Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Next Shackle? Blogs and Big Brother.

As I surfed the television “news” last night, I couldn’t get away from rantings about the Hillary Clinton “Big Sister” video. The familiar talking heads, like images from recurrent nightmares, jawed pointless noises designed, like the interminable blather about Attorney General Gonzalez and Britney Spears, to distract the populace from really important things like government expenditures, Iraq, and the daily maiming and slaughter of Palestinians by Israel.

That anonymous, ubiquitous video of Ms. Clinton, who takes the place of “Big Brother” in what was originally an Apple commercial, prompted several comments about the revolutionary role of free circulation of videos and opinions on the Web . . . blogging included. I got the impression that complaints about “too much freedom” were being murmured in certain quarters.

Up to now there have been ominous rumblings about the dangers of freedom on the Internet but, as far as I know, little actual interference. We hear about the most obvious targets first – child molestation, child pornography – but then also about “hate speech” (i.e., any speech you don’t like), “racism”, and “antisemitism”. All manner of evils are supposedly sweeping the globe by way of blogs and other websites, but up to now those offended by all freedom except their own have not found a way to do much about it.

What concerns me is that the people who are actually able to impose control, the politicians in Washington, are now feeling personally stung and threatened by bloggers and others who have unrestricted run of the Internet. I foresee a new shackle on what is left of liberty – a powerful, persistent assault of regulation and restriction aimed at bloggers and other free Internet spirits. It is inherent in most who hold political power, or who seek power to further their special interests, to want to suppress dissent and control what the public hears – even if they pay lip service to “freedom of opinion". They have managed to restrict the print and broadcast media to narrow confines without appearing to do so, but the freedom of the Internet is a different matter.

I can imagine some of the arguments we’ll hear: “As political leaders who love fairness, how can we possibly tolerate anonymous postings? A person who hides behind anonymity obviously has something to hide. He's a danger to society. What harm is there in requiring someone to take responsibility for a video that attacks others? Wouldn’t identification, and registration (with appropriate penalties for noncompliance, of course), be a good idea? We are not trying to restrict, we are trying to protect. (And while we're at it, shouldn't we collect a tax to pay for our protection?) Think of the poor vulnerable victims whose feelings and even political careers are hurt by criticism or debates; aren’t their rights as important as those of the hate-filled people who are criticizing them?”

My point is simple: I’m afraid that the next great attack on freedom will be an assault on the Internet, and especially on free and anonymous video posting and blogging. If Canada and European countries can already throw scholars into prisons for merely questioning “established historical fact” or criticizing certain groups, why can’t the United States take “minimal” steps to “reasonably” control bloggers and video creators?

Of course in my country there’s that inconvenient U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, but if the politicians and watchdogs against “hate” work hard enough and long enough – a small wedge here and there, constant pounding on a crack in the foundation -- they’ll eventually find ways to bring freedom down and make Internet censorship sound like newfound liberty.

It’s ironic that this post was prompted by Hillary Clinton in the role of “Big Brother”. In George Orwell’s “1984” (if you’re too young to have read it, you’d better read it before it ALL comes true), “Big Brother” (a personification of the dictatorship, modeled on Josef Stalin) was everywhere in everyone’s life by means of television and other devices, constantly watching everything and everybody, even in the most private moments and places. As in the world of G.W. Bush, war was perpetual and essential to the maintenance of Big Brother’s power and the national economy. People, pumped full of fear of the enemy (call that “terrorism”), had accepted the reduction of their freedoms until they were, in effect, slaves even as to their very thoughts – although of course Big Brother assured them they were the freest, happiest, most blessed people in history. Through constant propaganda, surveillance, and the use of police force and torture, a small, anonymous, securely protected group ruled an entire population behind a mask of, “Big Brother wants what’s best for you.” It is that anonymous group we need to defend ourselves against, and not free bloggers or video creators. If we fail, those small children I see playing across the street may not even have an Internet by the time they're my age.


Naj said...

Hi Fleming, I read 1984 in year 1984. I was a 13 years old teenager then, living under the big brother's watch in Iran.

I have experience suppression of freedome of speech first hand; when in university in Iran, I was ordered to retract a certain "heretic" poetry from the monthly university paper. I didn't, but then I was coerced to do so in order to pass the digital circuits class, that I were to marginally pass, because well, instead of being a good engineering student, I was a good poet :)

Well I didn't retract my poem, I failed my class, I was followed and harrased, and I was never given access to tribune or to publication ...

The point i am trying to make is that limitation of freedom of speech can work in different ways. You don't necessarily need a big brother's monitor to be watched by and instructed through; you don't need to be kept in captivity with mice to be broken, you just need to realize that speaking certain truths will shut the doors of success and progress on you. we live in a subjective world that many of decisions are made behind closed doors and based on subjective assessments.

But there is also anothe big brother on whose back we are riding now: GOOGL, in our case.

when Radio was invented, it was pretty much a grass-root movement. anyone could start up their own radio station and spread their own news.

Then corporations came, bought the little guys, then regulatory mechanisms were put in place, then bandwidths were assigned, then independent radio stations vanished.

What I fear now, is the big corporation that IS the hub of all our free communication. I have written an essay about a concept that I call neo-capitalism (I hope to publish it soon). In neocapitalism, the consumer is given the tools to "create" his own ideas (Apple is central to this do-it-yourself cultural economy), but these ideas are still communicated through the screens of the big brother. And he can pull the plug anytime, without notice. we all have "accepted the terms of usage". Have we not?

Fleming said...

Naj, it is fascinating and disturbing to read about your personal conflict with Big Brother. You showed courage!

When you wrote this about restrictions on freedom of speech you hit the nail on the head: "you just need to realize that speaking certain truths will shut the doors of success and progress on you." That is exactly how it works in the U.S. That is how professors, journalists, moviemakers, and television people are kept in line in America.

I never thought of how dependent we have made ourselves on Google until you mentioned it. You bring a valuable different perspective. What can we do about that?

Anonymous said...

The person who subbed in Hillary Clintons face and voice over from a speech she did was a creative person trying to prove that the bloggers can do simple tech savvy things like that and something that small can impact on the populace big time, like it did. He was invited as guest blogger on Huffington Post and you may want to read it. Not bad.

Fleming said...

Thank you for the valuable information, Zoey. You are the bloodhound of the Internet! You can find more interesting things in a day than I can find in a week.

Nabila Harb said...

Actually, there is less freedom of publication on the internet than many people suspect. Usually, it is underhanded and unofficial, but there are political sites that 'go down' periodically, victime of hackers or...? There are hosts of domains who receive complaints from Zionists about a specific site and prefer to take the site down rather than fight for freedom of expression.

There is the pernicious programme of Microsoft that is ostensibly a 'guardian' against pornography but in fact includes a number of political sites on its 'blocked' lists...

On the other hand, the internet remains the 'Great Equaliser', allowing views by people without a fortune or social influence to publish their opinions.

Fleming said...

Nabila, it is very good to hear from you again -- even though your message today is rather frightening. I've been aware in a general way of the kinds of threats to Internet freedom which you mention, but I didn't think of them when I wrote the "Shackles" post. I'd like to know more about them from you, especially the hacking.

It is typical of the ADL and other censorship-oriented Zionist groups that they would go to the domains/ISPs and extort them into dropping sites, isn't it?

When I started this Web journal I was concerned about's "Flag Blog" provision, wondering if any "blog" could survice a concerted attack by Zionist, but so far I'm still here in spite of a few nasty criticism by Israel Firsters.

Thanks again, Nabila. Your own blog is beacon of freedom.