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"The Internet is for Porn": Blackmail in 2033

A comment on the Spies! discussion brought me up short by asking an interesting question:

I foresee the range of blackmail material to narrow considerably, already for celebrities sex videos are more of an oops than anything really damaging and I expect this probably to extend to politicians gradually.
Is this actually true?

The world wide web turns 21 this year. In that time we've travelled a long way towards the normalization of cultural, artistic, and one-handed material that, 21 years before 1991, would have been considered extreme. To some extent it's a side-effect of the web having disintermediated production and consumption of all media, including porn; stuff that, in 1970, you would have had to search out from specialist retail distributors (who were perpetually at risk of being raided by cops aiming to raise their number of arrests) is today ubiquitous and available at the click of a mouse button. But it's also a side-effect of the web making it easy to construct social networks among people with minority interests; suddenly all sorts of stuff that was hidden back when it was just one person per 10,000 population town emerges as a 30,000-strong continental community. The 0.01% are no longer hidden, can no longer be marginalized. Never mind the 1% or the LGBT 10%.

A side-effect of exposure is familiarization (what anti-porn crusaders would call desensitization): we, the general public, know a lot more about niche fetishes and alternative sexualities than our counterparts 42 years ago. Familiarity frequently breeds tolerance (at least, when the subject matter is consensual and, within its own framework, non-transgressive): and so, stuff that would formerly have been considered blackmail material is now simply a collection of home videos posted on YouTube. Compare and contrast, for example, the strategic leaking of sex videos by stars for career-enhancing purposes ("look at me! I'm sexy!") with an earlier age's Hollywood marriage. The level of titillation required for a viral social marketing campaign has become extreme.

Now I want to think about politics, and the future in, say, 21 years' time.

The typical breakout age for a politician in the UK or USA (and many other democratic polities) is around 40 years, plus or minus a decade. Which means the candidates for high level office circa 2033 will have been born between 1980 and 2000. The probability that they have an extensive social networking footprint going back to childhood is high — even the fifty-somethings in 2033 will have been on the internet since their late teens or early twenties. And since about 2000, they will have been the users of (and targets of) ubiquitous cheap digital cameras.

The probability that they've been photo-tagged at parties, sporting events, classes, and workplaces is high. Some of these events will be potentially damaging (see, for example, Prince Harry's Nazi fancy dress oops). Some may be actually damaging, career-ending or worse: given the prevalence of sexting we can anticipate that a double-digit percentage of them could technically be charged (under current laws) with child pornography offenses. (I suspect that sexting will be redefined as non-criminal behaviour or as a minor offense, within the next couple of decades, simply because the alternative is to eventually criminalize a very large chunk of the population.)

Furthermore, given that the current business model for the largest social networking system (Facebook—monetizing your relationships by selling ads) relies on inducing users to reveal information about themselves in public, it's hard to see most of these potentially compromising pictures remaining inaccessible.

Going further: the probability that they've been using some sort of lifelogging device is high. The ubiquitous sensors I was blogging about earlier this month will also have records of their comings and goings, to the extent that privacy law and bit rot provide for. And there will be a bunch of other aspects of public identity and data monitoring that I haven't thought of.

So, here's my question:

What is public shame going to look like in 2033? And what are the implications for the psychological profile of the kind of people who will be campaigning for high level office? Are we going to see candidates for the highest posts raised from toddler-dom in hermetically sealed media bubbles by their dynastic political parents, with lives so carefully curated that there's nothing for their rivals to get a handle on during a dirty campaign? Or are we going to see a public who increasingly expect politicians to behave like jaded celebrities (or their own peers) and who won't blink at revelations of anything short of murder?

What is the future of blackmail in the 21st century?

85 Comments

1:

My best guess is that, when it comes to the sexual lives of politicians, the public will become a lot more tolerant: As long as something's not illegal nor a security risk (fun with FSB spies is likely still going to be viewed as impermissible), no one will care.

Because of this, sexual propriety is probably not going as major a role in political campaigns as today. However, propriety in areas where familiarity does not breed tolerance (think cozy relations between politicians and lobbyists) will probably be enforced even more stringently, since, the fewer social norms a society has in common, the more harshly and obsessively it tends to sanction transgressions of those it can agree on.

However, all of this, I think, depends on how this crisis will end. If the extreme right-wing gains power as a result of current developments we might return to the days where stringent public morality (whether or not it's simply a sustainable image or the actual state of affairs) will be demanded and enforced.

2:

Have you thought about the opposite? Isn't it possible that, given the changes in the very concept of privacy, the one true area for blackmail may become lack of stuff? A politician who doesn't have a long tail of youthful transgressions, drunken photos, sexting and a few minor driving offenses becomes suspicious exactly because the public wonders what it is they're hiding? So blackmailers threaten to clean up people's records in the campaign... and PR experts have whole divisions dedicated to fabricating slightly checkered pasts for those who have actually led lives too blameless for the general public.

3:

Yay I got quoted on a post. It's an honour, thank you.

One approach I've noticed the neo puritans take is to accept say, gay relationships inasmuch as they mirror the traditional hetero pairing but reserving the right to frown upon anything that involves pleasure for it's own sake and can't be normalized in this manner. The "pleasure is bad" meme seems to have a lot of staying power.

A lot of things I imagine will be in the open but will not qualify as news, a kind of censorship by neglect, kind of how it's known the King of Spain has affairs but it doesn't make headlines.

Of course people are trying to raise their children in cultural bubbles nowadays, with this kind of social fragmentation I imagine their media will raise all kinds of alarms but the effects of the scandal will be limited to their own readership. "PRESIDENT IS A CATAMITE: SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE?"

4:

I think the case of Simon Walsh shows that an accusation of possessing pornography can still destroy someone's career. If everyone is guilty, the choice of who to prosecute is a political one.

5:

there'll still be blackmail over sex tapes if the people involved are being unfaithful to their partner, for example. whether that's still a potential avenue for blackmail is going to depend on how society views the sanctity of relationships.

ultimately, it's going to come down to the consensus viewpoint on what is classed as acceptable behaviour. sure, by then attitudes to open sexuality will have changed (for the better, imo) as will (i expect) attitudes to tattoos, piercings, gender preferences, and other body modifications.

blackmail, though, depends on shame: the exposition of something that the victim wishes to keep hidden. illegal activities (e.g. drug taking), infidelity, hypocrisy, lies, two-facedness, or even simply something that they do not wish to have in the public domain (e.g. illness, or a surprise party for a loved one, or a wedding proposal) will all still be around, and in mostly unchanged forms. one way or another, people still want to have parts of their lives shielded from public view, and that will always leave room for blackmail.

6:

Could it move beyond sex? What about all the things which are now considered tut-worthy by one or another section of society, for example smoking, profligate energy use, eating food likely to lead to later-life illness?

7:

Actually, the disintermediation is looking rather interesting from another point of view. Given that people watch such extreme pornography, and that at least some people disapprove of that, what fraction of them would be willing to do something somewhat extreme about it? In particular, I have taser armed drones in mind, and some way of finding out who does these things.

8:

What will have to change is the notion that politicians changing their mind is a sign of weakness. I've been on the Net mouthing off since 1997 and in that time quite a few of my expressed opinions have changed. That will be especially true of those who have been using social media for the 30 years prior to their "breakout". The alternative is really too horrible - the notion that the only electable politician is a 40 year old whose opinions are the same as his teenage self.

9:

I think the key issue will be evidence of hypocrisy - if Candidate X runs on a Xtian anti-gay, anti-drug ticket & has pics of him licking cocaine off a pretty boy at a Satanist-themed fancy dress party.

The other factor will be ease of manufacturing and placing of fake evidence - TV watching readers will recall BLAKE'S SEVEN starts with the hero, a mildly anti-government teacher, being arrested for possession of child porn the government put into his possession... the modern version of which will likely involve a mass of discussion of whether the evidence is forged ("that's a 'shop, I can tell because of pixels" becoming the new rallying cry?).

10:

>(I suspect that sexting will be redefined as non-criminal behaviour or as a minor offense, >within the next couple of decades, simply because the alternative is to eventually >criminalize a very large chunk of the population.)

Hah! Yeah right. See the war on drugs.

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/34865-there-s-no-way-to-rule-innocent-men-the-only-power

11:

there'll still be blackmail over sex tapes if the people involved are being unfaithful to their partner, for example. whether that's still a potential avenue for blackmail is going to depend on how society views the sanctity of relationships.

ultimately, it's going to come down to the consensus viewpoint on what is classed as acceptable behaviour. sure, by then attitudes to open sexuality will have changed (for the better, imo) as will (i expect) attitudes to tattoos, piercings, gender preferences, and other body modifications.

blackmail, though, depends on shame: the exposition of something that the victim wishes to keep hidden. illegal activities (e.g. drug taking), infidelity, hypocrisy, lies, two-facedness, or even simply something that they do not wish to have in the public domain (e.g. illness, or a surprise party for a loved one, or a wedding proposal) will all still be around, and in mostly unchanged forms. one way or another, people still want to have parts of their lives shielded from public view, and that will always leave room for blackmail.

12:

The situation is similar to the current "Obama is a muslim" smear, in that the kind of people who know he is not overlap the kind of people who wouldn't care if he was, and vice versa.

As for actual blackmail material, I expect the skills and tech required to make realistic fake video to drop considerably by then to the point which "Make someone the star of 2 girls 1 cup" might be the equivalent of a one click facebook app nowadays. Professional attempts would be indistinguishable from reality, making video evidence unreliable. I'm not sure which side that would benefit more, but I think liberals, probably.

13:

We are all of us sinners. Sinners in the sense of having done things that might be considered illegal, immoral, strange, embarrassing or something we would like to keep private.

I think with most everything out in the open the public are going to be offered a choice between sinners whose sins do other people no harm and those whose sins do harm others or the political process. A choice between unusual sexual practises and being too close to unsavoury business interests. They are going to be offered a choice between people who are open and honest about what they do, people who aren’t open and honest and people who publically advocate one standard of behaviour but privately adhere to another.

So in a world where we are all sinners and can all be seen to be sinners the public are going to have to decide which sins they are willing to forgive or tolerate or welcome as the sign of a genuine human being much like them.

14:

What if moral judgementalism became the shameful act that you needed to remove from your public face? That could be quite viable, everyone would likely have some issues they would not want judging on.

15:

Problem is this assumes a linear development of society without any "primitive" backlash in the future.
Which is highly unlikely.
I'm not talking about Apocalypses or nuclear war or something but the mere fact that our society is much more fluid than people assume and the last 60 years of stable development could well be an aberration.
I mean the Regency era around 1800 was so scandalously liberal that Victorian women could not bear the thought of what sort of dresses their grandmothers wore.
It might well go down the same lines, no matter if religious or politically authoritarian or simply some sort of mass media neo-feudalism.
Such sort of scandal mongering requires free press, which I sometimes feel is on the way out anway.

16:

As a result of CG becoming indistinguishable from real life footage, all blackmail materials will be shrugged off as fake. :-)

17:

Maybe it's like taboo words. In its own fashion the Guardian is just as offended by them as the Daily Mail, albeit the words are different. People will always find something that offends them.

18:

The War on Drugs is a very good cover for waging covert class warfare against the poor in the USA -- and disproportionately against African-Americans. See, for example, the difference in punishments for possession of crack and for cocaine -- two different forms of the same drug, one popular among poor African-Americans, one popular among stockbrokers.

That's why I don't see a war on sexting in the near future; culturally it crosses all class boundaries and includes posh kids as well as poor.

19:

See "The Player of Games" for an example of blackmail in about as open & permissive a society as you can imagine...

I'd agree with Cat @10 in that evidence of hypocrisy will always remain fertile grounds for blackmail. I'd add "cheating" in the general sense, whether in relationships or in any other matter.

Not so sure about illegality in an absolute sense. Where public opinion is neutral or ambivalent about the law - frex, current drug laws - then public figures may be able to defy potential blackmailers. (In my more optimistic moments I hope this could eventually lead to more rational drug laws; not holding my breath though.)

Obviously where the law also agrees strongly with widely held "public morality" - murder, violent crime, rape, fraud - then evidence of such will remain eminently blackmail-worthy.

One important change - I hope - will be the end of the mass media's role as gatekeeper and guide to what we are expected to be outraged about. I'd say a sign of developing into a truly mature society will be when we can make those decisions for ourselves...

20:

Another strong possibility is that anything goes, *except* breaking ones word. Which would put extra-marital affairs back into the blackmail category unless the wedding vows were explicit in allowing such behaviour.

21:

The Simon Walsh thing points it up - we're in a transitional age on this.

22:

My state did that a couple years ago. low end midemeanor if both parties are the same age.

23:

Oh - the death of sarcasm. This is something I've seen myself, sarcasm just isn't tolerated anymore. Which might fit well with a system based on shallow knowledge of many people, rather than deep knowledge of a few people. Some people might even view it as breaking one's word, although I wouldn't.

24:

Will we have much more homogenisation of mass culture?

The French and Italian media have a fairly gentle "we won't say anything until you get caught by someone else" approach. The internet and crowd-sourced stasi make getting caught that much more likely, but cultural standards are going to keep quite a bit of variety going here. Nestor @14 has already pointed out that subcultures aren't very good at talking to one another, so unless the rather hefty radicalisation of cultural divides that's on-going reverses or collapses the situation is likely to get very disjoint and messy indeed.

Also some politicians are already talking about a "right to delete". Add that to some interesting developments of person recognition (face, gait, whatever else becomes common), some EU-beefed-up data protection legislation and a few software agents (open source or otherwise) and you've got an automated mopping up operation as you go for some of the effluent of personal data you're leaving behind as you trawl through life.

The real kicker though, is data-mining: how well will the web be able to predict your likelihood of future gaffs/infidelities/political success on the basis of life-long patterns. Will we see political parties partially automate candidate selection? (With powers hedging their bets by hiring someone charismatic but also likely to do something blackmailable?) Will job interviews and selection be conducted on the basis of web trawls?

25:

This could flip the other way entirely -- see China, for example. Authoritarian behavior seems hard-wired into our genes. Once you set up an environment where normal human behavior breaks the law, you then can prosecute people you don't like at your leisure, or at random to keep the teeming millions (or billions, as the case may be), living in fear. See also speeding tickets and the TSA.

So one possibility: we roll back to the 1950s.

26:

In Transmetropolitan I think that Spider Jerusalem notes that people probably didn't care that the President was banging alien/human hybrid hookers - but that the President himself was sensitive about the whole thing.

I didn't pick that up on the first read through and thought "waitasec, who would care about this in the world of Transmet?"

But that The Smiler cared about it - and *thought* that others would (even though if you come from that society you'd have to be doing something pretty amazing to raise an eyebrow because it would basically have to shock Warren Ellis) - was more a reflection of The Smiler's problems than what was and was not taboo in the world of Transmet.

27:

Having read Peter Singer at an impressionable age (30ish), I'd like to think that T. will be right.

When all sins are visible, perhaps people will focus on the relevant ones. For politicians those are abuse of trust, abuse of power, antisocial acts: fraud, corrupt dealing, theft, bullying, harassment, blighting the lives or livelihoods of others.

I'd like to think that having removed sexual preference from the realm of "morals", we could all focus on the really immoral thing: needlessly causing harm.

But it's more likely that the things Peter Flint (#6) lists will take the place of sexual behaviour. Lack of political correctness will be the career killer.

28:

Transmet also answered the "hermetic bubble" speculation:

SPOILER:

The Smiler's VP candidate turns out to be so clean and unremarkable because he's only two years old - he's a clone.
(This is a universe where there is a market for hydranencephalic clones for long pig...)

29:

Transparency decreases hypocrisy. Considering that each one of us has probably done some stupid, irresponsible, or vaguely embracing sex-related thing at least once, the current public conniptions over the sex lives (or other common transgressions) of public figures is idiotic. By 2033 it will not only be the politicians who would have grown up with the Net, but the electorate too. A too-perfect candidate would seem like a robot. This will be an electoral disadvantage, not an advantage.

Most of the things that today are fodder for either self-righteous outrage or gossipy titillation will not qualify for either 20 years from now.

30:

"That's why I don't see a war on sexting in the near future; culturally it crosses all class boundaries and includes posh kids as well as poor."
Sorry but I think you are quite wrong here. The most striking feature of the WoD is its hypocrisy. Considering the high proportion of people in all part of society today who have dabbled in drugs - or still do - there should be next to no public support for it. But there you are. It is indeed a class problem : "yes I did - or do - use drugs, but I can be trusted with it because I am not a chav". My guess is that tomorrow's middle class parents, if there are any left, anxious to protect the future reputation of their children will find a way to protect their offspring from the consequences of their reckless behaviour, but that the hammer will still fall heavily on working class children, especially if they have the audacity of forgetting their station and trying their luck in politics.

31:

This article implies to me that in 2033 will be a more liberal time then it is now. I actually think that it's not gonna be that way. Here in the Netherlands things are already turning around having to register for an ID to be able to get in to coffee-shops. rise in intolerance towards any minority including LGBT. people will always be people.
yes a sex tape is not gonna be of any concern to say a liberal democrat, but it will be for good honest god fearing republicans even in 2033. So it might have the effect that politics will be more honest as the pretenders and slipped conservatives will drop out of the race and only "true" conservatives with no mud to sling at will rise.
a Rick Santorum would stand a far better change to win the primaries around that time then Mitt Romney.
on the other hand if there is nothing to blackmail, people may actually listen to the candidates policies.

32:

>>"yes I did - or do - use drugs, but I can be trusted with it because I am not a chav"

Honestly, I think it's more "I don't know who else among my peers did/does drugs, so let me take the safe position and express outrage, especially since no one else can call me out on it".

It is because of this that I strongly suspect that the percentage of Millennials against the WoD (from all classes) is significantly higher than that of previous generations when they were that age.

33:

Transparency reduces hypocrisy without necessarily increasing tolerance across the board. We will be more tolerant of things that many people do (but could just, heretofore, could hide from others), but not necessarily things that many people do not do – 'weird' or 'other' homosexuality or foreign cultures. Absence of empathy is different from moralisation

34:

I could see public opinion having an informal "statute of limitations", similar to what we currently see for drug use.

For example, consider Obama's admitted use of cannabis and harder drugs; David Cameron and Boris Johnson's hedonistic days in the Bullingdon Club; and all manner of debauched behaviour by George W Bush. Dropping hints about youthful cannabis use is almost a badge of honour for the current generation of British MPs -- see, I was cool in my younger days, really I was! All of this seems to be largely a non-issue for the press and public.

The same could apply to any other indiscretions revealed by social networking, as long as they are safely in the past. Freaky sex-and-drugs in the present would be another matter, but even then I think the worst punishment would fall on the hypocrites. Someone like Cameron or Obama who has traded off a squeaky-clean family man image would suffer more than a Boris Johnson or Bill Clinton who has made no secret of being a bit of a rogue.

35:

There are some interesting strategies for dealing with transparancy and the effect of being caught doing something for politicians and media types.

Imagine the situation where a potentially embarrassing bit of dirt about Politician Z has fallen into the hands of Politician A. She has the choice of arranging for it to be published or not.

In each individual case there is no specific harm that comes to Politician A if she publishes. Politician Z might be damaged or might be not at all damaged depending on the “sin” and the publics attitudes to that sin and Z’s prior record but I don’t A is going to be publically castigated for arranging for the publication.

Even if A doesn’t leak the dirt, Politician B will come into possession of it and be tempted to leak the dirt.

So, eventually all pieces of dirt will be leaked. There is a strong driver for a race to the bottom of every greater dirt finding and publishing.

This might or might not damage politicians as a class as they are perceived as being more sexually profligate, more drug addled and more prone to petty criminality than the general population. (The same would hold true for all people in the public eye.)

Each individual piece of dirt becomes valueless as for every bit of dirt on Z there are equal amounts of dirt on A. (This assumes that both Z and A have the same dirt and the same record on dirt. So it won’t hold for individuals but for groups of individuals across various dividing lines it will.)

What is the public’s response to a political environment where there is a stream of dirt on all politicians?

What is the politicians’ response to an environment where every bit of dirt is going to end up out there?

36:

I'm writing a book about risks of online self-expression at the moment. I've heard the argument before eg from David Brin that increased visibility of misconduct will increase tolerance of it - I am not so sure. I think hypocrisy, selective perception and the inevitable lag between a changing world and changing social attitudes may mean that the overall reputation of politicians may just continue to nose-dive as unflattering revelations about their lives inevitably emerge.

37:

I'd guess that we'll see specialist services for scrubbing certain sorts of embarassing personal data from the big aggregators; big aggregators will develop contractual relationships with these services. Fees will be priced so that the lower tier of such services are within the reach of the middle class.

However, in practice, people will only bother to check out the background of the poor and working class -- for the middle class and rich, that's just not done, but you know, if you're applying for subsidized child healthcare, you'd better prove you're morally upstanding.

38:

Imagine the blackmail power certain employees at Facebook and Google and the likes have.
I saw a clip of a film that was constructed around leaked AOL search queries it portrayed a very sad maybe even suicidal person. I don't know what the context of it all was but as you can read I have formed a strong opinion on this person(woman)
a form of blackmail that might arise is completely reconstruct some ones life using available data and placing it out of context. which has always existed, but now you can create a whole life out of context.

39:

Imagine the blackmail power certain employees at Facebook and Google and the likes have.
I saw a clip of a film that was constructed around leaked AOL search queries it portrayed a very sad maybe even suicidal person. I don't know what the context of it all was but as you can read I have formed a strong opinion on this person(woman)
a form of blackmail that might arise is completely reconstruct some ones life using available data and placing it out of context. which has always existed, but now you can create a whole life out of context.

40:

Imagine the blackmail power certain employees at Facebook and Google and the likes have.
I saw a clip of a film that was constructed around leaked AOL search queries it portrayed a very sad maybe even suicidal person. I don't know what the context of it all was but as you can read I have formed a strong opinion on this person(woman)
a form of blackmail that might arise is completely reconstruct some ones life using available data and placing it out of context. which has always existed, but now you can create a whole life out of context.

41:

See (kinda) companies exploiting sunshine laws to extort money from people to take their record offline.

42:

I've been pondering just this question since the late 90's, when I realized that Certain Things I had let loose on the Internet were just the kind of thing to disqualify me from Higher Office. I took some steps to minimize its discoverability, but the fact remains that it's still on my permanent record if someone funds the opposition-research well enough. I've been much more careful since then, but that horse hath fled the barn already.

[This will be covering US politics, since that's what I know.]

2033 is just far enough down the time-stream to be on the right side of demographics. The demographic categories of people scandalized by flip-flopping or ascribing dark motives to what others would call youthful indiscretions will be dying off in significant numbers by 2033, leaving in its wake people like me who were raised by them and have had the Internet writing to our permanent records for our entire adult lives. 2033 will probably be in the middle of the transition from only pristine candidates need apply to acceptance that people actually do change while they grow up.

Right now the only acceptable change-while-growing-up is becoming Born Again. And even that is not well trusted, but it has much better acceptance than a former racist pleading that they've changed their ways. If that racist Finds God, then we'll consider them reformed. That's our politics for you.

This change will likely be foreshadowed by changes in employment practices. Certain employers regularly do social-media research on candidates to see if they're a good cultural fit for the company and are not likely to make any gaffs worthy of PR-department damage control. As the corporate world gets more comfortable with college-age spouting-off-at-the-mouth not being a herald of poor decision-making now, the political climate will follow along a decade or so later.

As for the opinion that the lack of a social-media presence is grounds for suspicion, I think that's correct. The biggest social-media deniers I know are people my own age who already have a clean slate and see no reason to change that. They may have a LinkedIn page, but nothing but CV details on it. PR-departments like that kind of person now since it's clear they know how to keep their mouth shut. But for people who've had easy Internet access their entire lives, such a clean-slate will be noteable. Job-hunting sites are already pointing out that it is far better to have some curated content attributable to themselves than it is to have zero; it shows that the job-seeker is savy in the ways of Internet communication and can be trusted. This will only get stronger as the working-age population gets more interent-exposure over their lives.

43:

I think the point made earlier about how blackmail depends on shame is one which bears repeating. Our ideas about what might cause that shame will change over time, but there will certainly be things which do cause it. The trick is guessing ahead of time what they will be.
As for the future of blackmail, as long as there are things people do which would cause them shame if exposed, I don't think it's going anywhere.

44:

People keep talking about the coming age where no-one cares about politicians' past indiscretions but we're already there. Politicians routinely admit to drug use and we all know that Cameron was a member of the Bullingdon Club and all that implies. No-one cares unless it's some kind of sexual offence.

45:

I think we will be a more tolerant society, where the word "tolerance" is exactly right. It simply means "to put up with". I, along with many (most?) people tolerate lots of things I neither like nor approve of. All kinds of legal behaviours will still hurt politicians.

46:

I'm with T in that I think sexual propriety (up to a point) will become irrelevant in regards to political ambitions. The gender or racial background of your partner(s) won't matter - what will (and IMO, what should) matter is things like "is everyone in the relationship enthusiastically consenting", or "is everyone in the relationship aware of everyone else" or "is everyone in the relationship happy". So, for example, a stable polyamorous adult threesome wouldn't be a scandal (unusual, certainly, but not scandalous). An affair discovered where the cuckolded partner wasn't aware of their partner's bit on the side, and where they were hurt and offended by this discovery, would be. Or the same threesome where the third party was forcibly married into the relationship, or was under age would be grounds for scandal. A consensual relationship would be fine; a coercive one (for example, sexual harassment) wouldn't. Casual, consensual sex with multiple partners who didn't have any bad reports of the person - no problem. A history of partners who weren't quite sure what happened that night - grounds for further investigation.

In a similar vein, past history as a teenage nitwit (or in other words, the sort of history everyone can own to) wouldn't be a political career-killer unless the candidate in question wasn't willing to admit to it. In the same vein as Mitt Romney's exposure in the current campaign as a high school bully (and his non-apology for same) the question wouldn't be so much "did you do it?" as "do you regret you did this stupid thing, have you learned better since, or do you still think it was pretty cool?". There'd be a greater examination of historical evidence to show proof of behavioural alteration (have you actually changed since high school, or were you also a bully or harasser in university, or in the workplace?). If you said something stupid and racist once, have you learned why you were wrong (or at the very least, why you were impolite to do so)? If you're a man, is there evidence you've grown past the "all girls have cooties" stage (for women, the "all boys smell" stage)?

It may be we'll still wind up polarised, with the extreme end of politics valuing the sort of mental rigidity which involves not changing one's mind on opinions formed in one's early teens for fear of seeming "wishy-washy". Meanwhile, the more moderate end of things will be embracing a willingness to show a trajectory of gradual change - becoming more willing to compromise as more is learned about the situation.

47:

Charlie: .... suspect that sexting will be redefined as non-criminal behaviour or as a minor offense, within the next couple of decades, simply because the alternative is to eventually criminalize a very large chunk of the population.
Au contraire, what a wonderful excuse to help make sure we're all guilty of something - a major desireable goal of any authoritarian panopticon state!
See also Peter @ 19
Yes, I know he's quoting Ayn Rand, but she was right on that one - that was how the sovunion operated, and the drug laws operate now.

Gareth @ 4
Indeed.
However, quite a few people, both Libertarian & Liberal are asking why should S Walsh's career be ruined.
I wonder if he will make a come-back/recovery in a year or so, given the sympathy, and the gorss incompetence, not to mention hypocritical prurience of "the authorities".

Of course, as others have pointed out, it will only tak one Hiock Sanatorium to reverse the whole thing, male us all criminals, living in fear of Jean Calvin's inspectors, and the inquisition (yes, mixed sects, I know!)
And mixing sects is NAUGHTY!

48:

We already live in a world where presidents snort cocaine and drive while intoxicated, a world in which senators can kill political workers and don't bother to inform the police, and let's not even mention what Silvio Berlusconi is famous for, shall we?

I don't see presidents having regular sex parties online as much of a problem in terms of their popularity with the general population. Clinton got in trouble because he lied about the affairs after all; not because he had them. Remember, Kennedy has higher poll numbers now than he did while he was alive, and we know more about his drug and sex-capades as well (imagine how much more successful his presidency would have been if the internet had existed and his secrets hadn't been so secret).

I can see why the American people might be a little leery of voting for a candidate who's a self-proclaimed serial killer, but, other than that, I don't see us having many standards of ethical behavior for our leaders in terms of personal behavior (now or in the future).

49:

I refer the gentleman to the example of Boris Johnson - acting like a complete buffoon and getting elected, twice, because of it.

Douglas Adams was right, the future winning politician will be the most entertaining moron on the ballot - having a sex tape will be a smart career move.

The ones who really make the decisions will remain unknown, unreported, and probably attendees to Nazi themed SM group sex sessions.

Strange that superinjuctions haven't been banned, despite the outcry, don't you think?

50:

In many ways the slide is so gradual that people can still think they are conservative while their habits would shock previous generations, my favourite example is Fred Phelps daughters wearing trousers.

Wait long enough and we might have a diapered babyfur president who still considers hirself a conservative :)

51:

Comments are back ...
Why is it that your blog seems to suffer so badly, CHarlie?
Othere I look at don't seem to have this problem.
Is it an atretfact of the subject matter, or the way/the language your blog is written in?
For that matter, the spambots appear to be generating pure noise, with no signal, so what's their point, come to that?

On the subject, of course if there is a rethuglican re-election this aumtumn, we can see a return to the "good old days" where blackmail is porfitable.
Given that all religion is balckmail, that would not suprise me.
The entries in the Google-group storm refuge re Florida and Pannsylvania are revealing.

Which reminds me, off-topic,there's something worng with hat (probably because I'm still on IE8).
It wont post an image (of me/the cat) and message-posting is very erratic - sometimes it takes, sometimes it doesn't (Oh, & I'm "fledermaus" over there ...)

52:

Maybe making the comments registered users only? You already have open ID enabled so it's a matter of explaining to people that they already most likely have a couple of OpenID logins.

I have no clue how many spambots with openIDs are running around. In principle I guess it might not be an obstacle at all.

Which leads me to the thought I've been playing with that the internet might become unusable as a medium for communication soon enough once captchas and other similar methods become completely obsolete (I believe we're already there?) and the spammers kill the commons they're grazing upon by overfishing. Bit of a long shot concept but already my website stats are composed overwhelmingly more of bots and crawlers than real people so maybe not

53:

Blackmail is an interesting intersection of Economics and Mathematical Disinformation Theory. Tech-driven variation include Graymail (handled oddly in Japanese corporate annual meetings), and Greenmail. Someone of Facebook just asked me what my favorite color was. I said: "Ultraviolet Catastrophe."

54:

I'm told that the KGB once filmed a blackmail-intended 3-gal orgy with a visiting Middle eastern emir, who, when shown, demanded hundreds of copies to show his people what a Man he was. How many people would follow Christine Margaret Keeler if she were alive to Tweet?

55:

The Onion: Every Potential 2040 President Unelectable Due to Facebook

http://www.theonion.com/video/report-every-potential-2040-president-already-unel,27963/

56:

Some posters have already commented on the possibilities of actively gaming the system, so that the potential candidate has the occasional embarrassing Facebook photo and such (to show that they're not hiding anything, they're Ordinary People, whatever). This is not new, and some people have been gaming the system passively:

Back around 1980 a friend of mine was at a party in the Washington DC area along with a bunch of other upper middle class young people; someone had brought rather a lot of cocaine to pass around and one teenager in particular declined. He explained, "No, I can't. I'm going to work for the CIA and they're going to polygraph me and ask if I've ever done coke. But help yourself."

Nobody cared about the cocaine, but planning for the test started years in advance.

57:

" .. Is it an atretfact of the subject matter "

Now there's careful and cautious wording for you!

I'd intended to ask our host whether or not it might be some sort of binary 'trigger ' based upon the word ' PORN ' and coupled with the popularity of his site ? On the Parasites of the Parasites of Parasites basis ?

" Little Bugs Have Smaller Bugs Upon Their Backs to Bite them. And Smaller Bugs have littler Bugs ... and so on Ad Infinitum "

58:

I am paranoid but am I paranoid enough? This jamming of your blog is the kind of stuff that is done to the enemy. I know that some churches do this kind of thing. The more you talked about godbothers the more you were jammed, it seems to me. Just finished your newest book I think its probably a subject of anger among people who feel rightist to do some thing about it. I know of some who made books disappear out of libraries. They are working very hard on elections, that's how I found them. ...Kiddy porn will kill you. If found on a computer you will need a very good lawyer and computer expert who can show that a it was planted all at once, that you did not call it it up and look at it. And a DA who is not in a race to get on TV using you as a step. Just the knowledge you are being investigated will ruin you. Now how hard would it be to hack into a computer and fix it. How a about if it were not just some lone hacker but someone who is really out to get you. Some one who took the time to do it right? I am a little surprised it has not been done, say in a divorce case. Or maybe it has.

59:

I'm afraid that any future attempts at the revelation that " XXX candidate for OFFICE of your choice is in FACT !!! " Much prone to Buggering Camels " as " PROVED " in the liberal Media with Loads of Evidence, is bound to be met with the counter that, ' OF Course he isn't and such a vile accusation is only supported by Super Sophisticated Software that was developed by the Vile Liberal Elite ..... who have faked the Camel Buggering with their Progressive Software which Demonstrates how EVil Science is!!'.

The - properly Qualified - Voter certainly wouldn't believe these Evil Lies of Evilosity would HE?

HE ? Are Women allowed to Vote in the US of A ? How Unnatural and Ungodly!!


All else aside, there is the revealed TRUTH, that has just come to ME in a flash of Revalation! Forsooth .. in The BOOK of BUSH as Revealed by the BOOKS Of Fourth Profit and Perpetual President Elect and Once And Future Supreme Benign Overlord Denny Rehberg..


" HELENA, Mont. — Denny Rehberg often wears cowboy boots while campaigning for the U.S. Senate, telling stories about his ranching background and bashing the “death tax” and “Obamacare,” characterizations popular with Montana’s rural residents.

To Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, the Republican congressman who wants to take his place is all hat and no cattle. ... "


http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/candidates-bicker-over-rural-bona-fides-in-montana-senate-race-key-is-whos-more-montana/2012/08/18/29b0309a-e92a-11e1-9739-eef99c5fb285_story.html

60:

You've been told multiple times what the spammers are trying to post. It's SEO optimisation stuff.

So no, you're just being fruit bat paranoid.

61:

Jon Vos Post@ %3
The Times named him [ Lord Palmerston ] Lord Cupid,on account of his youthful looks, and he was cited, at the age of 79, as co-respondent in an 1863 divorce case, although it emerged that the case was nothing more than an attempted blackmail.

Ahem.
It is also a popular story that he was cited as the father of an illegitimate child, but that Benjamin Disreali ordered it hushed-up on the gounds that, if made public, it would garuantee Palmerston's electoral victory!

62:

The person who is know known as Charlie Stross is a former thespian* from the Ukraine. Who maintains the illusion of there being a Charles Stross in return for regular prolonged visits to Amsterdam, while an agent of the Scottish Secret Service, to whom he bears a significant biometric similarity.

Suffice it to say that he wasn't trapped in Tokyo by a volcanic eruption (though a volcano was involved), and the Space Shuttles now in museums are not all the spacecraft you might think they are.

[*] Thespis: founded as a Greek colony city on the coast of the Black Sea

63:

"You've been told multiple times" I have? THANKS.

64:

"rural bona fides of candidates"? *SPLORF*
If that is the new criterion, I'd like to see each of them compete in the following: (a) rope a steer; (b) milk a cow.

Mirror mirror on the wall
speak sooth of the coming fall? –

Hannah Montana shall trounce them all!

65:

[forgot to mention in previous]

(c) balance a budget for an entire (year|term) in office!

66:

The interesting thing there is that clever, prosperous extroverts (the kind of people most likely to become politicians in democracies) are particularly likely to use social networking sites. I do think that the permanent public nature of the Internet will have an effect on the political fortunes of the first generation to grow up with it, particularly in more panopticonic countries like the UK or Singapore. I'm just not sure what it will be.

67:

Boris Johnson's persona is a calculated attempt to exploit the feeling that less government would be a good thing; he offers people an apparently ineffectual politician.

Meanwhile the democratic vacuum is filled in other ways.

68:

Most politicians I know of would be capable of trying to milk a bull, if they though it would get them votes.

69:

Balancing a budget in office for a year (or a term) is easy.

The difficult bit is balancing a budget (etc) without pissing off a whole bunch of the voters by either raising taxes or by making extensive cuts to services that they rely on. (For the trifecta, add "cutting government spending so hard that you cause mass unemployment and trigger a double-dip recession". (See, cuts are relatively easy, but those civil servants' wage packets, and unemployed folks' social security payments, get spent and end up as profit in the pockets of businesses and other folks who pay tax. And if you cut too hard and too fast, as does George Osborne ...))

70:

s/apparently ineffectual/superficially ineffectual/

BoJo is actually pretty damned effective, once you ignore the clownish exterior and well-meaning-but-harmless act. Go watch some back episodes of "Have I Got News For You" where he appears as a guest and what you see is a clown mask concealing a razor blade. And again: his political track since leaving Parliament is formidable.

If he's got a political Achilles' heel it's that he's not a team player. As Mayor of London he's in his element; as a back-bench MP he was ... well, he didn't get on with his peers, by all accounts.

71:
BoJo
Great, now you've got me thinking about Mojo Jojo, the supervillain monkey from the Powerpuff Girls cartoon. (That's Devo, by the way.)

But on the actual topic: there is a difference between getting dirt on someone on one hand, and blackmailing them on the other; and people putting more things online might affect the two differently.

Actual blackmail – I'm thinking "pull out, or we will release this" – would get more difficult if people are more accepting (or jaded..) but it seems that for an effective smear you just have to be able to construct a good story that draws people in. And I wonder if, at least for politics, that won't be the more important part.

And with a decent PR team, you won't even have to be limited to things that has actually happened, if the whole "secret muslim" thing is any indication of what is to come...

72:

"get spent and end up as profit in the pockets of businesses and other folks who pay tax" : indeed, that was the subject of one of Krugman blog posts.
He was explaining that "business owner experience" is useless as a credential for for politicians.
Businesses trade with the "outer world", states trade mostly inside themselves (even USA's very open economy only has at most 10% or 15% foreign trade component).
Cuts in a business budget mostly help the bottom line, cuts in a state budget need to be very carefully targeted to hurt mostly foreigners, most of the time you loose as revenue what you spare as cuts.

73:

So, just a year before the web was born, we had the spanner trial, which I and a group of friends attended regularly, acting as security for Mr Sebastian. Now, as the web turns 21, we have a similar case of anti-gay CPS over-reaction, or possible conspiracy within the CPS. Whether or not blackmail will be possible in 2033, I suspect prejudiced prosecution will be.

74:

Paul meme
Like the insane arrest and charge (& release on police bail) of an Amicus curiae
Which will crash the entire court system, simply because some stupid an prejudiced plod had a rush of blood to the head.
What am I talking about?
THIS

( "Out of time", anyway, even IF a crime has been committed, which I doubt! )

75:

By then, society will be so jaded that the scandalous thing will be any altruistic deed the person has ever done.

76:

Looks like some people still think we're in the 18th century http://kfor.com/2012/08/18/46913/

High school valedictorian has her diploma retained by the school because she used the word "hell" in her graduation speech.

The mind boggles at this mentality.

77:

Balancing a budget in office for a year (or a term) is easy.

Anyone with a brain who thinks the US can balance the federal budget (for real, not pretend) in the next year or two is seriously deficient in how they use that brain. Unless their goal is to crash the US economy into something that makes 1932 look like good times.

We been on this addiction to deficits for a long time. Going cold turkey is not an option unless you like death as a real possibility.

Says he who would like to have balanced budgets. (Real)

78:

What a pack of funts! I'm guessing someone's having a quiet word with whoever made that decision. I know some parts of the US are rather conservative but that's really taking the piss.

79:

You don't understand sarcasm, do you?

80:

It won't change nearly as much,we might just be a bit more honest. Politicians won't be disqualified for downloading porn in high school,or smoking a joint in college. We already see these shifts happening. There will always be societal norms. If the majority of people have downloaded porn,no one will care. The majority of people don't look at child porn,or regularly visit sex clubs,or have six wives in a compound on the Arizona borer. doing those things will till make you the object derision and be things people want to hide. Blackmail will change very little. Like now,some people will bee fairly clean,others will have secrets they desperately want to hide.

In the future,if someone downloads child porn,they will still want to hide it,it will probably still. carry a stiff jail term. If someone cheats on their wife,they once again will go to great lengths to hide it. If someone downloads weird,but legal fetish porn,they might simply decide to hold a press coherence an say "I downloaded some midget porn,I liked it,some idiot at the ISP is trying to blackmail him,I called the police and they arrested him,now let's move on. If so done downloads normal heterosexual or homosexual porn,and someone ttys,the "victim" will just laugh.

81:

Given the prevalence of cannabis usage in NZ and the fact that it is still a moderately serious offence, I am sorry to say that even in this relatively moderate country the authorities are still Way Plenty Stupid Enough to criminalise a large (double digit) proportion of the population. Don't even start me on the Skynet Act 2011...

82:

Don't even start me on the Skynet Act 2011...

I suppose it's too much to hope for that this regulates time-traveling killer cyborgs...?

83:

As another example that people are caring less over trivial things like nudity, drunkeness etc I submit this amusing story that I bet most people wont give a damn about (more than an amusing anecdote)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19346468

84:

We already act more shocked by things than we really are, so perhaps by 2033 we'll all be going to pansexual crack orgies every night, yet still expressing outrage that a politician once looked at a saucy calendar while getting his car fixed.

Public figures will be more vigilant about how their past looks on paper, but I think that will just mean we move on to subtler forms of poison. I'm thinking of Michael Dukakis's snoopy photo, or Neil Kinnock's "well alright!": moments that aren't immoral or deliberate, just cringe-makingly weird in a way that can't be unseen and can't be revoked.

85:

2033 is about 20 years from now (2012) and just possibly after or coincidental with the "singularity".

I think blackmail of politicians as we currently know them is not likely because
1. Politicians as we currently know them will be obsolete.
Participatory democracy will have replaced them.
2. However, similar "thought-leader" roles might expand to fill this gap.
3. How will the lobbyist / advertising role change when representatives are drafted or polled?
4. Will the "news" that a human "blogger" (future equivalent) has a special relationship with an AI be relevant to our assessment of the blog's ideas?
5. Will the discover that a blog is actually written by an AI be newsworthy?
---
What will the "upper chamber" be like? "The House of Corporations" hmmm?

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 15, 2012 10:30 AM.

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