Politicians don't understand the Internet (or anything else)

The internet is justifiably ablaze with criticism of Rudy Giuliani’s recent Tweet in which he blames Twitter for linking his own fat-fingered mistype to an anti-Trump website. I feel bad for defending Twitter because the company is no friend of actual free speech, but my loathing for semi-private companies is only eclipsed by my loathing of politicians, so here it goes.

Twitter auto-links anything that appears to be a a URL, roughly defined as text that’s not a dot or a space, followed by a dot, followed by text that’s not a space. The Internet is, of course, defined by URLs, so this feature makes sense for a technology company that hosts Internet-based content.

Giuliani’s tweet contained a poorly punctuated reference to the G-20 summit – a reference which triggered Twitter’s auto-linking feature, and which prompted a tech-savy individual to register the URL to which the tweet auto-linked. At this URL, that irreverent middling pleab sought to get under aristocrat Giuliani’s skin by hosting an anti-Trump message, for which Giuliani blamed Twitter, proving his own ignorance of how the Internet (and likely most other technology) works. Of course he’s not alone. Who can forget the Net Neutrality debate in which one of our revered statesman referred to the Internet as “a series of tubes”?

If Giuliani were my grandfather I could perhaps forgive him for this faux pas, but he’s not. He’s a politician who has a direct impact on the “relationship” between government and the private technology sector. The problem is obvious. Since the government’s only hammer is violence and force, the last person who should be in an authoritative position is someone who has no idea how to identify an actual nail.

As someone who grew up in the Internet era, it’s easy to shrug off this ignorance as just the province of an aged aristocracy who did not. But this is not just a case of generational ignorance. I recall, as a middle-school student, visiting our legislators in Jefferson City. I sat in on a committee meeting in which my representatives discussed the exact content of a public school curriculum that they considered necessary for the education of a younger populace. And I realized, in that moment, that very few (if any) of my representatives had any clue about what constituted actual education, or possessed reasons for their opinions other than it would sound good to their constituents and thus ensure their re-election.

The truth is that politicians are rarely qualified to judge the milieu in which they legislate. And that’s because they are normal human beings, and like the rest of us, their ignorance outweighs their knowledge in most things. “But they have access to specialists who advise them!”, some say. True. And most people have access to the Internet – the largest repository of information ever collected, indexed, and formatted in a user-friendly way. And yet most of us would agree that access to information and expert opinion does not a wise person make.

Human life and social interaction complex and cannot be reduced to committee meeting decisions. Even the most qualified professionals are limited to their own experiences and knowledge.

Economist Friedrich von Hayek observed that,

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

His observation can, and should, be extended to legislation and regulation. Who would go to a senator or representative for dental work, solely on the basis of their access to “professional opinion”? Nobody. We should limit government severely. Not because there aren’t good people in government positions (maybe like three), but because no matter how virtuous, well-intentioned, or smart they may be, they are still at most only capable of making the coarsest of decisions for the 325 million people they represent.

We need to invent technology that's never even been invented yet.