Twit twit To-where?

A company takeover rarely hits the front page, but for Twitter, the biggest celebrity social media site and Elon Musk, the biggest celebrity tech entrepreneur, it fills volumes. (Wondering why does little good in the fervent political atmosphere, but that stifling atmosphere has something to do with it.)

Tesla and SpaceX are utterly brilliant: we have to ask then whether Twitter can become as brilliant too.

The gossip has concentrated on how freely one may speak on the platform. It is a private company and can make its own rules.  I know that if I ran a social media platform I would be worried about what people were saying on my site, effectively (to my mind) in my name. I would want it to be respectable, and to ban way-out material like Holocaust-denial, race-hatred, loony conspiracy theories and socialism.

My forum, I think, would not last long, turning away so much custom

The value of Twitter, financially, is in the volume and variety of commentary and bile spewed out on it, which produces data which can be sold. In the old days, a company with a product to sell might hire a marketing consultant to go round knocking on a hundred doors: now fora like Twitter have the unfiltered brainspills of millions of customers available to analyse. In a decade or so, marketing departments might learn how to read the data properly. Bans and threats of bans will skew the data. Liberating speech is a most noble motive: it should also be a profitable one.

The new owner might just leave Twitter ticking along with a few adjustments to its policies, and commentaries have made that assumption, with perhaps too a few tweaks like adding an an ‘edit’ button. It works as a business model at the moment. That is thinking very small though, and Twitter is shrinking so business-as-usual means decline.

At the moment it works on the surface with simplicity. You might think that no revenue stream goes untapped, but it looks flat, suggesting that there is more that could be done to expand the Twitworld in more dimensions and bring in more facets than ever before. I would not know where to start, but I am not Elon. It is only a petty sideshow for him, but if he shows that vision for which he is famed, his new sideshow may become something so good that even I might be interested in it.

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Closing the web

We now have the long-awaited, long-feared Online Safety Bill before the House of Commons. It is nowhere near as bad as the proposals which preceded it, though that is faint praise: past proposals were repulsive.

In 226 pages of dense-packed text, the Bill will lose you. It is badly written tortuous, self-contradictory, tautologous, recursive: it is written by those who do not know what they are talking about, to be sent out for administration by those who do not know what they are doing. That is just how new law works. A curse lies within its heart; OFCOM, whose name appears some 650 times. This is not law: it is command by apparatchiks.

The Bill is not  the monster presaged by earlier consultations: it does not seek to ban all subjective harm and hand the power to do so to an easily bullied official.  It narrows the scope of this intervention to actual illegality and children’s online safety, both of which are needed.  Then again, the impenetrability of the Bill may hide more than it admits.  There is also “Adults’ online safety”, which could in fact be used to ban anything, as far as anyone can tell.

“Harm” means psychological harm amounting to at least serious distress.

Nadine Dorries has praised the bill as liberal and assertive of free speech. I cannot imagine that she has read it. If she wanted to protect web users from actual online harm, if the Bill just did what she says, it would have been done on fewer than 10 pages, with no power to make codes and regulation, and just one line about OFCOM.

Instead, we have a civil servant’s wildest dream. He who controls OFCOM will control the web, and not just social media, but it can rope in all academic research, commercial marketing and information of any sort. Just thirty years ago, research was carried out on paper, in dusty libraries with whatever volumes a librarian thought to place there. The Web was created initially for academic research, but we could weirdly find ourselves in a position that the paper libraries are the better source again.

Trying to get into the guts, this Bill tries to pin the amorphous web into three categories of services: not “1”, “2” and “3” but “1“, “2A” and “2B“. (Those forest cultures said to have no numbers beyond two are perhaps more advanced than we thought.)  Anyway, these three innumerate categories are of services all of which must be entered on an OFCOM register:

  • “Category 1”: a regulated user-to-user service meeting “Category 1 threshold conditions”;
  • “Category 2A”: a regulated search service or combined service meeting “Category 2A threshold conditions”;
  • “Category 2B”: a regulated user-to-user service meeting “Category 2B threshold conditions”.

Lest you think these are defined, each refers to a preceding subsection, which refers to a Schedule for “threshold conditions”, which contains no definition but hands power to make the definitions to the Secretary of State. Yes – in two years’ time, your internet access could be controlled by Angela Rayner or Diane Abbott.

We have a key definition in Clause 2 that a “user-to-user service” means “an internet service by means of which content that is generated directly on the service by a user of the service, or uploaded to or shared on the service by a user of the service, may be encountered by another user, or other users, of the service.” That is everything on the worldwide web. It is intended to mean YouTube and those sites where teenagers upload indecent pictures, but what it actually covers is every website at all – all are created by users of the web. The DCMS could properly object that it s not intended, that there are exemptions etc, but I challenge them to interpret these. The Bill is keen on definitions, but every one is defined by reference to other definitions found scattered elsewhere in the Bill, each then defined by another, and some of which are, such as the key term “user” are, after several jumps about, found not to be defined at all.

This nonsense shames Parliament. An Act for online safety is needed, but this?  Cut out 99% of it and start again, but otherwise dump it.

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Prey to Kings and Desperate Men

It gets worse. Canada is falling, torn by unwonted divisions stoked  out of malice by Justin Trudeau, demagogue-in-chief. The state at his direction punishes dissent without trial and thugs terrify their neighbours for speaking for the dissenters. How could this be Canada? How can Canada survive it?

It is familiar from the international news, but in the United States, and now we have seen the deliberate importation of American hate-based politics into once innocent ground, without the American systems which moderate it. The certainties of Canadian life which allowed society to thrive and  which encouraged enterprise to take root and trade have vanished.  How can anyone build for their future if the government can seize property and bank accounts at will?

In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building..

I need hardly recite the familiar idiocies of the pseudo-philosophical movements in the United States; Marxism given new flesh in concepts of race theory which promote racial conflict. In a land which had a system of slavery for centuries, followed by a hundred years of legal discrimination that lasted until living memory, and a legacy of ill-treatment long after, there is a well of mistrust to be turned into hatred. Canada though did not have any of this: this is all imported, and it should not be welcomed.  It is as if Trudeau and those he has attracted around him have forgotten which country they are in.

If it were just the government of one man acting tyrannically, directing the Mounties against his opponents, that would be bad enough, but it is far deeper. Society is being destroyed with internal hatred. That is at the rotten heart of politics, as has been written here before, but hitherto it has been resisted in the True North, or so we thought. We heard of a store-owner besieged and terrorised by thugs who called her a terrorist and a Nazi-supporter, who threated violence, even murder against her an her family; just for donating a small sum to keep a trucker from freezing in the Ottawa night.  How would these chilling tormentors have got such an idea about a neighbour? How could anyone with any sense believe the protesting truckers  could be described in such repulsive terms?  The finger points to one man.

It is an evil doctrine which Trudeau has adopted, a foreign interloper, and he nurtured it. In its homeland, the United States, the doctrine is tempered by the endless levels of power across that country which can resist if they are so minded, or in adopting it form a lesson to show others what to avoid, In Canada there is no such dispersed network of power, and no guardian angel to resist the abuse of destructive power.

The truckers are annoying, certainly, but he made insane accusations which others have taken up in a mob, and every threat, every punch, every brick through the window, every nervous breakdown, is his personal responsibility. The collapse of Canada’s settled society falls upon his shoulders too.

Canadians can only look out to be told that a once settled, understood life is no more, as Donne put it in another context:

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell.

The outlook is grim, recession looms as investment teeters, and with three years before the next election, there is a long time yet for society to be destroyed all the more. Canada is facing dark days, and I wish heartily it were not so.

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Go out amongst the land

Isolated for two years: it is not healthy, and you lose track of those usual social interactions that tell you what the neighbours’ are thinking; what their needs and worries are. Isolated in a Downing Street echo-chamber it is even worse. Boris needs to get out, to meet people.

He always used to be star value on the street – I have met people who had encountered him and who babbled enthusiastically about everything he did and said – he was a rockstar. That of course was before he had to take responsibility for things, and before we felt the lash of government in his name.

The Spads have been hurled out and replaced by doorstep politicians – good. The Number 10 machine is taking back control – good. There is red meat – aye but with some festering corners, and those taxes are still Labour-level crippling. Now the big reconnect is needed.

Others now in place can hammer at the priorities of efficiency and the opportunities of Brexit, of the Culture War in Whitehall, of combating Chinese state subversion, and of stopping the world blowing itself up on the steppe.  That is all within Whitehall.  The Prime Minister needs to eave it, and find out how the rest of us are getting on.

Open the gates at the end of Downing Street, step into the street, walk across Green Park and out into normal London, and then the rest of the work.  The nation does not live in that clustered officeworld behind, but in the terraced streets of Lancashire and the old mill towns of Nottinghamshire, and the back alleys of Glasgow and Belfast, and the lost-behind villages of the countryside. Here the mandarins do not make our priorities nor curb our dreams, or our worries.  Here we see what happens when politicians have bright ideas and try them out on us, and we have the scars and bankruptcies to prove it.

Reconnecting is vital to governing, and votes to be frank. As I wrote before, the ordinary people once adored and trusted Boris, and if they feel like a spurned lover, now is an opportunity for him to listen, to learn again what their doorstep concerns are, their worries, their aspirations, their petty jealousies and to remember from his far-back memory what once made him an icon of hope. There is hope, and we want to feel it again.

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New Yeet Resolutions

Raising the nation, freed from bureaucratic chains, hurling it to the sunlit uplands – that was the promise following Brexit, and that was a promise which brought many new voters to the party which made it. It seems a bit hollow now.  As the process reached consummation and that promise was being fulfilled far more effectively than we dared hope, it was dashed by wasting two years and billions of your money and mine on COVID overreaction. Those two years which have been two years closer to the next General Election.

We are coming out of the plague. It is not going away, and the disease may never end, but the understanding is there that normality is needed.  This then is a time to rebuild – not with new ideas but with all those ideas that the election promised to make real, because they were good and practical.

They may hold back because of the disease. This evening Boris admitted what we already knew; that the COVID variant stalking the land is so mild it  may be unimportant, but he will not lift the last of the restrictions, They fear is not of the disease but criticism.

Lurking too is the knowledge that when the people can breathe free, there will come another variant: the next, fearless variant, which has learnt from the others that spawned it; which can sever the soul from the body, outstare a tiger and calculate the circumference of a circle. Let it come, now we have  the heightened immunity that is the blessing of omicron. Let it rip, and let the rest of us get on with rebuilding the nation we love.

A bit of application and bloody-minded determination to do what is needed, getting back on track, and the nation can be hurled bodily into those sunlit uplands. The essence to remember is what Conservatives have always known: the Government cannot achieve anything, but can only hinder.  Enterprise achieves all and makes the world a better, more prospering place, and it is for the Government just to keep out of the way. It must keep the peace and let the courts enforce contracts – but otherwise step aside and let innovators do what they do best.

We were getting there, for that brief time before the wind blew in from China. We just have to find the road again.

One might weep to see the money spilled on COVID panic, and all the more lost in lost taxes. More has been wasted in those two years than would have been spent putting a man on the Moon (which Britain should have been doing, by the way).

The voters need to feel good again. We feel good when there is money in our pockets, so taxes have to plunge – Whitehall can sell off all those prime London sites to plug the new debt, as the jobs were going to move north anyway, weren’t they? They will have to now, and not just little clerks’ offices but main central government bodies. The mandarins may resist, but they brought it upon themselves, and those who pay them, the people, will not fund a London West End lifestyle any longer.

At the same time, the streets of Whitehall are parched and in need of that Hard Rain. If the government is to do less to hinder, it should not be the behemoth it is. The numbers must fall, and the recruitment must change to get rid of the current monoculture, in favour of weirdoes and misfits, as we were promised, who can do more with less.

I could see the glimmer of the sunlit uplands two years ago. I want to see them again. So do we all.

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