Thursday, 30 June 2011

In defence of spam

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A plea for an unpopular cause

Imagine every person passing through a community is given a message. The message is thrust at them by someone they do not know and will likely never know. The person reads the message and become enraged. The message essentially insults and humiliates the persons values, the message claims that the person has been involved in evil things and that he, his family and everyone he loves will go to hell.

Spamming, hurtful insulting spamming. This is the kind of thing that our modern Internet technology is working to block. People who distribute unsolicited messages are routinely blocked by services and filters.

Now return to the example of the message. One fact I forgot to tell you is that the year in 1845, the city is New York and the message was a pamphlet against slavery.


Actually the entire history of American revolution is full of pamphlet creation and distribution. Short documents on the rights, taxation, government forms, and nation strategy were widely distributed in public spaces. These documents were not only targeted at reaching people who agreed with causes, but also to try and convert people to the new view. In a word democracy was born on spam.

The modern American institutions of democracy, free press, religion, and civil rights all started with spam. Each of these movements started with someone producing documents on the printing press, and distributing these documents in public spaces.

And this very conduct is now considered spam. The attack on spam has extended beyond obvious efforts to sell questionable items or fraud. But these distinction is less and less made. In our ongoing war on spam the Internet threatens abolishing the public distribution of data to people who don't request that data before hand.

If we create an Internet where people will only get data they have already requested we could get a Google nightmare where people simply use the web to reinforce their views on the world. This trend to channel humans is the most destructive outcome of the expansion of cable news in the late 20th Century. People at that time went to the web in part to get away from the isolation of the citizen as a consumer never challenged by media. The current development of the web risks making this problem even worse.



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