"The Empire strikes back" – when technology is used for all the wrong reasons


  • Vivaldi Team

    Vivaldi CEO Jon von Tetzchner says Internet is one of the solutions for democracy.

    Click here to see the full blog post



  • The changing face of the Internet hasn't affected me much, and I've long resisted the changes. I have never used Facebook; I don't use Twitter; I've been filtering out ads and egregious scripts since 2005; I ceased using Google services in 2013 and now manage my own mail, instant messaging, directory, and calendar services.

    That last is certainly a reaction to the concentration of information on the modern Internet. It is a trend which concerns me.



  • I think a big issue with things like fake news and the subtle manipulation that can be achieved by mining information about people is that everybody thinks they are above being manipulated. Most people think of themselves as being more intelligent or more capable than the average person. And since people think they are too smart to be tricked by something, they don't realize that they are being manipulated. Since they don't realize that they can be and are being easily manipulated, then they don't see the invasion of privacy as a big deal.

    So basically, I think everyone else is gullible enough to fall for fake news or propaganda or advertising tricks that might make me buy things that I don't need. And since I'm so smart, I would never fall for any of that stuff. Being manipulated by fake news doesn't concern me since I'm so smart.

    Because of that, I think privacy becomes an issue that is hard to get people to rally behind. It is an unseen threat, and a threat that people don't really think affects them all that much.


  • Moderator

    People who are vulnerable to conspiracy theory thinking have been demonstrated to, more than the populace overall, be driven by fear, disgust and loathing. As such, their tolerance for change, for the new, and for the unfamiliar, is very limited. They experience an exaggerated sense of threat and danger, and are convinced that they face peril emanating both from unseen sources, and from people whose thinking, speech, traditions, culture and appearance seem different from theirs.

    Well, once upon a time, it required more-than-trivial effort for conspiracy buffs to obtain data supporting their paranoid fantasies and visceral fears. They had to go to book stores and buy specific books, subscribe to hard-to-find publications and periodicals that were generated by those of a like mindset, obtain and immerse themselves in things like "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and similar hoaxes, to get their daily dose of reinforcement, to shore up their distorted view that they, and no one else, knew what was REALLY real, and what was REALLY going on. They knew those around them were not similarly exposed to the "truth," and so they were loath to speak out much, knowing they were unlikely to find a sympathetic ear. They clove tightly to their secret societies and surreptitious meetings, where they could find nourishment for their paranoia among those of like mind. Hence, their social impact was limited to their own, fairly closely-circumscribed, circles.

    The internet changed that, and I don't have to describe the manifold ways in which it did so. As a result, the social impact of some of the least-healthy minds and memes in our society has overflowed its banks. And we're the worse for it. A broad public recognition and respect for fact and for critical thinking is, as nearly as I can see, the only realistic antidote. The internet can be a vehicle for that, too, but only if the educational underpinnings that inform and clarify the mind, are reinforced. Kids have to learn how to know what and who can and cannot be believed. That sounds like a heavy lift perhaps, but I guarantee you it's even heavier than it sounds.



  • So what are we talking about here? Censoring the Internet? I thought the Internet was supposed to be a free and open place for people to express ideas, even if those ideas are not particularly good?

    Are we saying that certain political, religious, moral, or philosophical points of view can't be expressed because they don't agree either with mainstream points of view or government points of view?

    What if, instead of taking the position that we need to protect people from bad ideas, we take the position that we should give people the freedom to block whatever content they don't want to see? After all, isn't the freedom to make our own decisions what we all really want?


  • Moderator

    @GT500 No one is saying anything about censoring the internet.

    But here's the deal: All ideas are not equal. Some are valuable, some worthless, some constructive, some harmful. How shall a person choose which ideas have merit? Clearly, lies and "Information" which is false, is not knowledge. It's impossible to measure the value of ideas or opinions without knowledge.

    "Freedom" without responsibility is chaos. Or anarchy.

    Responsibility is impossible without wisdom.

    So in order for there to be value in a free exchange of ideas, there has to be responsibility (in both purveyor and recipient), knowledge, and wisdom.

    Wisdom stems from JUDGMENT, experience, true data, and critical thinking. These require training. Sadly, we do not train our younger generation to think. Hence, they are largely incapable of filtering the valuable from the valueless from the actively harmful.



  • @ayespy said:

    All ideas are not equal. Some are valuable, some worthless, some constructive, some harmful. How shall a person choose which ideas have merit?

    Would you prefer research and careful consideration of the facts, or simply accepting what some authority tells you has merit?

    Clearly, lies and "Information" which is false, is not knowledge. It's impossible to measure the value of ideas or opinions without knowledge.

    Then do we simply stamp out any ideas we do not consider valuable?

    "Freedom" without responsibility is chaos. Or anarchy.

    I have never known anyone who has lived outside the realm of government authority who has lived in a state of chaos. From the examples that I have seen, they live far more peaceful lives than the rest of us do. Granted there are always those who seek to do harm to others (in my line of work I see a lot of that), however considering the problems with crime and terrorism in our modern age, such issues are clearly not exclusive to living in "anarchy", and they are certainly not solved by authoritarian power structures (aka. governments).

    Granted I am not personally an advocate of anarchy, as a government should be able to exist without usurping the liberties of individuals, without violating our privacy, and without us living in fear that a new political administration may turn against us or start wars we don't want.

    So in order for there to be value in a free exchange of ideas, there has to be responsibility (in both purveyor and recipient), knowledge, and wisdom.

    That may be true (at least to some extent), but does anyone have the right to regulate ideas? Should we simply turn that over to governments and/or corporations, and trust that they will never abuse or miss-manage that authority? Can we trust that administration changes down the line won't cause a change in what ideas are considered valuable and what ideas are not?



  • @ayespy said:

    But here's the deal: All ideas are not equal. Some are valuable, some worthless, some constructive, some harmful. How shall a person choose which ideas have merit? Clearly, lies and "Information" which is false, is not knowledge. It's impossible to measure the value of ideas or opinions without knowledge.

    It's not simple as that. World isn't so black and white. Information is rarely worthless, so even fake and harmful ideas can bring good ideas into existence and be considered as knowledge.

    Responsibility is impossible without wisdom.
    So in order for there to be value in a free exchange of ideas, there has to be responsibility (in both purveyor and recipient), knowledge, and wisdom.
    Wisdom stems from JUDGMENT, experience, true data, and critical thinking. These require training. Sadly, we do not train our younger generation to think. Hance, they are largely incapable of filtering the valuable from the valueless from the actively harmful.

    It's not impossible, although you can always argue what is wisdom.

    For me wisdom is understanding your own limitations. So basically wisdom is, that you know that you don't know. And if you don't know that, you are lost in the sea of confusion and haven't thought about life at all.

    ps. I consider myself somewhat smart (IQ ~130) and learned, but at the same time I know that I'm extremely stupid.
    pps. Just in case, here is some good books in my opinion

    1. Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
    2. Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decision - Dan Ariely
    3. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark - Carl Sagan
    4. Memory and Suggestibility in the Forensic Interview - Mitchell L. Eisen, Jodi A. Quas, Gail S. Goodman


  • @ayespy said:

    @GT500 No one is saying anything about censoring the internet.

    But here's the deal: All ideas are not equal. Some are valuable, some worthless, some constructive, some harmful. How shall a person choose which ideas have merit? Clearly, lies and "Information" which is false, is not knowledge. It's impossible to measure the value of ideas or opinions without knowledge.

    I'm going to take it that you mean this in good faith and merit without comprehending how twisted, chilling, and evil this sounds to others. To get some idea, imagine an Inquisitor saying this to Galileo back in the 1600s. Back then many believed in good faith that the world was flat and that arguments and evidence to the contrary were the "lies and 'information' which is false" that was intended to harm the recipient or others.

    For a more recent example, it was only a couple of decades ago that homosexuality was considered widely as a disease of either mind or body which would put the 'sufferer' at risk of physical (e.g. HIV being considered a predominantly a 'gay-person's disease") or emotional harm. Evidence to the contrary was long considered "lies and 'information' which is false" as it was 'obviously against the normal order of things where man and women belong together'.

    Tools intended to fight fake news can be used just as easily, if not more so, to reinforce a consensus belief which may be completely wrong or to reinforce propaganda intended to support those in power. In either case the result will be ignorance and harm being prolonged.

    I urge those who consider building these sorts of tools to think twice and consider that many things considered true today were once considered lies and false. It would be very easy to inadvertently suppress the truth from coming out in the future as even today, not all is known.


  • Moderator

    @stargazera5: "Chilling" that it's a good idea to teach kids how to think? That's a bit stunning.

    While we possess the "freedom" to be intellectually incapable, it's a "freedom" that renders the concept of liberty a nullilty. My wishing you knew HOW to think is a far cry from the church trying to tell Galileo WHAT to think. The very fact that you feel some would find the concept of kids learning how to think scary, is a pretty good sign of how far we've fallen.

    You think all ideas have equal merit? That there's no objective way to evaluate them? Is the "idea" that my car will run on gas of equal merit to the "idea" that it will run on molasses? Certainly I'm free to try both and see what happens, but would not I, my family and society in general be better off if I could figure out what a bad idea the latter is, without having to experiment with it?

    I am totally aware that some 20% to 30% of our society find the idea that there is a universal objective reality which is not founded in their beliefs, faith, fears and prejudices a twisted, evil and chilling idea. They also scorn education as "elistism," decry critical thinking as "indoctrination" and think of science as equal to or inferior to religion. If they have their way, humanity will perish. Hopefully we'll wake up first.

    My point is, it doesn't matter WHAT you do to/with the internet if people can't think. If we don't learn to use our heads and act on what's real, we are quite literally doomed.



  • The term "fake news" is being thrown around a lot but it's the mainstream sources that are the biggest purveyors of it. If anything, the plethora of information, real and fake, that is now afforded to people is a good thing. It's up to the individual to decide what is best for them, not the government or tech companies.

    I don't want to live in China or some Islamic state, that shit is too Orwellian for me. I'll take the open roads with all their foibles.


  • Moderator

    @jasal The idea that some things are of greater or lesser intrinsic value than others is not "black and white" thinking. While its true that context is everything, and that nothing has a value independent of its application, it is also true that any/all solutions to a certain problem are not of equal merit. "We should start a fire" may be an excellent idea or a terrible one. "The world would be better without all these damn trees" is just a terrible one.

    Wisdom is easy to spot. It's what someone else has known forever that, when they teach it to you, you say "Jeeez - I wish I'd thought of that."


  • Moderator

    @GT500 I'm not promoting authority, but rather intellectual capacity. It's in short supply these days. This would rather imply that that research and consideration - something too rarely practiced, is a superior idea to ideological rigidity - the seeming preferred mode of many. You will note, however, that intenet boards and fora are full of the former being decried as the latter. This is a sign of people unable to learn, because they "already know," and denigration of promulgating actual research results as "trying to tell me what to think."

    Here's an example of stamping out ideas not considered "valuable," "Climate change as a problem to be addressed is an idea which is likely to hurt our (already staggering) profits and our financial primacy, and therefore it must not be allowed to spread."

    Living outside of this or that government authority is not living without governance. People who have no agreed-upon principles to govern their interaction literally fall into a Darwinian "Lord of the Flies" dynamic wherein the strong exploit and/or destroy the weak, until that dynamic itself becomes unsustainable and the strong become the weak, whereupon order again decays into tooth and claw. Some of the most inflexibly governed groups I have ever witnessed were living under the pretense of escaping from societal oppression and adopting their own "free" behavioral norms. In the 60's and 70's, communes displayed this trait with depressing frequency.



  • You say you want people to think critically and come to their own conclusions? That is laudable and I think everyone should be taught that from the earliest days of learning, even before school..

    However you use terminology "How to think" (indicating that there is a wrong way to think), 'ideas without merit', "least healthy minds" that imply someone other than the recipient of the information judges what is acceptable thought and what is not. It is the terminology of thought police, and that is what I find chilling.

    At one time people may well have used homosexuality in place of your 'molasses' as an example of something so obviously wrong and an idea without merit. Was society better off when those who were homosexual were taught that this was a bad and harmful idea without merit? Because that is exactly what they were taught, and were taught so by many of the most learned in the world who honestly believed that.

    Jon is quoted in the opening post as saying, “They’ve been finding ways to utilize the channels that we’ve been building to feed false information in ways that we don’t even recognize.” Yet, I see no recognition in the opening post and our discussion of how likely any tools built are to have the same happen.

    Teaching people critical analysis skills is the key, but must be done without teaching or providing any pre-filtering of what is a good-idea vs a bad-idea. Only data from which somebody draws their own conclusions, even if you disagree with those conclusions. Otherwise you inevitably go down the same sorry path history has trod time and again.


  • Moderator

    @stargazera5 Our knowledge base is continually evolving - and we must let it do so. The concept that homosexuality was genetically and biologically "objectively" non-contributory to species survival was based, not on false knowledge, but incomplete knowledge - and buttressed by personal fears and by rigid ideology (which in earlier times, such as the successful Roman and Greek civilizations, had no sway). As people have learned more, it has become pretty obvious both to science and to society, that gender is not binary, nor divinely dictated. I'm gonna be 64 in a few days, and I NEVER had a religious view on that matter. However, I did in my teens and twenties, as did/do many cisgenders, have a visceral reaction to the idea of homosexual contact, and an "intellectual" defense for my feelings - based on the idea that reproduction is the baseline of species survival. However, I not only can learn, but I actually have formal training in HOW to learn, and so my view is essentially diametrically opposed to what it was 40 years ago. And that is what I advocate - teaching people how to learn and how to differentiate valid data from invalid data.

    "How to think" is a science, not an ideology. It's not about ideas, but about process. It's about taking in data without preconceived notions and comparing it with testable and verifiable baseline information derived from one's own experience and the experience of others.

    I have not been able to envision any tools or mechanisms of the internet that would promote human wisdom. I have only benefited from, used, and promoted in-person technologies that cultivate the human powers of rationality. (And this includes a base foundation in the current state of valid knowledge) These, in my view, are a necessary precursor to being able to use the internet to promote, not undermine, human society.

    Consider the recent facebook tools to report "fake news." How could these possibly have any value whatever, if users had no valid education, no valid means of separating the wheat from the chaff, no grounding as children in what's true and what's not - like, the world is round, the moon orbits the earth which orbits the sun, energy transfers are generally dictated by laws of physics which dictate, for most purposes, a conservation of energy, that matter/mass and energy are convertible, that 2+2=4, that opinions and facts are not equivalent, that authority does not equal truth, that white is a combination of the other hues of the spectrum, etc. You have to teach kids this stuff, just as a lioness must teach her cubs to hunt.



  • I think talking about censorship is getting a little off track. The privacy and data mining issue isn't really about 'fake news'. It's just one possible aspect of it.

    People can believe whatever they want, think whatever they want and say whatever they want. People doing that on the internet really isn't a big deal.

    The real problem is manipulation. And that's where the privacy issue comes into play. Through data mining, it becomes easy to create targeted messages. If a person thinks a certain way, one type of message might work. If another person thinks another way, then another type of tactic might work.

    Through data mining, and invasion of privacy, certain ideas can be framed in a way that will make people more likely to believe them. Whether it is fake news, or advertising.

    So, the issue of 'fake news' in the privacy context isn't about whether some ideas are less worthy than others. It is about manipulation and exploitation.



  • @Antikapitalista said in "The Empire strikes back" – when technology is used for all the wrong reasons:

    pedophilia is like homosexuality and pedophiles are like homosexuals

    You spew forth a torrent of ignorant bigoted lies. In future it'd be better if you endeavoured to educate yourself prior to [indeed, in lieu of] your hitherto blind erroneous rants.


  • Moderator

    @Antikapitalista Yes. "Vulnerable to conspiracy theories." You see, there are conspiracies, there are informal collaborations of like minds (people who all move the same direction, whether coordinated or not, because their interests run parallel or converge), and there are things that work out a certain way simply because that's how life works out; and there are some 20% to 30% of the population who are easily convinced that any and all of the foregoing are dark, calculated plots against them. These are conspiracy theorists.

    As someone trained in counter-espionage, and who has actually practiced it as a profession, I've always had to be able to tell the difference between surreptitious plotting, mere common interest, and pure coincidence. The currency of my profession is facts, not faith or conviction.

    It's never been my job to convince anyone whether a secret cabal existed, but simply rather to detect them and shut them down. So my only concern for whether people believe in conspiracies, is whether their beliefs lead them to do irrational things that impact the lives of others in a negative way - like for instance vote for a wanna-be autocrat.

    Now in order for industry to enforce a web standard that denies personal privacy and opens the door to targeting for either commercial (advertising) or political (propaganda) ends, does not require a conspiracy. It only needs greed, lust for power, and a shared viewpoint (as in, "we are the good and noble people, whose interests matter, and they are peasants"). You don't need to know anything about "conspiracies." You only need to know whom you are dealing with.



  • @Antikapitalista said in "The Empire strikes back" – when technology is used for all the wrong reasons:

    And, lastly, authority does not equal truth

    Opinion does not equal truth either, especially when it is expressed in such an obviously biased manner.

    An Internet browser is available for everyone, whether they are “capitalist pigs” or “commie bastards,” whether they are from the so-called liberal and free societies of the NATO states, citizens living in cruel dictatorships, or those in intolerant states run by religious fanatics.

    Filtering fake news from the truth is not a trivial task, but like filtering trusted web sites from untrusted web sites, it can be done. An Internet browser should attempt to do that, and give advice based on objective analysis.

    All media organisations suffer from bias, but some are more biased than others. Reputations are damaged by publishing stories that turn out to be fake. All that a browser should do is rate the reputation of various sources. If you wish to trust news from Aljazira, Fox News, the BBC, or some dude on YouTube is your free choice.



  • @jking: I wanted to create a fake facebook account so I can just follow and post (if I have to) on a certain upcoming game's page. Not even an hour after making my fake account, as I'm liking random pages, I'm suddenly locked out of my account being forced to provide my phone number if I want to prove this account is mine and it's real and that's when I remembered why I don't have a real account and that I tried this before and the same thing happened.

    They don't even give you privacy and you have to be dead inside to agree to give your phone number just to use that garbage of a service.


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