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the internet has just... changed, hasn't it?

posted on #1
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Hey Folks,
I'm aware this is a music making website here,
so please excuse me for needing to talk about something else here for a minute.

You know, I'm someone closely tied to the internet, I operate this website here, and I have been observing what changed closely for a decade now.
And I don't know if you can relate to that, but I have this very strong feeling telling me that we have just entered into a completely new phase.
I imagine some reading this far may not have a clear idea what causes that feeling on my end,
I'll try to explain:

To me, the first phase of the internet consisted of the wild-west-web with zillions of privately coded websites that offered close to no interaction, quickly followed by the "guestbooks & forums" age, which also contained a good bit of *cough* anarchistic file sharing services.
That was when people stopped buying CDs and first heard of ebay, some will remember.
Then some folks took the "wow, a website user can actually contribute text & stuff to a website now!" momentum to the next level, here came the phase of the big platforms & rise of social media giant sites,
who wiped out a lot of the need for smaller forums and sites.
In the later part of that period, mobile devices have become the preferred way of accessing the internet, to a point where a sucessfull online service like Instagram doesn't even bother with offering a service to good old computer users. The availability of wifi became so common, that the whole idea of downloading something was slowly replaced by using cloud storage, think of how normal it is not to have a music collection on some drive any longer, people just use spotify instead.
That was pretty much the story up until the last week,
and besides some legislators starting to worry about the too big powers of the monopolist providers that have established themselves in the past decade, I guess most people felt quite content about their personal internet experience.

Now, what happened?
We have just witnessed the historic moment where the four leading tech companies have flexed their muscles for a tiny split-second and exercised their real powers, and if you ask me, that will change the internet more then we can predict today.

So, twitter closed the account of the current US president. As a platform owner, I know there are situations when you need to do something like that, one may ask why they waited so long, but looking at the attention they got by not intervening, the answer is obvious. As a single event, that may have counted as "odd news", not much more.
Then, Facebook closed the same presidents accounts. I know nothing about the Facebook presence & current postings of said president, maybe that was a wise decision, but to me, that started feeling a bit strange. I mean, if one of you behaved bad on bandcamp, I wouldn't consider banning you on wikiloops, if you know what I mean.
Fair enough, so, me the website owner thinks:
Now the millions of followers of that president will look for him on some other platform, twitter & FB will pay a price for that... loosing customers.
Then company number three, the friendly Google, joins in and takes the most likely meeting place for these astray-followers off of their app store.
That means: You now have a really hard time trying to install the app of a potential twitter & FB replacement on any android device.
Me thinks: Man, they are ganging up really hard, and I wouldn't want to be the operator of that potential social-media thing, getting my app removed from the larger mobile market out there. I know how that feels, they removed the wikiloops app for completely unrelated reasons two years ago.
But we are not done:
Last, the fourth player comes in, and amazon makes sure the non-android users out there cannot access that alternative network, either.
Since that network had rented servers on the amazon cloud (mind: wikiloops has storage there, too), amazon felt it was the right moment to terminate that deal, taking these servers offline on short notice.
So, what was a niche social-network with thousands of users yesterday is a "404 - site not found" now.

What an amazing demonstration of power - I ended up wondering if in a next step, Google would return no results when googling the US president, offering me "Did you mean...?" instead.
That hasn't happened so far, but it doesn't feel too far away either.

Now, I am not judging whether this proceedings have been wrong or right,
have been just in the face of a crisis and potential danger or
completely malicious.
I can say that this cross-the-board extinction of someones well-followed online presence,
combined with the "if you try to help this guy out, we turn your electricity off"-example is scary to witness.

I guess it was some sort of panic chain-reaction, but there will be a lot of tremors following this moment, since the experience was quite contrary to the freedom of speech / free internet expectations most internet users have.

Well, I have thought a lot about the need for "freedom of speech speed limits" for online communities, and I absolutely share the view that it is highly dangerous to give someone who doesn't act responsibly the tools to reach millions of humans within seconds.
Such power can be abused, it is dangerous, we germans know especially well from our own history.

I guess the online world will have to come up with ways to solve the problem, and I hope there is enough wisdom out there to realize that we can't have a diversity of uncensored opinions AND super-human instant digital reach for anyone.
Maybe we will need to find a concept of applying different freedom of speech limitations depending on the medium and reach, or maybe ways to delay the way news are spreading, something like that...
it will be interesting to observe.

On the positive side, if the whole incident marks the end of the social-media-giants age, then that might as well be a chance to come back to the more diverse and smaller-units internet that has had quite a hard time for the last few years.

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts, and maybe someone likes to add to them.
I hope it is clear that I am writing this as a concerned observer of what the internet does,
not as a secret supporter of people who behave in ways which wouldn't be tolerated by the wikiloops community standards.
posted on #2
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I agree and disagree with some of what you have so thoughtfully stated. The sunlight of truth needs to be the disinfectant of evil speech not the judgments of others in my opinion. Lets give everyone free speech to make fools of themselves or to begin a revolution but lets make sure there are no monopolizes on the platforms. No Ministry of Truth!
posted on #3
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I have also had this reflection lately. I told my wife that I wondered about the fact that a social network could intervene in the choice of its members and the content of the subjects discussed. Unlike newspapers or TV channels for which an editorial line is clear and most often admitted, what about social networks?
The hunt for fake news and reprehensible remarks by the law seems normal to me, but should we also say today that a social network is politicized? Are we going to have to choose this or that social network according to the political current it carries through its actions?
I remember very interesting exchanges on ICQ in the 90s with Russians, Greeks, Americans and other nationalities. I no longer know which war was taking place (Bosnia or Kosovo) but our countries were (or not) part of the same camps.
We then exposed the information conveyed by our respective national news channels and observed with dread how this information could be so different.
For my part, I had the pleasant feeling of being free to share my ideas with the world and above all to also hear the ideas of my correspondents.
It is true that I no longer felt this feeling at all with the arrival of social networks in which we no longer discuss or exchange at all.
We only publish information which is intended only to be like or not like by strangers who, on condition of anonymity, will generally allow themselves to comment with an often excessive opinion.
I really have the impression that this offered digital freedom was quickly drowned in too much data.
posted on #4
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Interesting thoughts, Richard, durinworld, and Arno - thanks for these...

When I began to use computers, the "internet" as we know it now didn't exist. Still I saw the potential even during a time when BBS systems still "called" each other via telephone lines to exchange information, and everything was still text-based, mice and or graphical environments didn't exist yet. I learned of Chernobyl via one of these offline BBS systems, from a member of the green party in Amsterdam - almost a week before it was in the general news...

Sir Tim Bernes-Lee who invented the concept of hyperlinks, and as such can be seen as the father of the modern web, lately said:

“For ten years or so it was exciting because it looked like it would be a place to break down international barriers and it would allow each person to be their own independent self.

“There was a golden age. People talked about the long tail when they said that most of the value on the web is from all of the small people. Isn’t that amazing? When you multiply it there are so many small, medium-sized websites out there. The value we get out of it is just more than anybody imagined. But if you talk to a millennial now, they don’t recognise that as the web they have right now. It’s ironic as they spend all their time on the same social network. They are in fact within a silo being constrained by the capacity of a particular social network, just like AOL in a way.”

( source: https://www.verdict.co.uk/tim-berners-lee/ )

And indeed, the internet now is very different from these beginnings.

I think the problem comes not only with centralisation and monopolisation, but these concepts musn't be underestimated either - the algorithms of big search engines like Google led to a concept now known as the 'filter bubble' (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_bubble for an explanation), which is dangerous in itself - if any search you perform only strengthens your already imminent opinions through giving you only search results you'd expect - then that in itself will let you "drift" away from any diversity and so on and so forth...

Yes, censorship is a bad thing, and locking someone out is also a very painful thing to do for all sides - especially if these systems are as big and global as in this example.

That said, some people better had some kind of "code of conduct" next to their monitors and keyboards, to be reminded before they even begin...

As you wrote, Richard, "it will be interesting to observe". Let's see what we - as mankind - can come up with.

Edited by wjl on January 15 2021 12:05
posted on #5
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posted on #6
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Wolf -I remember messege boards on the early internet. You had "punters" where you could get a persons IP address , type it in the "punter" and literally kick them off their modem and the internet.
I also remember IPs being used to send secret service and FBI to someones house.
It was even more brutal back then.
posted on #7
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“Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community ... but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It's the invasion of the idiots”
― Umberto Eco
posted on #8
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(...) For my part, I had the pleasant feeling of being free to share my ideas with the world and above all to also hear the ideas of my correspondents.
It is true that I no longer felt this feeling at all with the arrival of social networks in which we no longer discuss or exchange at all.
We only publish information which is intended only to be like or not like by strangers who, on condition of anonymity, will generally allow themselves to comment with an often excessive opinion.
I really have the impression that this offered digital freedom was quickly drowned in too much data.

Excellent way of describing the change from dialog & discussion to publishing like-able statements... I do agree.
I'll be honest and say it does let me look at the memes posted above in a different way: Look, that's not a dialogue, that's publishing likeable content folks. I did remove the one full of political symbols, we have rules on that.

Back on topic:
Happy to read some of you witnessed & cherished the age of such international encounters via ICQ or other means, I remember these and I enjoyed engaging with the folks one could meet out there back then. We must admit tho that it was a quite special group of people whom one could find and have a discussion with in the early days - the access borders to the internet were way higher, so whoever was online was a computer nerd of some sort. The demographic change online has been dramatic during the past twenty years, nowadays folks with literally zero computer knowledge make up the larger part of the webs population. Again, I'm not saying there is anything bad about that, it does change the way people interact tho.

@mortheol: I do like that Eco quote :) What he probably didn't think of is that nowadays, whatever some nobel-prize-winner says is likely to be ignored by a large part of the public, who may have been exposed to the news if they hadn't been distracted...

@wjl - thanks for bringing in these quotes. Tim Bernes-Lees statement about the different experience of the Millenials is probably true. If I feel the internet has just changed, then that happens because I have witnessed the potential of the early days, and observed the internet as an evolving medium. I guess quite a lot of younger folks would describe the internet as "that thing I need to connect to by wiFi, so my messenger, shopping and social media apps work."

I recently stumbled on a forum post in a webmasters forum where someone suggested google should add a designated tab for "websites" (like the existing "Images" or "Shopping" tab),
since what used to be a directory for websites has been turned into ... something else.

@LittleWing - reads as if you and Wolfgang have seen even earlier stages then me, and that does sound rough indeed. I can imagine my expectations towards the internet would be different if I had started that early. The technological leap we all have witnessed is crazy.

I am ending up wondering if maybe there is less chance of going back to the maybe better times of the open internet. Who knows if the younger generation would agree that there is a need to do anything - as long as the preferred apps work, why bother.

what I'm asking myself is this:
Aren't we to blame for the situation in some way? I mean, we could still contact someone in Faraway and discuss the differences in view or public news coverage (like Arnos ICQ group back then), its not like there was no way to do that today.
What keeps us from doing stuff like that is ... what I'm wondering about.
I believe we have learned that complicated things are not likeable online.
I feel that way when writing long-text forum posts, knowing that few people enjoy reading longer text these days...
If social media turns out a giant mistake, then that's because people (including us) didn't "like" anything that demands more than shallow interest.

I'll try to explain my line of thought, to get back to the initial threads idea:
Let's assume, we have freedom of speech, and you and me both publish our contrary opinions in books to be sold in the local bookstore.
I present a book full of memes, and you print a 250 page theory, where you get to ellaborating your main thesis on page 178, after all your scientific research has been properly documented.

If the clerk in the bookstore judges our books by opening a random page in each book and deciding in 8,5 seconds whether this seems to be a likeable and recommendable book, then the meme-book will win no matter how bad the content is.
Sadly, that is pretty much how social media algorithms work, and why some provocative post from the restroom gets more airplay then the nobel prize winners complicated thoughts.

If one focused on trying to reduce the described effect created thru the medium (memes vs. long-text), one might not need to limit freedom of speech in any way.
Does that make sense?
If I think of current social media sites, then they seem like bookstores full of meme-books to me, with a clerk who looks at me in a strange way if I'd like to read something else.
That spoiled my experience, who knows, maybe the recent events will let some people feel in a similar way.
Seriously, if there was a simple filter that said:
If a social media post has no text or less then X characters, then show it to Y people max,
if its longer content, it may be shown to more people if people share it, then a big part of the problem might be solved. That would be the end of twitter, but still, I find it interesting to think of ways to solve the problems without needing to touch freedom of speech.
Thanks for the friendly thought-exchange :)
posted on #9
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LittleWing wrote:
.....no im not ....cant be bothered. :D
Edited by kimbo on January 17 2021 00:42
he who works with his hands, is a labourer
he who works with his hands and his head, is a craftsman
he who works with his hands, his head, and his heart, is an artist.....(I just dont work)
posted on #10
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T'interweb is a strange beast.
As a teenager i went on marches for freedom of speech, and the right for people to view what they wanted to, when they wanted to.
.....in britain we had pearles n twinset bespectacled old woman called mary whitehouse who championed censorship and shouted against lewd and violent acts shown on tv and at the cinema....we hated her.
Now, as an older man with kids who have access to an almost completely un censored internet, i find myself wishing for someone to put the genie back in the bottle to some extent....i dont want lewd, selfish, violent, unthinking, micky mouse culture thrust upon me n mine. And i think as dick says, a tipping point has just been reached where we all need to decide, what good bits to keep and what to cut away, who will be alowed to weild power over us.
Edited by kimbo on January 17 2021 00:42
he who works with his hands, is a labourer
he who works with his hands and his head, is a craftsman
he who works with his hands, his head, and his heart, is an artist.....(I just dont work)
posted on #11
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I'm heartened to hear that someone outside the US finds events as disturbing as I do living here. It really is quite frightening that a person can essentially get cut off from the internet for expressing their opinions online. It's been apparent to me that we were moving in this direction in the US for some time, but recent events bring it into sharp focus. Amazon cutting off hosting was more than I expected, and I've even heard of people being denied the ability to do lower level things like register domains. Some politically unpopular people in the US can't even use Uber in some cases. It is likely that the next thing in line is moving into the real world, like being unable to open a bank account or get any credit.

This is scary stuff, especially when the opinions being expressed are pretty benign. Without getting political, or into any specifics, we're talking about opinions held by significant fractions of the population, not fringe hate groups. Some of the topics are exactly the kinds of scientific ones where robust debate is warranted, but the people in power just want to shut down discussion.

The best outcome, as mentioned, is a more distributed internet. We want individual sites to have the right to shut out bad actors or even people that disagree with the "theme" of the site, but this only works when there is enough diversity in forums and platforms for all or most well meaning people to be able to engage in the conversation, someplace.
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