The internet: too much of a bad thing

“Facebook has no face - unless one counts Zuckerberg’s, and I’d rather not - and neither is it a book,” writes Joe Bennett.

Eric Risberg/AP

“Facebook has no face – unless one counts Zuckerberg’s, and I’d rather not – and neither is it a book,” writes Joe Bennett.

OPINION: Sorry about this but the internet’s a crock. It’s too democratic. It’s got to go.

We think of democracy as a good thing. Deriving from the Greek demos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning strength, democracy puts control into the hands of the masses, rather than the few. And as a way of handling power in human affairs it’s proved to be the best, or at least the least bad, of the alternatives.

But political democracy doesn’t give power to individual people. It gives power to the majority of the people, with the assumption that the majority of the people are unlikely to get it wildly wrong. And with the further implicit assumption that if the majority of the population does get it wildly wrong, then it deserves what’s coming to it.

(Of course, the majority of the people can quite easily get it wildly wrong, as demonstrated by the world’s richest democracy in 2016. But, even allowing for the spectacular ignorance of vast numbers of Americans, I don’t think they’d have elected Trump had it not been for the internet.)

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Political democracy comes with free speech. You are free to stand in the public square and bellow that Jesus is coming on Wednesday, or that Bill Gates has put microchips in the vaccine, and if you can get people to listen to you, good luck.

You are equally free to write 100,000 frothing words on Jesus’ visit or Bill Gates’ perfidy, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a paper or publisher to print them. Papers and publishers are concerned for their reputation, with the result that they act as gatekeepers who bar the door to dingbats. But not on the internet. The internet publishes everyone. It abets dingbattery.

On the internet Brian Tamaki and George Orwell are just single voices, and the internet will always favour Tamaki over Orwell because there’s money in it.

Consider Facebook. The name is telling. Facebook has no face – unless one counts Zuckerberg’s, and I’d rather not – and neither is it a book. Indeed, Facebook is the opposite of a book.

A book is something that you read for profit. Facebook reads you for profit. The point of Facebook, its reason for being, is not what you get out of it but what it gets out of you. It learns your predilections and your tendencies. And then it reinforces them.

Facebook is uninterested in truth or beauty. It is interested in making a buck. Indeed, making a buck is its only editorial criterion. So, if you show an interest in Jesus arriving next week, it will steer you to the full itinerary with maps.

Similarly, if you suspect that vaccines are the devil’s work, the internet won’t tell you the story of polio. It will lead you to fellow dingbats who’ll tell you about Bill Gates’ bid for world domination. The internet’s tendency is to entrench people in their wrongness.

Joe Bennett: “By being uninterested in the truth”, the internet gives bad actors “power to disseminate lies”.

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Joe Bennett: “By being uninterested in the truth”, the internet gives bad actors “power to disseminate lies”.

By being uninterested in the truth, it serves bad actors. It gives them power to disseminate lies. Without the internet they’d just be dingbats in the square holding placards in the rain. The democracy that the internet fosters is divisive, fractious, aggressive, the opposite of educative. So I’ve decided, on balance, for everyone’s good, that it has to go. Sorry about that.

I realise there may be bits of it you’ll miss. I myself have a mushroom in the kitchen that answers to the name of Alexa and that will play, on demand, anything from Bach to Boney M. In a sinister way it’s rather lovely. But we all have to make sacrifices for the sake of civil society.

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