New EU Internet Copyright Bill, Articles 11 and 13

The infosphere is aflame with a new battle in an old war: how copyright should be handled on the Internet.

The Guardian has background:

It is an argument that has drawn in the likes of Paul McCartney, Plácido Domingo and the Vienna Philharmonic, as well as pioneers of the internet from Tim Berners-Lee to the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales.

Fought with hashtags, mailshots, open letters and celebrity endorsements, the battle over the European Union’s draft directive on copyright heads for a showdown this week.

After two years of debate, members of the European parliament will vote on Wednesday on the legislation, which could change the balance of power between producers of music, news and film and the dominant websites that host their work.

[…]

Critics claim the proposal will destroy the internet, spelling the end of sharing holiday snaps or memes on Facebook. Proponents are exasperated by such claims, described by German Christian Democrat Axel Voss as “totally wrong” and “fake news”.

Two sections in particular are controversial: Articles 11 and 13. Both sides (both sides!) are being very hyperbolic about these. The gist is that groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and people like Cory Doctorow say these are “internet-destroying regulations,” and the proponents’ response (from what I’ve seen on Twitter) is to paint all opponents as paid industry shills who hate artists. I’ve attempted here to come up with what I hope is an even-handed summary. I Am Not A Lawyer, so please tell me what I’ve gotten wrong.

This is a bit long, so click through if you’re interested. Note of course that these are EU laws, but so is the GDPR, and we’ve all experienced the effects of that. Continue reading

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“Getting News From Facebook”

Every so often, a number becomes part of the journalistic zeitgeist. Sometimes it’s linked to a single factoid, sometimes it’s free-floating. You see it around, and sometimes it’s right, but a lot of the time it’s misleading or just plain made-up.

Brooke Gladstone writes about one of these in her graphic manifesto The Influencing Machine (pp. 49-54). The number in question is 50,000. Specifically, 50,000 human victims. It would pop here and there about a variety of different things. Most recently, it was reported (by Attorney General Gonzalez no less) as the number of child predators online at any time. Before that, it was the number of people sacrificed by satanic cults (remember the 80’s?). Before that it was reported as the number of children abducted by strangers in a year, even though the actual number was maybe 250.

And the more she looked into it, the more she found out that “50,000 people die” every year from… everything! At least, if the media can be believed. Where does this number come from? Gladstone calls it ‘the Goldilocks number’. Not “a really small number… like 200. And [not] a ridiculously large number… like 10 million. It [is] a Goldilocks number. Not too hot, not too cold.”

 

Recently something similar had pinged my radar. Specifically, that 44% of adults get their news from Facebook. Or from Twitter. Or from social media in general. Or, or…

Pretty shocking, right? I mean, those aren’t reputable news sources!

This number seemed fishy to me because it couldn’t possibly be that high. First of all, it doesn’t pass the smell test – are 44% of adults even on social media? (Yes, barely.) Well, I didn’t look into it myself, but fortunately somebody did for me. It seems to be a case of semantic drift that lends itself to sensationalism. Basically, 44% of adults, as measured by a Pew survey, report that they “get news” from Facebook, either often, sometimes, or rarely. Basically everybody who didn’t answer “never”.

What’s the difference between people “getting news” and people “getting their news”? Well, kind of everything. To get news is to receive an unknown but non-zero number of news items; to get one’s news is presumably to get all or most of the news items one consumes. This dovetails nicely with people liking to report on how technology is ruining civilization, so it’s used that way. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this number popping up increasingly in the latter context of people getting their news on Facebook, which as we know contains a large amount of ‘fake news’ (a term that with alarming speed became completely meaningless). Etc., etc.

So if you see 44% (or its cousin 68%) popping up in this context, well, now you know.

Gladstone concludes her book by saying that ‘we get the media we deserve’. I’d like to think we aren’t this bad, though.

Technology iz in ur kidz brainz, ruining ur civilization‽ 👻 🆒 🆕 🆓 🔚 🔜 #sorrynotsorry 😏 😎

There was a thing going around recently. I didn’t see the ‘original’ but I did see the response. I’ll excerpt the juicy bit here, go read the whole thing.

Technology and the death of civilisation

It is a failing of human nature to detest anything that young people do just because older people are not used to it or have trouble learning it. So I am wary of the “young people suck” school of social criticism. -Steven Pinker

[…]

Late last year this photograph of children looking at their smartphones by Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam started doing the rounds on the web. It quickly became viral. It was often accompanied by outraged, dispirited comments such as “a perfect metaphor for our age”, “the end of civilisation” or “a sad picture of our society”.

Clearly, to lots of folk, the photograph epitomised everything that is wrong with young people these days and their ‘addiction’ to technology. These children were being distracted by their technology to such an extent that they weren’t paying any attention to the beauty surrounding them in the real world.

Only they weren’t. It turns out that the Rijksmuseum has an app that, among other things, contains guided tours and further information about the works on display. As part of their visit to the museum, the children, who minutes earlier had admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults, had been instructed to complete an assignment by their school teachers, using, among other things, the museum’s excellent smartphone app.

Children listening to adult instruction at the Rijksmuseum

I wonder whether the photo would have caused so much indignation and disapproval if it had depicted students ‘ignoring’ the masterpiece while reading a paper leaflet or museum brochure instead. Though I suspect not. It would appear that, once again, reports heralding the death of civilisation at the execrable hands of technology might have been greatly exaggerated.

(The quote at the top is by Steven Pinker, who had a book out about how we’re pretty much living in the least violent era in human history a few(?) years ago that I understand is pretty good.)

Technology has always been a bugbear of… I’m not even sure who. Old people? I think Douglas Adams was right:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

These things like the top quote is talking about get old. It just isn’t true that things have really changed. The only thing that I’ve ever encountered that changes when a new information technology is introduced is you, and even then it’s in one very specific case. I don’t have a cite for this, but it’s in the beginning of The Information by James Gleick (which is a wonderful read). Basically, non-literate people have trouble with abstract reasoning. When asked a simple syllogism, it goes something like this.

“All bears from the north are white. Nanook is a bear from the north. What color is Nanook?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never met Nanook.”

Within a short time of learning how to read, they’re able to answer it correctly. (God, I really wish I had that cite.) But otherwise, all of the books about ‘Internet brain’ or whatever they call it are baseless and stupid. For a fun exercise, the next time you see a book or article or whatever about how technology is changing us–particularly information technology–try swapping out ‘the Internet’ or ‘Snapchat’ or whatever the complaint is about with something older. Like books, radio, the telegraph, newspapers, or the post office.

People said the same things about those! XKCD had a good summary of some recent ones: Continue reading