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Ask HN: Do we need to redesign the internet?
32 points by lbj 3 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments
The last wave of bans across multiple platforms have got me thinking that we're on a bad version of the Internet.

In general, I dont like shutting up the opposition and with traffic consolidated so heavily on a few platforms/companies, bans effectively shut people up.

On the other hand, I cant deny that even the most outrageous claims find willing ears on the internet. Diseases that were all but exterminated are now flourishing in Europe thanks to anti-vax propaganda.

Is there a middle-ground here, where people can speak their minds, engage with others - likeminded or not - without the damaging effects? Or are we destined to end in some form of dictatorship where 10 people determine who says what?

And what happens when we no longer agree with these 10 people? Can we even get to that point if the entire narrative is so heavily controlled?






I've had similar thoughts over the years and while there is a lot that's wrong with the internet, issues like banning, propaganda and so on, are neither symptoms nor a consequence of it. It has nothing to do with the internet and everything to do with plain and simple stupidity which has been spreading for as long as the world has existed and much faster than covid-19.

The only difference between now and say 20 years ago, is that 20 years ago the internet wasn't a part of Average Joe's life and back then it wasn't fueled by his personal content. The TV-commercial spam has penetrated into people's social life via social media. And refusing to acknowledge this fact, people left their front doors wide open for spam, propaganda in exchange for like/upvote-based "currency". Which many are willing to exploit naturally, while others look the other way in order to take a piece of the pie. There have been some efforts to slow that process down but the means are evolving. The current frontier of spam and propaganda, as I see it, are Q&A types of communities which makes spam and propaganda cheaper and more accessible than ever.

What I'm trying to say is that what you are describing is a symptom of an sickness in people, and not in the technology: Most people are refusing to change or even reconsider their views when facts are presented to them.


I've also been thinking about this lately ( eg: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23595921 ), and there's no longer much doubt in my mind that we need something different than what the net and web currently are.

My current favorite idea is that we create different protocols that coexist with what we use already. The internet, as it exists today, would live on as a "wild west" likely used primarily by young adults and a few weirdos. Most people, either out of maturity, or because they are younger children whose parents force them, would instead use the new "Safe Web." They would opt to so because the new web would be an order of magnitude safer, more accountable, and more legible. The "Safe Web" would also offer some control (not that much is possible) over reach of content.

The "old internet" would actually play a vital role, though, because CSS and Javascript, which the new web wouldn't support, allow for innovations. So, in effect, the "old web" becomes a sandbox from which the "new web" can steal features.

The internet, as it is today, offers unfettered free speech without accountability and without verifiability. The resultant dumpster fire can live on, but it doesn't work for rational adults (makes them angry or dis/misinforms them), and isn't appropriate for children and younger teens (since they're gullible).

If we ever have a new internet, that's where I'd spend 99% of my time. The subjects that internet free speech activists fight for today just don't interest me. I'd rather read up on Math or History, than watch videos of people falling into a rock crusher, or debate which "races" are inferior to others, or listen to paranoid theories about how Jews invented cancer, etc.


In a word: "no."

In some more words:

I don't see the problem. Reddit is a private organization, they decided some other people are not welcome there, that is their prerogative. Hateful racists can go start their own forum, which they did. They are free to welcome other viewpoints or not.

In specific words:

> The last wave of bans across multiple platforms have got me thinking that we're on a bad version of the Internet.

We aren't, people are free to conduct their own business as they see fit. It's still the Internet.

> In general, I dont like shutting up the opposition and with traffic consolidated so heavily on a few platforms/companies, bans effectively shut people up.

Great, you can run your own forum and amplify the voice of whoever you want. Other people are free to moderate their platforms as they please.

> On the other hand, I cant deny that even the most outrageous claims find willing ears on the internet. Diseases that were all but exterminated are now flourishing in Europe thanks to anti-vax propaganda.

Right.

> Is there a middle-ground here, where people can speak their minds, engage with others - likeminded or not - without the damaging effects? Or are we destined to end in some form of dictatorship where 10 people determine who says what?

The internet is the middle ground. I see no reason we are destined to end in some form of "dictatorship", unless we maintain this insistence that all platforms have to allow all speech.

> And what happens when we no longer agree with these 10 people? Can we even get to that point if the entire narrative is so heavily controlled?

You can just... use the Internet. Register your own domain, pay for your own hosting, or buy some servers, take out come ads. It's the Internet, you can still do anything.

Sure, if you host a bunch of white nationalist toxic garbage your registrar may revoke your domains. Your hosting provider may pull the plug on your servers, etc. That's exactly how it should and does work.


> You can just... use the Internet

It's also important to note that discovering content on the Internet today is mostly done using platforms controlled by one or more of these 10 people.


That's not how it works. Platforms like Reddit and Facebook do the opposite of what you describe. They are walled gardens that go out of their way to prevent you from escaping to the open Internet.

That's actually pretty much what they were saying.

> Reddit is a private organization

It's not okay to allow "the front page of the internet" to exist in stark opposition to the free speech values (a) that it started with and (b) of the country it is incorporated in.

This bullshit, corporate-toady argument of "oh mwaaah it's a private corporation they can do whatever they want" is worse than any "bootlicker" attitude I can think of. Go ahead and give up the freedoms my ancestors fought for so that you can feel just a little bit more comfortable in your echo chamber. Never mind that it runs on infrastructure that is often paid for with public funds, on a network designed by a government that ostensibly believes in free speech.

> Sure, if you host a bunch of white nationalist toxic garbage your registrar may revoke your domains.

So you're totally fine with giving private, unregulated companies carte blanche to control people's ability to even register their own site?

You'll reap what you sow. At some point whatever you think will also become unacceptable, and there will be nobody to stand for you.


> It's not okay to allow "the front page of the internet" to exist in stark opposition to the free speech values (a) that it started with and (b) of the country it is incorporated in.

It doesn't matter what it started with. Companies change all the time. So what? It's private property, they could shut all the servers down and replace it with something completely different.

Why should an owner be punished because he decides he doesn't want certain content on his website? That is principally un-American - the right to private property is equal, if not greater, than the right to freedom of speech.

You can't force a printing press, or Reddit, to allow certain speech - because this, paradoxically, is also a violation of ITS free speech.


> It's not okay to allow "the front page of the internet" to exist in stark opposition to the free speech values (a) that it started with and (b) of the country it is incorporated in.

It's totally ok to allow that because it's a private organization. Reddit is free to claim they are from Alpha Centauri too. They can call themselves whatever they want. It up to you and me to decide if we believe them.

> This bullshit, corporate-toady argument of "oh mwaaah it's a private corporation they can do whatever they want" is worse than any "bootlicker" attitude I can think of. Go ahead and give up the freedoms my ancestors fought for so that you can feel just a little bit more comfortable in your echo chamber. Never mind that it runs on infrastructure that is often paid for with public funds, on a network designed by a government that ostensibly believes in free speech.

And what about the contributions of my ancestors? Or is that not relevant?

Reddit is free to amplify whatever speech they want, or not, that's exactly what those freedoms you claim ownership of are promising.

> So you're totally fine with giving private, unregulated companies carte blanche to control people's ability to even register their own site?

Well, domain registrars are regulated. Also, I did not say I am ok with the amount of control registrars have.

Please do note that these banned subreddits immediately were able to register domains. So while I agree this is a weak point in the current model I don't think it is an existential threat in 2020, especially because the Internet works even without domains.

> You'll reap what you sow. At some point whatever you think will also become unacceptable, and there will be nobody to stand for you.

I'm comfortable with my beliefs and my ability to introspect and change. And I am comfortable with the inherent conflict.


> It's totally ok to allow that because it's a private organization

First of all, you're ignoring Section 230, which was supposed to defend free speech on these sites: if they're taking the position of not being responsible for what is said, they don't get to curate it. That's the dividing line between publisher and platform. Reddit et al are trying to have it both ways, and it hurts anyone who doesn't play by their Kafkaesque rulebook.

Second of all, you're pretending Reddit is smaller than it is, or that its role is more replaceable than it is, both of which are untrue. These social media giants have become the public square, doubly so since we are locked down, and the corporations that run them have the potential for an incredibly out-sized amount of power in controlling what people see and read, which turns into controlling what we say and think.

There's no reason we need to afford them editorial control at this scale. I'd sooner see them shut down than allowed to continue further down the path of editorializing discourse.

> And what about the contributions of my ancestors? Or is that not relevant?

Did your ancestors fight against freedom of speech? Or for it? If they fought against it, then we have a different conflict here. If they fought for it, then I hope they spit on the attitude of people like you from the afterlife.

> Reddit is free to amplify whatever speech they want, or not, that's exactly what those freedoms you claim ownership of are promising.

No, if they choose to be curators of the content, they become liable for everything that is posted, which is hardly something they can afford to handle at scale while still allowing people to post without everything going through manual approval.

> Please do note that these banned subreddits immediately were able to register domains.

We have seen registrars kick sites off. More importantly, we've seen payment processors totally lock out entire sites and alternative platforms. Even if you can set up a site, you can be locked out of any practical, scalable ability to actually keep it running via donations or paid content.

> I'm comfortable with my beliefs and my ability to introspect and change. And I am comfortable with the inherent conflict.

Good for you. It's easy to be comfortable when your beliefs are basically copy-pasted from the Google HR department's handbook.


You seem to be misinformed about Section 230. This article does a better job explaining than I can.

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20200531/23325444617/hello...

From that link, the important part of the law:

47 U.S. Code § 230 (c)(1): No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230

Here are some additional resources: https://www.popehat.com/2019/08/29/make-no-law-deplatformed/


> You can just... use the Internet. Register your own domain, pay for your own hosting, or buy some servers, take out come ads. It's the Internet, you can still do anything.

Until CloudFlare -- or MasterCard -- bans you because they don't like what you say.

No matter -- just start your own upstream services provider or credit card processing company.


Can't wait to go down this road.

Hey you don't like it. Just become a doctor and fix yourself. Healthcare isn't a right.

Hey you don't like it. Just get you own water, filter it, and clean it. Clean water isn't a right.

Is this really the answer?


Sure, or invent a new way to pay for things. Or stop saying things that get you banned.

Nobody has a right to a CDN or a credit card or a domain name.


> You can just... use the Internet. Register your own domain, pay for your own hosting, or buy some servers, take out come ads. It's the Internet, you can still do anything.

Agreed. The infrastructure is there, and running a web server is pretty straightforward.

> Sure, if you host a bunch of white nationalist toxic garbage your registrar may revoke your domains.

I am not a die-hard "free speech" guy (especially when it comes to something as repugnant as white nationalism), but I do find the idea of having my domains suspended/revoked by my registrar a bit troubling. Let's say that someone wishes to publish material that no registrar wants to be associated with. Is the only option in that case to simply have no domain name? Just an IP or onion address? There's no Let's Encrypt for domains, right?


I suppose you can start your own registrar but I'm not really gonna make that argument because clearly that's a major barrier. It's arguably the weakest point in the current internet model.

On the other hand yeah, you can still use the Internet without domains. And I guess it's an opportunity for someone to invent a new technology which will make the internet even stronger.

So while I don't think the internet is perfect I definitely don't think we need to tear it down or even make any huge changes. It's already really flexible and the few weak points (like domain registrars) are fixable and would benefit everyone.


>you can just... Use the internet

I don't get why you made this argument and then immediately rebutted it in the next paragraph. If people with enough power dislike a group of people enough, in this case white nationalists, they can be marginalized to the point they're making TOR websites.

The idea that censoring free speech isn't a problem because people can just start their own website is about as naive as free speech absolutism is. It trivializes censorship. If a major platform banned all lgbt discussion on the pretense it was no big deal because peoole could start their own website nobody would have any of it despite the fact that the only thing that had changed is the target.

Realistically censorship haalways been part of the internet and human society more broadly, it's an inevitability. The broad issues I'm concerned with is concentration of power over speech and increasing echo chambers in online communities. Reddit has shifted more and more towards central control including implicit threats for moderators/communities who step out of line.


I understand your echo chamber argument but I don’t find it compelling. I think preserving freedom of expression specifically and liberty in general is more important than forcing ideas on people against their will and the foundation of our society.

The question was “do we need a new internet” the answer to which is “no.” In my opinion. I don’t care if a bunch of hateful racists are marginalized by private organizations.

The problem here is not the network, the problem is people who want to force their ideas on everyone. Luckily our technical and social systems are both resistant to such threats.


> Reddit is a private organization, they decided some other people are not welcome there

So, if they decided to openly ban Trump supporters, or perhaps Muslims, or black people, that would be OK also? Where do you draw the line?

In my opinion, all of these are just as discriminating as what they did so far.


Yes, that would be ok because it’s a private platform. They can ban who ever they want. If you find that problematic then don’t go there. I don’t.

Where do we draw the line? We don’t. They do, because it’s a private platform.


I think Elon Musk's Starlink is a very promising example of keeping the internet open for everybody. Governments will have a hard time shutting down the internet when there are satellites providing unlimited access.

The Internet is fine. It's the Web that has become problematic. Choose open protocols to build your communication systems on (email, usenet, others), then let people establish their own servers and set up peering. Users can elect to use one or multiple servers and any client that can understand the protocol.

We need more decentralization, moving the Web outside of big corps that censor "wrong think." We need more critical free thinkers. We need to be more vocal. We need more conversation and willingness for understanding differing view points. I almost feel like, at least for a ‘main’ social network/chat and political conversations, we need something like the Nets from Enders Game, tying online accounts to real persons, possibly reducing potential for misinformation, propaganda, and opposition-silencing spread by bots and non-persons. All I know is that FB, Twitter, Reddit, etc. are "hive minds" and it is incredibly disheartening when you are one those who "wrong think." And it doesn't seem organic.

> We need more decentralization, moving the Web outside of big corps that censor "wrong think."

We used to have Usenet, which was fairly decentralized in the sense that each server/provider could decide to ban some groups and admins and moderated groups could ban users.

It didn't work so well, the same problems as today existed 25 years ago because similarly-inclined people banned opposing views or legal, but questionable content.

Perhaps we just need smaller online communities? Not because there would be a different composition of views, but the lynch mobs and drama that affect every single user would be smaller and more manageable.

> FB, Twitter, Reddit, etc. are "hive minds"

They're just in the wrong hands, the power to censor and deplatform people is in the hand of too few individuals and organizations, some openly radical left.


> We used to have Usenet, which was fairly decentralized in the sense that each server/provider could decide to ban some groups and admins and moderated groups could ban users.

We still have Usenet. I still find it work better than many of the newer alternatives, although I have only started using Usenet in 2019.


> "And what happens when we no longer agree with these 10 people? Can we even get to that point if the entire narrative is so heavily controlled?"

What people seem to forget is that popular internet platforms are always controlled. When you join a site like; Reddit, HN etc.. you agree to play by their rules. The rules are not always fair but that's because it's their platform, not yours.

The reality is, you can say anything you want on your own platform, but you do not have that right on someone-else's platform... nor should you

Basically, the internet is open and free, but platforms are walled and guarded... and that's fine


What about the internet ... implies there should be no bans or ... how would you do that?

I'm not sure you can manipulate human behavior to be what you want with a technology akin to "the internet".

Think of Bitcoin, there's some interesting issues that Satoshi Nakamoto talks about. Has it done any of that? I'd say not much, and rather than solve very many internet commerce issues ... it's spawned a whole world of scams and other undesirable effects.


bans are good - it means de-consolidation. Wait until something interesting happens in gab.ai and you 'll see hordes of left-leaning people flock to it, because people love to argue on the internet, and safe bubbles dont have a lot of arguing.

The internet was designed to be robust afaik, we dont need a new design but rather let it work as it was intented


You need to be more specific about what you mean by the internet. The "internet" is just a protocol and a bunch of cables connecting a bunch of servers together (obvious over simplification to illustrate a point). If you mean specific sites that dominate usage of internet then that's a different story. If you mean control of the network, that's not really a design problem. The internet was ultimately a communications network invented by the government. Governments have and always will try to moderate communication networks.

the problem with the internet isn’t the internet, it’s humans



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