Talk:International Conflict Observatory

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Two very interesting points caught my eye:

  • "There is no sense of proportionality in the War on Terror: Except for the single year 2001, more Americans have died in an average year drowning in bathtubs, hot tubs and spas than have succumbed to terrorist attacks.[13] But we don't declare war on bathtubs."
The media very frequently gives people a skewed sense of scale/proportion when it is politically convenient. I strongly agree with the point here. In this instance though, I think our national pride is also a factor. Patriotism is healthy and should not be discouraged. That said, this sort of argument is unlikely to placate someone whose pride has been wounded. Perhaps a more tactful approach is warranted.
  • "Use artificial intelligence (AI) and text processing / content analysis to identify how different parties to conflict describe the same events in different terms and documenting that in ways that allow others to develop interventions that may bridge the divide."
I have a bit of experience with NLP/AI. In the same vein, it may be possible to identify propaganda/FUD as such using these methods, or extract other similarly useful information. I don't have time to get involved with a project like that right now, but maybe at some point in the future. AP295 (discusscontribs) 21:52, 30 April 2021 (UTC)
@AP295: Thanks. I've removed the silly comment about not declaring war on bathtubs. I've also added other material about bin Laden not getting a fair trial. It may not be possible to even suggest that without offending some people, but I hope something of this nature can be said in a way that will on balance improve the impact of this article.
What can you tell me about nonprofit alternatives to Google that could potentially run NLP/AI algorithms on what they find -- and could advertise that they are doing that as part of their fund raising efforts?
I'm scheduled to discuss this June 24 at the 89th Military Operations Research Society Symposium. Anything I might do to advance this project before that date would, I think, improve the impact of that presentation.
Thanks, again. DavidMCEddy (discusscontribs) 07:45, 1 May 2021 (UTC)
The only truly democratic (but unlikely) solution that I can see is to nationalize Google and release their algorithms, research, and data (not including personal/private information about individuals) into the public domain. These companies deal in information. The information coming from mainstream media (such as the news) is not determined just by ratings. They have a vested interest in promoting certain viewpoints and perspectives. Likewise, the information that google promotes or does not promote is not determined just by the advertising revenue it can bring in. Again by the same token, "nonprofit" organizations may also have ulterior motives. I was reading an essay The Bilderberg Group and the project of European unification by Mike Peters, and in one paragraph he made a very interesting observation. I'm sort of taking it out of context here, but it's interesting nonetheless: "To anticipate what will be said later, I believe that one of the key assumptions often made by structural Marxists, namely that the capitalist class is always divided into competing fractions which have no mechanisms for co-ordination other than the state, is not empirically sustainable. Part of this misconception, it could be said, derives from an over-literal understanding of the concept of the 'market' as constituting the only social relation amongst different fractions of capital. At least as far as the very large, and above all, the international (or as we would say in today's jargon, the ‘global’) corporations are concerned, this is definitely not the case: very sophisticated organs do exist whereby these capitalist interests can and do hammer out common lines of strategy." For the record, I believe capitalism is a far better system than communism/marxism, so long as people understand it and reasonable constraints are put in place. Of course, I don't expect that google will ever be nationalized. It's just an interesting thought. AP295 (discusscontribs) 15:19, 1 May 2021 (UTC)
There are search engines and social media that run Free and open-source software besides Google and for-profit media like Facebook. And I agree that non-profits are not necessarily the answer. I like w:Julia Cagé's Nonprofit Media Organization (NMO) managed in part by audience and employees, not just investors. If we taxed for-profit media like Google and Facebook enough, we could subsidize multiple search engine and social media companies that run Free and open-source software and are managed more like Cagé's NMO and require them all to post clickbait and ads to the Internet Archive. That would allow individuals and groups to know if they've been substantively defamed, and we could institute a fairness doctrine that would force unfair media, liberal as well as conservative, to honestly present a more balanced view of important issues, forcing a much wider public debate that could hopefully bridge the polarization we are living with today.
Also, are you familiar with the US Postal Service Act of 1792 and what McChesney and Nichols have said about it and related issues?
Under this act, newspapers were delivered up to 100 miles for a penny when first class postage was between 6 and 25 cents. It was roughly 0.2 percent of national income (Gross Domestic Product, GDP) and played a major role in helping the US stay together, grow in both land area and economically while contemporary New Spain / Mexico fractured, shrank, and stagnated economically.
Similarly, Robert W. McChesney; John Nichols (2010), The Death and Life of American Journalism, Nation Books, ISBN 978-1-56858-605-2, Wikidata Q104888067, esp. Appendix 2, claim that a major reason for the success of democracy in Germany and Japan after WW II and the failure of democracy in Iraq more recently is that Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur both forced the post-fascist governments under occupation to subsidies a vigorous, adversarial press while the US imposed military censorship on Iraq after President Bush's 2003-05-01 w:Mission Accomplished speech. I think the same thing explains why Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea have prospered while Eastern Europe and most of the rest of the world has suffered: The developed world have all had a relatively free press, while Eastern Europe and most of the developing world allow much more intervention by people with power in the content of the media.
I think The US has a higher incarceration rate and worse public health than the rest of the developed world, primarily because US media is too beholden to advertisers, who would be offended if the mainstream media did a better job of exposing questionable favors big business gets from government (which drive the increase in w:United States incarceration rate between 1975 and 2000) and explained better the differences in public health policies between the US and the rest of the developed world.
Thanks for your comments. You will see that I made some changes in response. I hope you think they were improvements.
"Non-profit" does not mean "democratic". There should be public, transparent facilities for finding information on the internet. I do not trust NPOs to perform this duty and I see no reason why we should subsidize them using public money. They are not necessarily obliged to uphold our constitution. Google and company are presumably very far ahead of public research. They have much more data available to them than, say, a public university does. If there were such public facilities, Google would not be in such a strong position to exploit information asymmetry or covertly manipulate information, public opinion, behavior, etc. AP295 (discusscontribs) 14:20, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
What do you know know about the following:
  • The US Postal Service Act of 1792? This subsidized a cacophony of voices, which I think helped make the US what it is today. It has since been drowned out by advertising and media consolidation. I don't see that as an argument against government subsidies for journalism. Instead, I see it as an argument for (a) subsidizing many relatively small media outlets at a level closer to the 2% that the nation spends on advertising, and (b) honest trust busting or a progressive tax on media conglomerates, to dramatically restrict their ability to limit the range of acceptable political discourse. I don't know what you mean by an "NPO", but I think it's more important to encourage a cacophony of voices while limiting the power of the major media conglomerates. And with a fairness doctrine and a central repository for ads and clickbait, I think we should be able to manage the extremists -- deprive, e.g., Russia of the ability to sow dissension like McMaster says they are doing now.
  • Cagé's Nonprofit Media Organization (NMO), which are jointly managed audience, employees, and investors. I volunteer with a w:community radio radio station, which is officially owned by its "active members". If you donate an average of 3 hours per month for 6 months to the work needed to keep the station functioning, you can become an "active member". They elect the Board, which decides on content, based on the recommendations of its "Programming Committee".
Comments? DavidMCEddy (discusscontribs) 14:57, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
"Non-profit organization". I don't have a problem with NPOs per se. A big part of the problem as I see it, is that Google, Facebook, etc. have practically carte blanche control over online communication. Even non-profit organizations like Wikipedia are not necessarily obliged to uphold our constitution (nor do they in practice). Google and many other companies (e.g. facebook, twitter, etc.) deal in information. They are middle men, data brokers. They have an incredible amount of raw data at their disposal and the means to extract lots of useful information from that data, much of which they probably do not share. This creates information asymmetry between these companies (along with their clients), and their users or the population at large. Information asymmetry can lead to an inefficient market. Search engines are indispensable and used by almost everyone. Even if there are a "cacophony of voices", biased recommender/search algorithms can easily favor a certain subset, or certain platforms having certain rules. AP295 (discusscontribs) 15:25, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
Any talk of "fairness", "democracy", or "freedom of press" is a moot point when these companies are in such a position of advantage to control the information we are exposed to and gather information about our habits and behaviors. AP295 (discusscontribs) 15:35, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
I'm not so pessimistic. q:John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the US, said, "The power to tax involves the power to destroy." I'm writing this, hoping to ultimately get some version of it published in a respectable journal, where it can potentially help influence governments to act in ways that improve the prospects for fairness, democracy, and free press. DavidMCEddy (discusscontribs) 15:52, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
It wouldn't solve the real problem, which is that nongovernmental organizations have control over nearly all the information we're exposed to and how many of us communicate on a daily basis and a large amount of private and aggregate data they've collected in the process. The most direct and effective solution is to nationalize google, facebook, etc. or at least have good public and transparent alternatives. They are, de facto, essential services and the data collected is an invaluable resource for public research. There is no reason whatsoever they should remain monopolized by NGOs (for profit or otherwise), it's insane. AP295 (discusscontribs) 17:03, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
And sure, the government could abuse it to some degree. But at least it would be transparent and to some degree democratic. I can't send a FOIA request to Google or Wikipedia or Facebook or Ancestry.com, etc. The public does not have control of these organizations. Who's to say that China, Russia, or other adversaries are not clients of these organizations? Would anyone know if they handed off private data to those governments? Not likely. Members of our own government are likely privy to this data and research as well, but how would we know? There's no transparency and no practical means to effect transparency. This is a huge amount of data about our society, its structure, how we communicate, and so on. It should not be the property of anyone but the public from which it is collected. It's incontrovertible, and the current status quo is entirely contrary to democracy as we know it. AP295 (discusscontribs) 17:42, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
Information asymmetry and those who maintain and exploit it are, in a word, parasites. It's one thing to develop a technology behind closed doors and get your twenty year patent, or to protect certain information e.g. for the sake of national security. That's fine. It's another thing entirely to collect huge amounts of data from the public by offering "free" services and build a monopoly on information by exploiting technical ignorance on part of your users. There is no value being created, and the nature of the transaction between such companies and their users is not at all honest. AP295 (discusscontribs) 18:14, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
The US government doesn't have to comply with a FOIA if it doesn't want to. Per United States v. Reynolds, no federal judge has the authority to question any administration claim of national security.
The last I heard, Ed Snowden was in Russia, because he exposed massive criminality by the National Security Agency. Our media refused to demand that the NSA stop its criminal activity.
I agree with you re. the power of Google and Facebook. Two things:
  1. Google and Facebook cannot hide behind claims of national security to conceal their data. The have to comply with a subpoena. If they don't their executives could go to jail. That's not true of government employees who violate the law with claims of national security, even fraudulent claims.
  2. With a modest tax on their profits, like suggested by Karr and Aaron (2019), I think Google, Facebook, and others could be challenged by subscription services that don't make money from advertising but instead are funded by citizen-directed subsidies similar to the US Postal Service Act of 1792. Of course, we won't know until it's tried.
If we do something like what I suggest and what I've seen others suggest (cited in this article), we will still have problems, but the problems would likely be less than what we have now. DavidMCEddy (discusscontribs) 18:47, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
But I cannot issue google a subpoena. Nor can the courts issue google a subpoena just because someone wants to see that data. On the other hand, it would be absurd to hide aggregate information collected from a hypothetical public search engine (or other public resource) to protect national security when private entities based in the USA already collect much more than that. And the upshot is that it's still a public resource under democratic control. I'll say it again: This data should not be the property of anyone but the public from which it is collected. And nobody would necessarily have to use such public resources even if they were made available. Again, I think it's common sense. AP295 (discusscontribs) 18:57, 3 May 2021 (UTC)
And I think there's a strong case to be made for a set of public, government-maintained "essential" software. For example, a public version of google authenticator would be extremely useful. 2FA is becoming very common. Google authenticator is not even open source anymore, it's proprietary freeware. If you want to use it, you have to agree to google's EULA and put your trust in them. This software is probably not a difficult thing to write/maintain. To even participate in 21st century society you have to sign hundreds of EULAs or similar contracts and put your total faith in these dubious NGOs, who collect a lot of data that gives them (and their clients) a staggering competitive advantage over their users. It's not like this would be terribly expensive either. Most of the work has already been done by researchers and FOSS activists/volunteers. I have no doubt that government and big tech like google are strongly intertwined, but that's all the more reason we should demand transparent, public software and services. By letting NGOs monopolize these essential services, we're that much farther removed from democracy. Most people simply don't understand the problem, probably least of all the geriatric career politicians that run our government. AP295 (discusscontribs) 13:36, 5 May 2021 (UTC)