The Intellectual Dark Web Is The Open Internet

It’s ironic that an appearance in The New York Times still feels like a win for a group based on outsiders retreating to the Internet to broadcast themselves. But it shows you that reputation and respectability still matter, even when anybody can publish.

Bari Weiss, the New York-based hack behind the account, calls the intellectual dark web ‘an alliance of heretics […] making an end run around the mainstream – and finding enormous new audiences thirsty to discuss subjects that have become taboo.’

I have listened to some of these heretics for years, including the new atheist Sam Harris, comedian Joe Rogan, and the journalist Douglas Murray. Before it was cool, I even read The Righteous Mind by psychologist Jonathan Haidt – a book on how our moral instincts separate us – shortly after it was published in hardback in 2012.

Weiss’s piece has a slight ‘explorer unearths foreign culture’ tone to it, and suggests more cohesion and cooperation within the intellectual dark web than exists. But at the centre it captures the story that the Internet has opened an escape door to many trapped by institutional bias.

Though political correctness has made certain facts and opinions unwelcome in certain places, the Internet has made gatekeepers increasingly irrelevant. Far from resorting to a ‘dark web’, intellectuals can easily express their ideas without navigating the closed systems of formal education or the mainstream media.

Thus the wonderful thing about the ‘intellectual dark web’ is not that it endorses unorthodox views, a fact that can be deduced simply from the variety of a label that contains both Harris and the author Jordan Peterson, who cannot even agree a definition of ‘truth’. It is that a lack of gatekeepers allows you to read a genuine diversity of views, and agree or disagree.

Almost as if the Internet was designed for it.

Journalism has always been corrupt, but are we more duped than usual?

Ladies reading newspaper Mahy edit v2

The anniversary of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency of the US has naturally prompted some soul searching among the punditry, who largely failed to predict his election, and mostly opposed it.

Trump is guilty of most of what he’s accused of, but it is a mark of the paternalist attitude held by many hacks these days that fake news is held so much to blame for the wrong candidate winning, in much the same way Britons were tricked into making the wrong choice in the EU referendum.

In the same line, fake news has caught people’s attention because politics has started to matter again, which tells you nothing good about Britain and America’s ruling classes.

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The Internet needs better advocates than the censorship crusader Laurie Penny

Aaron Swartz, January 2012 by MariaJesusV

It is evident to anybody who takes an interest in free speech and its bedfellow free thought that the Internet is now the only battleground worth fighting over.

As such, any attempt by a journalist to publicise the likes of Aaron Swartz, one of the programmers behind Reddit – to name a lesser achievement – should be applauded, even if it is Laurie Penny.

But the trouble with Penny’s writing on this subject is that it is dishonest, and it fails to delineate the complex argument around distribution of information in the Internet age.

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Hundreds of money-making sockpuppets booted from Wikipedia

Wikimedia stroopwafel by Sebastiaan ter Burg

Almost 400 Wikipedia accounts were shut down on Monday after their owners were accused of accepting money to edit pages in favour of interested parties.

After several weeks of investigation site admins concluded that the so-called “Orangemoody” campaign – named after the first  puppet – was run by a coordinated group, owing to the similarity of their edits on the English-language version of the free encyclopaedia.

Under Wikipedia’s terms of use such behaviour represents a conflict of interest, though staff at museums and similar organisations can make edits to pages if they disclose their affiliations.

As well as banning accounts the free encyclopaedia deleted some 200 articles, though it said that such abuse did not occur often on the site.

Writing online, editorial associate Ed Erhart and senior comms manager Juliet Barbara of the Wikimedia Foundation said:

“Most of these articles, which were related to businesses, business people, or artists, were generally promotional in nature, and often included biased or skewed information, unattributed material, and potential copyright violations.

“The edits made by the sockpuppets are similar enough that the community believes they were perpetrated by one coordinated group.”

The scammers behind the scheme used a combination of accounts to submit, develop and push articles for approval, with the scammers charging additional fees – in one case, £20 a month – to maintain the page and protect it from vandalism or deletion.

According to Wikipedia, “names of genuine editors and administrators are often used” in the scam, sometimes based on who has deleted related articles.

Among the list of articles deleted by the Checkuser team are pages relating to the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, Internet servers company Hatena and the DJ Ryan Skyy.

Wikimedia stated that the subjects in the articles were also “victims” in the saga.

The editing of Wikipedia by interested parties has been a major source of controversy in the past, leading at least one person to set up a Twitter account to track the editing of the site from IP addresses associated with British Parliament.

Image Credit – Wikimedia stroopwafel by Sebastiaan ter Burg