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September 19, 2017

[bkc] Hate speech on Facebook

I’m at a Very Special Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society Tuesday luncheon featuring Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management in conversation with Jonathan Zittrain. Monika is in charge of what types of content can be shared on FB, how advertisers and developer interact with the site, and FB’s response to terrorist content. [NOTE: I am typing quickly, getting things wrong, missing nuance, filtering through my own interests and biases, omitting what I can’t hear or parse, and not using a spelpchecker. TL;DR: Please do not assume that this is a reliable account.]

Monika: We have more than 2B users…

JZ: Including bots?

MB: Nope, verified. Billions of messages are posted every day.

[JZ posts some bullet points about MB’s career, which is awesome.]

JZ: Audience, would you want to see photos of abused dogs taken down. Assume they’re put up without context. [It sounds to me like more do not want it taken down.]

MB: The Guardian covered this. [Maybe here?] The useful part was it highlighted how much goes into the process of deciding these things. E.g., what counts as mutilation of an animal? The Guardian published what it said were FB’s standards, not all of which were.

MB: For user generated content there’s a set of standards that’s made public. When a comment is reported to FB, it goes to a FB content reviewer.

JZ: What does it take to be one of those? What does it pay?

MB: It’s not an existing field. Some have content-area expertise, e.g., terrorism. It’s not a minimum wage sort of job. It’s a difficult, serious job. People go through extensive training, and continuing training. Each reviewer is audited. They take quizzes from time to time. Our policies change constantly. We have something like a mini legislative session every two weeks to discuss proposed policy changes, considering internal suggestions, including international input, and external expert input as well, e.g., ACLU.

MB: About animal abuse: we consider context. Is it a protest against animal cruelty? After a natural disaster, you’ll see awful images. It gets very complicated. E.g., someone posts a photo of a bleeding body in Syria with no caption, or just “Wow.” What do we do?

JZ: This is worlds away from what lawyers learn about the First Amendment.

MB: Yes, we’re a private company so the Amendment doesn’t apply. Behind our rules is the idea that “You don’t have to agree with the content, but you should feel safe”FB should be a place where people feel safe connecting and expressing themselves. You don’t have to agree with the content, but you should feel safe.

JZ: Hate speech was defined as an attack against a protected category…

MB: We don’t allow hate speech, but no two people define it the same way. For us, it’s hate speech if you are attacking a person or a group of people based upon a protected characteristic — race, gender, gender identification, etc. —. Sounds easy in concept, but applying it is hard. Our rule is if I say something about a protected category and it’s an attack, we’d consider it hate speech and remove it.

JZ: The Guardian said that in training there’s a quiz. Q: Who do we protect: Women drivers, black children, or white men? A: White men.

MB: Not our policy any more. Our policy was that if there’s another characteristic beside the protected category, it’s not hate speech. So, attacking black children was ok but not white men, because of the inclusion of “children.” But we’ve changed that. Now we would consider attacks on women drivers and black children as hate speech. But when you introduce other characteristics such as profession, it’s harder. We’re evaluating and testing policies now. We try marking content and doing a blind test to see how it affects outcomes. [I don’t understand that. Sorry.]

JZ: Should the internal policy be made public?

MB: I’d be in favor of it. Making the training decks transparent would also be useful. It’s easier if you make clear where the line is.

JZ: Do protected categories shift?

MB: Yes, generally. I’ve been at FB for 5.5 yrs, in this are for 4 yrs. Overall, we’ve gotten more restrictive. Sometimes something becomes a topic of news and we want to make sure people can discuss it.

JZ: Didi Delgado’s post “all white people are racist” was deleted. But it would have been deleted if had said that all black people are racist, right?

MB: Yes. “If it’s a protected characteristic, we’ll protect it”If it’s a protected characteristic, we’ll protect it. [Ah, if only life were that symmetrical.]

JZL How about calls to violence, e.g., “Someone shoot Trump/Hillary”? If you think it should be taken down. [Sounds like most would let it stand.]

JZ: How about “Kick a person with red hair.” [most let it stand]

JZ: “How about: To snap a bitch’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat.” [most let it stand][fuck, that’s hard to see up on the screen.]

JZ: “Let’s beat up the fat kids.” [most let it stand]

JZ: “#stab and become the fear of the Zionist” [most take it down]

MB: We don’t allow credible calls for violence.

JZ: Suppose I, a non-public figure, posted “Post one more insult and I’ll kill you.”

MB: We’d take that down. We also look at the degree of violence. Beating up and kicking might not rise to the standard. Snapping someone’s neck would be taken down, although if it were purely instructions on how to do something, we’d leave it up. “Zionist” is often associated with hate speech, and stabbing is serious, so we’d take them down. We leave room for aspirational statements wishing some bad thing would happen. “Someone should shoot them all” we’d count as a call to violence. We also look for specifity, as in “Let’s kill JZ. He leaves work at 3.” We also look at the vulnerability of people; if it’s a dangerous situation,
we’ll tend to treat all such things as calls to violence, [These are tough questions, but I’m not aligned with FB’s decisions on this.]

JZ: How long does someone spend reviewing this stuff?

MB: Some is easy. Nudity is nudity, although we let breast cancer photos through. But a beheading video is prohibited no matter what the context. Profiles can be very hard to evaluate. E.g., is this person a terrorist?

JZ: Given the importance of FB, does it seem right that these decisions reside with FB as a commercial entity. Or is there some other source that would actually be a relief?

MB: “We’re not making these decisions in a silo”We’re not making these decisions in a silo. We reach out for opinions outside of the company. We have Safety Advisory Board, a Global Safety Network [got that wrong, I think], etc.

JZ: These decisions are global? If I insult the Thai King…

MB: That doesn’t violate our global community standard. We have a group of academics around the world, and people on our team, who are counter-terrorism experts. It’s very much a conversation with the community.

JZ: FB requires real names, which can be a form of self-doxxing. Is the Real Name policy going to evolve?

MB: It’s evolved a little about what counts as their real name, i.e., the name people call you as opposed to what’s on your drivers license. Using your real name has always been a cornerstone of FB. A quinessential element of FB.

JZ: You don’t force disambiguation among all the Robert Smiths…

MB: When you communicate with people you know, you know you know them. “We don’t want people to be communicating with people who are not who you think they are”We don’t want people to be communicating with people who are not who you think they are. When you share something on FB, it’s not public or private. You can choose which groups you want to share it with, so you know who will see it. That’s part of the real name policy as well.

MB: We have our community standards. Sometimes we get requests from countries to remove violations of their law, e.g., insults to the King of Thailand. If we get such a request, if it doesn’t violate the standards, we look if the request is actually about real law in that country. Then we ask if it is political speech; if it is, to the extent possible, we’ll push back on those requests. E.g., Germans have a little more subjectivity in their hate speech laws. They may notify us about something that violates those laws, and if it does not violate our global standards, we’ll remove it in Germany only. (It’s done by IP addresses, the language you’re using, etc.) When we do that, we include it in our 6 month reports. If it’s removed, you see a notice that the content is restricted in your jurisdiction.

Q&A

Q: Have you spoken to users about people from different cultures and backgrounds reviewing their content?

A: It’s a legitimate question. E.g., when it comes to nudity, even a room of people as homogenous as this one will disagree. So, “our rules are written to be very objective”our rules are written to be very objective. And we’re increasingly using tech to make these decisions. E.g., it’s easy to automate the finding of links to porn or spam, and much harder for evaluating speech.

Q: What drives change in these policies and algorithms?

A: It’s constantly happening. And public conversation is helpful. And our reviewers raise issues.

Q: a) When there are very contentious political issues, how do you prevent bias? b) Are there checks on FB promoting some agenda?

A: a) We don’t have a rule saying that people from one or another country can review contentious posts. But we review the reviewers’ decisions every week. b) The transparency report we put out every six months is one such check. If we don’t listen to feedback, we tend to see news stories calling us out on it.

[Monika now quickly addresses some of the questions from the open question tool.]

Q: Would you send reports to Lumen? MB: We don’t currently record why decisions were made.

Q: How to prevent removal policies from being weaponized but trolls or censorious regimes? MB: We treat all reports the same — there’s an argument that we shouldn’t — but we don’t continuously re-review posts.

JZ: For all of the major platforms struggling with these issues, is it your instinct that it’s just a matter of incrementally getting this right, bringing in more people, continue to use AI, etc. OR do you think sometimes that this is just nuts; there’s got to be a better way.

There’s a tension between letting anyone see what they want, or have global standards. People say US hates hate speech and the Germans not so much, but there’s actually a spectrum in each. The catch is that there’s content that you’re going to be ok seeing but we think is not ok to be shared.

[Monika was refreshingly direct, and these are, I believe, literally impossible problems. But I came away thinking that FB’s position has a lot to do with covering their butt at the expense of protecting the vulnerable. E.g., they treat all protected classes equally, even though some of us — er, me — are in top o’ the heap, privileged classes. The result is that FB applies a rule equally to all, which can bring inequitable results. That’s easier and safer, but it’s not like I have a solution to these intractable problems.]

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September 3, 2017

Free e-book from Los Angeles Review of Books

I’m proud that my essay about online knowledge has been included in a free e-book collecting essays about the effect of the digital revolution, published by the Los Angeles Review of Books.

It’s actually the first essay in the book, which obviously is not arranged in order of preference, but probably means at least the editors didn’t hate it.

 


The next day: Thanks to a tweet by Siva Vaidhyanathan, I and a lot of people on Twitter have realized that all but one of the authors in this volume are male. I’d simply said yes to the editors’ request to re-publish my article. It didn’t occur to me to ask to see the rest of the roster even though this is an issue I care about deeply. LARB seems to feature diverse writers overall, but apparently not so much in tech.

On the positive, this has produced a crowd-sourced list of non-male writers and thinkers about tech with a rapidity that is evidence of the pain and importance of this issue.

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August 18, 2017

Journalism, mistrust, transparency

Ethan Zuckerman brilliantly frames the public’s distrust of institutional journal in a whitepaper he is writing for Knight. (He’s posted it both on his blog and at Medium. Choose wisely.)
As he said at an Aspen event where he led a discussion of it:

…I think mistrust in civic institutions is much broader than mistrust in the press. Because mistrust is broad-based, press-centric solutions to mistrust are likely to fail. This is a broad civic problem, not a problem of fake news,

The whitepaper explores the roots of that broad civic problem and suggests ways to ameliorate it. The essay is deeply thought, carefully laid out, and vividly expressed. It is, in short, peak Ethanz.

The best news is that Ethan notes that he’s writing a book on civic mistrust.

 


 

In the early 2000’s, some of us thought that journalists would blog and we would thereby get to know who they are and what they value. This would help transparency become the new objectivity. Blogging has not become the norm for reporters, although it does occur. But it turns out that Twitter is doing that transparency job for us. Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) at CNN is one particularly good example of this; he tweets with a fierce decency. Margie Haberman (@maggieNYT) and Glenn Thrush (@glennThrush) from the NY Times, too. And many more.

This, I think is a good thing. For one thing, it increases trust in at least some news media, while confirming our distrust of news media we already didn’t trust. But we are well past the point where we are ever going to trust the news media as a generalization. The challenge is to build public trust in news media that report as truthfully and fairly as they can.

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August 13, 2017

Machine learning cocktails

Inspired by fabulously wrong paint colors that Janelle Shane’s generated by running existing paint names through a machine learning system, and then by an hilarious experiment in dog breed names by my friend Matthew Battles, I decided to run some data through a beginner’s machine learning algorithm by karpathy.

I fed a list of cocktail names in as data to an unaltered copy of karpathy’s code. After several hundred thousand iterations, here’s a highly curated list of results:

  • French Connerini Mot
  • Freside
  • Rumibiipl
  • Freacher
  • Agtaitane
  • Black Silraian
  • Brack Rickwitr
  • Hang
  • boonihat
  • Tuxon
  • Bachutta B
  • My Faira
  • Blamaker
  • Salila and Tonic
  • Tequila Sou
  • Iriblon
  • Saradise
  • Ponch
  • Deiver
  • Plaltsica
  • Bounchat
  • Loner
  • Hullow
  • Keviy Corpse der
  • KreckFlirch 75
  • Favoyaloo
  • Black Ruskey
  • Avigorrer
  • Anian
  • Par’sHance
  • Salise
  • Tequila slondy
  • Corpee Appant
  • Coo Bogonhee
  • Coakey Cacarvib
  • Srizzd
  • Black Rosih
  • Cacalirr
  • Falay Mund
  • Frize
  • Rabgel
  • FomnFee After
  • Pegur
  • Missoadi Mangoy Rpey Cockty e
  • Banilatco
  • Zortenkare
  • Riscaporoc
  • Gin Choler Lady or Delilah
  • Bobbianch 75
  • Kir Roy Marnin Puter
  • Freake
  • Biaktee
  • Coske Slommer Roy Dog
  • Mo Kockey
  • Sane
  • Briney
  • Bubpeinker
  • Rustin Fington Lang T
  • Kiand Tea
  • Malmooo
  • Batidmi m
  • Pint Julep
  • Funktterchem
  • Gindy
  • Mod Brandy
  • Kkertina Blundy Coler Lady
  • Blue Lago’sil
  • Mnakesono Make
  • gizzle
  • Whimleez
  • Brand Corp Mook
  • Nixonkey
  • Plirrini
  • Oo Cog
  • Bloee Pluse
  • Kremlin Colone Pank
  • Slirroyane Hook
  • Lime Rim Swizzle
  • Ropsinianere
  • Blandy
  • Flinge
  • Daago
  • Tuefdequila Slandy
  • Stindy
  • Fizzy Mpllveloos
  • Bangelle Conkerish
  • Bnoo Bule Carge Rockai Ma
  • Biange Tupilang Volcano
  • Fluffy Crica
  • Frorc
  • Orandy Sour
  • The candy Dargr
  • SrackCande
  • The Kake
  • Brandy Monkliver
  • Jack Russian
  • Prince of Walo Moskeras
  • El Toro Loco Patyhoon
  • Rob Womb
  • Tom and Jurr Bumb
  • She Whescakawmbo Woake
  • Gidcapore Sling
  • Mys-Tal Conkey
  • Bocooman Irion anlis
  • Ange Cocktaipopa
  • Sex Roy
  • Ruby Dunch
  • Tergea Cacarino burp Komb
  • Ringadot
  • Manhatter
  • Bloo Wommer
  • Kremlin Lani Lady
  • Negronee Lince
  • Peady-Panky on the Beach

Then I added to the original list of cocktails a list of Western philosophers. After about 1.4 million iterations, here’s a curated list:

  • Wotticolus
  • Lobquidibet
  • Mores of Cunge
  • Ruck Velvet
  • Moscow Muáred
  • Elngexetas of Nissone
  • Johkey Bull
  • Zoo Haul
  • Paredo-fleKrpol
  • Whithetery Bacady Mallan
  • Greekeizer
  • Frellinki
  • Made orass
  • Wellis Cocota
  • Giued Cackey-Glaxion
  • Mary Slire
  • Robon Moot
  • Cock Vullon Dases
  • Loscorins of Velayzer
  • Adg Cock Volly
  • Flamanglavere Manettani
  • J.N. tust
  • Groscho Rob
  • Killiam of Orin
  • Fenck Viele Jeapl
  • Gin and Shittenteisg Bura
  • buzdinkor de Mar
  • J. Apinemberidera
  • Nickey Bull
  • Fishomiunr Slmester
  • Chimio de Cuckble Golley
  • Zoo b Revey Wiickes
  • P.O. Hewllan o
  • Hlack Rossey
  • Coolle Wilerbus
  • Paipirista Vico
  • Sadebuss of Nissone
  • Sexoo
  • Parodabo Blazmeg
  • Framidozshat
  • Almiud Iquineme
  • P.D. Sullarmus
  • Baamble Nogrsan
  • G.W.J. . Malley
  • Aphith Cart
  • C.G. Oudy Martine ram
  • Flickani
  • Postine Bland
  • Purch
  • Caul Potkey
  • J.O. de la Matha
  • Porel
  • Flickhaitey Colle
  • Bumbat
  • Mimonxo
  • Zozky Old the Sevila
  • Marenide Momben Coust Bomb
  • Barask’s Spacos Sasttin
  • Th mlug
  • Bloolllamand Royes
  • Hackey Sair
  • Nick Russonack
  • Fipple buck
  • G.W.F. Heer Lach Kemlse Male

Yes, we need not worry about human bartenders, cocktail designers, or philosophers being replaced by this particular algorithm. On the other hand, this is algorithm consists of a handful of lines of code and was applied blindly by a person dumber than it. Presumably SkyNet — or the next version of Microsoft Clippy — will be significantly more sophisticated than that.

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August 8, 2017

Messy meaning

Steve Thomas [twitter: @stevelibrarian] of the Circulating Ideas podcast interviews me about the messiness of meaning, library innovation, and educating against fake news.

You can listen to it here.

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August 7, 2017

Cymbeline: Shakespeare’s worst play (Or: Lordy, I hope there’s a tape)

The hosts of the BardCast podcast consider Cymbeline to probably be Shakespeare’s worst play. Not enough happens in the first two acts, the plot is kuh-razy, it’s a mishmash of styles and cultures, and it over-explains itself time and time again. That podcast is far from alone in thinking that it’s the Bard’s worst, although, as BardCast says, even the Bard’s worst is better than just about anything. Nevertheless, when was the last time you saw a performance of Cymbeline? Yeah, me neither.

We saw it yesterday afternoon, in its final performance at Shakespeare & Co in Lenox, Mass. It was fantastic: hilarious, satisfactorily coherent (which is praiseworthy because the plot is indeed crazy), and at times moving.

It was directed by the founder of the company, Tina Packer, and showed her usual commitment to modernizing Shakespeare by finding every emotional tone and every laugh in the original script. The actors enunciate clearly, but since we modern folk don’t understand many of the words and misunderstand more than that, the actors use body language, cues, and incredibly well worked out staging to make their meaning clear. We used to take our young children to Shakespeare & Co. shows, and they loved them.

I’m open to being convinced by a Shakespeare scholar that the Shakespeare & Co.’s Cymbeline was a travesty that had nothing to do with Shakespeare’s intentions, even though the players said all the words he wrote and honored the words’ magnificence. I’m willing to acknowledge that, for example, when Imogen and King Cymbeline offer each other words of condolence about the death of the wicked, wicked queen, Shakespeare didn’t think they’d wait a beat and then burst out laughing. But when Posthumus comes before the King at the end, bemoaning the death of his beloved Imogen, I would not be surprised if Shakespeare were to nod in appreciation as in this production the audience bursts into loud laughter because Imogen, still in disguise as a boy, is scrambling towards Posthumus, gesticulating ever more wildly that she is in fact she for whom he mourns. Did Shakespeare intend that? Probably not. Does it work? One hundred percent.

These two embellishments are emblematic of the problem with the play. In that final scene, it is revealed to the King in a single speech that the Queen he has loved for decades in fact always hated him, tried to poison him, and was a horrible, horrible person. There’s little or nothing in the play that explains how the King could not have had an inkling of this, and he seems to get over the sudden revelation of his mate’s iniquity in a heartbeat so that the scene can get on with its endless explication. The laugh he shares with his daughter gets a huge laugh from the audience, but only because the words of sorrow Shakespeare gives the King and Imogen seem undeserved for a Queen so resolutely evil; the addition of the laugh solves a problem with the script. Likewise, Imogen’s scramble toward Posthumus, waving her arms in a “Hey, I’m right here!” gesture, turns Posthumus’ mournful declaration of his devastation at the death of Imogen into comic over-statement.

To be clear, most of the interpretations seem to bring Shakespeare’s intentions to life, even if unexpected ways. For example, Jason Aspry’s Cloten was far different from the thuggish and thoroughly villainous character we expected. Asprey played him hilariously as a preening coward. This had me concerned because I knew that he is killed mid-play in a fight with the older of two young princes who have been brought up in a cave. (It’s a weird plot.) How can the prince kill such an enjoyable buffoon without making us feel like someone casually shot Capt. Jack Sparrow halfway through the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie? But the staging and the acting is so well done that, amazingly, the biggest laugh of the show came when the prince enters the stage holding Cloten’s severed head. (Don’t judge me. You would have laughed, too.)

So, this may well be Shakespeare’s worst play. If so, it got a performance that found everything good in it, and then some.

 


 

I do want to at least mention the brilliance and commitment of the actors. Some we have been seeing every summer for decades, and others are new or newer to us. But this is an amazing group. Among the cast members who were new to us, Ella Loudon was amazing as the older prince. I feel bad singling anyone out, but, there, I did it.

 


 

Finally, Shakespeare & Co. doesn’t post videos of performances of their plays after they’ve run. It makes me heartsick that they do not. I’ve asked them about this in past, and apparently the problem is with the actors’ union. I was brought up in a pro-union household and continue to be favorably inclined toward them, but I wish there were a way to work this out. It’d be good for the world to be able to see these exceptional performances and come to love Shakespeare.
It would of course also be good for Shakespeare & Co.

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July 27, 2017

Misc.

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July 20, 2017

I didn’t like the new Planet of the Apes movie. [No spoilers.]

War for Planet of the Apes has 95% positive ratings at Rotten Tomatoes. Many of the cited reviews are effusive. For example, Charles Taylor at Newsweek calls it “a consistently intelligent, morally thoughtful and often beautiful picture.”

I’d rephrase that a bit. I think it was a dumb, predictable, boring movie with a couple of nice landscape shots. We went to see it on one of our few movie nights out because we’d enjoyed the first two in this series.

If WARPA weren’t about apes but was instead about the actual human ism‘s it intends to get us to see from the Other’s perspective — racism, colonialism, militarism — we’d view it as embarrassingly trite and shallow. Casting apes as the victims doesn’t make it any less so.

It doesn’t help that while the facial animations are incredible, the ape bodies look like pretty good animations of people wearing ape suits. Plus, I have to say that these apes’ lack of genitalia or assholes diminishes the vividness of the premise of the movie: the apes we’ve treated as an inferior species are deserving of respect and dignity. Instead, we get damn, dirty hairy aliens.

But most of all, there isn’t a cliche the movie doesn’t miss. If you’re sitting in your seat thinking that the next obvious thing to happen is X, then X will happen. Guaranteed. The only surprises are the plot holes, of which there are many.

The music is bad in itself and is used as a cudgel. They might as well have skipped the music and just put in subtitles like “Feel sorrow here.”

Full marks to Andy Serkis and the motion capture crew. As others have suggested, he deserves his Special Achievement Oscar already. Well, he deserved it for Lord of the Rings, but his work in this movie is absolutely its highlight. Steve Zahn also has a good turn as the comic relief. But poor Woody Harrelson is stuck with ridiculous lines and a clumsy narrative attempt to give his character some depth. His best moment is when he shaves his head in one of the movie’s embarrassing flags that it thinks it’s on a par with films like Apocalypse Now.

Also, this movie is no fun. It’s grim. It’s boring. It’s unfair to the humans.

That last point is not a political complaint because lord knows we deserve all the monkey feces thrown at us. It’s instead a complaint about the shallowness of the movie-making.

Overall, I’d give a 95% chance of disappointing you.

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July 18, 2017

America's default philosophy

John McCumber — a grad school colleague with whom I have alas not kept up — has posted at Aeon an insightful historical argument that America’s default philosophy came about because of a need to justify censoring American communist professorss (resulting in a naive scientism) and a need to have a positive alternative to Marxism (resulting in the adoption of rational choice theory).

That compressed summary does not do justice to the article’s grounding in the political events of the 1950s nor to how well-written and readable it is.

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July 17, 2017

The Internet is also a thing

A list I am on is counseling that a particular writer not to be taken in by a tour of a data center or network operations center. These tours are typically given by PR guides and can leave the impression that the Internet is a set of writes owned by a corporation.

I certainly agree with both concerns. But, having been a Rube on a Tour more than once, I think technologists who are deep into protocol issues may underestimate how shocking it is to most people that the Internet is also a physical thing. Yes, I understand that the Internet is a set of protocols, etc., and I understand that that is usually what we need to communicate to people in order to counter the truly pernicious belief that Comcast et al. own the Internet. But the Internet is also, as instantiated, a set of coiled wires and massive industrial installations. Seeing the blinking lights on a bank of routers and being told by the PR Tour Guide that those signify packets going somewhere is, well, thrilling.

Every Internet user understands that there is a physical side of the Net. But seeing it in person is awesome and inspiring. That’s why Shuli Hallak‘s photos in Invisible Networks are so impressive.

It is tremendously important both conceptually and politically to understand that the Net is fundamentally not a thing and is not owned by anyone. But seeing in person the magnitude of the effort and the magnificence of the hardware engineering also teaches an important lesson: the Internet is not magic. At least not entirely.

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