Speed Bumps on the Web

Justin Kossyln, who works in product management for Alphabet, argues it may be time to add some friction back to the web.

But the internet’s lack of friction has been a boon to the dark side, too. Now, in a matter of hours a “bad actor” can steal corporate secrets or use ransomware to blackmail thousands of people. Governments can influence foreign populations remotely and at relatively low cost. Whether the threat is malware, phishing, or disinformation, they all exploit high-velocity networks of computers and people.

It’s time to bring friction back. Friction buys time, and time reduces systemic risk. A disease cannot become an epidemic if patients are cured more quickly than the illness spreads.

​While I totally agree with Kosslyn that adding a little bit of difficulty to the process of posting and spreading content online could be a good thing, doing so would be harder than it sounds. For instance, he suggests forcing social apps to be locally oriented, rather than global by default. I’m afraid it would be very difficult to put that genie back in the bottle. Too many people have wished to have their non-directional self-disclosures broadcast to the entire planet to turn back now. It would most likely take government intervention which would probably then raise cries of censorship.

I’m not sure that most of the general public has grasped the concept that just because we can have a technology doesn’t mean we should. Not yet, at least. It would most likely take violence in the Western world, the kind of which has been aided by Facebook in Myanmar and India, to wake people up. Let’s hope and pray that kind of violence stops rather than spreading.

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