The internet is full of hatred. That’s something many people claim these days, politicians (especially those not in charge at the moment), actors, artists, writers, TV show hosts. They most likely speak of that little corner in the internet where the big party is going on – the social media corner. Sometimes it feels like the slums within a huge city. They all go there, there is the music, the fun, the jokes, the naked people. Anybody can leave their shit there, but nobody cares, and then they leave.
Next to the social media slums there is another district, the media district. It is built of huge skyscrapers, their facade done in glass. They shine and sparkle as they are the true defenders of freedom, liberal ideas, democracy. But underneath, there is the underworld, the darkest dungeon – propaganda media. Those who spread fake news and lies and things only half true. There is even some kind of pipe between those dungeons and the social media corner – a huge pipe blasting all the shit into the public. That’s business. That’s where the money comes from.
Okay, enough of these imaginations. Yes, we do have a problem with hatred in the internet. Therefore, more and more countries start to regulate the way social media platforms have to deal with that kind of shit. Germany, for example, introduced a new law – the “Netzwerkdurchsuchungsgesetz”, a name truly German. In the famous interwebs, we use the term “#NetzDG”. I haven’t put too much time into reading the thing, but in general social media platforms like twitter, facebook or youtube are now responsible for deleting user created content which is illegal by German laws. In other words: you can report something as not conform with the NetzDG and they have to check and, if necessary, to delete the stuff.
There is a huge wave of critic against this law, and even the government promised to have a second look at it. Which seems reasonable, sometimes you have to adjust things which don’t fit. Don’t give up just because it doesn’t work the first time. The loudest criticism: the NetzDG would be some kind of infrastructure or legal base for censorship.
Well, I am not a lawyer, I have never studied laws, so my opinion is just the one of a user using this famous interwebs. And yes: we do have a problem here.
One thing I never got so far: responsibilities. There are huge (and mostly American) companies providing a technical platform for people to exchange messages. At least, it has begun like that. Today, those platforms are known and advertised as social media, as a public space in web where everybody can meet and exchanges not just thoughts, but also data. These companies, they WANT everybody to become part of it. It is their business. They grab your data, they make money out of it.
It is plain simple for them. They need all the people, the more people they have, the more data they have. And the more advertisement they can sell. Removing people from their platforms doesn’t make money. So they do the necessary, but not the useful. That’s something we need to change. Yes, underneath such platforms there are algorithms and infrastructures trying to monetarize people. But we need to create a new climate such that especially technicians, IT and business people learn: if you create a new product, you have a responsibility. The larger it gets, the more people you attract, the more features you implement, the more careful you have to be.
When Mark Zuckerberg claimed that his platform did have no influence whatsoever on the results of the US elections, it was his way of defending his machine for money making. I don’t believe he is that stupid or has no good advisors. Of course, such a platform has influence. Or let’s take the Brexit case. If people share and retweet news which claim false information, like the NHS sums, people will read it. Those clever business people, they defend themselves and direct the responsibilities to the users: they could read the news and understand that they are wrong. We just offer the platform!
The truth is: people don’t work like that. And that’s the second part of responsibility: the users. Let’s face it. We often like and share stuff we have never read. There is this headline saying “This is how our government tries to remove our freedom!” and people will share it. Without even knowing the content. Maybe the content is wrong. Or the content is the complete opposite. But they won’t notice it – people read the headline and know “Ah, the government is removing our freedom, may they all hang!”. That’s how it works.
Another example: funny memes and pics. Oh, there is something funny, therefore we share it. Do you always use your time to look up the person who made the joke? It might be a racist. Or a guy offending women. It might be someone who spreads lies. But due to his funny tweet, he will gain new followers, thus reach for his other, darker news. By retweeting the fun stuff, you have some responsibility. But we never think about it.
And we cannot. How shall I read all the stuff there is on social news? Sometimes I already roughly know what this is all about, but I have no time to read it. Or no interest. And most of the times I am not really interested in the faces behind a funny joke. The tweet is funny, not the person. The joke may be stolen anyway. Who cares?
This is an inconvenient truth. We all work like that. And companies providing the platform, they know it. They use this. As such, they cannot avoid the responsibility of checking their content.
There is something else we need to make clear, though: illegal actions remain illegal, no matter whether done in reality or in the “safe zone” called famous interwebs. If you threaten a person, you have to face the consequences. If you lie about somebody and destroy their reputation, you have to face the consequences. We have courts and judges for that, and they will do their work. Which is why I am no super fan of anonymity in the famous interwebs. Which would be another discussion, and yes, I am well aware of the useful cases for those who are being repressed by cruel states. Let’s keep it like that.
But finding illegal actions is not enough. If you are provider of a public space, you have to make sure that the general climate is sufficient for the discussions and communications. Hatred, threats, wrong claims, they are never the basis of a discussion, they end it.
Twitter. Facebook. Youtube. You have a responsibility. It is a shame you have to be forced to it by law, but that’s something which has to be done. The NetzDG may not be perfect. But maybe there is a chance for something better.