The Road Forgotten
Dirty tricks & desperate measures

The internet & the death of trust

Attitude
Curated social media. PNG Attitude is a long-running blog featuring edited content and moderated comments. Social media is not intrinsically bad or objectionable, it's how it's used - KJ

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Like many people of my generation I have dipped my toe into Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites but eventually withdrew because of what I judged to be a fairly uninteresting medium.

It is not so much that I am a snob but, like others of my age, I also had trouble understanding and using its multitudinous options. When I hear stories of dedicated 90 year old social media aficionados I stand in awe.

Nowadays I confine my online activity to the internet, mainly email and a few chosen websites. I also use internet banking and Google to research items of interest.

Despite this limited usage I still experience regular bombardments of scams and people trying to sell me useless stuff I don’t want and certainly don’t need.

On top of that I regularly receive emails from excited people telling me I am the beneficiary of fabulous inheritances from strangers or that I have won some obscure lottery I never entered.

Then there are regular emails from people purporting to be gorgeous women desperately wanting to correspond with me.

In the same vein I occasionally stumble across gross and disturbing pornographic sites when I am innocently searching the web for something else.

It may be my age or simply my old world sense of decency but I cannot imagine why anyone healthily sane would want to look at these appalling sites. Or maybe I’ve turned into a grumpy old wowser.

The net result of all this is the inevitable conclusion that the world is full of crooks, carpetbaggers and the morally challenged.

Kramer
Partly curated social media. Bryan Kramer's Facebook page has tens of thousands of followers and offers important information. But problem areas include its permissiveness around fake names and offensive comments from readers - KJ

I’m not sure whether the internet amplifies this fact or is, in fact, simply reflecting the innately dishonest and grubby nature of humanity at large.

I also wonder how these sorry people live with themselves.

How can anyone who rips off innocent people, including the most vulnerable, justify their actions and keep doing it?

How can those women and men appearing on the thousands, and probably millions, of porn sites do what they do?

Many of these people are clearly criminals and very few of them ever seem to be brought to account. The internet is apparently largely a sanction free zone.

But, then again, these people are not very different from others who quite legally use the internet to hound people to sell them things.

The shopping and consumer pornography on the internet is very much like the fleshy pornography that crops up at the leading edge of much technological innovation.

In fact, as I understand it, pornography has been responsible for many technological advances that have been picked up by mainstream purveyors and users.

This leads to the obvious conclusion that on the internet the dividing line between what is criminal and what is legitimate commercial activity is decidedly blurred.

Porno
Ghastly social media. Sites like this one (which seems to have died) are not typical of PNG. Most people develop skills in being able to avoid the worst of social media through understanding how to search and using blocking and filtering techniques - KJ

To extrapolate further it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a large part of our society is populated by people of dubious intent.

In that sense it makes it very difficult to trust anyone, even the most innocently helpful.

No matter what the cause or intent, even from the most morally solid, one cannot, these days, avoid the nagging question, “What are these people up to and what are they trying to get from me?”

Nowadays you can’t trust anyone. Thanks a lot, internet.

Comments

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Philip Fitzpatrick

I suppose the internet and social media are much the same as inventions before them designed for the betterment of society (or to make a buck out of it) but inevitably there are people who will take advantage and abuse and misuse such inventions.

This seems to be a natural law, just like no matter how something is so good people will criticise it.

Bryan Kramer's attempt to use social media to seek justice and keep people informed is laudable but he also attracts lots of bottom feeders too who post lies and defamatory information aimed back at him.

There's a good snippet of how social media can be useful running on the ABC website at the moment. A video of PNG cops beating the shit out of people.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-06/facebook-video-exposes-police-brutality-png/11673746

Chris Overland

Phil Fitzpatrick’s rather bleak view of the impact of the internet and the technologies used to create platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok tends to reflect my own and, like Phil, I have struggled to understand why so many people appear to be obsessively interested in their content.

For example, it strikes me as almost phantasmagorical that the erstwhile leader of the free world seems to communicate mainly through the medium of Twitter.

Using a stream of consciousness style reminiscent of James Joyce (but without his redeeming literary merit), the president of the United States broadcasts what amounts to a running commentary on his thinking upon the great political issues of our time.

I really struggle to comprehend this. The business of government is hard. It involves grappling with sometimes immensely complex and difficult social, economic and geo-political issues.

Decision making, therefore, should reflect a careful analysis of the facts (insofar as they can be understood) surrounding an issue or problem and of the policy options available to deal with it.

This is frequently difficult work and the outcomes of any decision can be difficult to predict with much certainty.

Trump’s approach to the business of government therefore seems to me and many others as at once both apposite and terrifying, especially considering the manifest intellectual and other limitations that this method of communication has revealed about Trump and, perhaps even more terrifyingly, those who form his inner circle of advisers.

Somehow, Twitter has become the way in which Trump’s version of government and international diplomacy is now conducted. I very much doubt that the developers of Twitter had anticipated such a use for their product.

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (literally "dark-bright", "negative-positive"), is a concept of dualism, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other.

The internet is a classic example of this principle in operation. It presents us all with both opportunities and threats. Right now, as Phil has eloquently described, the manifold threats it presents tend to over shadow its virtues.

Partly, this is a question of human nature: we appear to be programmed to overestimate risk and under estimate opportunities. Fortune may favour the brave but nature favours the watchful and nervous.

Just to compound the problem, humans appear to be very poor at assessing risk. Thus, people like me who have a shark phobia, tend to overestimate the risk of shark attack while swimming.

At the same time, like most people, I tend to underestimate the risk of driving to Coles to pick up the groceries.

A lesson of history is that the yin and yang principle ensures that virtually all human ideas and inventions turn out to present threats and opportunities.

For example, the invention of the bow and arrow helped humans to become the world’s top predator. It enabled us to create a more secure food supply, especially access to animal protein.

Unfortunately, it also meant that the risk associated with human conflict was multiplied many times over.

In a similar way, Alfred Nobel was convinced that his invention (dynamite) was so powerful and destructive that it would make warfare unthinkable.

He was entirely wrong of course and, appalled by how his creation actually made warfare much more destructive, set up his famous prize in an attempt to atone for his error.

I would guess that the creator of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, must be having somewhat similar thoughts to Alfred Nobel. His truly brilliant idea has spawned much that is wonderful and a great deal that is simply awful.

Despite Phil’s fairly dire prognostications, history suggests that we will, over time, exert a degree of control and mastery over the internet so as to maximise its benefits and minimise its harms.

This seems likely to be a long and painful process, arrived at after a series of missteps and blunders.

The anti-democratic and authoritarian states like Russia and China, not to mention the criminal classes, have found ways to weaponise Tim Berners-Lee’s invention to do harm to both their own citizens and to others.

Also as usual, the world’s democracies have been slow to understand and respond to these developments.

Winston Churchill purportedly said that a lie can be spread half way around the world before the truth has got its pants on. In a similar way, evil, malfeasance and deception almost invariably has a head start of the forces for good and this is reflected in how the internet is used today.

While I am a perennial pessimist about the state of the world at present, I desperately hope that my grandchildren will be able to look back of this era of bumbling political incompetence as a mere aberration and not at all reflective of their experience of a very profoundly interconnected world.

Arthur Williams

In 1966, studying basic law during my Commercial Teacher’s Training, the lecturer began our first seminar with what he called the basics of any law: ‘Never trust anybody! Especially your spouse!’

The younger students giggled while us so-called mature ones, often already with spouses, merely looked questioningly at him.

He explained to us that a normal lawyer’s bread and butter income was from marital disputes. As a three-time loser I did learn the wisdom of his free advice.

It has been a chastening experience but, as a recent octogenarian, I don’t think it is of much importance these days.

Mind you, when my first wife and I reconnected in 2000 she was just mourning her fourth and most likely last husband.

Being now the only survivor of her marital quad I jokingly asked her, “What have you put in my coffee my dear?”
She grinned and kept stirring it, “Only sugar Arthur!”

This I accepted but, having only recently got back from my PNG life, just for a tiny second part of my cortex flashed up memories of magicians good and bad that had crossed my 30 year trail around the mountains and islands.

Nevertheless, all the wise aphorisms we may have heard do not prepare us for finding the truth about someone or some digital or media site you trusted that he or she or it cannot be believed.

It is a salutary reminder that you are lacking in perspicacity in your friends and research. We are lucky on this site that every blog is moderated before being uploaded for others to read.

Thank you Keith for that safeguard, which grows more onerous as the numbers of your followers grows.

Contrarily, Facebook and many other online sites all appear to have sought profit over security and allowed their customers to post any and every thing they wished without let or hindrance.

They are now reaping what they sowed as witnessed by some nations banning or censoring the social media.

Only last week Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was publicly exposed to a tough grilling in a Senate committee hearing.

It seems that, just like the print media, self-regulation is a mere pipe dream of those with huge monetary interests in some of the media; though there is a need to cultivate and allow free speech so that a tantalising balance has to found by would-be reformers.

Apart from my marital life one of the most sorrowful moments of my PNG days was seeing a longtime eco-warrior friend and colleague in trying to prevent loggers devastating my wife’s island suddenly being found to firmly on the Asian loggers’ side of the argument.

Some years earlier with him and 10 other mates we had formed a NGO to try to stop logging. Most of us had spent many hours at sea in all sorts of weather; walking forest tracks and camping out in our attempts to persuade his tribe of a better ways of enhancing their subsistence life styles by using their forests wisely.

He had even been physically threatened by pro-logger elites in New Ireland trying to stop him giving evidence to the judge Barnet Inquiry into corruption in the timber industry.

He was genuinely afraid and gave it at night at a third party’s home in town. On our behalf he had attended an environmental conference in Japan. Yet suddenly he had made this 180 degree switch from his hitherto stand against them.

The hopelessness I feel here 11,000 miles away was compounded when I was contacted by Global Witness and was given aerial photos of once beautiful rainforest plains alongside the Min River of Lavongai.

(It's worth reading their webpages www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/countries/papua-new-guinea.)

I camped several times at various places in the catchment area and bathed in its crystal clear waters at Vaisavamvam and Potpotingan.

Now my friend was party to the 2007 declaration of forests being stolen by three SABLs that allowed clear felling and ownership for 99 years of this area and two others on the island accounting for perhaps 75% or more of the land.

How can I ever trust anyone after that close friendship was brutally ripped apart?

However we had been warned of the real politic of trust thousands of years ago at Psalms 146-v3 –‘Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of man, in whom there is no help’.

More recently in the Internet revolution it is explained by ‘TNO’ or 'Trust No One'. That is hailed as a mantra for Internet and software security issues.

It used to be claimed how wonderful it was that, apart from land transfers, daily commercial deals worth thousands or millions of transactions could be sealed by a mere shake of a pair of hands.

Sadly my friend’s problem, and much of the world’s, can be traced to greed both personal and corporate.

Wendell Holmes once gave his view of trust: "Put not your trust in money, but put your money in trust" (1857-58, 'The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table', ch.2)

William Dunlop

Phil, you're not on your lonesome. About a year ago I started to advise these phone callers to blow their nose prior to inserting their head right up their annus horribilus. It's worked marvelously. Slantie.

Bernard Corden

" I trust no one, not even myself" - Josef Stalin

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