I heard Craig Newmark on the radio today. Schlumpy Craig, as New York magazine calls him, was on NPR's All Things Considered laying out his theory of human nature. Humans are OK, a smiling Craig reassures us:
I used to share the cynicism common to many nerds: that people were frequently malicious and opportunistic. But, of course, you don't get treated well wearing a plastic pocket protector and thick, black glasses taped together, and now, I get that. Years of customer service have changed the way I think about people. Now I believe that people are overwhelmingly trustworthy and deeply OK. I don't want to sound sanctimonious or syrupy....
No, Craig, you don't sound either sanctimonious or syrupy. You just sound as clueless as George Bush in the Green Zone. What Internet, I wonder, are you on? Because it sure isn't the same Internet that the rest of us are looking at. Are you so Craigslist-centric, so intoxicated with your own self-congratulatory communitarianism, that you've failed to notice that the Internet is overflowing with malicious and opportunistic people ripping each off, spamming innocent e-mailers to death, buying and selling hard-core pornography, gambling illegally, flaming each other with hideous rhetorical violence on the blogosphere.
So, for the sake of Craigslist-centric Craig, here's just a couple of news items from today's Guardian online which show, once and for all, that humans, particularly humans on the Internet, aren't OK:
1) Bobbie Johnson reports that serious online child abuse cases has quadrupled over the last three years. The Internet Watch Foundation processed 31,776 cases of illegal images on more than 3,000 websites (82% hosted in the US and Russia). Most of the images are of kids under 12. To be fair to Craig, he is making a serious effort to crack down on the exploitation of minors on Craigslist. But having just browsed the erotic services section of the Bay Area Craigslist, the word "young" comes up with a creepy frequency: New Asia Young Girls, Young Asian Nympho, Any Young Asian Gal like some assistance once in a while? etc etc. Craig might be convinced that the Internet provides us with that "sense of neighborhood and community" which we apparently "crave". But it's pretty obvious that many of us use the Internet to satisfy more primeval cravings. And not all of those cravings are legal.
2) James Harkin reports the story of Kevin Whitlock, a father of two who committed suicide live on the Internet last month. Whitlock hung himself in real-time, broadcasting the event on his webcam to an Internet chatroom. So much for user-generated-content. "Is this real" one chatroom spectator typed while others, apparently, "goaded" Whitlock on. Harkin links this hideous spectacle with Web 2.0"s "orgy of self-expression" which, he believes, is creating a "Cyburbia" that "thrives on feverish rumor and illicit sexual liaisons,populated by voyeurs, exhibitionists, amateur enthusiasts and even trainee terrorists."
So who's to blame for Cyburbia? Who is morally responsible for today's immoral Internet? In part, Harkin blames the Silicon Valley guys in charge of the Web 2.0 show:
Partly to blame are the middle-aged men who run the media and business worlds, whose biggest fear is that technology might leave them and their careers behind. Then there are the disillusioned lefties, who have found in the rhetorical activism of the internet a new and less troublesome kind of politics than that which involved real people.
Craig is one of these middle-aged men -- part media mogul, part abstract leftie. Like Tim O'Reilly and Jimmy Wales and the other libertarian fathers of the Web 2.0 movement, Craig has got to take more moral responsibility for his own creation. Craig might be half saint and half cuddly nerd, but it's irresponsible for him to believe that the rest of the human race can live up to his alpine moral standards. All we need is a code of ethics, guys like Tim and Craig tell us. Meanwhile, the erotic services section of Craigslist attracts more than double the postings on any other category. Meanwhile, people are self-broadcasting their own suicides to Internet chatrooms. Meanwhile, serious child abuse on the Internet has tripled over the last three years. Meanwhile, bloggers threaten to sexually mutilate Kathy Sierra.
Yet on planet Newmark, people remain "overwhelmingly trustworthy and deeply OK." Earth to Craig: what Internet are you on?