Politeness App: Let’s Translate and Wash the Trolls’ Words

Politeness cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

I think everyone would agree that during the last 10 years, unfettered discourse on the internet has sunk to the very gates of hell. It is far worse than 20 years ago when the internet was cute and new. And it is miles and miles from before that, when people held polite discourses face to face, and if they wanted to say bad things they would mutter the words to themselves after they hung up the phone.

Today, nothing can stop it. There are people, particularly celebrities, who get so upset at the hateful things people write to them on Facebook that they are moved to tears. They try to hide from it. They can hardly stand it. But they can’t not read it.

The result of all this is people at each others’ throats hatefully every day. They call it freedom of speech. But it makes yelling “fire” in a crowded theater like a walk in the park. And frankly, if nothing is done, this new kind of ‘discourse,’ if you can call it that, will slowly stamp out diplomacy amongst nations. Selfishness, hatred, chaos and war will ensue. Think WikiLeaks. And that’s just the start.

I think I have stumbled on a way we can stop it. If I am right, it will make me an enormous fortune. And because there are copyright laws, if I write it here, I own the idea, and nobody can steal it without getting sued—by me—because I wrote about it first. So now I am going to tell it to you.

The idea came to me when I was thinking the other day about some fun we had a few years ago on the internet with translation software. You could type something in English and its translation would appear in German, or Spanish, or Japanese, or whatever other language you wanted. But then, if you typed in the foreign translation (you could cut and paste) and ask the software to translate the translation back to English, you often got it back differently than you put it in. My friends and I called this washing the words. And you could wash them again and again. Eventually, things got hilarious.

I decided to try this with some heinous English insult typical of what passes for free speech on the internet today. Here is that insult:

“You should kill yourself, you disgusting piece of blubber.”

Here’s what came back after the first “washing,” heading off into a foreign language and then a “reverse washing” back to English.

In German: If you constricted, you disgusting piece of bubbly.

In Urdu: You should you disgusting part of blubber.

In Russian: You must kill you disgusting piece of whale blubber was rendered down.

Now getting past the fact that the English syntax gets busted up, it is also noticeable that the terrifying awfulness of the comment is flattened out a bit in the return. Second time, not so bad.

I think this is entirely accidental, but perhaps those who created these translations unconsciously felt, to a certain degree, that outrageousness should be tractor beamed in a bit. It might not be noticeable, but the fact is it would keep people’s feelings more under control, and that might be a good thing. Maybe.

In any case, I’d like to introduce you to my new software idea. It is the Politeness App.

The Politeness App will be made available in the open marketplace and initially put out to individuals to put into the software on their smartphones to bring good manners to whatever email is coming in, and to whatever email is going out.

So, if you wrote “Get your fat ass down to the mailroom and that Hitchcock report on my desk before noon, as I told you before, or you’re fired.”

It would, after being “washed,” be received at the other end as “I know you must be very busy but please, it’s urgent I have that Hitchcock report on my desk by noon. Bad things could happen if I don’t have it by then. Thanks.”

Someone might send an email to you that reads “This Communist Manifesto book you have just authored is not only a bleeding heart example of liberal flatulence, it is also all lies that you stole,” and it would be received in the reading as “I’m sorry to say I really didn’t like the point of your new book. I disagree with it and can’t recommend it to friends.”

It would be dealing with viciousness. I’ll take it further. Another email coming to you could be so disgustingly brutal about you that I cannot write it here. But when received it would come to be read by you as “The author of this email doesn’t like you.”

Initially, I will offer up the Politeness App for personal use for just $1 a month, and I predict that it will very quickly be wildly successful in hundreds of languages around the world. I then predict that such businesses as Google, Facebook, Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Microsoft, Disney, Twitter, YouTube and every other company in the communications business will begin beating down my door. Each will want us to install our app as a filter on their service and the cost be damned. Or darned. I will charge them billions. And you are laughing at me, aren’t you? And they will all pay me billions, per year, and I will have solved all of the problems regarding why human beings have not been getting along, which has now sunk to new historic depths. My contribution will be bring back eye contact, a smile, good manners and being polite to family, friends and neighbors.

After that, the Politeness App will be adopted by all governments as mandatory software on all computer-based operations and gadgets in the world. In democratic societies, this requirement will be challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, and will go to the Supreme Court where, thankfully, you, and me, and everybody else will be permitted, nay, required, to put this kind of online monitor into what was formerly called free speech. And all our problems will go away, washed and cleaned forever.

Around the world, we will sway behind the microphones, arms interlocked with one another, and with everybody watching the bouncing ball, we will sing songs of neighborliness. Thank you and God Bless.

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