Richard Lutz on the poison pouring out of the digi-world
The rank effuent spewing from our digital media continues. Almost every day, another horror from the pit erupts. This weekend it was a message sent to a woman MP that said: “I wouldn’t even rape you.”
The vermin that now run the off the wall UKIP party tried to say it was satire. It wasn’t. It isn’t. It’s an inverted incitement to violence.
We are simply powerless to stop this outflow of brainless bilge, libel, hate and fraud. And the reason is that the greedy megolamanic owners of giant social media companies, with billions of subscribers, are totally irresponsible, almost criminal in neglect. They flout the law – if there is one – to monitor and rein in the ‘free’ sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, that abuse our private information and day by day fail to control their own traffic.
I refer to just two instances besides the vomit that UKIP approved. One is how Facebook allowed a live stream of the New Zealand massacre. It should never have gone out, should have been blocked as the first digital frame hit the web. Secondly, was the terrible news that a British teenager used Instagram to research tips how to kill herself. How could that information be allowed in the first place?
Of course, even as I write this, I am part of this world, creating an online column and innocently thinking WhatsApp was okay until I discovered it was ruled by Facebook, the company with 1.5 billion subscribers.
But still…..if a newspaper or a TV station, in any country, descended to knowingly publishing illegal hate or violence, its owners would have been slapped down, dragged to court and rammed into jail. But that wouldn’t happen to online magnates because there is no proper control of potential material.
Somehow Facebook and its fellow ubermenschen of the digital Olympic world get away with it. My recollection of Mark Zuckerberg smugly condescending to attend the House of Commons select committee comes to mind. Plus his ludicrous advice to get someone, somehow, to regulate the social media world which is anything but free when its managers consciously and secretly steal and sell our private details to dubious clients.
There is, though, a glimmer of sane hope. After the live feed of the New Zealand mass murder, Australia enacted a new law that could lead to media executives jailed if they delay a blackout over offensive material. And the UK may not be far behind. As the Financial Times pointed out this week end, big social media companies “are suddenly being forced to adapt to a new reality.”
It quotes Bob Iger, a Walt Disney senior boss, saying: “Hitler would have loved social media,” as it was the “most powerful marketing tool an extremist could ever hope for”. Something must change.
But without restrictions and proper management, this could be words and nothing else. Control must reach into this poisonous world where pictures of last night’s pizza or an endearing photo of a cute baby taking their first steps are mixed with live cover of murders, advice on suicide and hate vitiating the digital world.
To dip into the FT article again, it quotes online whistleblower Roger McNamee, a former Zuckerberg adviser. Social media businesses are designed, he says, to stir up strong reactions, whether political, criminal or prurient.
Tricky or illegal content is the meat and potatoes of digital-bosses under the guise of creating a bogus Utopian community of pals and mates. Speaking about one sector of the poison emanating from our laptops and phones, he warns: “The problem with hate speech is that it is fundamental to the business model of Facebook and Google.’ It provokes strong responses to help forecast human behaviour of the abnormal.” And that in itself is big money.