Tuesday, October 27, 2020
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Nick Booth: How can the death of a badger be worse than grooming jihadis?

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After every mass murderer is unmasked, reporters get the same reaction from those who knew him.

“You never would have imagined he’d have done something like that” they will say. “He always kept himself to himself” is another cliché, along with the increasingly popular sentiment, “I had no idea my son had been radicalized”.

Isn’t it time for our door stepping reporters to raise their game? Surely they could be asking some more penetrating questions. Your son grew a bushy beard, and told you he was going on a school trip with the brother of a convicted terrorist – were you happy with that?

Where are the internet protestors too?

It’s odd that nobody protests against the internet industry service providers and social media companies that provide the hateful environment for these mass murderers to breed.

Technology companies know everything that goes on. If John Prescott goes window shopping, to use one well documented example, his tastes will be automatically noted and codified so that suitable messages follow him to the banner adverts of every site he visits. So when Prescott complained that Grant Schapps’ web site was full of adverts for Thai brides, he was revealing more about his own browsing habits than he knew.

Internet companies don’t just know more about John Prescott than he dare to admit, they’re doing that to all of us. Every mouse step we take is monitored. So it would surely be the work on an intern to set up a few automated searches to report on the activities of the radicalisers.

It’s not as if they don’t have the technology. Facebook’s facial recognition technology, Moments, can identify you in a picture of 800 million in less than 5 seconds. If they can do that, surely they can detect the hate speech on the pages of Jilted Johnny Jihad in a heartbeat. OK, they might have to take a hit on ad revenue from Kalshnikov and Semtex distributors, but surely that’s a price worth paying. They could spin that loss into some sort of positive marketing message about their corporate social responsibility.

Meanwhile, our own internet fundamentalist extremists seem to have an odd set of priorities. They came out in force against Sainsbury’s because it supposedly endorses the death of a few tuberculosis carrying badgers (in the same way a butterfly might be blamed for causing an earthquake).

But there are very few protests against cool brands like Facebook and Google, who seem happy to let their pages became a nurturing environment for hatred.

Surely that is far more anti-social than buying milk from a supplier in a region where badgers are culled in order to stop cows dying.

And yet, and yet.

When Costa Coffee bought milk from a region where badgers are culled, there were mass protests from ‘activists’, who threatened the high street with everything from a boycott to taking the law into their own hands.

But do they get equally worked up about mass murderers and the technology companies that provide the right environment for evil to flourish?

No. Not a murmur of protest. I wonder why that is.

Is it because Costa Coffee is an easy target? Is it because the activists aren’t really all that bothered about humanity, they just want a quick fix of moral exhibitionism? Are they scared of confronting a terrorist organisation? Or do they sympathise with it?

Why is it that one badger death in Britain is of far higher emotional currency than a Brit who is responsible for killing ten innocent men women and children in Kenya or Iraq?

If our lives are going to be dictated by the ebb and flow of feelings and irrational sentiment, why aren’t we honest about it? Then we can quantify it. And hopefully somebody clever will develop an app that tracks the emotional currency markets.

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Nick Booth
Nicholas Booth is the editor of OhThisBloodyComputer and a freelance technology writer

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