Chapter 8’s subtitle is “Cultural Contradictions of Internet Freedom,” and the focus is on the fact that, despite what we might think at first, the use of the term “Internet Freedom,” particularly from a (U.S.) foreign policy perspective, is not nearly as clear-cut as it seems. Morozov quotes Rebecca MacKinnon: “The problem is that in Washington, the phrase ‘global Internet freedom’ is like a Rorschach test, in which different people look at the same ink splotch and see very different things.” He notes that U.S. diplomats speak the language of open access for dissidents while still supporting regimes that suppress those very dissidents, such as in Azerbaijan and, at the time, Mubarak’s Egypt. Moreover, the fact that the CIA is very much invested in new media is certainly noticed by foreign leaders, who are starting to make their own intranets and supporting non-US formats.
Much of what Morozov writes about here has been underscored by such news stories as the U.S. reaction to WikiLeaks’ release of its diplomatic cables or even this article about the CIA’s librarians who track Twitter and Facebook: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/twitter/8869352/CIAs-vengeful-librarians-s…. Even Hillary Clinton’s past support of legislation aimed toward possibly restricting children’s access to violent media undercuts her strong message in support of Internet freedom.
It’s unarguable that between cybercrime and cyberwarfare, spam, copyright control, child pornography, international pharmaceutical companies, terrorist cells, gambling, online bullying, and even network neutrality, regulation of Internet content in democracies abounds. Morozov argues that the transparent folly of pretending that “Internet freedom” is a clear and absolute concept can actually empower dictators, who can forcefully dismiss critics by pointing to the inherent contradictions of policies.
Questions for discussion:
1) Is there hypocrisy in Western calls for open Internet given its own censorship and control of the Internet, whether it be by legislation or by handing control over the Net to private corporations that can censor at will? How would you craft a better message or policy that doesn’t seem contradictory on its face?
2) What are your feelings about the U.S. asking PayPal and credit card companies to cut off service to WikiLeaks last year – and those companies complying? Is this an example of government overreach or a case of appropriate action against an organization engaging in illegal behavior?
3) Morozov quotes TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington as saying “The point is, we don’t really care about privacy anymore. And Facebook is just giving us exactly what we want.” Morozov says the implications of this stance for users in authoritarian states can be dire. Do you agree? What about the consequences for those in democratic states?
Chapter 1 – The Google Doctrine
Chapter 2 – Texting Like It’s 1989
Chapter 3 – Orwell’s Favorite Lolcat
Chapter 4 – Censors and Sensibilities
Chapter 5 – Hugo Chavez Would Like to Welcome You to the Spinternet
Chapter 6 – Why the KGB Wants You to Join Facebook
Chapter 7 – Why Kierkegaard Hates Slacktivism
Chapter 8 – Open Networks, Narrow Minds
Chapter 9 – Internet Freedoms and Their Consequences
Chapter 10 – Making History (More Than a Browser Menu)
Chapter 11 – The Wicked Fix