The Messy, Democratizing Beauty of the Internet

By Jeff Jarvis

Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the internet are not media. They are something new we do not yet fully understand.

We are often doomed to see the future as the analog of the past. Journalists see screens that contain familiar text and images and that serve what used to be their ads—and they call that media. Such a mediacentric and egocentric worldview brings too many presumptions and misses too many opportunities.

To call these platforms publishers—as The Atlantic‘s Adrienne LaFrance recently did—is to presume that their task is merely to produce content. It is to presume, then, that the internet should be produced, packaged, and polished and that when someone says something bad anywhere on it then the entire internet is beschmutzed. In Europe, it also means that the internet should be regulated, and in a growing list of authoritarian nations—China, Russia, Iran, Turkey—it means that the internet and the public’s speech on it should be controlled.

The larger question, of course, is what the internet is and how it fits into society and society into it. We are just beginning to see what it can be. The essential value of the internet is conversation, not content. The internet connects more than three billion people and enables a grand diversity among them to speak, if not yet to be heard. “Republics,” said the late Columbia professor James Carey, “require conversation, often cacophonous conversation, for they should be noisy places.” That sound you hear, which sometimes grates, is the racket of society negotiating its norms and standards, its future. It is the messy sound of democracy.

The banning of Infowars from most major platforms is a sign of that process beginning to work. Civilization is winning, at last. Alex Jones went too far and the public, empowered by the same tools of social media he exploited, told the platforms that his behavior is unacceptable in a civilized society. The platforms—like media and like regulators—might prefer to start with a set of rules that can be enforced by government, by social-media managers, or by algorithms. But that’s not how we negotiate our standards. The breach makes the rule. We know pornography, propaganda, trolling, and spamming when we see it, and then write the rules to prevent it. That progress always seems to take too long, but it is prudent that we ban what we see rather than everything we might fear.

I fear we are rushing headlong into a moral panic, choosing to believe a dark image of the world and then to blame all its ills on technology, in the case of media (or on immigrants and the unwhite, in the case of the Trumpists). Here is Ashley Crossman’s definition: “A moral panic is a widespread fear, most often an irrational one, that someone or something is a threat to the values, safety, and interests of a community or society at large. Typically, a moral panic is perpetuated by news media, fueled by politicians, and often results in …read more

Read more here:: theatlantic.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *