Friday, August 02, 2019
"Reason" has big articles on "The End of the Free Internet" and on "Authoritarian Populism"
The August/September 2019 print issue of Reason caught my eye at a Barnes and Noble in Tyson’s last night, before a movie. The issue had the odd quirk of numbering its pages backwards (with even numbers in front), in reverse; not sure why.
But there were two major articles that caught my eye.
The first of these is “The End of the Free Internet Is Near” by Declan McCullagh.
The title may be misleading, because “free” here doesn’t refer to free content, it refers to the freedom to upload without gatekeepers. But paywalls (and the idea of bundled paywalls) might belong in more stable business models (below).
I’ve covered most of his argument on my Wordpress “News commentary” site. There have been many developments since the election of Trump, many of them as a result of populism or regressive Left-ism, more in reaction to Trump (and right wing leaders in the EU) than because of them, that bode poorly for user-generated content. In the US this litany starts out with the loss of guaranteed net neutrality (which hasn’t really hurt much yet), to FOSTA (which has hurt more), to various other proposals now to gut Section 230, and now a copyright bill called the CASE act (out of Senate judificary) which could embolden trolls. In the EU it first started with the GDPR but soon exploded with the Copyright Directive, most of all the “copyright filters” Article 17 (and link tax Article 15).
More recently, in the US, private corporate interests, somehow impressed by social justice warriors, have encouraged deplatforming of some conservative voices under exaggerated claims of racism (particularly after Charlottesville just two years ago) and even denial of access to the financial system, which is being appropriately met with investigations for anti-trust violations. Moreover, mainstream corporate media, suffering from loss of profits as its outrage click-bait business model fails, resulting in layoffs of “press credentialed” journalists, tries to attack independent media, with its much lower costs (as David Pakman found out even just this week).
I have been critical of the strategy of free speech activists to urge supporters to nitpick with their members of Congress over narrow issues; instead you have to look at the trend of all these issues together and connect the dots.
In the third paragraph of his article, Declan says it well. In one generation, politicians have lost interest in the value of globalized personal speech (so much the naïvely presumed “right” in the years following the opening of the World Wide Web on August 6, 1991 and then protected by Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor (somewhat) later) and now fear the consequences of allowing an individual’s own speech too much unhindered reach or “power”. These include an unsustainable business model (the outrage-clickbait problem that Tim Pool talks about all the time) which replaced the piecemeal “dotcom” boom of the late 1990s; and a tendency for this model to encourage extremism (particularly from the right, given the asymmetry of cultural norm boundaries that Jordan Peterson has explained pretty well), whereas more moderate speakers (like myself) don’t may their own way with their own material, but use assets from separate employment (often in retirement) or even inheritances.
The last part of the article proposes a return to the more decentralized Internet of the 90s. I haven’t covered that very much, but I thought that blew up with the dot-com bust in 2001. More recently, the user of crytocurrency is believed to help fund sites dedicated to allowing all "lawful" even when culturally offensive, speech. The effect of 9/11 then deserves rethinking.
The video above by David Doel describes this as a “culture war” and says that sometimes combativeness is necessary.
I think a discussion of the Santa Clara Principles would be in order here.
Another topic worthy of discussion is that hosting companies have a very different business operation from social media companies, but even they were pressured to remove some customers after Charlottesville.
The second big article is “The Terrifying Rise of Authoritarian Populism”, by Tom G. Palmer (Cato Institute), On both the Left and Right (especially), Palmer correctly sees the trend as resulting from “resentment” of the loss of relative social and economic status in comparison to other newer groups – culminating in “great replacement” theories of the most extreme, but more generally an unfounded fear and resentment of immigrants (especially if not white and Christian). Palmer even has a section heading “It’s not the economy, stupid.” Palmer goes into how libertarians should respond, and admits that libertarians (particularly of the Jordan Peterson type) tend to judge other individuals who are less fortunate and who stumble and make mistakes very harshly at personal level (Ayn Rand’s “mooch” character) – and at some point this adds up to contagiousness to politics.
The magazine has a full page ad for the recent FreedomFest in Las Vegas.