Matthew Doyle appears to be not just an ignorant bigot, but a proud ignorant bigot. But... it still should be concerning that he's been arrested for the crime of saying ignorant bigoted stuff on Twitter. Doyle is apparently a PR guy in the UK, who claimed on Twitter that he had "confronted" a Muslim woman on the street demanding that she "explain" the attacks in Brussels. She allegedly told him "nothing to do with me," which, frankly, is a much more polite response than he deserved:
There is some question as to whether or not this actually happened or if it was just Doyle acting out his ignorant jackass fantasies online. But what is clear is that he was then arrested. Not -- mind you -- for the alleged confrontation with the woman, butfor tweeting about it:
A Metropolitan Police spokeman said: "A 46-year-old man was this evening arrested at his home in Croydon on suspicion of inciting racial hatred on social media. He has been taken to a south London police station and enquiries continue."
For what it's worth, Doyle only marginally backtracked later, saying that the word "confront" was not accurate and that resulted in his tweet being taken out of context. He told a reporter at the Telegraph a slightly whitewashed version of the incident:
"What everyone's got wrong about this is I didn't confront the woman," he said. "I just said: 'Excuse me, can I ask what you thought about the incident in Brussels?'"
"She was white, and British, wearing a hijab - and she told me it was nothing to do with her.
"I said 'thank you for explaining that' - and her little boy said goodbye to me as we went out separate ways."
Still makes him out to be ignorant and foolish. In the meantime, if you check out his Twitter feed now (which I'm not linking to) he seems to be basking in the glory of all this newfound attention, pretending like it was some great PR coup.
Still, even if he is a clueless, ignorant bigot, it should be very concerning that he's been arrested for posting on Twitter. And, yes, I know the UK doesn't respect free speech in the same way that the US does. And I know that the UK has a history of arresting people for tweets. But, still... really?
For those who insist he needs to be punished for being an ignorant bigot, supporting his arrest is still stupid. The public is pointing out how ridiculous and simpleminded a person he is, and that reputation will stick longer than any jail time. Sure, he's basking in the attention now and pretending that it's all been beneficial to him, but the reality is that the majority of people recognize him for what he truly is. Arresting people for saying stupid things doesn't help better educate people away from ignorance. It doesn't help deal with the kind of bigotry that possesses people like Doyle. It just serves to create a giant spectacle where people who agree with him feel persecuted and people who recognize he's ignorant feel outraged. But it does nothing to end actual ignorance and bigotry, and only further entrenches people in their existing positions.
Update: Apparently the charges have already been dropped. But that still doesn't stop concerns about the fact that he was arrested in the first place.
My goodness. Yesterday we posted about Rep. Louis Gohmert's incredible, head-shakingly ignorant exchange with lawyer Orin Kerr during a Congressional hearing concerning "hacking" and the CFAA. In that discussion, Gohmert spoke out in favor of being able to "hack back" and destroy the computers of hackers -- and grew indignant at the mere suggestion that this might have unintended consequences or lead people to attack the wrong targets. Gohmert thought that such talk was just Kerr trying to protect hackers.
I thought perhaps Rep. Gohmert was just having a bad day. Maybe he's having a bad month. In a different hearing, held yesterday concerning ECPA reform, Gohmert opened his mouth again, and it was even worse. Much, much worse. Cringe-inducingly clueless. Yell at your screen clueless. Watch for yourself, but be prepared to want to yell.
The short version of this is that he seems to think that when Google has advertisements on Gmail, that's the same thing as selling all of the information in your email to advertisers. And no matter how many times Google's lawyer politely tries to explain the difference, Gohmert doesn't get it. He thinks he's making a point -- smirking the whole time -- that what Google does is somehow the equivalent of government snooping, in that he keeps asking if Google can just "sell" access to everyone's email to the government. I'm going to post a transcript below, and because I simply cannot not interject how ridiculously uninformed Gohmert's line of questioning is, I'm going to interject in the transcript as appropriate.
Rep. Gohmert: I was curious. Doesn't Google sell information acquired from emails to different vendors so that they can target certain individuals with their promotions?
Google lawyer whose name I didn't catch: Uh, no, we don't sell email content. We do have a system -- similar to the system we have for scanning for spam and malware -- that can identify what type of ads are most relevant to serve on email messages. It's an automated process. There's no human interaction. Certainly, the email is not sold to anybody or disclosed.
Gohmert: So how do these other vendors get our emails and think that we may be interested in the products they're selling.
Okay, already we're off to a great start in monumental ignorance. The initial question was based on a complete falsehood -- that Google sells such information -- and after the lawyer told him that this is not true, Gohmert completely ignores that and still asks how they get the emails. It never seems to occur to him that they don't get the emails.
Google lawyer: They don't actually get your email. What they're able to do is through our advertising business be able to identify keywords that they would like to trigger the display of one of their ads, but they don't get information about who the user is or any...
Gohmert: Well that brings me back. So they get information about keywords in our emails that they use to decide who to send promotions to, albeit automatically done. Correct?
NO. Not correct. In fact, that's the exact opposite of what the lawyer just said. Gohmert can't seem to comprehend that Google placing targeted ads next to emails has NOTHING to do with sending any information back to the advertiser. I wonder, when Rep. Gohmert turns on his television to watch the evening news, does he think that the TV station is sending his name, address, channel watching info, etc. back to advertisers? That's not how it works. At all. The advertisers state where they want their ads to appear, and Google's system figures out where to place the ads. At no point does any information from email accounts go back to anyone. And yet Gohmert keeps asking.
And not understanding the rather basic answers. Unfortunately, the lawyer tries to actually explain reality to Gohmert in a professional and detailed manner, when it seems clear that the proper way to answer his questions is in shorter, simpler sentences such as: "No, that's 100% incorrect."
Lawyer: The email context is used to identify what ads are most relevant to the user...
Gohmert: And do they pay for the right or the contractual ability to target those individuals who use those keywords?
Lawyer: I might phrase that slightly differently, but the gist is correct, that advertisers are able to bid for the placement of advertisements to users, where our system has detected might be interested in the advertisement.
Gohmert: Okay, so what would prevent the federal government from making a deal with Google, so they could also "Scroogle" people, and say "I want to know everyone who has ever used the term 'Benghazi'" or "I want everyone who's ever used... a certain term." Would you discriminate against the government, or would you allow the government to know about all emails that included those words?
Okay, try not to hit your head on your desk after that exchange. First, he (perhaps accidentally) gets a statement more or less correct, that advertisers pay to have their ads show up, but immediately follows that up with something completely unrelated to that. First, he tosses in "Scroogled" -- a term that Microsoft uses in its advertising against Gmail and in favor of Outlook.com -- suggesting exactly where this "line" of questioning may have originated. Tip to Microsoft lobbyists, by the way: if you want to put Google on the hot seat, it might help to try a line of questioning that actually makes sense.
Then, the second part, you just have to say huh? The lawyer already explained, repeatedly, that Google doesn't send any information back to the advertiser, and yet he's trying to suggest that the government snooping through your email is the same thing... and Google somehow not giving the government that info is Google "discriminating" against the government? What? Really?
Lawyer [confounded look] Uh... sir, I think those are apples and oranges. I think the disclosure of the identity...
Gohmert: I'm not asking for a fruit comparison. I'm just asking would you be willing to make that deal with the government? The same one you do with private advertisers, so that the government would know which emails are using which words.
Seriously? I recognize that there are no requirements on intelligence to get elected to Congress, but is there anyone who honestly could not comprehend what he meant by saying it's "apples and oranges"? But, clearly he does not understand that because not only does he mock the analogy, he then repeats the same question in which he insists -- despite the multiple explanations that state the exact opposite -- that advertisers get access to emails and information about email users, and that the government should be able to do the same thing.
Lawyer: Thank you, sir. I meant by that, that it isn't the same deal that's being suggested there.
Gohmert: But I'm asking specifically if the same type of deal could be made by the federal government? [some pointless rant about US government videos aired overseas that is completely irrelevant and which it wasn't worth transcribing] But if that same government will spend tens of thousands to do a commercial, they might, under some hare-brained idea like to do a deal to get all the email addresses that use certain words. Couldn't they make that same kind of deal that private advertisers do?
Holy crap. Gohmert, for the fourth time already, nobody gets email addresses. No private business gets the email addresses. No private business gets to see inside of anyone's email. Seeing inside someone's email has nothing to do with buying ads in email. If the government wants to "do the same deal as private advertisers" then yes it can advertise on Gmail... and it still won't get the email addresses or any other information about emailers, because at no point does Google advertising work that way.
Lawyer: We would not honor a request from the government for such a...
Gohmert: So you would discriminate against the government if they tried to do what your private advertisers do?
No. No. No. No. No. The lawyer already told you half a dozen times, no. The government can do exactly what private advertisers do, which is buy ads. And, just like private advertisers, they would get back no email addresses or any such information.
Lawyer: I don't think that describes what private advertisers...
Gohmert: Okay, does anybody here have any -- obviously, you're doing a good job protecting your employer -- but does anybody have any proposed legislation that would assist us in what we're doing?
What are we doing, here? Because it certainly seems like you're making one of the most ignorant arguments ever to come out of an elected officials' mouth, and that's saying quite a bit. You keep saying "private advertisers get A" when the reality is that private advertisers get nothing of the sort -- and then you ignore that (over and over and over and over again) and then say "well if private advertisers get A, why can't the government get A." The answer is because neither of them get A and never have.
Gohmert: I would be very interested in any phrase, any clauses, any items that we might add to legislation, or take from existing legislation, to help us deal with this problem. Because I am very interested and very concerned about our privacy and our email.
If you were either interested or concerned then you would know that no such information goes back to advertisers before you stepped into the room (hell, before you got elected, really). But, even if you were ignorant of that fact before the hearing, the fact that the lawyer tried half a dozen times, in a half a dozen different ways to tell you that the information is not shared should have educated you on that fact. So I'm "very interested" in what sort of "language" Gohmert is going to try to add to legislation that deals with a non-existent problem that he insists is real.
Gohmert: And just so the simpletons that sometimes write for the Huffington Post understand, I don't want the government to have all that information.
Rep. Sensenbrenner: For the point of personal privilege, my son writes for the Huffington Post.
Gohmert: Well then maybe he's not one of the simpletons I was referring to.
Sensenbrenner: He does have a Phd.
Gohmert: Well, you can still be a PHUL.
Har, har, har... wait, what? So much insanity to unpack. First of all, Gohmert seems to think that people will be making fun of him for suggesting that the government should "buy" access to your email on Google. And, yes, we will make fun of that, but not for the reasons that he thinks they will. No one thinks that Gohmert seriously wants the government to buy access to information on Google. What everyone's laughing (or cringing) at is the idea that anyone could buy that info, because you can't. No private advertiser. No government. It's just not possible.
But, I guess we're all just "simpletons."
Seriously, however, we as citizens deserve better politicians. No one expects politicians to necessarily understand every aspect of technology, but there are some simple concepts that you should at least be able to grasp when explained to you repeatedly by experts. When a politician repeatedly demonstrates no ability to comprehend a rather basic concept -- and to then granstand on their own ignorance -- it's time to find better politicians. Quickly.
We usually strive to come up with our own headlines for posts on Techdirt, but Joshua Kopstein's post on Motherboard.tv has such a perfect title that we're reusing it here: Dear Congress, It's No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works. The point, which was driving so many of us mad watching the SOPA hearings, is how head-bangingly frustrating it is to see elected officials gleefully admit they don't understand the technology they're about to regulate:
I remember fondly the days when we were all tickled pink by our elected officials’ struggle to understand how the internet works. Whether it was George W. Bush referring to “the internets” or Senator Ted Stevens describing said internets as “a series of tubes,” we would sit back and chortle at our well-meaning but horribly uninformed representatives, confident that the right people would eventually steer them back on course. Well I have news for members of Congress: Those days are over.
We get it. You think you can be cute and old-fashioned by openly admitting that you don’t know what a DNS server is. You relish in the opportunity to put on a half-cocked smile and ask to skip over the techno-jargon, conveniently masking your ignorance by making yourselves seem better aligned with the average American joe or jane — the “non-nerds” among us.
But this isn't about looking cute and folksy. The internet matters. A lot.
But to anyone of moderate intelligence that tuned in to yesterday’s Congressional mark-up of SOPA, the legislation that seeks to fundamentally change how the internet works, you kind of just looked like a bunch of jack-asses.
Kopstein goes into a lot more (worthwhile, go read it) detail about the bill, about the gleeful ignorance of some Judiciary Committee members, and then concludes:
This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.
This is a key point. Unfortunately, I've see way too many people supporting SOPA (especially among the lobbyist crew) act as if this is just some sort of game, where the goal is to "win." That's how DC politics works, but it doesn't take into account the very real impact of the damage that they're doing. If you're regulating the internet, it should at least be a pre-requisite that you are willing to understand the technology, or that you abstain from taking part in voting on (or writing) bills if you don't understand it. It's not funny. It's not cute. It's terrifying and it impacts us all.
So the real question is what is the way forward on this kind of thing? One would be to elect more technically savvy folks to Congress, but that's always difficult (and lots of tech savvy folks would rather be working in tech). Another would be to better educate those who are in Congress. Some of us are already working on that front with things like Engine Advocacy, but having more help and more voices would be a good thing.
Other than that, I think we should just make it clear to elected officials that people won't tolerate them gleefully displaying ignorance on issues that they're about to vote on. When Rep. Mel Watt declares proudly that he doesn't understand the technology, and then says he just doesn't believe the huge group of internet engineers who warn about the negative impacts of SOPA, he shouldn't get a free pass on that. The public needs to let him know that that's unacceptable from an elected official.
Things like this won't change overnight, but by making it clear that such things won't be tolerated by the voting public, we can at least start to influence the debate in a meaningful way. So speak up. When you see an elected official being purposely ignorant or cracking jokes about their ignorance tell them that they need to be educated and help them get that education.
As we get closer to the NY Times finally putting in place its long-promised, often-mocked paywall concept, it's worth pointing to a story from a couple months ago, which I didn't have time to write about when it came out. It involved some comments on a panel from Gerald Marzorati, the Times' assistant managing editor for new media and strategic initiatives, in which he more or less mocked the subscribers of the print publication for being too ignorant to do basic math and realize just how much they were paying:
"We have north of 800,000 subscribers paying north of $700 a year for home delivery," Marzorati said. "Of course, they don't seem to know that."
As evidence that Times subscribers don't realize how much a subscription costs, he pointed to what happened when the paper raised its home-delivery price by 5 percent during the recession: Only 0.01 percent of subscribers canceled. "I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they're literally not understanding what they're paying," he said. "That's the beauty of the credit card."
Of course, another explanation (which is much more favorable to the NY Times) is just one of general price inelasticity to a newspaper like the NY Times. If that's the case, where the price rises and most people keep subscribing, it suggests that most of those people continue to value the subscription more than the price, and the newspaper might even be able to get away with raising the price further. What's odd, however, is this assumption by Marzorati, that it's the general ignorance of their subscribers that keeps them in business. We're in an age when assuming ignorance on your customer base is a very dangerous position to be in.
If the company's guy in charge of new media and strategic initiatives seems gleeful over ignorant readers, rather than focusing on ways to make sure they continue to get more value out of their subscription than they pay for it, it makes you wonder how long this sort of setup can really last. There are all sorts of ways that a publication with the reputation of the NY Times can make lots and lots of money. But betting on the ignorance of subscribers does not seem to be like the best overall strategy.
There have been various attempts to claim that the internet makes people stupid, though that seems difficult to support in actuality. As someone recently sent to me (uncredited, tragically -- so someone feel free to claim it!): "the internet doesn't cause stupidity, it just makes your stupidity more obvious to others." However, it does need to be admitted that there are a ton of ridiculous ideas online with no factual basis -- and some people cling to those ideas fervently. This certainly goes against the early utopian theories of the internet that said making more information available to people would help fight ignorance.
So what's going on? Clive Thompson checks in with a fairly compelling explanation. He points to research done by Robert Proctor, a science historian at Stanford, who coined the term "agnotology" to explain the phenomenon of ignorance increasing with the spread of information. But it's not the fact that information can be spread more easily that's at fault, but that there are special interest groups who benefit tremendously from that ignorance being spread. Thus, they make use of the same tools that most of us use to try to spread legitimate information to spread propaganda -- and it often works. Sometimes, it goes to an even more ridiculous level, where they purposely spread ridiculous information that's similar to legitimate information, just to make people stop trusting anything, including the legitimate information.
Of course, there's an immediate next question: can (and should) anything be done about this? Thompson suggests that collaborative tools like Wikipedia that are built through consensus are actually quite good at combating agnotology -- though, I would imagine that the internet-is-making-us-stupid supporters of the world (who tend to be Wikipedia-doubters) would disagree. They tend to prefer "official" sources of truth, though I think history has shown those to be just as prone to propaganda forces as well. In the end, much of it comes down to the individual level: how open are they to actually learning the truth vs. merely looking for facts that support pre-held opinions. One thing you can't change easily is how open people are to new ideas.