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An apology for the internet from the people who built it (nymag.com)
48 points by dschuetz 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments



It has nothing to do with the internet and everything to do with free speech and it's boundaries. Do I have the right to misinform? To I have the right to insult or bully? Am I liable if I say something that causes distress? An I liable if my speech encourages or inspires a third party to break a law?

These questions have been around since the birth of free speech and have been answered by many societies in very different ways. It's just accelerated and amplified on the Internet.


"It has nothing to do with the internet... It's just accelerated and amplified on the Internet."

Sounds like it's got something to do with the internet to me.

Sometimes sufficient "acceleration and amplification" move a phenomenon to a qualitatively different place.

Don't forget that the internet is international too, whose laws, whose "society"? Even aside from legal jurisdiction, the internet lets people communicate in a way fundamentally unmoored from actual social connection -- which sure, existed in various ways before too, but accelerated and amplified, indeed. And then there's the surveillance/"marketting" stuff too, which is not just about free speech, it's about new ways of monitoring and influencing people.


Well, the Internet does bring one fairly unique concept to the equation -- anonymity. The other questions are moot unless we can actually tie the speech to the real person.

Fundamentally that seems to me like the biggest single question about the 'net that we will have to answer in the future.


It's not like people couldn't communicate anonymously or pseudonymously before the internet. Anonymous communication has existed at least as long as the written word.


An I liable if my speech encourages or inspires a third party to break a law?

If that was your intent, then absolutely, legally at least you’re civilly and criminally on the hook. See: inciting riot. Even it wasn’t your intent, if a court finds that a reasonable person should have predicted the outcome, yes. Freedom of speech isn’t freedom from consequences or responsibility.

I realize that this may be unpalatable for some who’s idea or free speech differs from the legal reality, so please understand that I’m just laying out the legal landscape. You are of course, free to believe in whatever you wish should be, I’m just addressing what is.

@Jack9

The solution to abuses of the law isn’t to throw out the law, but throw out the abuse. I despise idealistic arguments that ignore the reality of daily enforcement. Most people brought up on charges of assault and battery are not being framed or railroaded, they committed assault and battery. The times when those laws are abused need to be aggressively addressed, but not by attacking the law in general unless it’s badly written.

For example, traffic and public order laws can be used to good effect, or to harass a group of people. The problem isn’t that it’s wrong to have those laws, but the underlying issues thst lead to people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum being disproportionately targeted, and then poorly represented. It’s good that everyone can’t just parade through downtown every rush hour, but bad when those same regulations are used as flimsy excuses to deny people their right to assembly.

The real problems are more subtle and difficult to address than most people understand or care to admit. There is no Platonic ideal of law or ideology that can withstand human intentions and abuses. We need to focus less on perfecting an imperfect system, and more on the underlying abuses. Otherwise you get things that look good on paper, but are trivially subverted. In theory the US president can’t declare war, but 17 years ago the US congress put the US effectively in a state of perpetual war so they’re out of the intended loop. Even before that how long was Vietnam a “police action?” exactly?

The systems have to be enacted by poeple, which is why putting decent people with good intentions in charge is so very fucking important!


As far as I know, Brandenburg requires actual intent, not just a reasonable person test of likelihood.


> See: inciting riot.

The concept of "Inciting a Riot" is one of the more obvious overreaches to control distasteful groups that leads us down the path of thought control (vis a vis postmodernism or original economic stratification). If someone is so ignorant or intent that they take an unlawful action due to spoken or written word, they had problems before. The edge cases are something more akin to accomplice. Those "rioter" problems were historically in education/comprehension (ironically something the internet has helped with in many cases) or mental defect or justified outrage. Because capitalistic and social opponents could not affect the changes they wanted or changes fast enough, the idea of a riot was born as a club. Even in america, the right to assemble is curtailed by the judicious application of this opposing legal construct.


> If someone is so ignorant or intent that they take an unlawful action due to spoken or written word,

Speech and words can be loaded with ideological stances. Those can amount to political violence over time, and normalize such against others.

Speech and words aren't passive, but rather loaded ideologically and politically.

This doesn't begin to decant the fallacy of "unlawful."


Can you provide the definition of "decant" you're using? I'm having trouble finding one that fits the context.


Empty out, drain, etc.

The hidden ideological ground that all laws are ethical and just at any given point in history is absurd.


The whole point of the previous post is literally that one law (prohibition of "inciting a riot") is unethical, so the claim that they're saying that "all laws are ethical and just" is simply absurd.


> If someone is so ignorant or intent that they take an unlawful action due to spoken or written word, they had problems before.

See 'unlawful', which is difficult to unpack to "some laws" or worse "not all laws", agree?

Along these lines, my point was that racism, bigotry, homo/transphobia is a cultural byproduct of an accumulation of speech and text that may be politically violent.


Its strange to have such a protection for the worst atrocities, (though people tend to agree with you);

Imagine if the government did something so horrible, that just talking about it would reasonably cause a riot... it would be illegal to talk about it. I wonder if this limit could be extended to media (blurred as that definition is now), so it would be illegal to report anything the government or large corporations have done that might reasonably cause people to riot?


Talking about something upsetting is not inciting a riot, because reasonable people don’t just burn shit down when they’re unhappy. Standing on a podium and saying, “The police shot my son in cold blood, and we need to work to change society,” is different from, “The police shot my son, burn it all down!”

Marching against the Vietnam war isn’t the same as teaching people to make AP explosives to drop in recruitment centers. Remember that the law isn’t code, it’s not executed as written, but interpreted. Going back to the GP, “do I have a right to misinform?” Yes you do, mostly. If you try to convince people to take up arms and start burning shit down with misinformation though, the game changes. “I believe the government is poisoning our children with fluoride,” is protected. “The government is poisoning our children with fluoride, so let’s go to the water treatment plant and kill everyone there!” is not protected.


You mean, like leaking classified information?


The article introduces an interesting guy:

> Antonio García Martínez, ad-tech entrepreneur. Helped create Facebook’s ad machine.

He puts in some good points in the first couple of sections about how the internet was built on hippie good intentions, and how Wall St came in and made it about money, but the really interesting thing is how in the next section, about online ads and how they turned into a mass surveillance regime, he's totally silent.

Makes me think this is a bit of a puff piece for these people, who were all totally complacent at the time, speaking up now about how they went wrong, except they have nothing to say about what they personally did.

This doesn't look much like an apology.

Edit: wow, here's another beauty from Garcia:

> The algorithm, by default, placates you by shielding you from the things you don’t want to hear about. That, to me, is the scary part. The real problem isn’t Facebook — it’s humans.


The internet was actually built on cold war ideas about how to survive and communicate after a nuclear attack. Maybe you could make the case that consumer computing was based on hippie ideals (Whole Earth Catalog...), but the internet didn't get big until well after those thoughts had turned very commercial.


I think there's a key dostinction to be made here between the internet and the WWW.


There are tons of distinctions to be made. The internet is comprised of a multitude of protocols, applications and use cases. Blogs/newspapers like this are different than social media, old school forums, apps, co-op games, p2p file sharing, chat...

This is an overly broad and reactionary article that's trying to equate recent outrage around FB with the internet as a whole.


"The Internet" is a buzzword, a marketing term, and so it means whatever it's user wants it to mean, however:

Those of us who live and work on the internet, and who understand how a distributed decentralized network functions, are going to hear "Internet" and think "A decentralized computer network utilizing intelligent failover routing, TCP/IP, Ethernet and Fiber".

Applications, protocols, these things ARE NOT the Internet. Applications and protocols can function and exist with or without the internet. So you see they are separate things.

TCP/IP is not "The Internet". Ethernet is not "The Internet". The Internet is only the physical network that spans planet earth. It is the cables, the equipment, the public address space, and perhaps even the people who keep it all operational. _Nothing else is "The Internet"._

Here's the problem: I know this. Other network engineers know this. 99% of the population of the planet earth doesn't know this. We need to stop tolerating crap like clickbait journalism that declares "Facebook == The Internet". Those kinds of statements need to be shot down and destroyed immediately, all of the time, so that people will learn fact from fiction.


This guy isn't defending Facebook, I think, by making "bad people doing bad things" the culprits of breaking the Internet and making it toxic. I think it's his way saying that Facebook amplified it a lot.

I agree, he is not apologizing at all. He's looking for other sources of the problem, and it doesn't seem that he sees Facebook's ad machine as one.


This is quite an impressive display of hubris for most of these people to claim to have "built the internet". And of the fraction of them who have built anything at all, most built things that were intentionally designed to do the things they're apologizing for now that the public has become annoyed by them, so this "apology" rings hollow. This isn't a "sorry we did this" apology. It's a "sorry you're mad about it" apology.


McNamee: They’re basically trying to trigger fear and anger to get the outrage cycle going, because outrage is what makes you be more deeply engaged. You spend more time on the site and you share more stuff. Therefore, you’re going to be exposed to more ads, and that makes you more valuable.

Ironically, this seems to be exactly what this article is trying to do - evoke outrage.


It depends on how you read it. Contemplative readers might get upset too for a bit, but then focus on the actual problem - how to fix it?


The authors are no dummies, they've got a business model to support!


Facebook is not the internet, and Mr. Zuckerberg had literally _nothing to do with building any single piece of the entire internet_.

The story is about Facebook and Zuckerberg and the headline is misleading. More importantly, why are garbage stories from "journalists" who don't know the material they're writing about ending up on HN?


>More importantly, why are garbage stories from "journalists" who don't know the material they're writing about ending up on HN?

I think the idea is that people here can deconstruct the post and point out its flaws (as you started to in your first paragraph). Then other folks on the web can link to them.


As someone who doesnt use facebook at all, or ever... I'm getting tired of this. The internet is not facebook. Facebook doesn't control you, and the internet doesnt owe you an apology.

The internet is a fantastic invention, that has opened up opportunities all over the world; has lessened communications costs drastically, and enabled capabilities we have never had before.

If you are so outraged with facebook, stop going to it.


...and the article is not about Facebook.


yes it is. It's 100% about facebook. Ads on the internet have been around for 25 years. Google alone has been selling ads for 18 years. What do you imagine caused them to write this story 2 days after Zuckerbergs apology testimony to congress?


The recent motivation might be Facebook, it it's absolutely true that the internet as a whole is suffering. How bad has it been in the past, how much is a skewed lens is up for debate.


Ads have never been used quite the way they have in 2016 on Facebook. The network effects happen to be extremely strong for Facebook in particular but it could have been any incumbent that was the platform of greatest damage. Just because you don't use it doesn't mean we don't have a real problem here.


And it's not even all about ads. Troll armies were not a thing until a few years ago.


"This particular business model, surveillance and targeted advertising, is not compatible with a healthy democracy"

-- Zeynep Tufekci

That's Facebook, Google, Twitter, Reddit, AdTech, all of Silicon Valley, VC, and most of infotech.

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/12/601951556/can-social-media-ha...

"...The surveillance economy should die. This manner of advertising doesn’t serve the public and it’s not even clear it serves advertisers. It facilitates monopoly, as those with the biggest data troves receive all the ad dollars. That centralizes the potential for and magnitude of abuse, with Big Data used to discriminate against groups, steer vulnerable people to financial scams, and meddle in U.S. elections. Cambridge Analytica’s scraping of 87 million user profiles through a simple personality quiz, and then weaponizing that information on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, revealed how information on social media is inherently insecure. Now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is appearing before Congress on Tuesday to explain how this won’t happen again...."

-- David Dayen

https://newrepublic.com/article/147887/ban-targeted-advertis...

And myself elsewhere:

"Is there too much focus on Facebook?"

Just heard on NPR.

Facebook is, in this debate, both an exemplar and a synecdoche: it stands in for, variously, all of social media, infotech, online advertising, Silicon Valley, and surveillance capitalism.

That last a term whose origins are in Shoshana Zuboff's 1970s research into the sociological impacts of early workplace automation and the inevitability of the use of those same technologies for surveillance and control:

Everything that can be automated will be automated.

Everything that can be informated will be informated.

Every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshana_Zuboff#Zuboff's_Laws

http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/the-surveillance-parad...

https://www.worldcat.org/title/in-the-age-of-the-smart-machi...


I've been arguing with a friend of mine at Facebook about this. He's unrepentant, thinks it's just advertising and it is fine. I disagree, it's an advertising machine that is constantly looking over your shoulder and it reinforces whatever bubble you happen to be in.

Here's a snippet of an email I sent him in this morning:

    Can you see how your attitude, if shared by the leaders
    at Facebook, is exactly why Facebook should get regulated?
    It's a my way or the highway, take no prisoners approach,
    and yeah, that will bring regulation.

    If your attitude was more like "yeah, I get it, it's a
    little creepy, we're trying to figure out a way to have a
    business model that works and isn't creepy" then perhaps
    you'd get to regulate yourself.

    The problem is that the lawmakers are clueless, you may
    well get some stupid draconian regulation that you really
    don't want.  If that happens, you are going to look back at
    these emails and go "welp, we blew it, this is our fault".


> No one from Silicon Valley was held accountable …

This is the crux of the problem. Until there's any sort of real accountability, the problems described in the article will persist. We can't expect anyone to act ethically or care about anything other than profits out of their own volition. It unfortunately has to be through regulations and punishment.


It feels like lately no one that has some money and power is held accountable for anything in the US.


Yep. I can't rationally explain why I feel this way, but I feel like that might be changing a little. The #MeToo things seems like a fore-shock of sorts. Some very large names, and possibly institutions, appear to be about to tumble under their corruption.


> If that happens, you are going to look back at these emails and go "welp, we blew it, this is our fault".

That seems unlikely, if history is any guide.


"Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather." — John Perry Barlow

If this is the founding computer visionary do we really have to wonder what went wrong?


Every invention has a dark side.

* The wheel: war machines.

* Writing: propaganda.

* Jewelry: diamond cartels.

* Internal combustion engine: pollution.

* Nuclear energy: nuclear weaponry.

* Wind turbines: dead birds.

* Cell phones: the death of social skills.

Pick any technology and you could probably find a way that it has caused severe problems. It almost seems like a fundamental law of the universe.

The most incredible thing about the internet is that it works across vendors and across countries. The concept of the entire human race coming together and agreeing on a way to do things is excessively rare and the internet is an example of that - the only example that I can think of right now. Despite all the war, despite all the hatred, we can agree on internet protocols.

The internet is an incredible accomplishment and the creators should be proud. Those who have soured it are responsible for the state it is in today, nobody else.


It's unfortunate this is downvoted because you're exactly right. Those analogies are spot on.

This article blames the internet (a bigger, broader, very useful thing) for the negative actions of specific companies (mostly facebook).. this is exactly the same as blaming the wheel for war machines; or writing for propaganda.

Put the blame where it belongs. The internet owes no one an apology. Facebook on the other hand...


> To keep the internet free — while becoming richer, faster, than anyone in history — the technological elite needed something to attract billions of users to the ads they were selling. And that something, it turns out, was outrage.

The technological elite are responsible for outrage culture? That's rich. It's old media that is packed, cover to cover with sensationalistic outrage pieces (such as this one from nymag). Now, those articles may get shared rapidly on social media but it's the traditional media that is their source.

The underlying tone of a lot of the outrage pieces is simple: our business model and ability to gatekeep opinions is threatened by technology, and we will spin every article to subtly attack that.


These windbags did not build the internet.


Note: misleading title. This is not about the internet, or the World Wide Web, it's about Facebook and other social media networks. The very first sentences seems to conflate internet and Facebook:

"Something has gone wrong with the internet. Even Mark Zuckerberg knows it. Testifying before Congress, the Facebook CEO ticked off a list of everything his platform has screwed up"


It's an interview, actually. The important part is below, where "the people who built it" talk about what went wrong. It's about the Internet since the beginning.

Instead of taking the actual title, I decided to use the title in the URL which is more accurate.


The people who built it did not build the internet, they built the social platforms and ad systems that run on top of the internet. The internet existed long before these people built what they built.


Yes, we all know that. But how many users did the early Internet have, and how many now? And who helped it grow? People like those who contemplate in the interview.


Facebook wasn't that early to the internet. When it opened for public access in 2006, there were 1 billion internet users.


I guess from a mainstream perspective, Facebook _is_ the internet for many people.


The author of this article needs to stay after class and write "Mark Zuckerberg did not create the internet" 100 times on the blackboard.


That point of view is what a lot of "typical" users of the internet think. The internet is Facebook and Google and maybe Twitter. They don't separate the network from those platforms. Some don't even have a clear idea that links they follow from Facebook or Twitter lead to websites that are distinct from those platforms.


...and they want the users to keep thinking that. The online ad industry is awfully quiet, you do not hear or read anywhere how lucrative it is.

The users shall keep thinking that the Internet is for Facebook. The boards of the online companies shall keep focusing on growth at all cost. That's what the article actually says. And the interview below confirms it.


That's absolutely stupid - the internet's been the best thing to happen to the earth in millennia, if not ever. Apologizing for it would be like apologizing for modern medicine.

> Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit. Filed major gender-discrimination lawsuit against VC firm Kleiner Perkins.

> Can Duruk, programmer and tech writer. Served as project lead at Uber.

Ah. These people. Not sure what they've built, really. Certainly not the internet. Pao certainly didn't build reddit, and I'm fairly sure Duruk didn't build the first prototype of Uber.

> Richard Stallman, MIT programmer. Created legendary software GNU and Emacs.

First of all, it's not "GNU Plus Internet;" secondly, Stallman barely even uses the internet and even stopped programming way before it was relevant. GNU isn't software. I'm also 80% sure those quotes of him are fake.


Pao also lost her discrimination suit. That fact is conveniently left out of her history. I can claim anything I want but if a jury finds my claims to be false, I don't know how that makes me some sort of expert (let alone someone who "created" the internet).


The rise of White Supremacy makes total sense here when you consider that racism is an effective system of oppression because it subjugates whites as well as non-whites by sowing fear of downward mobility among the lighter population while vilifying the disenfranchised.

If one is white and has problems, the goal is to hate these darker people that can't really fight back. Allow the real exploiters a free hand.


If your a shitty person maybe. While I feel your frustration, it's important to stay grounded in the real world, where people are still more often good.


Not shitty, just very susceptible to being scared. Scared people are rarely "good."


If you hate because your scared you're shitty.




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