On Letting Foxes Mind Chicken Coops

Photo by Global IP

One thesis I have continually proposed since the death of SOPA is that thinking citizens are going to have to stop giving Internet companies a blank check on policy positions, or we’re going to regret it.  So far, it looks a lot like there isn’t a piece of legislation, a trade agreement, a civil action, or any other policy initiative that is not going to be labeled a ”threat to freedom” by these companies, their lobbyists, and their PR groups. The first sane question anyone should ask when any industry makes such a claim is, “Do you mean a threat to my freedom or your cash flow?”

The new battle brewing that has the potential to rival SOPA is one over the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).  As US exports include a lot of intellectual property, one should not be surprised to find patent and copyright protections on the table in these negotiations. Nevertheless, the usual tech-funded suspects are blasting away at the TPP using many of the same tactics we saw with SOPA, causing one to wonder whether these diplomatic negotiations are really so insidious; or are these Web-based organizations simply determined to create a digital world without any copyright protections, without laws against child pornography, without security, and with some very twisted definitions of privacy?

The grassroots petition site StopTheTrap.net smacks you in the face with this headline:  You could have to pay a fine for simply clicking the wrong link.  I don’t have to read anything about the TPP to know that this isn’t true, and you know why?  Math. Who exactly is monitoring trillions of clicks?  The government? Media conglomerates? All with their magically endless resources to spy on our every mouse move?  Headlines like this should make anyone stop and consider the motivations of the people or companies promoting them.  Similarly, the first sentence on this post by the EFF stating that the TPP is “secretive” is very strange in light of the fact that the EFF itself has been in attendance at TPP events along with other stakeholders, and with the same opportunity as other organizations to speak to delegates.

The point is, I’m not an expert in international trade, but then neither are most people.  This is, in fact, why we have a representative government. Sure leaders make mistakes or decisions we don’t like, but are we seriously going to migrate toward this bizarrely hysterical, global referendum on every complex law, agreement, or treaty?  Or, more to the point, are our new representatives going to be the proverbial foxes watching the chicken coop?  When it comes to international trade like this, shall we invest no faith in our elected president — the USTR serves at the pleasure of the president — and instead place that faith in the hands of people who work for the Internet industry, people like Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, who is among those leading the protest against the TPP?

And then there’s the question as to exactly what freedoms are being threatened?  Perhaps there are some worth discussing, but I’m not sure someone like Ohanian is the ideal spokesman, particularly in the wake of the Violentacrez story. It turns out Reddit gave an award to a guy named Michael Brutsch, a 49 year-old Internet troll who created a forum called “Jailbait” along with multiple subforums with names like “Rapebait,” “Incest,” “Pics of Dead Kids,” and “Choke a Bitch.”  You get the idea.

Trolling under the name Violentacrez, Brutsch was recently outed by Gawker, and you can watch an interview with him here on Anderson Cooper 360.  In the interview, Brutsch seems to be anything but apologetic to the young women whose photos he posted in violation of their personal privacy and, quite possibly, child pornography laws.    Instead, he responds the way an adolescent would when caught doing something stupid — he blames the medium and his fans for his actions.  While this man’s choices are indeed his own responsibility, the reality is that Brutsch’s idiotic, offensive, and, if nothing else, useless posts generated an estimated 800,000 subscribers according to CNN. And that’s why Reddit rewarded Brutsch with a little gold-plated statuette of the company’s alien logo.  Okay, they didn’t give him a bag full of money, but watch the interview, and you understand that what the troll wants most is attention, which becomes its own kind of currency in this environment.

So, what does Michael Brutsch have to do with international trade agreements?  Not a thing. But stories like his are exactly why I do chuckle every time I hear that it’s our copyright protections that stifle some cultural motherlode yearning to burst forth on the Internet; or that legalizing child pornography is the only rational choice in this era; or that it’s the government chomping at the bit to invade my privacy.  Indeed, where would the world be if such inconvenient concepts as law, diplomacy, and global trade were to in any way dampen the crucible of creative energy exemplified by a middle-age troll spending hours of his life denigrating young women for fun?

If you want to learn about the TPP, by all means it’s your right to do so.  But speaking personally, if I don’t have time to dig into the complexities of this agreement, I’m choosing to trust President Obama’s office to seek balance rather than the multi-millionaires in the Web industry.

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)