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.