Like Guns, Social Media Is a Weapon That Should Be Regulated | WIRED

Like Guns, Social Media Is a Weapon That Should Be Regulated | WIRED

The decision by the Sri Lankan government this week to shut down the big social networks—including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Snapchat—in the aftermath of an Easter day terrorist attack on three Catholic churches and three upscale hotels feels like a turning point in our relationship with these platforms. A Gordian knot moment, if you will, where instead of agonizing over how to untangle the social media mess you just pull out a sword and cut.

The coordinated attacks, which took place in three Sri Lankan cities and killed more than 300 people, were designed to foment religious strife in a country that has been slowly recovering from a quarter-century-long civil war. On the 10-year path to peace and stability, there have been occasional flareups of religious violence, such as the anti-Muslim riots in March 2018 that left two people dead. In that case, too, the Sri Lankan government temporarily blocked the social networks to contain the violence’s spread.

One member of parliament wrote on Twitter at the time, “Hate speech on @facebook is increasing beyond acceptable levels #SriLanka. Government will have to act immediately to save lives.” He later amended his comment: “I didn’t mean that way. My bad. NO hate speech is acceptable. I meant discussions were beyond acceptable levels at this tense situation.” We get his point, however, even if it appeared insensitive: Facebook clearly doesn’t care enough about the lies and hatred on its site, and usually that is appalling but survivable. At certain times, however, this negligence is more than appalling, it is life-threatening.

Noam Cohen

Noam Cohen is a journalist and author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, which uses the history of computer science and Stanford University to understand the libertarian ideas promoted by tech leaders. While working for The New York Times, Cohen wrote some of the earliest articles about Wikipedia, bitcoin, Wikileaks, and Twitter. He lives with his family in Brooklyn.

The Easter attacks were of a different scale, and the swift decision by the government to act against the social networks placed them in a different category—that is, the authorities were essentially saying that the social networks are no longer considered tools that can be abused by bad actors to exacerbate tensions but weapons that must be removed from terrorists immediately. That same member of parliament felt no need to explain the blackout on Twitter this time. An aide to Sri Lanka’s president was quoted in The New York Times saying “this was a unilateral decision.”

Before our eyes, the world is reassessing the proper role for the dominant social networks. Ivan Sigal, the executive director of Global Voices, an organization committed to using the internet to foster understanding across borders, took to Twitter to observe in light of the Sri Lanka attacks that, “A few years ago we’d be using these platforms to help each other and coordinating assistance. Now we view them as a threat.” He continued, “A few years ago we’d view the blocking of social media sites after an attack as outrageous censorship; now we think of it as essential duty of care, to protect ourselves from threat. #facebook your house is not in order.”

In a more innocent era, social networks were considered incredible communications tools—part phone, part community room, part holiday letter—nothing but a boon for our increasingly disconnected lives. In times of crisis, as Sigal writes, they would bind us even closer together. Soon enough, we began to worry if this was the complete picture. We saw social networks as addictive and not necessarily so good for our own health and the health of children—that is, something we clearly enjoyed using but maybe should figure out a way to reduce our dependence on, either through will power or government regulation. A vice like casino gambling or tobacco.

Now, we are recognizing that there is an inherent potential for extremism lurking within global social networks that makes them a danger. There simply may be no safe way to deploy social networks during times of crisis or when bad actors include them in their anti-democratic playbooks. By automatically amplifying any and all messages that appear on their platforms and using highly personal data and algorithms to target those messages to where they will have the greatest potency, social networks are weapons. They must be viewed not as an extension of the people who use them, but as a danger to the greater society.

We need social network control—sensible rules about where, when, and what kinds of platforms should be free to operate, much the way nearly all governments in the world impose comprehensive regulations about where, when, and what kinds of guns should be allowed in communities. To fail to rein in social networks because of appeals to “freedom” would be like allowing vague words written 250 years ago to get in the way of controlling guns.

I’ve come slowly and in fits and starts to this view. Until recently, I’ve preferred to focus on the bad actors who misuse social networks—not only the hate peddlers but the Silicon Valley CEOs who profit from the networks’ misuse. These amoral leaders seemed the appropriate target of scorn.

But by focusing on those individuals’ shortcomings wasn’t I buying into the argument that there was a good way for these social networks to operate, even during a time of crisis or during divisive elections? If only they had the right leaders! In essence, I was replicating the tired defense of unrestrained gun ownership—social networks don’t kill people, people kill people. In point of fact, guns magnify the violence of their users, as do social networks.

Reading the defenses mounted on behalf of social networks in response to Sri Lanka’s decision to impose the blackout (including on WIRED) again reminded me of the gun control debate. Some defenders noted that Sri Lanka has a relatively unfree press and that social networks were an important alternate source of news and reporting. Alp Toker, executive director NetBlocks, a London-based organization that tracks Internet bans around the world, spoke to the Associated Press about the vacuum of information that is left in the wake of the Sri Lanka social network shutdown and is “readily exploited by other parties. It can add to the sense of fear and can cause panic.”

This, again, speaks to the potency of social networks—their defenders are promising that social networks can replace a corrupt system with a user-based one. I understand the attraction of such a claim, even if it is a form of the gun extremist’s contention that the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. That is, a defense based on seeing the status quo as irredeemably flawed, and favoring a type of every-person-for-themself anarchy in its place.

There were other arguments that quickly emerged online in defense of social networks. Some referred to a study that asserted that closing down social networks led to more violence. These assertions can be hard to assess. Opponents of gun laws will argue that the areas with the strictest gun laws—often large cities—have the most gun violence. So how effective is gun control then?

Finally, there was the popular defense that says don’t judge us by the worst users, but by our best users. That is, guns give people a sense of security; they are used for hunting; shooting is a popular sport. A Facebook spokesperson emphasized how the platform served vital functions in a time of crisis. “People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time,” the spokesperson said.

The statement begins, “Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the community affected by this horrendous act.” A worthwhile sentiment, though it must be said that when such sentiments are expressed by gun control opponents after a mass shooting, they are frequently mocked as merely “thoughts and prayers.” What we really need are thoughtful laws.

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Trump’s 2020 attack strategy: Smear Biden over mental fitness
By Eric Bradner, Ryan Nobles and Dan Merica, CNN

President Donald Trump and his allies have zeroed-in on an attack against Joe Biden, going after the presumptive Democratic governmental nominee’s mental physical fitness in a coordinated effort using smears and innuendo to paint him as ill-quipped to be President of the United States.

Trump for months has questioned the mental skill of the opponent he calls “Drowsy Joe.” Trump last week described Biden as “a sleepy person in a basement of a home,” and he has actually repeatedly recommended that Biden did not personally write declarations issued by his project criticizing Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

His project and the Republican National Committee have progressively focused its attacks on Biden’s tendency for on-camera verbal stumbles in recent weeks, as it looks for to define Biden after he emerged triumphant from the Democratic primary.

One example came previously this month, when Trump’s campaign launched an ad comparing Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which closed with the line: “At least Bernie remembers his positions.”

https://twitter.com/parscale/status/1247928262036258816

The attacks are an early demonstration of how Trump will utilize the full Republican politician Celebration apparatus to run a scorched-earth campaign based upon personal insults and unwarranted insinuations– a heightened variation of his playbook from 2016, when Trump and his allies, without proof, called into question Hillary Clinton’s health. They have actually become a daily occurrence from Trump’s campaign, assistants and Republican allies throughout every medium possible– on social media, in campaign e-mail blasts and videos and on Trump-aligned media companies like Fox News.

Biden’s advisers and Democratic allies mention that Trump is guilty of many of the same verbal tics he is attacking Biden over, and often lies and embraces conspiracy theories.

As one Biden ally put it: “Has Trump taken his own guidance and downed a gallon of bleach yet?”

The attacks weaponize Biden’s propensity to stumble over words, utilize the wrong word or interrupt himself in the middle of long answers by stating, “anyhow,” and altering course. To fans of a former vice president who in December 2018 called himself a “gaffe maker,” those long-time spoken tics have always belonged to Biden’s public persona. They are made more forgivable to his advocates by Biden’s openness about conquering a stutter.

Aside from periodic jousts amongst assistants on Twitter, Biden’s project has mostly neglected the Trump project’s attacks.

Biden-world’s view is that the political and media landscape has actually shifted because 2016, when every Trump attack on a rival was treated as novel and took command of the project narrative on social media and cable news.

His consultants pointed to Trump’s stopped working efforts to guide the political discussion in the 2017 Virginia governor’s race, when he and his GOP allies cautioned of the MS-13 gang, in addition to the 2018 midterms, when Trump’s message concentrated on caravans of refugees approaching the US-Mexico border.

” The misapprehension that whatever Trump wishes to speak about is inherently efficient and that he gets to act as the media’s at-large task editor has actually been closed,” a Biden consultant said.

As Biden has adapted to marketing in the age of coronavirus– knocked off the campaign path and rather transmitting occasions and interviews from a transformed rec room in his basement in Delaware– Trump’s project is seizing on every on-camera miscue, with conservative Trump allies such as Fox News host Sean Hannity then magnifying them.

” His sharpness, or absence thereof is on screen every day, every time he talks,” Trump project spokesperson Tim Murtaugh informed CNN in response to concerns about the technique. “His failure to keep a train of thought going is obvious.”

Biden frequently looks down at his notes, which Trump’s allies have actually mischaracterized as Biden dropping off to sleep. Trump’s boy Eric Trump tweeted a seven-second video from Biden’s online broadcast with Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, along with the hashtag “#SleepyJoe.”.

https://twitter.com/EricTrump/status/1255213748811374596.

Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign supervisor, said Trump “always projects his biggest weakens on his challenger in an attempt to deflect criticism from himself.”.

” What is very clear is the White Home thinks his presidency will be evaluated on how properly he is managing coronavirus, so it makes ideal sense that he is now attempting to accuse his challenger of incompetence, which is ridiculous.”.

The attacks resemble how Trump’s campaign pursued Clinton in 2016, Mook noted. Trump and his campaign frequently cast the former secretary of state as sick or unhealthy, a technique that was further elevated after Clinton stumbled after a September 11 occasion in New York due to concealed pneumonia.

” I simply see a pattern regularly from 2016 all the way through now, which is, he attempts to predict his most significant issues onto his opponents so he gives the media a false equivalence to attempt to muddy the water,” Mook stated. “Part of the factor he was so obsessed with calling Hillary Clinton dishonest is because he is probably the most deceitful individual to win the White Home.”.

Biden advisers argue that Trump’s efforts to caricature Biden won’t overcome the same qualities that insulated him in the Democratic primary: After 5 decades in the public eye and eight years as President Barack Obama’s No. 2, voters feel like they know him.

Biden frequently expresses distaste for attacks on his rivals’ character. His aides say that by questioning Biden’s mental capability, the President is guiding the project toward concerns of character and fitness.

” This is asinine to tee up– since it’s 10,000 times even worse for him,” a Biden adviser stated.

As an example of how easily Trump could be parodied, Biden’s assistants indicated a video from The Daily Show in which Fox News hosts and analysts’ comments about Biden’s mental skill were interspersed with videos of Trump’s own verbal flubs.

Biden spokesman Andrew Bates tweeted The Daily Program’s video, which has been seen 3.6 million times on Twitter, on March 25, in action to Trump spokesperson Matt Wolking tweeting: “When is the last time Joe Biden was lucid?”.

https://twitter.com/AndrewBatesNC/status/1242886701002960896.

” Triggering voters to assess prospects’ mental states is a devastating proposal for Donald Trump, so we’re never going to prevent him from going there,” Bates said.
– CNNPolitics.

Trump’s 2020 attack strategy: Smear Biden over mental fitness By Eric Bradner, Ryan Nobles and Dan Merica, CNN President Donald Trump and his allies have zeroed-in on an attack against Joe Biden, going after the presumptive Democratic governmental nominee’s mental physical fitness in a coordinated effort using smears and innuendo to paint him as ill-quipped to be President of the United States. Trump for months has questioned the mental skill of the opponent he calls “Drowsy Joe.” Trump last week described Biden as “a sleepy person in a basement of a home,” and he has actually repeatedly recommended that Biden did not personally write declarations issued by his project criticizing Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. His project and the Republican National Committee have progressively focused its attacks on Biden’s tendency for on-camera verbal stumbles in recent weeks, as it looks for to define Biden after he emerged triumphant from the Democratic primary. One example came previously this month, when Trump’s campaign launched an ad comparing Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which closed with the line: “At least Bernie remembers his positions.” https://twitter.com/parscale/status/1247928262036258816 The attacks are an early demonstration of how Trump will utilize the full Republican politician Celebration apparatus to run a scorched-earth campaign based upon personal insults and unwarranted insinuations– a heightened variation of his playbook from 2016, when Trump and his allies, without proof, called into question Hillary Clinton’s health. They have actually become a daily occurrence from Trump’s campaign, assistants and Republican allies throughout every medium possible– on social media, in campaign e-mail blasts and videos and on Trump-aligned media companies like Fox News. Biden’s advisers and Democratic allies mention that Trump is guilty of many of the same verbal tics he is attacking Biden over, and often lies and embraces conspiracy theories. As one Biden ally put it: “Has Trump taken his own guidance and downed a gallon of bleach yet?” The attacks weaponize Biden’s propensity to stumble over words, utilize the wrong word or interrupt himself in the middle of long answers by stating, “anyhow,” and altering course. To fans of a former vice president who in December 2018 called himself a “gaffe maker,” those long-time spoken tics have always belonged to Biden’s public persona. They are made more forgivable to his advocates by Biden’s openness about conquering a stutter. Aside from periodic jousts amongst assistants on Twitter, Biden’s project has mostly neglected the Trump project’s attacks. Biden-world’s view is that the political and media landscape has actually shifted because 2016, when every Trump attack on a rival was treated as novel and took command of the project narrative on social media and cable news. His consultants pointed to Trump’s stopped working efforts to guide the political discussion in the 2017 Virginia governor’s race, when he and his GOP allies cautioned of the MS-13 gang, in addition to the 2018 midterms, when Trump’s message concentrated on caravans of refugees approaching the US-Mexico border. ” The misapprehension that whatever Trump wishes to speak about is inherently efficient and that he gets to act as the media’s at-large task editor has actually been closed,” a Biden consultant said. As Biden has adapted to marketing in the age of coronavirus– knocked off the campaign path and rather transmitting occasions and interviews from a transformed rec room in his basement in Delaware– Trump’s project is seizing on every on-camera miscue, with conservative Trump allies such as Fox News host Sean Hannity then magnifying them. ” His sharpness, or absence thereof is on screen every day, every time he talks,” Trump project spokesperson Tim Murtaugh informed CNN in response to concerns about the technique. “His failure to keep a train of thought going is obvious.” Biden frequently looks down at his notes, which Trump’s allies have actually mischaracterized as Biden dropping off to sleep. Trump’s boy Eric Trump tweeted a seven-second video from Biden’s online broadcast with Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, along with the hashtag “#SleepyJoe.”. https://twitter.com/EricTrump/status/1255213748811374596. Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign supervisor, said Trump “always projects his biggest weakens on his challenger in an attempt to deflect criticism from himself.”. ” What is very clear is the White Home thinks his presidency will be evaluated on how properly he is managing coronavirus, so it makes ideal sense that he is now attempting to accuse his challenger of incompetence, which is ridiculous.”. The attacks resemble how Trump’s campaign pursued Clinton in 2016, Mook noted. Trump and his campaign frequently cast the former secretary of state as sick or unhealthy, a technique that was further elevated after Clinton stumbled after a September 11 occasion in New York due to concealed pneumonia. ” I simply see a pattern regularly from 2016 all the way through now, which is, he attempts to predict his most significant issues onto his opponents so he gives the media a false equivalence to attempt to muddy the water,” Mook stated. “Part of the factor he was so obsessed with calling Hillary Clinton dishonest is because he is probably the most deceitful individual to win the White Home.”. Biden advisers argue that Trump’s efforts to caricature Biden won’t overcome the same qualities that insulated him in the Democratic primary: After 5 decades in the public eye and eight years as President Barack Obama’s No. 2, voters feel like they know him. Biden frequently expresses distaste for attacks on his rivals’ character. His aides say that by questioning Biden’s mental capability, the President is guiding the project toward concerns of character and fitness. ” This is asinine to tee up– since it’s 10,000 times even worse for him,” a Biden adviser stated. As an example of how easily Trump could be parodied, Biden’s assistants indicated a video from The Daily Show in which Fox News hosts and analysts’ comments about Biden’s mental skill were interspersed with videos of Trump’s own verbal flubs. Biden spokesman Andrew Bates tweeted The Daily Program’s video, which has been seen 3.6 million times on Twitter, on March 25, in action to Trump spokesperson Matt Wolking tweeting: “When is the last time Joe Biden was lucid?”. https://twitter.com/AndrewBatesNC/status/1242886701002960896. ” Triggering voters to assess prospects’ mental states is a devastating proposal for Donald Trump, so we’re never going to prevent him from going there,” Bates said. – CNNPolitics.

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