The Internet May Not Set You Free

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One of the bedrock principles of digital-age utopianism is that the Internet, if left unfettered by pesky rules, will make people free. Encoded into the rhetoric of what I’ll call a post-progressive notion of liberty are recurring themes that reject legal systems, reject statehood, reject private property ownership; and espouse a world view based on the assumption that people interconnected by social media will naturally evolve into a freer and more enlightened existence.

Citizens living within presently authoritarian societies are expected to transcend their political, social, and even religious bonds. And as James Poulos observes in this article for The Daily Beast, the next generation in the already free United States are redefining liberty itself from an idea manifest through private property into one manifest by access without ownership. This last proposal about the future does have a disturbingly and naively Marxist aroma, but I’ll return to that because, in the present, the underlying faith in these utopian visions is what appears to fuel many defenses of permission-free behaviors online. And permission-free behavior isn’t necessarily freedom because it almost always tramples the rights of someone else.

In the physical world, of course, we still intuitively understand natural laws that define the boundaries of freedom; or at least most of us do. As I sit here in my local coffee house, I am certainly free to read what I want, to think what I want, to publish what I want on this blog; I am free to drink too much coffee even though it’s bad for me, and I am free to come go as I please. But I am certainly not free to pester the woman at the table next to me. I may not lean over her shoulder and see what she’s writing or take a bite of her sandwich or sit in her lap. In real life, freedom has rational limits, defined by the boundaries imposed by the natural rights of others. But in cyberspace, we see these boundaries breeched all the time, though the techno-utopian tells us this is good thing because the greater social order they project is one in which people ultimately do the “right thing” because they want to, not because some rule tells them to. It’s funny, though, that such altruism tends to govern behavior in physical space but not so much online. And unfortunately, online behaviors have some very real world consequences.

Variations on the value of lawlessness have been presented by managers of major social media sites, often as public responses to some activity on their sites that has provoked a call for executive intervention. On the grounds that everything online is speech and speech needs to be free, for instance, Twitter was slow to intervene when a British journalist was receiving death and rape threats; Facebook took a bipolar approach to first disallowing, then allowing, and then again reversing its decision to host a video of a beheading; and recently, Reddit applied a similarly half-baked, laissez faire logic in dragging its feet on the removal of a thread trading in the stolen, nude photos of celebrities. Reddit even issued a statement, after finally removing that thread, describing the site as a “nation” and espousing the American conservative tenet that their governance should be as limited as possible.

I mocked Reddit for the metaphor, but they weren’t necessarily speaking figuratively. This attitude that a cybernetic, borderless collective of human consciousness actually transcends systems like the rule of law as defined by a state is a very real argument made in one form or another by people as obscure as onanistic Redditors and as prominent as Google chairman Eric Schmidt. It’s an idea that has been part of the Silicon Valley ethos since its earliest days, as far as I can tell, and the sensibility itself appears to be something more profound than the accepted premise that information is a tool for democracy. The subtle but important distinction, it seems, is that while many of us see the Internet as a conduit for information or entertainment, only as good or bad as the people using it, the utopian sees the technology itself as a social panacea simply by virtue of its own existence. In a more extreme but not at all surprising manifestation (see below), there are those who view the Internet as a deity.

I was thinking about these utopian ideas while reading Sergey Kuznetsov’s article about the demise of Russians’ faith in the Internet as a catalyst for their freedom. Russia, I believe, is a cautionary tale about what a society might look like when apparent freedom is not in fact built upon the rule of law. Its “market economy” is a euphemism for universal corruption where bribery is the norm; its corporate leaders are mobsters; and its political leaders are marching inexorably back toward their Soviet roots, squelching dissent at every opportunity. Unsurprisingly, according to Kuznetsov, the Internet in Russia, not only fails to transcend these repressive forces, but it has come to resemble Russian society as it is on the streets.  To quote:

Two decades later and it’s hard to find the traces of our belief in the Russian Internet. The only thing we inherited from the nineties and the Samizdat are the torrents and e-libraries. Copyright is dead: almost any film and any book can be downloaded for free after a five minute search. The film distributors have to make arrangements with pirates about “two week vacancies” after theatre premieres, but the small publishers are just bankrupt. . . . I’m not sure it’s the great result we dreamt in early years of the Internet.

. . . the secret service spying (not only in Russia), mailbox hacking, the blocking of anti-Putin sites… the Kremlin controls the majority of online media in Russia . . .

However the worst is the old good propaganda. Surprise! – It still works! There are dozens of comments on any political post. The commentators write about the wisdom of Putin, the increasing Russian economy and the greedy and guileful United States who dreams to destroy Russia and conquest their territory before a San-Andreas earthquake or Yellowstone explosion ruins their country.

I’ve said it in other posts, but there is a world of difference between freedom and a free-for-all. Russia is what ultimately comes from a free-for-all — a society where bullies dominate and everyone else can fend for himself. It’s a society where I could pester this woman sitting nearby in the coffee shop and get away with it if I happen to be one of the card-carrying bullies. It is interesting, though, with regard to Poulos’s point about young Americans redefining liberty absent the pursuit of private property, to look at a nation where the application of that Marxist principle led first to party/government authoritarianism and then to pure corruption in a state of half-baked democratic reform.

Moreover, there is an extent to which the Internet, whose corporate owners praise its lawlessness and treat private intellectual property as an anachronism, often resembles a bully society. The laughable Nation of Reddit ceases to be a joke and becomes manifest in the form of mob rule with real social influence. The mob tells a handful of women, “No, we have the right to make a profitable spectacle out of your hacked photos,” and people debate the issue as though there are rationally two sides of the story. Or perhaps the mob rouses rabble into tangibly influencing our political process, even though the mob may actually comprise teenagers and half-frozen, bored Norwegians, neither of which are entitled to vote and for good reason. Lawlessness is Lord of Flies, even in cyberspace. And speaking of Lord of the Flies, I offer this quote from a recent article in The Guardian by Mark Piesing:

Burning Man, and spin offs including Burning Nest in the UK, show that digital natives under 25 now see “the online world as the real world and the real world as a reflection of the online world,” says Bard.

The article is about Alexander Bard, a Swedish musician, activist, and celebrity who recently published his book Synthesism – Creating God in the Internet Age. The premise appears to be that the aforementioned collective consciousness fostered by the Internet not only transcends notions of statehood and the rule of law, but actually becomes a new, universally binding spiritual entity.

For context, I should remind readers that I am personally a confirmed and lifelong atheist, equally cynical about all religions and cannot actually relate to the need for such things, though I am not universally hostile toward that need. I stand by the intellectual premise that man has created God in his image, in one form or another, and this seems to be a foundation for Bard’s Synthesism — not so much that the Internet is God, but that the human need to create a holy presence is now manifesting in a new, global religion as we link together through technology. “The internet is 7 billion people connected together in real time,” says Bard, “and if that isn’t the holy spirit then I don’t know what it is.” Note: seven billion people do not presently have internet connection. Chinese citizens represent the most people online worldwide with 40% of that population of about 1.3 billion connected.

Piesing’s article states that Bard had his revelation at Burning Man “while spending the night lying next to a beautiful naked actress . . . I realised that rather than carry on writing books about the problems the internet was causing I should write about Syntheism.” Of course he did. Prophesies, naked actresses, and neo-primitive rituals notwithstanding, if Bard’s observation is right that digital natives are in fact inverting their perception of the real world and the cyber world, then it would stand to reason that the real world would come to reflect the cyber world, and that may be rather hazardous both economically and socially. As utopians seek to tear down what may be actual walls of oppression, they may blindly migrate into new castles made of unprecedented corporate power and the economy of mob rule. Because despite claims to the contrary — and as Russia proves — the Internet isn’t necessarily us so much as it can become the us its owners choose to project or even manipulate. Even Facebook’s constant reprogramming of the news feed its algorithms decide we “really want to see” is a subtle example of this paradigm.

In all likelihood, I suspect many digital natives are not quite so susceptible to the more outlandish promises of these utopian views as we sometimes imagine. Yes, across the room in my local coffee house, sit three teenagers, shoulder-to-shoulder, eyes on their devices, thumbs working; but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to grow up incapable of distinguishing between real life and these information gadgets. To the contrary, there is perhaps just as much reason to expect that digital natives are so accustomed to this universe that they will be even more savvy than their Xer and Boomer parents when it comes to finding balance. It isn’t really a new challenge in the U.S. American history is lined with fissures caused by the natural tension between freedom and laws designed to protect those freedoms. And yes the Internet is a new frontier still unsettled in this regard. If, on the other hand, it turns out the Internet is going to be the new God, I am reasonably sure it would be an Old Testament, psychopathic God, so let’s try to avoid that, shall we?

© 2014 – 2017, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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115 comments

  • From the Guardian article re: Alexander Bard:
    Bard dismisses those who see the internet as creating a culture of narcissism as “completely missing the point”.

    So let me get this straight: this guy is the “storyteller” preparing the way for a “new elite;” he is proselytizing a new religion, that he happens to have made up; he can’t help but to casually drop some non-sequitur about hanging out with a naked woman; he is flogging his own book, surprise surprise; AND he has the nerve to “dismiss” allegations of narcissism?! Yeesh. The cognitive dissonance must be strong in this one.

    “The internet is 7 billion people connected together in real time, and if that isn’t the holy spirit then I don’t know what it is.”

    Not only is he woefully ignorant of the actual state of the world, he also doesn’t even seem to understand the current state of the internet. Sorry, tech-utopians, for the vast amount of users the internet is “the TV” and the “Sears catalog.” Full stop. Outside of Facebook, I rarely come across anyone who uses the net to connect with anyone in a meaningful way (and it’s arguable that people are even doing that on FB). I don’t have access to numbers, but I’d wager it’s a vanishingly small proportion of total internet users. I say this as a guy who does participate in numerous forums, posts comments on blogs, and uses Twitter.

    From the Guardian comments:
    “Why do they always have beards?”

    Well played, sir.

    David wrote:
    “In all likelihood, I suspect many digital natives are not quite so susceptible to the more outlandish promises of these utopian views as we sometimes imagine.”

    Quite so. It seems to me that a lot of this techno-libertarian utopia garbage comes from people who really are old enough to know better. They’re like the kid in college who just discovered philosophy and thinks his newly acquired, but rather pedestrian views on religion are somehow profound. As if we haven’t heard all these things before. To wit, this little nugget of insight from Bard:

    “The state and the big corporations will want to control the web…

    No shit, really?! Shocking! It’s almost as if he believes this hasn’t already happened!

    I have to ask, what planet has he been hanging out on? What internet is he using? Back away from the bong, dude.

    • Thanks for commenting, Patrik.

      • Dear Mr Newhoff. I am an English teacher in Spain and I am using your article about freedon on the internet in class. Thank you for giving your opinion so clearly on the topic. Your blog has sparked a debate in class, which is always interesting to confront ideas (and use the language, which is my main objective…!)

      • Hi, Mr.M
        Apologies for being slow to respond. Very busy month. Thank you for citing my article in your class and for writing comments here along with some of your students. Glad to hear it sparked some debate and in some way helped with the English lesson.

    • To be fair to the man, he is the “nasty judge” on Idol, so he may be forgiven for looking at how else he can employ his ability to assume a persona for fun and profit.

      In re barbae: religion and beards seem to go well together. I recall Umberto Eco writing about how he almost achieved faith through admiration of a Fransican monk’s conviction – until he realised that what really impressed him was the man’s beard.

      That said, we should remember that barba non facit philosophum.

    • What’s wrong with beards?


      And “pestering” and “death and threats” vesus _*legitimate political challenge*_ becomes a fuzzy line when the demagogues (liars) start playing to the people and their instincts.

  • Well said, David!

  • “Pestering” and “death and threats” versus _*legitimate political challenge*_ becomes a fuzzy line when the demagogues (liars) start playing to the people and their instincts.

    The problem is just like root america itself…

    Freedom mostly means freedom, for born and raised A-holes. They through their wild and selfish often aggressive and low IQ ill thought out behavior cause a crack down. But the crack down spills over to legitimate discourse (through the instinct-having power-wanting types knowing how to “rudder the winds of discontent”).

    …And what do you know… the crackdown hardly does anything to get rid of the stupid and aggressive, since those types are inseparably linked to the power-types (even if just as their cannon fodder); and since their specific purging is equated with the wild pestering bullying and low IQ behavior.

    • from my above:
      “and since their specific purging is equated with the wild pestering bullying and low IQ behavior.”

      To be clear…

      Getting rid of just the A-holes scares the masses. The cure [discrimination against and marginalizing of just bad /low people] is deemed worse than the disease [bad -people behavior].

      So as said, we just wind up putting the boom down on legitimate discourse when these crack downs on the ‘bad people’ occur in history.

      Eg all the wild west stuff in 19th century (“[bang bang]” — rootin and tootin) caused a crack down in the early 20th century. But the wild breed and beliefs out there continued. (“It’s my land– I’ll torture critters iffin I wanna” /”aint need no gubmint tellin me not to drag negros /homos behind my pick-up truck iffin I wanna). Meanwhile academic discourse (and its trickle down to the media) was and is heavily vetted; ie the ‘misogynists [most age of reason and enlightenment philosophers] and the “Darwinists” were purged by the “marxists” [recent rudder-ers of the winds of discontent].


      Meanwhile testing for IQ (as inexact as those tests might be) and THEN STERILIZING the low IQs solves all problems.

      • Do I even have to point out the flaw in your argument? Can I, without proving Godwin?

        I’ve encountered plenty of people with high IQs (or at least big vocabularies) who have used their smarts to jusitfy their own fucked up prejudices.

      • Can I, without proving Godwin?

        Mike Godwin was a bloody arrogant fool at the EFF, and an even bigger one at the WMF. The very sort that you could believe would have marshalled people onto trains bound for eastern europe
        http://adequacy.org/public/stories/2001.7.18.64812.1284.html

      • I’ve met useless “smart” people and very clever “dumb” folk (and everything in between/ vice versa, etc.. and have been in both categories myself, depending on who’s eyes are looking at any one time…).
        Maybe we just need to get rid of the LOUD people that always seem to have the worst ideas… 🙂 Though that isn’t a good idea either, as the problem becomes whom will choose. Ok, let’s not get rid of anyone, let’s just come up with better ideas and follow better leaders
        .
        How about: Marginalize the nutbags instead of giving them platforms (usually for the shock-value” eyeballs they command). As there seem to be ever more crazies tending the farm (because of the ‘eyeball’ ad-rev conundrum) It seems we are marginalizing the Sane voices as they don’t have draw these days… This can only lead to very bad outcomes.

  • One problem with the Internet as God (or some new God), or the Holy Spirit at work, is that it can be unplugged and taken offline – zapped out of existence. While one may choose to (try and) be disconnected from Spirit, or the Divine (i.e., God) – Beingness, Consciousness – the Divine still exists (as far as we know and can comprehend).

    • What’s the difference between Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and God, besides the fact that the latter is a fairy tale that even some adults believe in?

      I believed in the tooth fairy when I was 4. I was once religious too. Eventually I realized that it’s all a crock of shit.

  • So I think the Internet has improved culture and thought. We say there is ignorance and flawed thinking on the Internet, indeed this is true. But the ignorance and flawed thinking and belief are vestiges of the pre-Internet era that still stick around.

    I’m not all that old, but old enough to remember the world before the Internet and how it was a far more “demon-haunted world”, the influence of religion and mass media bullshit was stronger. Not mainstream, but nearly all possessive. Because there was little to compete with it. Thinking back, it was a scary world to live in if you somehow became a rational thinker.

    The faith healers and psychics are still around (even on mainstream network shows geared towards medicine, it’s really disgusting). But these charlatans don’t have a monopoly on the public’s thought anymore.

    • So I think the Internet has improved culture and thought.

      Evidence?

      • It’s my my own observation. In fact, your response is interesting and represents the kind of culture change I am talking about.

        Before the Internet, if someone told me something about anything, even if it was represented as fact, I either had to believe it or not believe it. I couldn’t realistically verify it without a lot of effort. It was easy to get bamboozled when you lacked tools to make informed decisions.

      • Personally since the age of 9 I’ve never believed anything without checking it. Even if that checking was simply running it through my developing bullshit detector, or questioning the relayer of the information.

        The internet does not give you any extra tools. Who’s to say that snopes is correct, or wikipedia (almost certainly garbled), or whatever website a search engine throws up? You still need to use your own ability of discrimination.

        Our most treasured beliefs are generally nonsense.

      • How did you check it? Going to a library? Ask your parents, who grew up in possibly even more distorted times? There wasn’t many options.

        Even if that checking was simply running it through my developing bullshit detector, or questioning the relayer of the information.

        Fair enough. But given that, I would question anyone who claims to have a “bullshit detector”. 🙂

      • I would question anyone who claims to have a “bullshit detector”

        The more you read and the more you question what you are reading the greater your capacity to detect fallacies, bias, misdirection, and self serving crap. If you only develop the ability to constantly ask “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?” you’ll be on your way.

    • “I’m not all that old, but old enough to remember the world before the Internet and how it was a far more “demon-haunted world”, the influence of religion and mass media bullshit was stronger. Not mainstream, but nearly all possessive. Because there was little to compete with it. Thinking back, it was a scary world to live in if you somehow became a rational thinker.”

      Utter nonsense. In the 1970s and 80s, there was definitely a movement towards mainstream intellectual thought that had nothing to do with the internet. There were also people who thought seriously about religion and philosophy whereas now all we hear about are the cranks. If any, the internet has hindered that by turning debate into the survival of the most strident.

      A lot of young people seem to think that “the internet has killed religion” but it has merely amplified the worst aspects and indeed mimicked them. The scariest thing is not irrational thought, but people who don’t acknowledge their own irrational thought.

      • If you listen to music from the 60s and early 70s there are constant references to religion. Its quite remarkable, and occurs across all genres. It was part of the cultural background. You don’t hear that so much from the music in the late 70s onwards. There was a period of mocking, and then religious references simply dropped out of much of popular culture.

      • Because music isn’t all that important anymore. Modern public culture isn’t made in music, it’s made on reddit.

        I like this much better then having handful of popular musicians backed by big record company interests dictating some kind of popular message for everyone. You can claim there is some kind of hidden hand in the background manipulating the message on reddit, but in the past it wasn’t some “hidden hand” you can conspiracy theorize about, it was a just plainly there, an unhidden hand, it was The Beatles or whatever else was popular at the time. Fuck that.

      • reddit? WTF are you talking about. I can guarantee that no one in the local pub will have ever surfed to reddit, or indeed know what it is. I suspect that less than 10% of the tech company where I work will have been there either.

      • There is 2+ million subscribers on just that one subreddit, that’s a huge audience for an ideas that seemingly gets little airtime on mass media (have you heard of a atheist TV channel or radio station?).

      • Interesting side fact: r/christianity as less then 5% the membership of r/atheism.

        Reddit is a website where all the articles and links can be published by anyone, and the position on the site is controlled by how many upvotes the article gets. Compare this to mass media, where it’s all done by a handful of people who work the media companies.

        It seems when you give people free rein to control their own media experience in a democratic manner, the end result is something that looks far different compared to mass media. One that seems to favor rationalism, not superstition. Rationality may be a natural tabula rasa, while superstition could very well be one cultivated by powerful institutions (chuches, media companies, etc).

      • EDIT: Less then 9% actually. But you could verify that. 🙂

      • Numbers on the internet are meaningless. There are not 2 million active readers on that particular channel at most they’ll be a few 100 or so. If there were 2 million the thing would be unreadable. Many are most likely religious nuts there are troll, as indeed will most of those on religious sites be atheists there to troll. But quite frankly those sort of place quickly become boring, the same old issues are thrashed out in the same old crappy ways. Mostly by 12-24 yo.

      • while superstition could very well be one cultivated by powerful institutions (chuches, media companies, etc).

        Perfect! And reddit is owned by?

      • The people who own reddit don’t produce the message, redditors (users of the site) do. That’s the key difference between mass media and social media.

        I don’t want a small group of people working for “Time Warner” or “News Corp” telling me what they believe is newsworthy for the day.

      • I do if those people are 30 year veterans who’ve traveled the world covering stories in depth. Otherwise, it’s just an endless Thanksgiving dinner with somebody’s idiot relatives.

      • LOL. Such cluelessness.

      • David,

        There are people out there with 30+ years of experience in a scientific field and a Ph.D. They still need to be anonymously peer reviewed to get published in journals. This is in fields that are arguably harder to manipulate through appeal to authority (thanks to the scientific method).

        The fact that so much our of popular media is produced by a few media conglomerates is completely fucking scary.

      • No, it’s mostly incompetent. The size of the conglomerates isn’t the issue. If a serious journalist works for a publication that happens to be owned by a major corporation, that in itself doesn’t diminish the credentials of the journalist. And just as in science, journalists hold one another to account for maintaining standards. What corporate influence tends to do is reduce quality and increase incompetence, but that’s about economics, not a conspiracy. Fox News is a bit different; that’s a total fucking joke. My point is, follow individuals based on their credentials, not the organizations. And who gives a damn what’s popular? The crowd can be wise, but crowd can be dangerously stupid, too. Can’t have a riot without a crowd.

      • That peer reviewing has nothing to do with gobshites in a group think subreddit.

      • Reddit is certainly operated by a kind of peer review. I would argue, even the best kind of peer review because it because it doesn’t prejudice.

        This lack of prejudice is especially important in non-scientific fields where there creditability is not independently verifiable via experimentation and falsifiability.

        Anything else requires a worldview that people are inherently incapable of personal sovereignty and must be carefully controlled by some group of self-selected thought wizards to achieve some undefined sociological harmony. I don’t accept that.


      • Reddit is certainly operated by a kind of peer review. I would argue, even the best kind of peer review because it because it doesn’t prejudice.

        I can’t even with this. The “peer review” on reddit’s most notable “‘accomplishment” has been The Fappening.

        BTW, even if the r/atheism had, say, 10 million regular subscribers that would be less that 1% of ther world’s population.

      • It is true, though, that Ed Murrow never had to make a judgment call about something as important to the nation as The Fappening.

      • John Warr: not only that, but religion was discussed seriously and critically. In 1966 Time Magazine, then the most popular general interest magazine in the US, put “Is God Dead?” on its cover. And the article was not just saying that atheism was “winning” – it was about a seriously theological movement. People could actually talk about religion and philosophy in public, and that discourse is disappearing, in no small part because of the internet.

        The hardcore internet champions don’t just believe that the internet will supplant religion, but all philosophy as well. That’s not a world I look forward to.

      • Not prejudiced? Bleeding hell Skip. Each of those sub reddits is a hive. Any post to a sub reddit that is contrary to the house POV will get voted down heavily, with a swarm of nutcases screaming troll.

      • monkey: M’s internet is nothing more than a bunch of caves where people either screech at each other, or big themselves up before going to screech outside some other cave. You won’t find rational debate on reddit any more than you found it on usenet after the late 1980s.

        BTW M: Atheism was done to death in ‘talk origins’.

      • Again: Anything else requires a worldview that people are inherently incapable of personal sovereignty and must be carefully controlled by some group of self-selected thought wizards to achieve some undefined sociological harmony.

        What you seem to be doing is saying that people outside of the likes of the thought wizards at TIME Magazine are not qualified to influence public discourse.

        And I don’t agree with that. I rather have a world run by the “shouting” masses versus a selection of cultural dictators that consider themselves enlightened.

    • The “charlatans” have never had a monopoly on public thought. That’s an illusion. Hucksters are guilty of giving the public what it wants when the public isn’t thinking. The same can be said of so-called media gatekeepers. When they have behaved at their worst, it has often been bowing to public opinion rather than the other way around. A thinking individual ought to maintain equal skepticism of a corporate news network and the populist group think produced by a sub-Reddit.

    • The charlatans are alive and well and living in your internet.
      https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=vaccination+health+news

      mercola and natural news on the first page.

  • M writes: “Because music isn’t all that important anymore. Modern public culture isn’t made in music, it’s made on reddit.

    I like this much better then having handful of popular musicians backed by big record company interests dictating some kind of popular message for everyone.”

    Lol wtf are you even talking about?
    I know what you think you’re saying, but the more you speak, the more obviously oblivious you appear. Please don’t try to impress anyone by pretending to be older and wiser than you actually are… it just isn’t a good look.

    For the record– music, movies, even reddit are not/never were some sort of ‘dictator’ of culture. They may reflect parts of certain aspects of culture(s), but in no way are creating it. Your high school (or maybe homeschool) teacher didn’t impress on you the difference and the people who do your current thinking aren’t quite sophisticated enough to capture the nuances between what is and what makes culture. Yes, people may assign certain genres or even songs as part of their “culture” when reminiscing about the past, but again… that’s different from what you seem to be implying.

    As for the rest of the continual nonsense you spew, I don’t have the time atm to pick it apart but don’t fret, as sunlight is a disinfectant for madness, I will be back later to pull the shades.

    • http://owni.eu/2011/11/25/infographic-media-consolidation-the-illusion-of-choice/

      The idea that virtually all the world’s mass media is controlled by six companies is not usually discussed in mass media itself. Don’t you think that’s interesting fact? You can thank the Internet for providing you easy access to this information. In my opinion, this mass media organization is probably one of the most troubling constructs plaguing humanity, the “the pen is mightier then the sword” right?

      If you control what people, hear, see, read, you might as well control reality.

      Six companies do that.

      • Have you not noticed that reddit doesn’t create news, it doesn’t generate news, it doesn’t report news, it doesn’t mediate news, just screeches at the news it is given.

      • Have you not noticed that reddit doesn’t create news, it doesn’t generate news, it doesn’t report news, it doesn’t mediate news, just screeches at the news it is given.

        I hope the screeching becomes so loud it drowns out corporate media for good. I hope with all my heart that for the freedom of conscious man, mass produced TV and newspaper loses it’s hold on discourse and culture in this country (and actually the world entire).

        Even if Reddit links to a conglomerate front like CNN or Fox News, I find that I spend far more time in the comments section of Reddit. You know, conversing with “people”, also known as “subhuman trolls”. I like to exchange ideas and perspective with people internationally, to not prejudice, and to learn from those who aren’t in the control structure of TV and newspaper, people which they astronomically outnumber.

    • reddit commentards here is one from a few hours ago. 400+ comments no additional information. Nowt but screeching. Any one who reads that lot is dumber as a result.
      http://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/2jlop8/cops_need_a_warrant_to_grab_your_cell_tower_data/

      Here is another one. A stupid graphic, posted by a idiot
      http://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/2jluid/ebola_may_be_gruesome_but_its_not_the_biggest/

      900+ comments you had to be living in a hut in the 19th century to gain any extra information from all of that.

      Oh WTF http://www.reddit.com/r/news/ find anything in there that adds to the original report.

      • Hmm.. 30 seconds in the comments section and I learned something about the justice system I never knew about, and would have never known about from a mass media source:

        http://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/2jlop8/cops_need_a_warrant_to_grab_your_cell_tower_data/clcxw23

        Thanks for the links.

      • See right there is a great example of why I meet so many millennials who don’t know anything. I don’t mean don’t agree with me. I mean don’t know things. The Wikipedia source may be accurate in this case (I don’t know), but it’s not a reliable source, and that’s what’s extraordinary considering the fact that the Internet DOES provide users with access to raw source information. Want to know what a law says? Look it up. Read the law itself, which is certainly the kind of information my generation did not have at its fingertips growing up. But that’s not how most people use the Web. They source one another and then jibber at one another about their praise or outrage. Sometimes, they have accurate information, and sometimes, they’re completely full of crap. And it isn’t just millennials; I see my contemporaries do this shit all day long — share headlines from dubious sources that have aggregated stories from other dubious sources. The problem with having so much volume and so much economy based on scale is you wind up with a wonderful tool for supporting any bias you already have. Want to believe the government is spying on you? We’ve got a site for that. Want to believe there’s a conspiracy of gay circus clowns trying to destroy christianity? We got a site for that, too.

        Meanwhile, going back to my original statement, despite all this access, I meet a surprising number of millennials with a low level of cultural literacy. That’s anecdotal and not scientific, but there are moments I do wonder if we didn’t learn more from watching Looney Tunes in the 1970s than from the Information Age.

      • Another fucked up thing about how democracy works in this country that you’ll probably not hear about from Disney or Time Warner:

        http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/2jnmbe/i_did_the_math_12_of_the_us_population_controls/

      • Well I don’t know what to say about that. The first link has nothing in the comment section that isn’t common knowledge to any politically active person. I may have even posted YT vids that spell that out here.

        The link that you give on your voting system is also already known, at least to me, and I’m not a US citizen. I suspect to most others here also know about it too. It stems from the electoral college system which was an early fix by your founding fathers to keep the slave states happy.

        If you did anything on the constitution when you were at school it would have been explained to you. Its widely known as the slavery clause. I see though that some of the commentards there did listen in class.

        There is a huge website dedicated to analyzing the discussions and the minutes of the Constitutional Convention.

      • M: if you bothered to read the comments, there’s a reason for that: so populous states won’t dominate less populous ones. It’s not some evil plot on the part of corporations; it was planned by the authors of the consitution.

        It’s also not some deep dark secret the mainstream media is hiding from us; it’s 10th grade Civics. major news outlets don’t tend to report on 200+ year-old stories.

      • “OCTOBER 19, 2014 AT 1:27 AM
        Hmm.. 30 seconds in the comments section and I learned something about the justice system I never knew about, and would have never known about from a mass media source:”

        …the linked wikipedia entry lists a Reuters piece and a wAshington post article among its primary sources. So, yes, you can thank the mass media for that one.

      • Publicity is far more relevant then availability. The kind of things mass media wants me to focus on and the kind of things community-driven site like Reddit want to be focus on are simply different. I find that mass media will underplay things that make the status quo look bad (of course, they are owned by the status quo), and overplay completely self-manufactured news like celeb gossip. It’s one of those things I can’t almost ever find on reddit news sites, but is regularly front-page dominant news on mass media. Celeb gossip seems to serve as money maker and a pacifier for the population, which in my view, are perhaps the two main goals of mass media.

        You can kind of see what happens in situations where a government is close to being toppled, one thing almost all governments-at-risk do is well not shut down the mass media, but shut down the Internet.

      • M, you’re not bothering to even acknowledge the many, many counterexamples people have given you.

        The facts about how elections work in the US are not reported on the news not out of some capitulation to government, but because they are not news.

      • Celeb gossip seems to serve as money maker and a pacifier for the population, which in my view, are perhaps the two main goals of mass media.

        It is said that the worst thing the Arab governments did was to block internet access. The result was that the kids got out onto the streets rather than piss about on social media.

        Posting on reddit – the least you can do without doing nothing.

  • Thing is, M, Redditors can’t send reporters into Liberia to report on Ebola. All they can do is disseminate bullshit fearmongering like “ithe CDC has admitted that it’s airborne!”

    Redditors could have never reported on Watergate, Iran Contra or any actual news event of importance for the last fifty, hell, 100 years.Reddit can’t send people into war zones.
    And last I checked, the BBC and the CBC weren’t owned by any conglomerate

    Internet partisans like to point out that the MSM was asleep at the switch on the false claims of WMDs in Iraq. Not only is this not true (several news agencies, including McCLatchey, were casting doubt on the official Bush tory from the start). But this was at a time when newsrooms were being gutted in a misguided belief that people could report the news for free.

    • Thing is, M, Redditors can’t send reporters into Liberia to report on Ebola

      There are people in Liberia.

      Reddit can’t send people into war zones.

      But it can get reports from actual soldiers, while reporters can only access things that any given government wants them to know about.

      I look at CNN.com and Reddit’s news and it’s just night and day. CNN might have something like “celeb affiliated with our conglomerate took a crap” front page national news. This is what they think we should care about. Fuck that.

      Then they put these political opinion pieces front and center, which of course is fine right? You are allowed to have an opinion right? This is not some dude’s blog. This is Time fucking Warner pushing an agenda. This is a fucking conglomerate with a HUGE reach pushing a specific opinion on millions of people.

      I don’t care if CNN or Fox News or MSNBC do it. These commercial interests controlling the dialogue is totally fucked up. Politics belong to the people, but not according to Time Warner, News Corp, or any of these son-o-bitches. They think the world belongs to them. All the way down to why we even have a two party system (because they won’t air any others), or why certain candidates get more airtime then others (why would I give airtime to a candidate I don’t like?). It’s all to push bullshit agendas, while still providing the population an illusion of choice, an illusion of democracy really.

      The only reason you’ll be shrugging your shoulders to that is because you are so used to being mindfucked by mass media that you’ve come to expect it as a fact of life. It doesn’t have to be that way. Social media is already working its magic on the younger generations.

      • Gee wiz, there are other actual news outlets than that. If you don’t like the reporting they do, there are buttons you can push to turn it off… I never knew you were strapped into a chair with your eyelids propped open..

        And you have it backwards as to the progression of news. I totally agree that the ‘big 3’ are mostly crap these days, because someone had the bright idea to have the news become a profit making entity, instead of the loss-leader it used to be… you know (ask someone older than you) back when there was journalistic integrity (in fact that was their main asset- being honest and fair), and investigative reporting (that thing with a function so important in keeping the government in check that it was written into the constitution)
        The internet did not set us free, it just makes finding actual facts that much harder and the water that much murkier. The news in its current state only kindles the fire of corrupt lawmakers and corporations. As George Carlin was apt to state, “the Nazis lost the war, but Fascism won”.

      • Yes there are people there, but getting through the noise to get actual stories is much easier for trained journalists.
        Again, I believe time warner has nothing to do with the BBC (or Al Jazeera for that matter)

      • AudioNomics,

        These broadcasters own television (I mean literally, Comcast owns NBCUniversal for instance). The instant you turn your television on, you are part of this propaganda machine. The majority of media people are exposed to come from these companies. The Internet is a great bastion of freedom in a world ruled by the media elite. It really is. The fact that we can even have this conversation is only possible because of the Internet.

      • And a relevant segment from Saturday Night Live (that happened to be removed from the show after airing):

      • M- “These broadcasters own television (I mean literally, Comcast owns NBCUniversal for instance). The instant you turn your television on, you are part of this propaganda machine

        Comcast also owns my internet connection… what was your point?

        You do know how to read I assume? Why must you get all your info from tv? Also, just because it’s on tv doesn’t automagically make it incorrect (you can’t say that about the internet, where there is no such thing as facts, just copy/paste/modify news DIRECTLY from those same outlets you so despise.)
        Did you know the NSA AND YOUR ISP can, unbeknownst to you, seemlessly modify any webpages for your vewing only? to keep you in the dark or purposely misinformed? or for whatever purposes they so choose?
        … And you bitch about copyright?

      • A lot of the major newspapers and book publishers are either directly owned by the major media companies or closely affiliated to them. So they control what you read as well. It doesn’t matter that it is possible to avoid them, it only matters that they have a grip on the majority of the population (in the country, and possible the world entire). That’s all they need.

      • That you think social media is somehow different is beyond me.

        “Quit calling yourself a user. You are being used.”

    • These talk shows are awful too. Pay attention to the people they interview, and what companies created the movies these actors are promoting. Yes, the day time talk shows are one giant fucking commercial, interlaced with more obvious commercials.

      The Doctors and Oz and all shows that are I suppose, intended to give medical advice, interview psychics and give credence to the most bizarre fucking pseudoscience. How is that even legal? Oh wait, media conglomerate.

      It just becomes all the more gross when you realize it’s a tiny group of huge companies doing it all, ancient aliens, lockness monsters, scripted reality shows and Honey Boo Boo. It’s all a small group of companies behind it all.

      Again, the fact 100+ channels of TV is another illusion of choice. It’s all the same cultural scumbags behind the scenes, this web of affiliations conveniently not advertised and almost esoteric knowledge.

      • “The Doctors and Oz and all shows that are I suppose, intended to give medical advice, interview psychics and give credence to the most bizarre fucking pseudoscience. How is that even legal? Oh wait, media conglomerate.”

        Or, you know, that freedom of speech thing you seem to selectively like.

        You know what’s worse than Doctor Oz? Trying to find anything remotely resembling accurate medical information online.

      • Freedom of speech does not apply to corporations, and certainly should not apply to media conglomerates. Once you have the power to broadcast any message you want to hundreds of millions of people, well I would say it should be regulated but in reality that kind of power shouldn’t be allowed to exist anyway.

      • Actually, m, free speech does apply to the media. There’s a reason why it’s called freedom OF THE PRESS.

        The point is not that there are no reliable sources for medical information online; its that they are drowned out by the same nonsense you’re railing against, only louder and less regulated.

      • Free speech protection does not apply to broadcasters (nor should it). My personal opinion is corporations are not people and do not have rights.

      • Free speech protection very much applies to broadcasters. And while you’re correct, corporations are not people, individuals on those networks are.

        In any case, it’s rather disingenuous to call for stricter regulation on broadcast TV while at the same time decrying even the slightest form of regulation on online companies as “breaking the Internet.”

      • Free speech protection very much applies to broadcasters.

        The FCC would probably disagree. There was a time too, where the regulations were much stricter.

        The Internet is different because if you gain an audience, it’s only through your own ingenuity. I can not compete with a broadcaster, that’s actually illegal (pirate radio, etc). But the Internet is a free communications medium for all. You are a kind of Internet broadcaster yourself even if you may not realize it.

      • On the internet very few have an audience that isn’t based around the copyright material of others. The ingenuity on the internet isn’t based around anything that those making money have done other than to hide behind the unintended consequences of a legal loophole.

      • John,

        It seems like you are advocating for the elimination of copyright or something.

    • And last I checked, the BBC and the CBC weren’t owned by any conglomerate

      M needs to discover New Internationalist Initially created and funded by groups like Christian Aid and Oxfam to provide a political point of view wrt to development issues.

      Then there is http://consortiumnews.com/ or http://www.indymedia.org if you want other perspectives.

      OTOH a friend of mine had a couple of books “Everything you know is wrong”, “You Are STILL Being Lied To” the problem with those is that whilst the events described are wrong, they don’t make the case.

      • Thanks for the Internet links sir.

      • The thing is that these things existed pre-internet and were readily available. New Internationalist was on train station book stalls in the 1970s, and on the shelves of many of the bigger newsagents in towns such as WH Smith. I have back copies of NI from the mid 70s through to the mid 90s. Actually local bookshops, particularly radical ones, used to stock a wide range of such publications, and each town had at least one radical bookshop, which usually acted as a cafe and meeting place.

        The internet hasn’t provided anything new, in fact its hidden stuff. Take NI which is now much harder to find. You won’t find it in many newsagents, and you’ll be hard pressed to enter a search query that brings NI up on the first page of Google.

      • There are a lot of things that are “available”, but “don’t matter”. The fact that there exists alternative sources for news does not change the fact that a small number of companies control the majority of things people see or read.

      • And it doesn’t change the fact that reddit is owned by one of those media giants, too.

        Im not sure how to break it to you, but reddit is simply part of the same circus. It’s just a part geared towards people who think they’re above all that.

      • a small number of companies control the majority of things people see or read.

        That will be because that is what the majority of people want to see or read. There are alternatives, Everyone knows what the alternatives are. Few actually go out a buy them. The big media companies might also be involved in producing the alternatives too. Other than a support of corporate capitalism they don’t much care where they make money from.

      • Let me put it like this: power structures in advanced democracies have learnt to exist by providing entertainment to distract the masses and allowing people the mirage of freedom, the best way of doing that is to give them outlets where they think they can affect change without actually doing so. Whilst people are whittering in discussion forums they aren’t actually doing anything. Reddit provides that outlet.

      • I don’t have the same cynical view of the Internet, John.

      • That is probably because you aren’t that well informed. It has been a standard tactic employed by rulers since at least 100AD (look up “Bread and circuses”).

      • Yes John, and the Internet is making that fall apart. Maybe they can get an insight to what the people are talking about, but they can no longer control what the people are talking about because they no longer have a monopoly on broadcasting.

  • M says “ Yes, the day time talk shows are one giant fucking commercial, interlaced with more obvious commercials

    umm… what do you think the internet is? Just one giant corporate surveillance machine powered by ads..
    I’m not a broadcast cheerleader (far from my fav companies..), but at least they are regulated. Ever hear of the FCC?
    Ok, compare that to google going around with their war drive map and data suck cars. Their tentacles are woven so deep into the internet that they spy on you even if you’ve never used a google service in your life. They sell drugs to children, then buy their way out of a criminal prosecution, with the stockholders money no less… yeah, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, I hate typing on this tiny screen so I’ll stop for expediency, but you get the point.
    Hey, I like the internet too… I like it the same way I love my country= tough love. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t want to improve it…because as it stands now, it’s a cesspool.

    • His wonderful reddit is also tracking him. Tracking the threads he visits the sub-reddits he subscribes to, and in addition the advertizes on those pages are also tracking him. From his reddit activity they’ll have built up a profile on him, which they can reference when he visits other sites on the internet. They probably even have a photo of him that a friend posted to facebook, along with his address, and SAT scores.

      • absolutely! lol, M probably thinks Reddit exists as some 501c charity or something… They are no different than any other “free” website, ie, you are the commodity being sold to data brokers..

      • That’s a lot of baseless speculation.

      • You think that Conde Nast are making money just from the little adverts? Actually they are losing money year on year. They hope you are all going to pay $30 a year, but as you’re all “information must be free” wonks its unlikely that will work out. So what else? Selling the data they’re collected on you all.

      • M- “That’s a lot of baseless speculation.”

        Wow, really? Sorry to be so harsh, but you are even more clueless than I thought. No wonder you think it’s all rainbows and sparkly glitter… you have no clue how it all works.
        Very simple stuff.. SillyCon Valley business model simple.
        I’ll say that again, it’s their business model.
        *facepalm*

      • SillyCon? Is that like a international conference for clowns?

  • Hi, one of the problem with internet freedom is that it can be used badly. This is what happens with drugs on the “deep web” or hacking

  • Is moderation what you hope for freedom on the internet? According to your opinion, I understand you want to avoid spams or useless mesages and injuries but wouldn´t it be a best way to examine the mesages after publishing? This would allow others to read it, even if it´s useless. That´s the freedom we´re speaking about. Like always, the people who want to appear as liberators or revolutionaries today will be the ones who are going to control us tomorrow.

    • I ran a website with open commenting, until it got hit by spammers. After you’ve spent upwards of an hour a day deleting the stuff you turn open commenting off. Then you have to deal with the spammer signups. The work web forum used to get 200 spammer sign ups per day until we turned off gmail account signups and turn on pre-moderation. We are now down to about 20 a week. Even so some days we come in to find 250 spam messages waiting in the approval queue. As for spam email we get over 500,000 a month.

  • After reading this article it made me think about the internet and how it works.
    Then i realised that there is many bad things about it, and that it can be negatif for our society and the next generation.
    Day after day, its importance begin bigger and bigger like our dependence to it.
    WE cant p redict the future but after reading this article and all the comments about it, we can supposed that it won’t be very good, probably our dependence to it will increase more and more.

  • Nowadays, the internet it is becoming more secure, and more laws are created to avoid “mob rules”. I desagree with the fact that the internet gives a free-for-all to everyone. It is not because copyrights are disapearing (in the domain of music and movies, etc) that you can do anything online. Plus, the internet is developping new stricter rules against the bullying or the non-respect in blogs, websites or anything like this. That shows that on the internet you aren’t fully free to do anything you want.
    finally, you can’t aply some people’s behaviours so broadly talking about the thecno-utopia, and the vision that virtual life it’s better than the real one.

  • Hi David!! I have really enjoyed your article, I hope you’re going to answer to my english teacher (MrM!!) he really want to get in touch with you so we can study correctly your vision of Internet.

    Thanks you very much

    Students from Spain!!

  • Hello !
    According to me, in the future world, I don’t really think that it will be good for the real world to be similar as the virtual world. Socials networks helps to keep in touch with friends and family, go for informations surfing on the net, but it also takes us away from the real social side. If we can do whatever we want by the internet we’ll forgot how to have a social life, how to talk to people. For example, someone who works at home just cut his social life, the physical contact, in fact, it leads to the developpements of individualism, and also egoism.

    • Hi, LFB BADASS. I agree, and many people have written about the many ways social media change social behaviors and relationships in real life. My optimistic belief is that digital natives, who have grown up with social media, will naturally balance these things out. We could even see a decline in the use of many of the apps after the shine wears off a bit. Thanks for commenting.

  • Bernard le dur a cuire

    I enjoy your article very interesting.

  • Hi David! you article was very interesting ! Our teacher asked us to write to you so we could get in touch with you personally! We studied it deeply and got to the bottom of you point and you point of view really makes us think about the dangers of the internet

  • Dear Mr,Newhoff,

    There is some truth in what you say about the Internet. However, I think you exaggerate some aspects about it.
    First of all, people know about the consequences of posting something online. Actually, even if the boundaries between the real and the virtual world aren’t the same, not everyone takes advantage of it in order to bully others. If we expect the worst of everyone, it is obvious we won’t progress.
    Secondly, there are more and more laws that are created in order to make the Internet safer. Users are more protected nowadays, even in relation with cyberbullying, which people fight against.

    Thanks for your attention.

    • I think you are mistaken regarding people understanding the consequences of posting something online. I don’t think people understand what can happen at all. Certainly the guy that was admining the reddit r/jailbait and similar threads didn’t understand that once his real name was out in the open he would lose his job, health care benifits for his disabled child etc.
      http://gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-violentacrez-the-biggest-troll-on-the-web

      Perhaps karma got him. What about Justine Sacco she should have known what the internet can do?
      http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=0

      Or the young teenage kid that posted a photo of his erection onto wikimedia commons complete with geodata that put location arrow of his bedroom into google maps?

      How about this which is currently going on:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-35813994

      How about the parents who posted photos of their kids on flickr, did they realize that a group of people in Brazil would take those photos and pretend to be those children in some sexual age play game or Orkut?
      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/02/google_orkut_dmca/

      What you put online, even anonymously, can be traced back to you in surprising ways. We all know that intellectually but we don’t take account of that with every post we make. And sometimes the people that get caught out deserve it, but mainly they are just ordinary people that made a foolish mistake.

      What you put online can be used in ways that you would never, ever have considered.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, LFB sm. I agree with you and certainly do not assume the worst of everyone. Unfortunately, it’s almost never a majority that turns a protest into a riot, and the problem with placing too high a value on a kind of anarchy is that it forgets how often a minority of bullies can do tremendous damage. Ultimately, like you, I believe in placing value on people’s best intentions rather than putting too much faith in technology as a panacea; and sometimes those intentions have to be expressed through laws and regulations.

  • Your point of view is very similar to the arguments the FBI used against Apple, talking about security concerns, but actually advocating for more control of what’s happening on the Internet. What are your opinions on the whole Apple v FBI debate? Keeping in mind that according to Benjamin Franklin,”Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

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