Internet justice

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last month or so you’ll know that I’ve been exploring the differences between Twitter, Facebook and blogging. And trying to figure out what we need to do to revive the independence of the web, because that’s something I’m committed to. In writing these posts I’ve heard from a lot of people, including people whose blogs I used to read, before they stopped updating them. There are lots of reasons they stopped. One reason you hear a lot is they couldn’t stand the verbal beating they took for writing publicly. For whatever reason, Facebook is a safer place to talk with people in a friendly way. That’s too bad, because Facebook is a corporate thing. Their algorithms choose what you read in a way that’s optimized to make them money, and we’ve learned lately, provide information about us to the government. And probably other things we wouldn’t like if we knew what they were. Of course they don’t tell us. They don’t have to.

I’ve been blogging for almost 20 years, and I never stopped blogging (though I wanted to at times) — because I felt it was worth the small price of having to hear from people who don’t have a nice thing to say. People who, in the name of standing up for one group say that I’m a terrible person because I belong to a group they don’t like (white, male, over-50, maybe some of it is anti-semitism, though they generally aren’t open about that). I have women friends who blog who were attacked because they are women. I’m sure everyone gets it from some group who have decided they are bad. Democrats get it from Republicans, Republicans from Democrats (yes, I know Dems think they’re all sweetness and light, but that’s not true). The Internet, which we thought was a panacea because it offered free communication, turns out to also be a place of misery also because of the free communication. I love the freedom of the Internet, so I take the insults in order to keep the potential for freedom alive.

Bullying isn’t anything new. It always works like this. Separate someone, make them stand alone, and attack anyone who stands with them. But if you ignore the attacks, they’ll stop. If you want the communication to work, you just have to say something like this to a bully. “I may not like what Mr X is saying, but I’ll stand with his right to say it.” Or some variant of that. The bullies always back down, if it’s more than one or two people.

This suggests a possible solution to the problem. When someone has a grievance and wants to use the Internet to air it — fine — it’s good for that. But then others should produce a summary of the problem, in dispassionate bullet points, so that everyone else can form an opinion. And then a strict rule would be enforced, anyone who comments is free to do so without attack. That would help us identify real issues, and would help people get over the fear they have, and it’s pervasive and chilling, to say what they think, but are scared to do so because they fear being attacked.

That’s the thing we have to get past. We can’t stop people from attacking, but we have to make it safe for people to comment on the unfairness of the attacks. Lately, btw — I’ve been seeing this start to work on a new service called Secret, where people can comment without anyone knowing their gender, race, age, social or monetary status. Without any history to use against them. The ideas stand alone, not pinned to a gender or race or status. It’s really amazing how quickly you can cut through the bullshit with a little real anonymity. Some people write it off, thinking it’s too easy to use to attack people with impunity (and that’s very true, it can). But the same mechanism can be used to tell the attackers to fuck off. I’ve seen this, first-hand, and it made me laugh out loud to see something you never see in the public web, people talking back to bullies! So net-net I think it’s a good thing, not a bad one.

I’ve gotten skewered recently for asking why there are so few women programmers, and suggesting that traits of men might make us more suited for being programmers. It may or may not be true, but people say things like that with the genders flipped, all the time, and people nod their heads, no howling or shrieking. So the people who attacked at least lack perspective, haven’t learned that little gender-flipping trick, and I wish they would. If you can say women are better at some things, it stands to reason that men must be better at some things too.

Then yesterday I was vilified for saying that when you hire someone who is not male and young you run the risk of being scammed the way I was in the story I was telling. There was no hidden agenda. I was in no way advocating that people do that. It was an off the cuff comment in a blog post. Not a manifesto or legal document. Not a lot of thought went into it. And by the way, it’s obviously true! So all these people made all that anger over something that, if I had been a different gender, they might have applauded. Now that’s seriously fucked up (and sexist, btw).

This is also a blog post. I started at the beginning and wrote down the page. Nothing got reorganized, but I did go back and do a light edit (I tend to use too many words in the first draft, so I take some of them out in the edit process). You’re reading what comes from one person’s mind. Nothing more than that. And I change my mind, but never from people’s attacks. If you want to work with me, start from a more reasonable place — like this is another human being, with his own experiences, that lead to these ideas, and maybe we both can learn something from an interchange. If you can do that, then you’ll be doing a lot to help our Internet work better, imho.

Seriously, thanks for listening.

I'm trying to think but nothing happens!


About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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