future of the Internet is in danger; at least the part of it most people
know. Massive corporations are gaining control over people's daily
communications. Surprisingly, perhaps, this time the entertainment
industries and major telcos are not to blame.
Whether it’s net neutrality or the latest
change in copyright laws, the public has proven to be a fierce defender
of an Open Internet.
On social media
platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, YouTube and Reddit, massive
crowds are eager to protect their rights.
Internet protests are
nothing new. For several years activists have fought to keep it free and
open. Early pioneers, such as the late John Perry Barlow, did everything
in their power to shield cyberspace from controlling
governments and restrictive media companies.
The Internet is a tool
for the people, by the people, something governments and corporations
shouldn’t tamper with, it was commonly argued.
Although the Internet
or more specifically, the web, is an entirely different animal today,
large masses remain wary of outside control over their online movements.
Most people agree that blatant criminal actions are not tolerated, but
speech should be free and bits should flow openly.
At least, that’s the
But while the masses
were fighting evil governments and the greedy entertainment industries
in recent years, they and many of their peers became trapped. The
Internet is perhaps still as free as it once was, but the majority of
its inhabitants are stuck in large Silicon Valley silos.
Today’s web is
dominated by a dozen or so major platforms where people lead most of
their Internet lives. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,
YouTube, or Reddit, these platforms are not entirely open. They are
controlled by corporations which are free to dictate their own rules.
And they do.
When people were
climbing on the virtual barricades for Net Neutrality earlier this year,
they did so on platforms that ban, censor and restrict all sorts of
content. They were calling for “all bits to be equal” on services that
Similarly, as we
highlighted earlier, the hundreds of thousands of people who protested
the EU’s proposed “upload filter” plans, did so on Twitter, Facebook,
YouTube, and other services that already have automated piracy filters.
Pretty sloppy filters, at times.
We’re living in a
cyberspace where the major Internet platforms have immense power.
This was illustrated
recently when Alex Jones’ Infowars was systematically purged from
various Internet platforms, iTunes, Twitter and Facebook included. While
many people categorize Infowars as hate speech, it is still speech which
to my knowledge no court has deemed illegal.
Without any moral
judgment on the content, it shows that today’s web, at least how it’s
used, is far from open. Governments and the powerful copyright lobby are
not to blame, though. The web is systematically controlled by the
policies of a few Silicon Valley giants, who have their own rules.
social silos have, of course, all the right to ban anyone or anything
for whatever reason they please. But, this presents an increasing
threat. Not least because they can be regulated much more easily than
was the case 20 years ago.
If you want to keep
something away from the masses, there are only a few companies to
legislate, litigate, or pressure.
It is, therefore, no
surprise that the entertainment industries have launched a major push to
get these Internet giants to tackle piracy, voluntarily or not.
Achieving success there will have a major impact, and if Silicon Valley
can take a stand against Infowars, they can do more.
While there’s a good
argument for taking illegal content down, one has to wonder whether this
highly centralized Internet, dominated and dictated by major tech
companies, is something the early pioneers had envisioned.
copyright holders have repeatedly warned against this power. In their
own interest, but it’s something to think about.
Of course, the
Internet is much more than the Facebooks, Twitters, and Googles of this
world. There are plenty open source and decentralized solutions
available for all these platforms, and some already have a decent
The bottom line,
however, is that the general sense of openness and neutrality of the web
are not only defined by laws and court orders. What matters even more
perhaps, is how people decide to use it.