Resolved: Social Networks Should Fight Terrorism…Or Not…

“Goodwill towards all men”…in the nonsexist, nongender-specific and gluten-free way…before the knee-jerkers call me out for not being PC…

“Goodwill” seems to be a reasonable wish and an admirable goal for all of humankind…no?

That will be my only point – the rest I leave up to you, dear reader.

Here is the question, the proposition, the resolved, if you will…

If “goodwill” is, in fact, a worthy outcome of our daily interactions, should social networks take steps to promote its ultimate possibility?

This is a question plaguing many all over the world these days, exacerbated by the barbarous massacres in Paris and California, but clearly on the docket way before, as the extent to which Facebook, Twitter and, yes, even Xbox One play a role in recruiting and empowering terrorists and in spreading hatred and fear becomes ever more apparent.

The extent to which the issue is front and center can be best understood by watching the spectacle of the upcoming elections in the United States and by delving in to see that, despite the seemingly huge chasm between a Donald Trump and a Hillary Clinton, this is an issue where they, in fact, have some degree of confluence…in cause and outcome.

Trump isn’t alone in calling on Silicon Valley’s brainpower to figure out a way to keep violent extremists off social networks and messaging services. Democrat Hillary Clinton also has said the U.S. government and technologists should work together to block potential attackers from using the Internet to draw in new supporters.

Yet the issue troubling many is free speech, trampling on the openness of the Internet, unfair application of censorship…unfair as in who wields the off switch…

Perhaps the dichotomy was best expressed by the Obama people. Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, said, “We are going to resist the urge to trample a bunch of civil liberties…but we don’t want terrorists to have a safe haven in cyberspace.”

And yet when you see the carnage and read the hate and, worse, understand that it all actually works to bring in more potential killers, you can see the frustration in applying rules written for a different time and dynamic.

I’d also add that the naïve and maybe even arrogant view that we can overcome the social power of the terrorist networks by the simple spreading of love with the message of Democratic values is ill-fated and maybe even downright dumb. This is a must-read.

As the West comes to terms with a new and growing threat – horrifically evident in the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. – we are not only confronting organizations and doctrines, but also a highly seductive subculture. This is bad news. Governments are much better equipped to take on the Slaughterer than they are He Who Weeps a Lot.

So if the answer isn’t message to message, maybe it is stricter regulation. MIT Technology Review argues that these sites can indeed do more:

It’s reasonable to ask whether the same firepower that micro-profiles users, seeks clues in text, identifies patterns, and figures out who should get which ads might also help identify which young people are most at risk of radicalization (even if they aren’t yet posting brutal content and buying ammo). Then it’s conceivable that one might test and deploy methods of intervention for the most isolated and vulnerable young people.… Outlandish? Not when you stop to consider that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made clear that Facebook can, and should, intervene on a number of fronts: to reduce bullying, prevent suicide, encourage organ donation, and promote voter turnout.

We claim that Big Data can predict, push, create, cajole…whatever, and it can’t put the brakes on evil? Hmmmmm.

On the other hand, TIME argued:

…online service providers are not experts on terrorism. They’re businesses, not intelligence agencies. And there’s no magical bright line that separates “good” from “bad” speech, no mystical algorithm possessed by Facebook to figure out exactly what speech – speech that is not already illegal – should be reported to the state….Shutting down the accounts of terrorist organizations would actually deprive the government of an important source of intelligence. And it would certainly deprive Americans of the ability to see and challenge the views of terrorist organizations – without any demonstrable upshot.

It is a grave mistake to expect or require private social media companies to act as arms of the national security state, just as it is a grave mistake to scapegoat the Internet for laying bare the darkest thoughts of the soul. The Internet is made up of ones and zeros. It does not organically create hate. The hate is, sadly, in our human minds and human hearts. Denying that won’t get us anywhere in the battle for winning those hearts and minds – but sunlight will. For hundreds of years, we’ve been a nation that is determined to stay safe and free, to hew closely to our values even in times of war, fear, and terror.

And there you have it….

Listen:

I don’t write about good and evil with this enormous dichotomy. I write about people. I write about people doing the kinds of things that people do. – Octavia E. Butler

So what should people do?

Dear reader, I leave it to you – what do you think?

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