One of the problems with Donald Trump is that his racist and way-too-fascist statements crowd out his other idiotic pronouncements.
For example, consider what Trump said Monday night about the Internet:
The very fact that the only name Trump mentioned — Bill Gates — made his billions in the pre-Internet era suggests that maybe, just maybe, Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Again.
The thing is, though, that Trump is actually somewhat late to this stupid party. Because just 24 hours earlier, as the New York Times’ David Sanger reports, Hillary Clinton weighed in on this question as well:
Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that the Islamic State had become “the most effective recruiter in the world” and that the only solution was to engage American technology companies in blocking or taking down militant websites, videos and encrypted communications.
“You are going to hear all the familiar complaints: ‘freedom of speech,’ ” Mrs. Clinton said in an hourlong speech and question-and-answer session at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering at the Brookings Institution that focuses mostly on Israel’s security issues.
In a reference to Silicon Valley’s reverence for disruptive technologies, Mrs. Clinton said, “We need to put the great disrupters at work at disrupting ISIS,” an acronym used for the militant group.
Clinton spoke in grammatically correct sentences, but besides that, there does not appear to be much difference between Clinton’s idea and Trump’s idea.
So a few things about this rather disturbing Clinton/Trump joint:
1. In the name of all that is holy, political candidates should not use the word “disruption” ever again. For all the talk about the higher ed bubble, the past year has made it very clear that if there was a bubble in anything, it was in people using the word “disruption” without having a clear idea of what it actually means. And as it turns out, the dominant theory of disruption appears to have a few holes in it.
There’s a longer essay that needs to be written about the ways in which Silicon Valley-speak is now bleeding over into political and policy discourse, but for now, I hereby propose #DreznersRule: when politicians start using a Silicon Valley buzzword, that’s the sign that the buzzword has lost its original meaning.
2. You don’t get to hand-wave “freedom of speech” complaints away. As Sanger notes in his story:
[F]or most social media companies, keeping up with suspected radical postings — much less removing them — is a major challenge.
It is also a question with considerable First Amendment implications. Company executives say removing YouTube videos of beheadings is an easy call; removing critiques of the West, or calls for religious purity, is not.
Over the past year, technology firms have made clear they do not want to be in the position of ideological censors. And Mrs. Clinton herself was a major advocate, as secretary of state, of programs that expanded Internet access to get around the censorship of repressive societies, starting with China.
This does not mean that there is no way that a policy can’t be crafted to better detect and defend against cyber-recruitment into terrorism. But simply mocking the First Amendment or decrying political correctness isn’t a policy, it’s an empty campaign slogan.
3. This isn’t really about the Internet. It’s about the message. The Trump/Clinton proposal plays to an American tendency to believe that there are technological solutions to political problems. This isn’t always a bad thing — sometimes technology really is helpful!! But if folks like Trump are wondering why the Islamic State is successful in its recruitment, maybe they should consider the following deep thought:
This isn’t about restricting freedom of speech, or political correctness, it’s about gaming out the effects of over-the-top rhetoric on populations that are susceptible to extremist messages.
Thinking that Silicon Valley can somehow “solve” the online recruitment practices of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups is akin to thinking that precision-guided munitions and targeted financial sanctions will solve the problems with military compellence or economic sanctions. These innovations can help on the margins, but they do not change the fundamental difficulties of the policy problem at hand.