Pax Internetum – Day 4:The Global Beach Hut Goes Nuclear

I finished yesterday rather abruptly on the subject of flamebait and Channels.nl, which was a useful and informative board before it became a troll’s paradise. This might have been because I accidentally posted it from my mobile. So, I’ve got through the first three days without getting into those pointlessly snarky internet squalls. I haven’t stopped posting, even on Channels, which was something I was sure I would have to do.

I’ve always loved the internet. I’m a massive technology geek, and the idea that so many apparently diverse systems could be connected in such a useful and meaningful manner still astounds me to this day. I remember vividly the first time I sat in front of an internet-connected computer, I remember signing up for my first email account and especially the first time I ever used IRC.

It’s difficult to imagine, now that many of us have unlimited SMS and real-time chat services on our phones, how magical that experience of talking to someone live on the other side of the world felt. Back in 1995, it was like a private club, a meeting place for people with shared passions. Arguments happened but weren’t too disruptive because on the rare occasions when politics varied enough to cause significant friction, they were always overruled by a shared passion for the internet and the technology that made it possible. We were like a group of travellers, weary with the tourist resorts of the world, who had chanced upon a private lagoon secreted from prying eyes that was ours alone. It was The Beach, but without Leo. It was our place. It couldn’t last, of course: it never does. Five years later, in the year 2000, internet penetration had increased by almost twenty times the 1995 number.

Our oasis had become a Benidorm, a Hawaii, a Faliraki, a Bali. No longer could we sit by the harsh, dim light of the digital campfire finding gentle friends, all but anonymous and free to invent ourselves. The chains had moved in and they demanded. They demanded data, verifiable identities; age/sex/location had become name/location/income. The internet was becoming faster almost by the month, but what were we losing for that extra bandwidth? Dare I use the word ‘soul’? This new commercialisation coincided with a new brashness on the internet. In a few short years, it progressed from what was fundamentally a largely text-based document-retrieval system with rudimentary communications systems and a few low-quality images to a full-tilt multimedia web of sound and fury, a participatory experience where everyone could have their say, a place where a news organisation without a comments section wouldn’t last long.

And now we get to the point of all this.

From its roots as a democratic, flat-field space where everyone’s opinion counted equally until shown otherwise, the internet gold rush has spawned another space that favours those who shout the loudest, those with the biggest marketing spend, those who can afford to monitor and lobby 24 hours. People and organisations who never give up on pushing themselves. Politicians, corporations, lobby groups, one-issue nutcases who think that their deeply held convictions somehow give them the right to hold political office…they’re all here. And they’re all shouting louder than you.

And they’re shouting longer and louder than you because they have nothing better to do.

And Channels: I don’t suspect that it has corporate trolls – I don’t think its influence or readership are sufficient for corporations other than the occasional misguided SpamBot to bother – but it is peppered with people who cannot and will not change their views even when those views do them no credit and in many cases actively harm them.

Pax Internetum – Day 3

Cruising with it now. This is generally the thought process:

  1. See preposterous flamebait argument posted somewhere;
  2. Immediately think of solid rebuttals;
  3. Think them through to their conclusions;
  4. Remember that it doesn’t matter and think about something else.
It’s quite liberating.

 

Anyway, I was going to talk about the channels.nl forum today and it seems apt because it has an unusually high ratio of trolls to ordinary posters and it represents, I think, the moribund state of phpbb and similar thread-based boards in the second decade of the 21st century. It’s atypical because it seems to represent the far end of the demographic bell curve of static messageboards: the average age of its users is undoubtedly higher than the internet average, its subject matter  is a city that has historically been a haven for the controversial, a fountain of unconventional ideas but which is now hardening in its attitudes and is prey to the same (neo)conservative forces that have overtaken Europe and the world in the last couple of decades. Its subject and selling point is that it’s a resource for information about Amsterdam.
Or rather, it once was.

 

The board seems to have become the property of assorted trolls and tinpot political extremists (it even has its own resident Jesus who drops in now and again) and only occasionally fields questions about Amsterdam. Go there now and compare the number of posts in the politics and bar forum with the number of posts in the Amsterdam, RLD and coffeeshop fora. Go on. have a look; I’ll wait. remember that the Bar section is relatively new. It’s an unusualy week where there are five genuine queries posted there, and almost all of them are answered by the same two or three posters.

 

The board is prime trolling territory for several reasons. Firstly, it’s a phpbb board which makes it accessible to people who don’t really ‘get’ Google Plus or Twitter and it’s as anonymous as the user wants to make it, so none of your ripe political comments or tawdry, crackpot theories are going to make t back to your ‘real’* friends.
Secondly, the readership is – or was – relatively diverse. Amsterdam attracts all kinds: sightseers, older people on a canal-boat-and-tulips orgy, sex tourists, stoners, political activists with faith in Amsterdam to again become what it once was: a borderline-chaotic mixture of ideas and types where virtually anything goes. One result of this is that it’s not uncommon to find hardcore stoners who support the Republican Party, a party dedicated to eradicating all forms of enjoyment of which it does not approve. And yes, I know that the Dems, and almost every other world government, do it too, but no-one but Nixon invented the War on Drugs.

 

Digression over.

 

It was the Channels forum that initially led to my treaty with the net. Containing a self confessed ‘racist and proud’ bigot-homophobe, several Republican stoners, a couple of Wall Street shills and a man so confused by language that he doesn’t know what a question mark is, it was always going to be prime flaming territory.

 

*as real as Fakebook friends get anyway.

Pax Internetum – Day 2: Falling In

So, day 2 of the ceasefire. Things I’ve noticed on day 2:

  • I’m reading things more carefully: whereas before I’d read something and jump in with a quick response, I’m tending to digest a lot more.
  • I’m not, at the moment, missing posting responses. That might change as the week goes on.
  • The scope of this decision is becoming clearer and clearer.
I’ll explain that last point. Retweeting an opinion on Twitter or tweeting a quick article might not count as argument, necessarily but given the nature of Twitter it can quickly turn into one. It’s dishonest and unfair to refuse to engage with honest criticism, so forswearing rows means that I have to be careful what I post.
I came very close to an argument with @stuartford today; we were agreeing, but I could see that we were very close to subjects on which we wouldn’t, and probably never will. What happened, howerever, was that we discovered a point of agreement.

 

That’s good. It’s one of the reasons I’m doing this.

 

Tomorrow, I think I’ll write about channels.nl.

 

Pax Internetum – Day 1: Kicking

I’ve given up arguing on the internet.

I’ve always been an outspoken sort of a chap: rarely do I bite my tongue. I think there are some things that one has not only a right, but a duty, to speak out on. I often challenge strangers talking about newspaper articles that I know to be lies and misrepresentation and even if I’ve just met someone, I will try politely to correct misapprehensions and challenge faulty memes. No-one alone can stop a powerful meme, but it’s vital at least to impede its flow as much as possible. This, of course, extends to the internet. Almost everyone on the internet argues. It often seems as though everyone is doing it all the time, although I know that this isn’t true: every message board, group, social networking service and email mailing list contains a minority of highly vocal people who are passionate about certain things, and a tiny ‘nutter’ core of people who will argue about pretty much anything, twist the discourse around to their favourite hot-potato topic and generally make everyone suffer for their convictions. If you need a primer on the subject of trolls and trolling, the warm and witty Lucy Pepper has a series on this very subject

Troll or not, though, it seems that it’s extremely rare that anyone ever changes their mind because of something said on the internet. Is it all a waste of time? Would we (or more precisely I) be happier without the constant point-scoring, friction and constantly adversarial attitudes? Would I be more likely to seek out and stick with peaceful, consensual, soft-focus social media communities rather than the retro shit-flinging every-man-for-himself phpbb thread boards that, like an ex-speed-freak, I know I will never entirely eschew for deluxe Brave New Web soma. I know why the punks hated ecstasy now.

Or would I become depressed and frustrated, dissociated from the defence of principle and having derelicted my duty to stand the barricades against the vocal, the sharp-elbowed, the gullible and those who would steal from and injure their poorer brothers under the banner of fairness and freedom?

Well, we’ll see. I’m giving up online bickering. For a week.

Good Morning.

And he took you up in his aeroplane
which he flew without any hands
and you cruised above the ribbons of rain
that drove the crowd from the stands
Then he killed the lights in a lonely Lane
and an ape with angel glands
erased the final wisps of pain
with the music of rubber bands