media gather notoriety. It is more primitive than that, tribalism. It is part of drawing others of like minds together and forcing those of other views away. It is part of forming groups, consolidating leadership, and establishing hierarchies. It is publicity, which anonymity is not conducive to.

  6. Paul says:

    Facebook started from a circle of trust premise. Your Joined based on your school. Where you went to school circumscribed the people you could meet. FB levered that trust into what it is now.

    FB not your friends decides the advertising content you receive. FB stared Toni’se friends to search data an evolution past google page rank. But the FB advertisers are not part of this social filter. FB gains your trust with the social filter. You even your self. They sell that self to advertises. Anyone who will pay.

  7. Matt says:

    “and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level.”

    Newcomer to the internet, are we?

    “Getting rid of spam altogether would require a more expensive protocol that puts identity checks somewhere in the network, and it seems that the cost of transmitting all the spam and filtering it out is less than the cost of putting identity checks into the network.”

    You’re not that far off, and only in fairly small details. Such as the fact that the protocol wouldn’t be at all expensive, but implementing it would be.

    The problem, though, isn’t the internet, it isn’t networking protocols, and it isn’t anonymity vs identification. It’s the fact that the more people you cram into the internet, the more deliberately abusive people you’re going to get. This was a problem before the internet went public, but not as big a problem because those people could be easily isolated and avoided. Once the doors were thrown open, though, the game changed. Now we have places like Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and 4Chan, where the smug, the exploitive, the condescending, and the outright hateful get together to see who can be the most awful person and the biggest victim.

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