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Technology Thoughts

China silences its bloggers

I’ve written a couple of times on freedom of speech on the Internet and how its going to be taken away.

Here

And here

The threats of regulating and licensing speech are real and we’ve heard the increasing drumbeat of it in the last year. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more de-platforming people for what they say, entire sites like Parler getting de-facto removed from the web by Amazon, Apple, and Google, and the blackballing of a sitting President of the United States (yes Trump was still President when he got blackballed) from all of social media, we have moved dangerously close to increasing the cost of speech on the Internet. I suspect we will follow China’s lead as we did with COVID-19 lockdowns and it will have a chilling effect across the Internet that will only benefit existing media, social media, and Internet giants.

Beginning next week, the Cyberspace Administration of China will require bloggers and influencers to have a government-approved credential before they can publish on a wide range of subjects. Some fear that only state media and official propaganda accounts will get permission. While permits have been needed since at least 2017 to write about topics such as political and military affairs, enforcement has not been widespread. The new rules expand that requirement to health, economics, education and judicial matters.

Associated Press

The culmination of COVID-19 and the controversy of government lockdowns and rushed vaccines caused social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to either flag posts as misinformation or outright remove content from their platforms. It wasn’t done by government but by these organizations privately. Is it legal? Sure. Is it right? Absolutely not.

But how is this going to get applied to the rest of us? The push for “net neutrality” will mean a government takeover of the Internet with regulation. The push has been on for years. I suspect the FCC at some point will step in and nothing will be safe. They will eventually require everyone to have a license to publish content that is publicly accessible from the Internet. That means websites, blogs, social media, and even podcasts.

Podcasts, the last bastion of free expression. It’s the hardest to moderate (because there are no moderators for independent podcasts) and the hardest to regulate and will come under increased scrutiny. We already have media organizations like ProPublica and The Verge posting stories about this. So-called journalists are advocating for less free speech because they believe that some speech is right and other speech is wrong. What they don’t get, and I blame our piss poor education system, is that one day it will be applied to them.

While social media companies have become more willing over the past few months to censor accounts that engage in hate speech, podcasts are still largely unmoderated. Part of that has to do with the industry’s structure: The main podcast portals merely index the shows, like Google indexes websites. Despite canceling Bannon’s YouTube channel, Google Podcasts still indexes “War Room.” (Apple accounts for more than half of the number of podcast streams, with Spotify a distant second.)

ProPublica

A disparate network of companies makes up the podcasting world, including apps, hosting services, sales teams, and networks. Moderation will need to happen across these companies to be effective, and in this current moment, that effort doesn’t work the way it does at tech monoliths like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, which can remove someone with a push of a button. Put simply, podcasting isn’t ready for full-scale, widespread moderation — if that’s even what the industry wants.

The Verge

Broadcast, print, cable, big tech, and big social media will align forces to raise the barrier to entry for independent content producers (“creators” if you like). I believe they will put pressure on the government to introduce regulations over the Internet in order to prevent Joe Schmo from publishing his thoughts and gaining an audience. Their motives won’t be to prevent “misinformation” or “fake news” it will be to protect their advertising revenue and prevent competition from being able to gain a foothold.

Right now absolutely anyone can start a website, blog, or podcast with virtually no extra money than they already spend every month. You can get your own domain name, host your site, and launch your podcast for less than $20/month using services such as Dreamhost (where this blog is hosted) and using a laptop or a phone. That’s literally all you need to start. If you want to do it for nothing you can use free services like WordPress to host your site and use a public computer at a library.

Once the heavy hand of government comes down all that goes out the window. I used to be in broadcasting. The book of regulations is huge. The cost of licensing, maintaining your license, and complying with regulations is huge. Bring that model to the Internet and independent voices will be relegated to dark corners of the Internet or be found on local street corners or town centers handing out pamphlets.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by harshahars from Pixabay
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Technology Thoughts

Clubhouse, the social network you didn’t know you didn’t need

Wave goodbye to Clubhouse

Clubhouse is the new hot commodity in the “tech” world. It’s basically an audio online chat room but with controls. From what I’m reading in tech press and hearing on podcasts Clubhouse is trying to be the next “platform” for speech. Not free speech mind you but for speech. This is just another platform to gain users for advertisers to scrape data.

There is no unique tech to Clubhouse. Yes, it’s audio only but this is something you can already do with Zoom or other group online meeting platforms. Just turn off the cameras. In Zoom, the person creating the meeting can control everything about the meeting. You can even open the meeting up to the public. What is stopping anyone from using Zoom as a broadcasting platform where advertisers can sponsor an event? Nothing. In fact it’s already happening with online webinars and conferences set up using Zoom or other online platforms.

Newer social networks, while dealing with the threat of having their features copied, must also figure out their business models in an industry where most digital-ad spending goes to Facebook and Alphabet Inc. Snapchat parent Snap Inc. remains unprofitable despite notching its highest quarterly growth in nearly five years in its latest quarter.

Clubhouse is exploring options for performers to receive tips, and offering paid events and memberships that would give users access to extra content, the founders said during a recent conversation on the app.

Wall Street Journal

So why is Clubhouse getting all this free press? Exclusivity. It’s invite only right now. It has that elitist vibe because celebrities and “luminaries” are the highlighted users. If you’re lucky enough to get into their “clubhouse” then you’ve made it. You’re in. You’re part of the elites!

Clubhouse could be successful in building paid features because of its air of exclusivity—an invitation is required to join, but easy to procure—and the high-profile names coming to converse on the platform, including Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, actor Lindsay Lohan and Brad Parscale, one-time campaign manager for former President Donald Trump.

Wall Street Journal

If you’re at all independent minded why would you want to join another social “platform” only to get de-platformed once you start to express views and opinions that are outside the club.

Starting a podcast is better than doing anything on Clubhouse. There is a near zero barrier to entry for podcasting. It’s virtually infinitely scalable because you can start using your own storage and if it gets popular you can transfer to a dedicated podcast service. You can have live interaction by streaming your podcast and having a chatroom or live call in like radio. Joining a service like Clubhouse only serves to enrich those providing that platform. If you have a good product or are already famous why put another middle man in between you and your ad dollars?

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Technology Thoughts

Ron DeSantis, another presidential contender

Maybe I should have moved to Florida instead.

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Technology Thoughts

Where do we go from here?

We’re all nuts. Fueled by a media that has no interest to keep us informed rather than inflamed.

Does President Trump deserve some blame for what’s happening right now? Sure. But he’s not solely to blame. The majority of the blame, in my opinion, goes to our media. They let their hatred for one man drive them into hysteria for 4 years. They could not believe that anyone could support him even though almost half the country does. That short circuit in their brains caused them to deride those people and we’re all paying the price.

I will be shocked if Joe Biden makes it to the end of one term. Heck, I’ll be amazed if he makes it beyond the first year. His speech while the capitol protests were happening showed a man that is in rapid decline. He doesn’t have the mental capacity to handle any of this and we are a short walk to the first woman president. A woman that couldn’t even make it to the first primary election because she was so disliked by her own party. That is not a good thing.

Will the allegations about the election ever get their day in the sun or will it all get swept under the rug post-inauguration day? If they don’t get resolved will we see a round 2?

Here’s what I hope will happen. I hope the media in the U.S. takes a huge hit from this. I don’t see how half the country will continue to trust them when virtually everything that is reported is slanted to fit an agenda. A person can take any news story and remove the bias to reveal the truth. But it takes work. Most people don’t even read past the headline or the first paragraph to get at the details. TV news is a cesspool of misinformation. They’ve become quite good of showing you something and telling you the opposite is happening. I think that type of persuasion confuses the crap out of people that aren’t willing to look at the cold dry facts rather than the sensationalism.

Social media companies and big tech have revealed themselves to be bad actors as well. They are not platforms for free speech and communication. When they plug their editorials about what is and isn’t fact onto someone’s opinion. They deserve to be treated as a publisher rather than a platform.

We’re not being served properly by old media or social media and their power to persuade needs to be dampened. There is hope in the Internet as a platform rather than the content silos. Technologies are being developed that use the Internet as a true platform where speech can continue to be open and free. Over the next 10 to 15 years I can see the future of a more federated independent media that can’t be de-platformed by advertisers or big tech.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
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Thoughts

If something happens but it’s not reported… did it really happen?

President Trump makes an allegation regarding fraud but it only gets coverage by One America News or Newsmax did the fraud happen? The major TV networks and newspapers in the United States have blacked out any coverage of alleged voter fraud. Twitter, Facebook, and Google flag every post and video telling us that Biden won.

Trump tweeted today about a discrepancy in the number of voters voting versus the number of ballots recieved.

I wanted to check the veracity of his claim so I did a search. I could only find a single story that could be deemed legitimate reported by WJAC-TV in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Where is Johnstown? It’s a small town east of Pittsburgh. Their coverage doesn’t even extend to Pittsburgh so their story isn’t reaching a major metropolitan area.

Ryan says they found that 6,962,607 total ballots were reported as being cast, while DoS/SURE system records indicated that only 6,760,230 total voters actually voted.

Among the 6,962,607 total ballots cast, 6,931,060 total votes were counted in the presidential race, including all three candidates on the ballot and write-in candidates, according to Ryan.

He says the difference of 202,377 more votes cast than voters voting, together with the 31,547 over- and under-votes in the presidential race, adds up to a discrepancy of 170,830 votes, which is more than twice the reported statewide difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

wjactv.com

There are no claims in the story as to what the discrepancy means. But isn’t an investigation of the claim warranted? How does it help the legitimacy of an election when the allegations of fraud or irregularities aren’t reported on or investigated? If our governments and media want to stop conspiracy theories why not bring these things to light. If there is a valid reason for the allegation then fine let’s air it out. But, if the allegations are true and there is some kind of fraud or inadvertent errors or mishandling of votes or data then we need to know that too in order to make the next election better.

In the same story is the response from the Pennsylvania Department of State.

We are unclear as to what data the legislators used for this most recent “analysis.” But the only way to determine the number of voters who voted in November from the SURE system is through the vote histories. At this time, there are still a few counties that have not completed uploading their vote histories to the SURE system. These counties, which include Philadelphia, Allegheny, Butler and Cambria, would account for a significant number of voters. The numbers certified by the counties, not the uploading of voter histories into the SURE system, determines the ultimate certification of an election by the secretary.

wjactv.com

One side says one thing and the other side says another. The allegations are made by elected representatives not Joe Blow from down the street. Who can know what to make of it? Especially if it is not being widely reported. It gives the feeling of a cover up.

What we are watching before our very eyes is the total corruption of our “news” media. I’m curious to see where this leads us over the next several years. One day the people perpetrating this news blackout will get blacked-out themselves. The pendulum swings in both directions. Enjoy your fascism now because history tells us it doesn’t last forever.

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Technology Thoughts

What is the future of media?

I think we may be on the verge of a new wave of independent media. We had a previous wave and it gave rise to websites, blogs, and news aggregators. Then there was a great consolidation where large corporate publishers bought up some of the most influential sites. Many of those sites and bloggers became disillusioned with their corporate overlords and again went independent. This is now happening in the podcast and vlog space. Pushed forward by YouTube, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, and Twitter de-platforming accounts we’re beginning to see less dependence on “big tech.” 2020 has proven that these silos are interested in protecting their ad revenue in the guise of protecting the public from “fake news” and bad information. This is not good for free and open discussion.

TV and radio haven’t served the public good for decades and the product is dumbed down to the point of being unwatchable. Independent podcasts, vlogs, and other video productions have risen to fill the void but have only made it into the mainstream by utilizing the platforms of big tech. When anything remotely controversial arises big tech de-platforms the offender out of fear of losing advertising revenue. This situation is untenable. Freedom of expression cannot survive by the whim of advertisers. That’s why media needs to get more fragmented and federated than ever before.

It’s already happening with audio. An audio file takes up very little hard drive space and is easily distributed via RSS using podcast apps. You can start a podcast using just your phone and basic audio editing tools. The barrier to entry is virtually nothing. You can find an audio podcast on virtually any subject and it’s very difficult to censor. The Podcasting 2.0 endeavor to redefine the podcast index and prevent de-platforming by Apple or Spotify (those are not really podcasts but instead are wholly owned Spotify shows) is gaining steam and they are even innovating with new features for independent podcasters that will help them compete with big tech.

Video is a different animal however. While you can also start with just your phone and basic editing tools the larger files and the bandwidth necessary to deliver the content has a much steeper barrier to entry. While hard drive storage is extremely cheap and it’s easy to store terabytes of video on any home computer the bandwidth to serve that video is still expensive. You could lower the resolution to create smaller files but that is not good for the audience. Internet service providers also keep upload speeds much lower than downloads because they do not want people serving content from their homes. The cost of a commercial connection to the Internet is still out of reach for the average person. Right now the only economical solution is to use big tech platforms for storage and delivery.

The problem here is if you have a controversial opinion the risk of getting de-platformed is very high. Recently YouTube infamously stated they would ban content that said there was wide-spread voter fraud in the 2020 election. The power to just shut down one side of an argument is more powerful than a TV network’s ability to ignore a story. What good is a one sided argument? Moving to a competing service like Rumble or Parler is no help. They’re just different platforms with their own terms of service that will eventually succumb to the ignorance of the mob.

Big tech, with their constantly changing terms of service are not designed to allow the free flow of ideas. They are built to censor. What’s needed is an affordable content delivery network that does not discriminate and does not censor files uploaded to its servers. Is this even possible? Yes. Big tech builds server farms and data centers all over the world. But how can any company ensure that only legal content be stored there? They can’t and toleration of this fact is key to maintaining a free and open Internet.

The answer is to keep section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) and allow true content platforms to host any files… even the most offensive content. When unlawful content is found law enforcement needs to arrest and prosecute the people responsible for producing and distributing the content. This is what we do now. For example, no one is stopping child pornographers from purchasing cameras, paper, printers, and binding machines. And, no one holds the manufacturers of those products responsible for the content produced using those products. But, if an individual or a company like the New York Times started publishing child porn or libeled someone they could, and in the case of the former, should be prosecuted.

Maybe an amendment to the CDA is needed to protect a content agnostic content farm and specifically exclude protections for tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter because they are making editorial decisions. Those editorial decisions in my mind make them publishers and not platforms. If we can make this distinction maybe content farms will propagate and make federated audio and video content affordable to the masses. This way the only entity that would be capable of de-platforming a user of the service would be law enforcement through existing law.

The concept of a content agnostic content farm could be the future of media. Combined with what’s happening in the podcasting space with podcastindex.org I can see a future where news is no longer controlled by big media and big tech.

The Internet IS the content platform not the content silos. The future of media can be us if we want it to be.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
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Thoughts

Interesting video on the state of modern media

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Books Thoughts

Back to reading books

It’s been quite some time since I finished a book. The last couple of years had me traveling and doing other work that kept me super busy. I kept reading during those times but it was really hit or miss and a tough slog.

Since I decided to leave the family business I surprisingly still didn’t have a lot of time for reading. Seems there are plenty of things to do even without going into an office 5 days a week.

But, the month of July I made a concerted effort to get back on the reading track. I get a lot of great information from books that I wouldn’t get otherwise. And if I’m not getting information I’m at the very least gaining someone else’s perspective.

So during this month I was able to finish the following books.

The Pioneers by David McCullough

I never knew the history of Ohio and how it was settled. I’m sure I won’t retain all the details in this book but it was interesting to discover the who, what, and why. It’s also so easy to forget that the Midwest was, not all that long ago, the western frontier of the United States.

How to Fake Your Way Into Getting Rich on Instagram by Trey Ratcliff

World famous photographer Trey Ratcliff rips the veil off several “big” influencers on Instagram and illustrates how he believes they were able to amass a large “following” (in quotes because their followers are most likely fake) and how they used that to make themselves money. I believe this book is an attempt to shame Instagram and other social networks like it to better police their users in order to prevent fraud and to stop cheapening the accounts with an actual following. Ratcliff lets you know what services they used and how they used them in order to pump up their numbers. It’s always good to know how the fakery is done.

The Ketogenic Bible

I have already read other books on the science behind low carbohydrate diets. I was keenly interested in this one because it focuses on the Ketogenic Diet in particular. Most people who know me know that I watch what I eat. Meaning that I watch the food as I shovel it into my mouth. But, I’ve never subscribed to a particular diet. I just eat when I’m hungry and I eat whatever I feel like in the moment. The reason this piqued my interest is because for over 2 decades I’ve been living the lifestyle of what people are calling Intermittent Fasting. I stumbled into this all on my own. That combined with my lack of a sweet tooth means that I also tend to eat foods that are low in carbohydrates. So I was curious to know the science behind how these processes work inside the body. It was my belief that I slip in and out of ketosis (not to be confused with ketoacidosis) very easily because of how long I’ve been unknowingly practicing intermittent fasting. And I believe I was correct!

All the links above are Amazon Affiliate links. So thanks if you choose to buy. I do need an income source now you know.