Below is the transcript of the ogilvydo Cannes debate in partnership with Intelligence Squared.
The Motion: ‘Post at your own peril – If you broadcast your life online, you should be prepared to face the consequences.’
MF – Mariella Frostrup | Moderator
SB – Stephen Bayley | For the motion
SG – Scott Galloway | For the motion
EH – Emma Holten | Against the motion
DF – Daniel Franklin | Against the motion
MF: Thank you for sacrificing the last couple of hours of sunshine today to spend with us in this darkened room. I simply spend my entire stay here in darkened rooms. Everybody here ready? So welcome to all of you. I am Mariella Frostrup. I’m a broadcaster and journalist in the UK. Some of you might know me; most of you won’t and the motion that we’re discussing today which again, I presume you are well informed of is post at your own peril. If you broadcast your life online, you should be prepared to face the consequences and as a sort of minor celebrity in the UK for once, because minor celebrities aren’t usually known for knowing anything about anything, it is a subject that I have some experience of, in so far as living as a vaguely well known person is, nowadays, rather similar to the way a lot of our children are growing up, living as a vaguely well known person within their own peer group. It does seem to me, at this point in time, there are expectations of those in the public life to lead entirely blemish free existences and to be role models of how we should live our lives and is not only at an all time high but also, astonishingly, hypocritical at times. Recently, very recently, only last week, I heard this obstetrician talking on Radio 4 and he was talking about the problem of late motherhood and that so many women were choosing to have their children later and later and completely ignoring any of the sort of social consequences or influences around it or the fact that we’re living longer.
He said that celebrities ought to be forced to reveal how they conceived because actually, an awful lot of people would be influenced by celebrities having children late and thinking it was ever so easy and it did seem to be that we’d reached an astonishing place in our culture when celebrities figured more importantly that they had to reveal how they were impregnated. Of course, more recently, I was on holiday with a group of friends and for the first time, I was really confronted by the fact that people are living their entire lives online. I was with eight adults in a house and six of these eight adults, my husband was the other person with me, spent about an hour and a half of each day sitting by the pool and another six and a half hours or seven hours in the living room posting pictures of themselves sitting by the pool because that was where the Wi-Fi was and seeing what pools, or where their friends were. This was half term so a lot of people were away and it did make me wonder about whether or not this was progress or some strange form of not communicating. I mean, does our need to communicate with our fellow man… let’s face it, Facebook and the like weren’t invented by an alien species. Does it benefit from new technology or are we creating a world full of sad, lonely people who lead the sustaining part of their lives as sort of avatars in a cyber universe?
In the end who is ultimately responsible? Well I’m hoping that these four people with us today are going to answer all of those questions. Before we start, I’d just like to take a rough count of how many of you feel that you are for the motion and how many of you feel that you are against the motion. I’ll do that again at the very end just to see which swing voters we have among you. So the motion is ‘Post at your own peril – if you broadcast your life online, you should be prepared to face the consequences’. Who would agree with that statement? So I would say that’s a majority, yes? Would you agree with me? And those against? Yes, that was definitely a majority. So a lot of people agreeing with the motion at this point. I also need to tell you the reason I’m speaking rather fast is that Stephen Bayley, who I will be introducing in a moment and will be speaking first, has got to leave early because he has his own speech to deliver elsewhere at the Cannes Lion Festival and we’re going to have to let him go in about 20 minutes, so enjoy every moment we have him if you would. I’ll start now by introducing Stephen Bayley. Our first speaker for the motion is an author, design consultant, broadcaster and curator with Terence Conran. He created the influential Boilerhouse Project at the V&A, which became London’s most successful exhibition space during the 1980s and evolved into the influential design museum. He’s also a consultant working with designers, architects, consumer goods and manufacturing businesses, including Ford, Coca-Cola, BMW and Conran. He’s written for The Times, The Independent, GQ, Condé Nast Traveller, Vanity Fair, The Financial Times and The Lady. It’s a miracle he could squeeze us in today. His many books include ‘Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything’ and ‘Woman as Design’. Please welcome Stephen Bayley who is going to speak to us for seven minutes, Stephen.
SB: Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be here and forgive the inelegance of my early departure. Anyway, ‘Post at your own peril’ – well I think, maybe. We’ve heard a lot about the wisdom of crowds and advocates of the Internet. I’m more inclined to think about it as the imbecility of crowds and the imbecility of people who want to pander to crowds. Private life I think is much more interesting than public life because it’s here that we find most subtleties and the Internet is not at all a subtle medium. Posting on it, I mean, posting anything on it, let alone details of your own lives, is a form of exhibitionism and, of course, exhibitions are the things which constantly attract that criticism. You’ll be surprised that, you know, you put your biography out there for global scrutiny and that attracts critics too of course but for me, abuse of social media is just one example of the general failings of the Internet. What are these failings? I can tell you now. The destruction of privacy for well-intentioned people and the creation of anonymity for vicious folk and for felons, never mind metadata and Uber knowing exactly where you are; that’s almost trivial. The Internet has also vulgarised absolutely everything. I mean, the click world is not at all nuanced. The Internet always optimises the immediate over the contemplative, research has been undermined, true knowledge has being devalued.
You know, I think there’s a general rule that the more difficult a medium of communication is, the more time and effort and trouble someone will put into it. If you’re carving messages in stone, you’re more likely to be scrupulous and careful about that than if you’re tweeting. It’s said also, I think, that the internet makes us stupid. I’m not certain it’s true but it certainly makes us lazy and laziness is very rarely a function of high intelligence. Here’s the other thing as well – the internet is always bragging about the superiority over new media and yet the best news service on the internet is BuzzFeed and it just deals in tabloid dross, whereas all the big news stories of the past ten years have been broken by so called legacy media, like The New York Times, Washington Post and The Guardian. The Internet is not a democracy of information; it’s unaccountable, it’s intolerant and it’s illiberal. It’s a community of front stabbers and back stabbers. I think reviews of anything, reviews of people or books, are much more interesting when they’re signed. The anonymity of critics, I think, releases the critic from any slight obligation for responsibility or critical vigour. That might, for instance, change if there was some sort of obligation for people who put online postings after publications or online newspapers to print in there accurate names and addresses. Of course, public figures of any sort have always been open to criticism. It’s the price, of course, you pay for your 15 minutes of fame. It’s true, of course, that any form of hostile review, whether a book of your own life; it always hurts. The trick here, as any writer will tell you, is don’t read reviews. Don’t read reviews; the bad ones always hurt and the good ones don’t really help but very few people have that Olympian distain and that self-control to ignore criticism.
When it was conceived, I think the Internet was thought of as some sort of paradisiac fantasy; a utopian community where well-intentioned people could enjoy the joys of instantaneous connectedness. No one seems to have predicted that the Internet would turn into a fantastically useful tool for thieves, perverts and Jihadists, as well as the sort of sadistic, mean-spirited saddos who like commentating on your work or your personality online. So what I say very briefly about the Internet and it’s shortcomings against the benefits of online delivery of groceries is you have a fantastic tool for ISIS to promote itself. We have become enslaved to a medium that was meant to free us in many ways but the Internet is the exact equivalent, 100 years on, of the automobile; a tool designed to liberate which now does quite the opposite. Slaves – slaves to anything or have very, very few powers and someone, I think, who exposes himself or herself in the slave market inevitably attracts unwelcome attention. Post at your peril? Yes, I think obviously you do. It’s a really nasty bedlam of viciousness out there. Far better, I think, to avoid that bedlam and cultivate your own garden. I genuinely believe that the creation of privacy was one of the great achievements of contemporary civilisation and with the Internet we’re losing it.
MF: Thank you very much, Stephen Bayley. I didn’t even have to do my little tinkling thing, which I was so looking forward to, to give me a feeling of control; some sort of control. Well, we’ll move now to our first speaker against the motion who has been the Executive Editor of ‘The Economist’ since 2006 and since 2003, has been the Editor of The Economist’s annual publication ‘The World In’ section, which focuses on the year ahead. His book on long-term trends, ‘Megachange: The World in 2050’ was published in 2012. Having joined The Economist in 1983 to write about Soviet and Eastern European affairs, he served as ‘Britain’ Editor before moving to the United States as Washington Bureau Chief and from 2006 to 2010 was editor in chief of Economist.com and from 2011 to 2014 was Business Affairs Editor. Please welcome Daniel Franklin.
DF: Thank you very much. Well, we clearly have a job to do, Emma and I, to persuade you of the merits of opposing this motion and we just heard from Stephen a huge, sweeping condemnation of the Internet, so clearly there’s quite a task ahead. I would start by saying that I completely agree with the idea that everyone should be aware that what we put online is not private; it’s potentially public and viewed by everybody. The same thing applies to what we put in email, or in text or in just about any digital format. We’re deluding ourselves if we think that conversations, or messages of this sort, or videos are private just between friends or a small group of colleagues. Everyone from LIBOR and FOREX traders to, apparently now, Leicester City football players knows that these things can become all too public very quickly. Even diplomats who imagine that their communications were private and secure, even their dispatches become public when they’re leaked by the likes of Edward Snowden and apparently, even French Presidents, as we read in the papers today, have their private conversations now made public. So yes, let’s not delude ourselves that these things are private. We can take that as I given I think but I have a problem with the motion. What’s my problem with the motion? I would have been tempted, I think, to stick my hand up when I first saw it but it’s not just talking about awareness; it’s going far beyond that and I have three main difficulties with it.
First of all, there’s the onus on you doing the posting. If you look at the wording of the motion. ‘Post at your Peril’. Very often, it’s not you. You’ll hear from Emma about her images which were posted without her consent, so it’s not something that necessarily you do. You’ve probably all heard of examples of people whose work conversations have been overhead and tweeted without their knowledge with the result that they actually get fired. Just recently, many of you will have seen the example of Sir Tim Hunt, the Nobel prize winning British biochemist who was hounded out of his post at University College London for making what he thought was a joke. It wasn’t a very sensible joke but he thought it was a joke in a speech to a conference in Korea and others posted this and it became something that everybody suddenly was talking about. This year, actually the number of mobile phones in the world is overtaking the number of people on the planet. You wouldn’t think that was possible but somehow it is. An increasing share of those mobile phones are smartphones with cameras and are connected to the Internet. So wherever you are, especially with live video streaming services, your life could be broadcast without your knowledge to the world. So even if you don’t post anything yourself, you can still find yourself broadcast to the world.
The structure of the motion, therefore, becomes useless as a way of staying out of trouble, which seems to be part of the import of what it’s saying. In such cases, if others post about you, you have absolutely no control. If you post yourself, at least you have a modicum of control. Secondly, the motion says that if you do broadcast your life, you should be ‘prepared to face the consequences’ but in my view, it can be impossible to be prepared for the consequences when something goes viral and I think that was what I took to be the thinking behind the motion. Nothing can prepare the average person for that. Even if you’re a celebrity and supposedly used to being in the public eye, judging by the reactions, I imagine it’s very hard to be prepared for that sort of thing too. There’s the question of context – words or images can be picked up out of context and suddenly it puts an unsuspecting individual in the eye of the storm. Lindsey Stone from Massachusetts had a habit with a friend of disobeying signs and she posed disrespectfully for a photograph at a sign asking for silence and respect at Arlington cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns and her co-worker and friend posted the photograph on Facebook and a month later, all hell broke loose when this became public. Lindsey was fired and I agree they perhaps should have known better that the photographs could be seen by anyone but the idea that Lindsay should have been prepared for such enormous consequences, I think that’s asking an awful lot. You’ve seen in the leaflets that are on the chairs the cause célèbre of Justine Sacco who, in 2013, tweeted from Heathrow airport ‘Going to Africa. I hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding, I’m white’ and she had only 170 Twitter followers. Should she really have been prepared for the storm that followed from her ill judged joke, during a time of her 11 hour flight to Cape Town, she would find herself infamous and again, similarly fired eventually from her job.
It’s like saying that you should be prepared for a lynch mob when really the problem is almost always the mob and not the original message. The solution is not to silence yourself but to stand up to the mob as Emma, as you’ll hear, has admirably done. That leads to my third problem with the motion. It’s fundamentally cautioning people against their ability to speak freely. That seems to be the weight of what this motion is proposing. The flowering of the internet and the very ability for individuals to broadcast and to use social media is, in my view… and here I would differ from the jaundiced view that Stephen put forward, I believe that’s hugely welcome and a great benefit generally, for all its faults for the world, yet the effect of the motion’s urging is to say don’t. Don’t tell, don’t share, don’t express yourself and if people spent their whole time worrying about the consequences, it would put a chill in the conversation that takes place on the Internet and, in my view, would make us cowed and ultimately less free. So although I wholly agree that everyone should be aware of what we sometimes assume to be private conversations and that these can in fact become public, the idea that we should be prepared to face the consequences is wrong and should be rejected for several reasons. Your life may be broadcast anyway, whether you decide to do so or not. You can’t possibly be prepared for the consequences when things do go viral; nor should the onus be on you to be prepared for the abuse of the mob and it would be just plain wrong to let such strictures stifle freedom of expression.
MF: Thank you very much, Daniel Franklin.
DF: You didn’t tinkle.
MF: I didn’t tinkle because you didn’t run over time. I’m being very fair. I can tinkle. I will tinkle. There’s a little tinkle just to make you feel tinkled. Thank you very much and now I turn to Scott Galloway. I’m feeling a bit sorry for Scott because he’s been left to sort of single-handedly shoulder the continuation of his side of the debate. Scott is our second speaker for the motion. He’s the Clinical Professor at the NYU Stern School of Business where he teaches Brand Strategy and Digital Marketing. In 2012, he was named one of the world’s 50 Best Business School Professors by the news website ‘Poets and Quants’. He’s also the founder of RedEnvelope and Profit Brand Strategy. He was elected to the World Economic Forum’s Global Leaders of Tomorrow and has served on the Boards of Directors of Eddie Bauer, The New York Times Company, Gateway Computer and UC Berkeley’s House School of Business. Please welcome Scott Galloway. Scott, off you go.
SG: Thanks very much and thanks Ogilvy and Intelligence Squared for hosting this interesting event. So I looked up the definition of ‘peril’ and peril means exposing yourself to risk or damage. I would argue that every technology in the history of mankind, whether it’s chemotherapy or email, involves a certain trade off in terms of the return you’re getting on that technology relative to the risk. Every day, we make a trade off around whether we want to engage in those technologies or ignore them because the risks are too great. I flew here; it would have been safer to take the train but I consciously decided to take that risk because the benefits outweigh the risk and when I landed at Nice airport, it pops up on my phone that I could take a helicopter here from €150, which I believe is less expensive than what a taxi cab driver typically charges me in France when he hears my American accent. I realise that’s probably a racist thing to say but I spend a tremendous amount of money, it seems, whenever I’m in a taxi in France in an unknown area. As I sit next to what looks like a 14-year-old pilot flying what feels like a lawnmower with a rotor, I realise I’m subjecting myself to fairly substantial peril but I’ve made the trade off. Every day, all of us make this subtle ROI equation on the risk of using email and taking advantage of cloud technology so that we can now store more data than was on the planet in 1900, on our phones and that now has a processing power more than the original space shuttle, in our hands. We have tremendous return on investment, tremendous utility from health, society, staying connected, professional efficiency, quality of life, ability to donate to philanthropies on a moments notice. You talk about the consequences of what happens negatively; note there are a lot more consequences that are positive. A mother reaches out and says that her daughter is suffering and she doesn’t have the money to pay for a certain procedure and people see that and it goes viral and there are a lot of instances that people, who don’t know each other, helping each other and making the same sort of judgement to the positive.
So are we to assume that this technology, the only consequences, should be positive? That we can somehow expect all the positive, wonderful things that happen from content we didn’t realise was going to go viral or does but does but we’re not prepared for some of the negatives? That’s not to say things shouldn’t be illegal. If someone hacks into your computer, that’s illegal. If someone takes data from you illegally, they should be punished but we need to have an adult conversation. Anything you put on a server is subject to some sort of security risk. We’ve gone from mainframe, to desktop, to cloud technologies and part of the reason we have so many amazing applications around technology is because we’ve consciously decided to upload our data to places that have streams in and out. You want to reduce the peril? Don’t go on the Internet, do away with your mobile phone and it wasn’t that long ago; just go back to 1990 and you will not be subject to this peril but we don’t want to do that. Let’s talk about crime, as some of this is crime – proximate crime; the likelihood you’ll be assaulted on the streets here, or murdered, has plummeted because of technology. It’s not because the world has become a more immoral place, it’s because of facial recognition technology, big data and database applications, that it’s easier to get caught. Proximate crime has plummeted; cities are much safer places to live because of technology.
At the same time, criminals have done the math and they’ve decided that distance crime, basically hacking into your data, is a good industry now because it’s low risk and potentially high reward. You have never been safer but, to be honest, your telephone, your mobile phone and your computer are terrifying and rightfully so but everyday we do a trade off and the world has voted unanimously that these risks and this peril is well worth it. In terms of celebrity, if you spend a lot of your effort and time trying to convince the world that you’re just damn interesting, which is what celebrity is, and that you want to establish currency from that interest, success or professional expertise, then you also face an increased level of peril because people just might believe you and make a greater effort to find out more information about you and then distribute that information. So we’re all subject to a certain amount of peril, which we take as a risk, but celebrities, or people who are minor celebrities, or people who are trying to spread their work through the academic world, we knowingly put ourselves up for judgement and to assume that we get to pick the exact line where we calibrate our privacy is somewhat naïve. If you’re going to try and establish a currency and power and the ability to get restaurant reservations ahead of other people because you’ve decided to share your private life because you think its interesting, then maybe this notion that somehow you get to decide when and where to draw the line and when to pull it back is somewhat naïve.
Let’s talk a little bit about the notion of privacy. If anyone is really indignant about privacy, you can almost guarantee it’s a white guy, over the age of 50 in Brussels, or in Washington, trying to put forward some sort of antiquated legislation or it’s a journalist who made their living because of the artificial gates and barriers to privacy that didn’t used to exist so that they can make a better living than they can now when more information was shared freely. This is not… this is an easy one. It doesn’t mean we’re not subject to the same protections, the laws of orders but every day the world has voted. We knowingly and lovingly put ourselves at this peril and at this risk.
MF: Thank you very much indeed, Scott Galloway. Finally, speaking against the motion we have an international visitor, another one. Our final speaker against the motion is a Danish writer and activist. In 2011, after her computer was hacked and naked photos of her were posted online, she became the victim of widespread online abuse. In response, she published specially commissioned nude pictures of herself as part of an activist project called ‘Consent’. She speaks widely on online rights and Internet shaming and lives and studies in Copenhagen. Please welcome Emma Holten.
EH: Thank you so much and thank you so much for having me. When I was sent the motion we are discussing today, I couldn’t help but wonder… I was very confused. Perils for whom and consequences for whom? Whose life are we talking about? What body does that person inhabit? Only a few tweets or utterances get the kind of attention that Justine Sacco, for example, got. That’s something of a spaz mode on the Internet when something goes viral; it is not the part of every day to day life for most of us. Only a very few of us will ever experience it and I’m more interested in what goes on in the everyday exchanges that we all contribute to. I think they’re called shit storms; what she was subject to and something that I was subject to as well and they’re not that fruitful in eliminating social problems. They happen but I don’t find them particularly interesting because they happen so seldom. I feel that I am fully ready and prepared to stand by the things that I post and say online by choice and I stand by the things that I do in private as well but it is my experience that what we utter online is very defined by the bodies that we have and the lives that we live; that consequences and perils are not just bound up by what we say but also by who we are. Consider my story, for example. I am, as you heard, a victim of what I call an ‘online consent violation’, which means that something was posted without my consent. In my case, it was naked photographs.
I realise today, that we’re not so much speaking about material shared without consent; even though it came up in my experience, it is still pretty relevant. The fact is that I am a young woman and I was naked in these pictures and online, as a commodity, pictures of naked women have far higher value in money and in clicks than pictures of naked men or older women. This means that they spread far wider and this means that the consequences and the peril that I suffer by doing this is much bigger than it is for other people. The risk that this gives for me is much bigger than people inhabiting other bodies than the body that I inhabit. My gender and my age condition the peril and condition the consequences. Similarly, the harassment that I received is also heavily, heavily gendered and this means that this is different for me. We don’t all have the same peril and this is very important in this motion because consequences for whom? Perils for whom? My actions were not an isolated utterance. It was not a naked human being; it was a naked young woman and that was very important for how the crime was committed and the effect that it had on me and on my life and so were the consequences.
Also, another example, consider the plight of the musician FKA Twigs; she’s dating Robert Pattinson who you probably all know – a very desirable man with millions of fans. When their relationship was made public, abuse of Twigs followed strongly, very shortly afterwards. We might see it, as you said, as a consequence of fame or the price you pay for being famous or successful but the thing that happened was about a week after their first public outing, her tweet was ‘I’m genuinely shocked and disgusted at the amount of racism that has been affecting my account in the past week’. Now, we might call it consequence and peril but the thing is FKA Twigs is not dealing with the consequences of broadcasting her life online. FKA Twigs is being forced to deal with the consequences of being a British woman of colour dating a very famous man. The consequences she faces are not based on her personal actions or her words. They are consequences of hundreds of years of oppression of people of colour all over the world. Had a white woman dated Pattinson, this would not have been an element in her consequences and not an element in her peril. Simply put, it would have been easier; it would not have hit her as strong. Consider also, that three times as many LGBT youths report being harassed online compared to other youth groups. Their consequences and their peril of being online is not comparable to mine; just as a grown man’s consequences are not mine. They are different because words can be used as violence against them in a different way; a way that carries the weight of history. Consequence and peril are not the same for them as they are for me because you see, I’m fine with being called an idiot and an asshole for voicing an opinion. I can deal with that; it is the name of the game and I understand that and I stand by what I say either way. However, when I get called… and I quote a comment that was on an Op Ed I did for a newspaper ‘a whore who should be raped and kept in place’ it stops being about me or the consequences or the perils of my action and it becomes a slap in the face with the force of 10,000 years of gendered marginalisation. It is not an offence that I have an answer to, nor is it something I can escape by being clever, more correct or funnier. It is a hatred of me based on my gender. Likewise, Twigs was probably… or FKA Twigs, the artist that I mentioned before, was probably prepared for vicious fans but when someone says on Twitter, following her relationship outing that they are (and I quote) ‘shocked to see Robert Pattinson dating a monkey’, it stops being about Twigs and her choice to be online and it starts being about her risk and her peril. That is not her being held accountable and that is not her consequence; it is a consequence of racism and thus, I feel it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that this does not happen.
I support regulation of online behaviour and utterance not because I do not have a thick skin. It’s not because I cannot take criticism or that I think people should not be held accountable. It is because I have knowledge that some of us are disproportionally targeted in this type of harassment and this type of wording and these types of attacks. Having an unregulated Internet is accepting this disproportionate harassment; it is accepting that the Internet becomes a vacuum that reproduces the terrible structures of our society – sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia, etcetera. This drastically limits freedom of speech. Holding back on voicing an opinion due to backlash that has nothing to do with your opinion and everything to do with you being a woman or a minority is an extremely serious democratic threat. Supporting an unregulated Internet contributes to the reproduction of the idea that we all face the same consequences and that we, who cannot deal with it and opt out, are somehow weaker than other people. This is not the reality. [0:32:00] There is no such thing as the normative idea of consequence of online presence. The reception of our actions and opinions are conditioned by other things. I wish it weren’t so but it is. Making sure that the Internet is a space where every individual speaks on the same terms and face just consequences is everyone’s responsibility.
If we ignore the suffocating reality of structural oppression in this equation, we limit the options for the people who need the platform of the Internet the most, which is the silenced, the oppressed and the voiceless. Thank you.
MF: Thank you very, very much Emma Holten. That brings to a close our opening speeches. I’m just going to ask a couple of questions to the panel myself but would actually like to open it to the floor as soon as possible because I presume you’ll all have questions that you’d like to direct to them. Scott, aside from your assumption that anyone who reaches the public eye in any way is therefore offering themselves up as an object for scrutiny on every level of their lives – aside from that, which I think we could argue about all day but I think if you’re an artist and you paint some brilliant paintings, it doesn’t mean that people need to know about your reproductive cycle – that aside, I think Stephen Bayley said that basically ‘the Internet is about the destruction of privacy for the well-intentioned and the cloak of anonymity for the bad’ and I think what Emma addressed, very poignantly there, was the whole issue of cyber bullying and the whole issue of the powerless; in a way, being attacked Salem style with no chance of recourse and that being one of the big issues that people worry about I think, in particular, when it comes to posting at your peril as it were.
SG: It’s not going to make for a good debate but I’m not sure I disagree with what you’re saying and also, to be honest, you’re putting words in my mouth. I didn’t say that artists should be privy to…
MF: Celebrity is such a wide word, isn’t it? What does it cover? Everybody who is known for anything.
SG: There are laws and we’re debating this in the US right now because the famous philosopher and athlete Hulk Hogan has… Gawker found, or had access to, a video of him having sex and he’s suing Gawker claiming that he, even as a celebrity, has a certain right to privacy; meaning there’s just no legitimate reason for them to find this and post it. There has been a lot of back and forth and now Gawker is all of a sudden wrapping themselves in the First Amendment and going on a PR tour trying to show the softer side of Nick Denton. I would agree and I do believe we have laws that if someone steals your data… and we’re actually going through the American court system about…
MF: Is your life your data?
SG: Is your life your data? My sense is that if you put a tweet out for public consumption or if you upload something to Instagram, then you should face the consequences or the peril, both the upside and the downside. Now, if someone breaks into your computer and takes your photos, in my opinion, they’ve committed a crime. What happens after that? Some of the things around cyber bullying or some of the misogyny that takes place online because of the anonymity of basically, people throwing darts from behind a car; the Internet is also creating a certain level of identity that, in my opinion, is probably fomenting a lot of positive behaviour. When you get out of an Uber, the driver now rates you. My thinking is that over time, there’s going to be an increased level of civility because if some of the transparency and some of the technologies… we’re talking about the downside and I do think there’s an upside. When I go to my kids’ school and I see how much consciousness there is around bullying and that the absence, or the near absence, of bullying, I think a large part is because a discussion has been catalysed because of some of the very terrible and negative things that are taking place online.
MF: Thank you Scott. I’m looking forward to this new era of civility. It just hasn’t quite struck London yet. Emma, you wanted to come in then.
EH: Yeah, I can help with the legal stuff. In America, in most states, you have to register your body as a trademark if you want to have it protected by the law, if it’s posted by a site. This means that you have to take detailed pictures of your body and send them to a trademark site and then you have to send them to the court. I haven’t done it personally but I can imagine it is quite an odd experience. So yeah sure, we’re protected and yeah sure, of course, there are loads of positive things with this but, like I said, I think I would really like to address the fact that the consequences are not all the same for everyone of us and just equally, that the positive effects are not all the same. I know many people who, for example, one of my transgender friends who says, ‘Not in a million years do I want to have a Twitter account. It’s simply too much for me to handle. I can’t handle the barrage’. That has nothing to do with her opinions, it has nothing to do with what she wants to say, it has to do with her being transgender and not being able to stomach the transphobia that she will face and I think this is a democratic issue and I don’t think it’s being addressed.
MF: Daniel, you work in, or worked in, print media which has now evolved into existing on the Internet as well but, of course, as a journalist you’re very used to having been governed by some rather strict privacy laws, which we may have been breached appallingly in the last decade or so in the UK by some publications but do you see a dichotomy between the protection that people have when they appear in print media, which is now competing obviously for it’s life, with a whole different world that exists in cyber space.
DF: Well, the technology has just moved way beyond and way faster than our ability to sort of have a settled view, I think, of how to regulate it and how to handle this. It’s hard enough in print. There have been huge battles, not least in Britain, over what is and isn’t permitted in print and they continue. On top of that comes this layer of new media which makes life even more complicated. I think more broadly, it’s a pity that Stephen isn’t here because I found myself more violently in disagreement with him, I think, with what seemed to be a wish to just turn the clock back and wish the Internet away, which isn’t going to happen, than with Scott because I actually agree with pretty much everything you said. There is a balance of risk and everybody has to be aware of these risks. That’s not my problem with what this motion says; it’s not that there are risks in posting online. I think everybody is increasingly aware of that and probably needs to be all the more aware. My problem with the motion, as I tried to describe, is somewhat different. It’s where it goes beyond that and puts the onus on the individual to be responsible for things that they can’t possibly be responsible for or be expected to do things they can’t possibly be expected to do.
MF: What about the big players who are making money out of all of us, signing up to Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram and all the many, many hundreds now of social media sites and so on? Again, there seems to be a sort of absence of responsibility, on their part, that doesn’t exist in the same way in the rest of the corporate world. Would you…?
SG: So you’re saying that you think social media platforms aren’t as responsible in terms of the way they handle data as corporations?
MF: I’m asking whether they are or not; I’m not saying… I’m wondering rather than arguing.
SG: I would argue they are no less or more evil than the majority of corporations. They’re just trying to figure out a way to not violate the law and create as much shareholder value as possible. I don’t think they’re any less or more noble than traditional corporations. The interesting thing is that the war online is being fought over identity. Google cannot track your specific identity because most of us are not comfortable with having our name and our picture above everything we’ve typed into a Google query box and if you think about it, you’re probably not comfortable with somebody knowing everything you’ve typed into the Google query box, whereas Facebook, for some reason, we’re comfortable with our identity being attached to specific behaviours and, as a result, they’re now tracking our individual behaviours. We’ll have a more powerful advertising platform that gets higher cpms but the war for identity is being fought online and it’s a huge value driver and right now, Facebook is winning that war because consumers have decided we’re more comfortable with attaching our actions to identity on Facebook versus Google but I don’t think they’re any less or any more evil.
MF: Yeah, I think I’m not looking for good or bad, I’m looking for regulated and less regulated perhaps.
MF: Don’t worry. You have a think about it. Daniel?
DF: Actually I think all businesses are now really struggling with this issue. It’s really difficult to know where to draw the line and even, I think, Google has been here trying to explain in some of the seminars (I’ve heard about but I wasn’t there myself) how they reach decisions about what they do and don’t allow to be put up. When you dive into the details of these decisions, these are really, really tough calls but they’re not the only ones who face that. I think every company, almost now, is a data company to some degree and they’re all trying to capture customer data and want to know how much they can do with it.
MF: I’d love to open it up to the floor now. Who’s got a question and would you like to tell me your name, speak clearly and if it’s directed at someone in particular, do tell me. Yes.
P: My name is Philip. My question is …so we were hearing more stories in the news over the last couple of years of people actually facing jail sentences for sending threatening messages online and trolling intolerably. In a more regulated Internet do you believe that everybody’s identity will have to be transparent and to what extent should they be held accountable legally for the things that they say? So I would say this would be for Emma.
MF: Emma, maybe you’d like to answer.
EH: Yeah, I understand the concern but I also think that it is not productive to think of the digital world as completely unassociated from the actual world. I think that more and more, like the thing that Stephen was talking about, for me, it is not a possibility to opt out of the Internet and similarly, it is not a possibility for me actually to opt out of Facebook. It is way, way too integrated in every sphere of my life, so when you say that we have enthusiastically embraced these things, it’s also somewhat of a wave that has hit us all that we can’t opt out of anymore. I think that it’s a double edged sword because I think that as we grow more accustomed to the Internet, we will also grow more accustomed to dealing with the ethics of the Internet. I think that we are in a place right now where ethically, it is way too abstract. There is this thing called ‘Internet disinhibition’, which is that the brain quite simply cannot understand that it’s another human being. I think that as we learn to adopt that idea more and more, that a threat on the internet is just like a threat in real life, we will see fewer and fewer threats but right now, because we have had this dichotomy of digital and real, we have created a world where threats that create actual harm and actual fear in people are not treated as threats would be in the real world and I think that is a huge problem. I must say that I think that serious threats like death threats and rape threats then have them being taken to court and being tried in the court system would have a preventative effect. However, of course, as you imply, if they’re done from an anonymous account, it raises a whole host of other issues about what we can… like if a threat is on 4chan, what do we do? I must say I don’t have the answer for you and the technicalities of it but I think that we will see fewer and fewer threats. I think we’re at the very beginning of understanding the ethics of using the Internet as a part of our integral real life.
MF: Thank you Emma. We’re going to take a question from the gentleman over there, I think, who had his hand up before and then this gentleman here. I might take both your questions together because we’re going to run out of time shortly, so please and then we’ll just pass the microphone down to there.
R: Rob from Sydney. My question is for Scott and my concern about this issue is not the legal side of it because I think ultimately, the legal side of it will catch up and let’s hope that it does. My problem is that in the meantime, we seem to be blaming the victims; that the shaming of the people who are actually being victimised for this becomes the focus, as opposed to the people doing the trolling, and doing the threatening, and doing the things that are illegal. I’d like to hear your comment on that?
MF: Thank you and we’ll just take this other question at the same time then.
S: Thank you. I’m Spencer from Los Angeles. I can’t say I disagree with anything anybody has really said but I guess for this side of the table, do you feel that you’ve answered the prompt though of ‘post at your own peril’ and should you face the consequences? Concurrently, I do think, with regards to the last thing with a regulated Internet, is that we’re assuming in this conversation that regulated means enforced and regarding law, that clearly is a problem and there is a big difference between regulated and actually practiced.
MF: Thank you very much. I think that’ll be a perfect question to end on, so thank you for it but if we could go first to you, Scott and talk about blaming the victim.
SG: You make a bomb threat on the phone and you should go to jail. You make a bomb threat and you attempt to do it anonymously online, we should use all our technology and our resources to find that person and put them in jail, in my view. There is no excuse when someone’s rights are violated or they have their data violated to have a gestalt where we blame them. I agree with you. I just think there’s no excuse for it and I hope that, over time, that the fluidity of information around some of this stuff leads to better laws, better regulation and, more importantly, a better MO around the way we handle ourselves online. I think it’s going to be the same technology that attaches people behaviours to their identities that’s going to reduce some of this horrible behaviour. I don’t disagree. I agree with you. I think going after the victim is absolutely the wrong thing to do and highlights that the legislation and the mentality has not caught up to the technology.
MF: I’m feeling like we’re all way too much in agreement here today. Perhaps if you and Daniel would like to answer? Daniel maybe you first and this idea of whether or not you have answered the question inherent in the motion ‘post at your own peril’.
DF: Well, I thought I’d tried to in all seriousness. I thought I was trying to take the wording of the motion quite carefully and was agreeing with some of it but not with other bits of it. I think that’s, in a sense, the nature of this debate that we do partially seem to agree with each other; maybe Stephen not but he’s not here to disagree but sort of disagree in the conclusions you get to from some other parts of it. I just maybe want, as tangentially, make one further comment that I think there is a bit of a distinction between the virtual and the real world in some respects [0:48:06] and that there is a sense that you can have more privacy in the real world. I learnt, the other day. of an acronym that I wasn’t familiar with before, called ‘LDL’ that people use… do you know this? Not in the room apparently.
MF: Fill us in.
DF: Apparently this is increasingly in use in the corporate world by people who are nervous about the conversation becoming public over email and it means ‘let’s discuss live’, so it means don’t put this down in an email. Let’s discuss live.
MF: Oh, I didn’t know that. Emma.
EH: Yeah, I think when I say regulated, I don’t necessarily mean through law. I mean also sites admitting that they cannot let everything roam free and have that to just linear progression because that’s not what I’m observing is happening. I mean that, for example, Google last Friday, said that they’re going to remove revenge porn pictures from their sites, which is a huge step for them both in principle and in practice for a person like me because that is them admitting that there is a gendered side of abuse that their platform is being used for; these sites are using SEOs to get these pictures up and stuff like that. I think that sites are admitting, slowly but safely, that they have to meddle in these things. They have to get their hands dirty and remove stuff because otherwise, it is not democratic and it is not just. I think that laws tend to be anachronistic and tend to be made by people who don’t understand anything. So I think that it’s extremely important that sites take the lead because they are usually the most progressive. They know how these things work and that means that when they sit down and start making an algorithm, thinking about reporting systems, thinking about removing material, should be a part of when they make the algorithm from the very beginning. They should be aware that when they create a platform, they create a space for speech and a place for exchange and necessarily having everyone in the same position in that space is maybe not so beneficial.
Reddit works with having smaller moderators and is, I think, a good step that makes spaces safer but I think thinking from first… as we have been thinking about the Internet now, that if everyone can speak, it will be democratic; I think we’re finding out that that is not necessarily the truth, even though it has positive sides, I agree.
MF: It’s also a bit of a worry if it remains in Google’s gift to decide what pictures should be taken down because you’re talking about a gigantic corporation again. It’s in, some ways, very open to an abuse of power, I would argue but that’s just my opinion. Normally, we would have a sort of minute’s round up from each of our speakers but that seems entirely unfair, seeing as we’re missing one of them, so what I thought I’d do to conclude is just to go back to the show of hands and see how many people have been convinced away from the motion. So those of you who were in support of the motion and still are, please raise your hands. Those of you who have changed your minds and are now against it and those of you who were against it at the beginning? Do you know for an audience that was actually you know… with so many people talking of being in agreement, it looks to me like it’s about 50/50. I mean I could count but I don’t think there’s much in it, so that’s worked out rather beautifully I’d say. If only the whole rest of the world’s problems could be sorted out so easily. [Laughter] Thank you all for turning up today. Thank you very much to our speakers; Stephen Bayley, Scott Galloway, Daniel Franklin and Emma Holten and I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here in Cannes, thank you. [Applause]