The penname was “Silence Dogood,” and the media in which the words of the man behind the name were published was the Poor Richard’s Almanac. Silence Dogood was, at the time, 16-year-old Ben Franklin, and the series of letters that he penned in 1722 in the New-England Courant poked fun at various, albeit contentious, aspects of life in colonial America.
Common topics such as the drunkenness of locals, religious hypocrisy and the persecution of women entertained and, at times, enraged citizens. Yet, despite the provocative nature of the typeset, there was no reflex towards violence or calls for assassinations.
However ridiculous or blasphemous the content was, Western civilization had accepted that a single citizen’s viewpoint was their opinion, with no logical or cognitive association to that of a state or nation.
Now nearly 300 years later, YouTube has replaced Poor Richard’s Almanac and readership is counted in terms of millions, versus merely thousands. Most recently, YouTube and, specifically, the content that resides in this domain, has been cited as a critical catalyst for global unrest. The modern penname equivalent of Silence Dogood is Sam Bacile, and his blasphemous parody on religion have enraged viewers today, just as his ancestor, Silence Dogood, achieved three centuries earlier, except without violence.
Ostensibly, US public policy and national security as it relates to the digital domain seems to be relegated to the ranks of page views and viral video growth — a serious oversight. The justification proclaimed by citizens of our alleged allies for their killing of four innocent US citizens and patriots in Beghazi, Libya initially was said to be directly linked to a video they didn’t create, promote and, most likely, didn’t even know about. Said justification has yet to be publicly refuted by any of our ‘allied’ nations, though they continue to enjoy annual US tax payer contributions.
Such silence is in contrast to the tens of thousands of comments not only condemning the video, but also the violence. Recent analytics illustrate segmentation and demographics reflecting an obvious preponderance to Middle Eastern countries, with primacy towards the 45-55 year-old age groups — an age group hopefully reflective of the wisdom and civility to teach their future generations that violence isn’t the answer to someone’s opinion, however distasteful or blasphemous. Otherwise, as a civilization, we’ve retrograded to a population well before Silence Dogood’s time.
As Americans, we are challenged with managing the global reflex of a fourteen minute video, while protecting religious expression and first amendment rights. Chiefly, we must understand why certain elements of our allied citizenry elect to deprecate the very understanding of civility. Is violence the new reflex? Secondly, as Americans, we must determine the impacts and protection of the first amendment as it applies to the online environment.
The Internet has been the fastest adoptive technology since man created fire, evolving from an experiment into a critical component of society. Yet, we are idle in thought, reaction and ideas towards this increasing and repetitive lifeline of society.
Instead of focusing on blocking viewers in certain geographies or removing videos from YouTube that both are largely pointless based on the proliferation and endless reach of this domain, why don’t we strategically seek to understand the timing of events that led a foolish video that was made public in June to cause unrest around the 11th anniversary of 9/11, three full months later — metaphorically a lifetime in this dynamic digital world. Only after we understand, can we hold people accountable.
Jon Iadonisi is the founder of White Canvas Group, a company that specializes in cultivating alternative and disruptive strategies. Iadonisi’s depth of experience, diversified expertise and unique operational background has provided a perspective that has enabled him to contribute to solving national security problems. He spent the past fifteen years using innovative computing technologies coupled with cutting edge scholarship to solve complex problems, some of which later became implemented as new strategies and capabilities for the US government.
Iadonisi is regularly sought by the Department of Defense, various intelligence agencies and members of Congress to provide expert opinion and briefings on information age unconventional warfare. Prior to joining the private sector, Iadonisi served as a Navy SEAL, where he designed, planned and led various combat operations that integrated innovative technologies and tactics into the operating environment, ultimately creating new capabilities for the Special Operations Community and CIA. He is a combat-wounded and decorated veteran who earned a BS in Computer Science from the US Naval Academy and MS in Homeland Security from San Diego State University. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and guest lectures at San Diego State University and Georgetown Law School.