I needed a friend’s help the other day to clean up a mess which they didn’t create (it was really my problem). When they didn’t help fast enough I lashed out at them, as anyone would of course.
While that’s a flippant analogy, that little preamble looks a lot like what some political leaders are doing to the internet. While social media sites continue to ramp up their efforts to combat extremism online, policy makers are threatening steep fines if internet companies don’t move at unrealistic speeds to help solve a problem which politicians are actually responsible for.
Extremism is a complex and global political problem with deep roots and a long history. Like many political movements, it has repeatedly co-opted popular communications channels to extend its reach. From print, to radio, to TV and ultimately online, extremists have followed the rest of us as we’ve moved from one medium to another. There’s no cause and effect in this, it’s simply the path society overall has followed.
Conflating the tools extremists use with the message they bear is not only unhelpful, but dangerous. Banning suitcases in airports, or backpacks on trains, or tanker trucks on roadways would change the patterns of violence, but would do nothing to address the political problems that are the root of the issue. Likewise, levying fines on the tech channels extremists usurp misses the point, and probably discourages those otherwise inclined to help. It saps resources and sours relationships. It’s both bad policy and bad politics.
The developer community holds a tremendous reservoir of energy and passion for helping others and improving the world. Combating extremism is the type of societal challenge that the internet community is great at tackling. The role of government should be to support and encourage action, to act as convener to collect and channel the activist energy latent in our tech community. Rather than barking in dissatisfaction, government should work alongside the developer community to identify how best to take the fight online; removing regulatory and legal roadblocks and helping, rather than impeding, the internet community's efforts.