SocraticGadfly: If the Internet is fake, what about all the Net-based jobs?

January 25, 2019

If the Internet is fake, what about all the Net-based jobs?

New York Magazine, reporting on a recently unsealed federal indictment, notes that 40 percent or more of "traffic" (sic on scare quotes) on the Internet is non-human — bots of various sort.

Most of it is NOT Russian troll farms trying to get Donald Trump elected.

Rather, riffing on one of the forks of interpretation of Stewart Brand's "Information wants to be free," it's good old bad old capitalists ripping off other capitalists, and to a lesser extent, you and me as collateral damages.

(Brand himself claims he's blamed for a lot of tech-neoliberalism stuff that is not his fault. The rest of that interview indicates he's lying to himself if he really believes that and lying to the rest of us anyway.)

A fair chunk of it is certainly American, but, especially per video "like farms" and similar preying on YouTube (and probably Facebook videos and more) another fair chunk of it is Made in China. In turn, this again underscores Donald Trump's idiocy on tariffs. Had he not pissed off the EU and China with steel tariffs, he had ready-made allies on intellectual property. And, cultural liberals in Hollywood and NYC, as well as libertarians in Silicon Valley, ready to ally with him domestically.

Indeed, the story notes that for a period in 2013 — ancient history on the Net! — more than half of YouTube traffic was bots. YouTube employees feared that their anti-spam programming might then reach what they called "The Inversion," and start to see bots as people and people as bots.

There's "good" reason this has happened. Measuring video interaction and engagement is even tougher than that for pages in general. And, it seems to have evolved less slowly than mindsets to try to measure general page involvement. One suspects this is behind Facebook's gross misstatement of video interactivity there.

In turn, bot companies, per the lede to Max Read's story (great name for a story like this, right?) have used these clicks and more to harvest money from programmatic advertising and to suck money out of the Internet in other ways.

Beyond all that, Read thinks we've reached an Internet-wide Inversion, and that in essence includes us real people. He notes that Facebook's metrics for what counts as "watching" a video, for example, aren't even close to what actual people would consider "watching." (This, in turn, adds to the idea that Zuckerberg himself is a cyborg, does it not?)

However, the modern Internet botverse is, in my opinion (and I think that of many others) a symptom more than the cause of us reaching a functional Inversion that likely has long been cooked into the modern Net since capitalism got its tentacles into it.

Read would seem to agree, on Twitter:
Read goes on to note that many businesses associated with the modern Net, and often with spinoffs of such bottery, are themselves fake. Amazon resellers are a prime example. Now, before somebody pulls a No True Scotsman about other sites, I'm sure an eBay has some degree of such problems. Look at human fraudsters such as former Skeptics™ object of phallic attention, and now convicted fraudster, Brian Dunning. Dunning, in addition to being a cookie-thiever, got crap-produced overpriced swag for sale that people wouldn't buy if they weren't Dunning cultists.

Related, is George Monbiot's lament of the alliance of advertising and academia. Though he doesn't directly address this, if so much of the online world is fake, including its marketing jobs I note above, then also fake are the sheepskins offered in these areas. And an increasingly business-modeled academia, both at traditional universities but even more at modern, online-first, explicitly profit-modeled ones, will be clad to take its cut of the gravy train.

And, that leads back to Steward Brand's "information wants to be free" and whether in the Net world,. that should be "libre" or "gratis." It should have been "gratis," as in capitalism-free. People like Tim Berners-Lee have long said that capitalism in general, let alone modern late-stage capitalism, wasn't meant to be wedded to the Net. 

But it has been.

I tied a wrong idea from Brand (I say wrong idea because he's given at least a fair indication that he backs "libre" but not "gratis" himself) to .... well, to Amazon plus Google and Apple. (That was seven years ago; writing today, I'd surely have included Facebook.) In a more in-depth piece a month earlier that focused on Google and Apple, I said that guru Jaron Lanier was almost as much problem as solution, something I do stand by seven years later.

Read's own conclusion is partially true — that the Internet has a problem of trust.

But, it also has a problem of too much capitalism behind that. Just as the fakes are more symptom than cause, so is the lack of trust.

That said, I take this situation a bit personally. I don't make a bunch of money here on Google ads, but I do make a little bit. I make an even smaller bit on link click-throughs from major news organizations, though that has tailed off hugely with Facebook Stories. In both instances, though, the bots are stealing from me.

That said, many "creatives" are going back to not only a pre-social media but a pre-blogging time. Paid-subscription emails by authors publishing books on installment is a growing issue.

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