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[liberationtech] Commercialization makes your online rights irrelevant, more thoughts from my talk with @ioerror at #rp12

Dmytri Kleiner dk at
Tue May 15 05:30:58 PDT 2012

Commercialization makes your online rights irrelevant, more thoughts 
from my talk with @ioerror at #rp12

Last week I wrote about one of the topics Jacob Appelbaum and I 
discussed at our talk at Re:publica 2012 {1}; that as a result of the 
commercialization of the Internet, we have moved from free and open 
social platform, to the centralized social media monopolies we know 
today. Today I want to mention another issue that we covered, how 
commercialization is putting an end to the Internet as a public space.

It's import to understand that it's not that capital does not want to 
fund free and open platforms, or that capitalists choose not to: capital 
simply can not do so.

Capital can not fund free and open platforms because capitalists must 
capture profit or lose their capital, and thus for-profit platforms that 
can not capture profit must eventually vanish.

In order to capture profit, capitalist funded platforms must introduce 
choke-points and/or toll-gates into there platforms, because their 
business models depends on the control of user data and interaction, and 
therefore these platforms can not be free and open.

Thus, the prospects for free and open platforms returning in any 
mainstream form seem slim without alternatives to the profit motive to 
finance them.

Free and open communication platforms that don't surveil, control or 
exclude can only be provided socially, as a public good.

However, in the current era of unchallenged neoliberal ideology 
imposing public austerity and community precariousness everywhere, 
building the social capacity to create alternative platforms at a scale 
that can displace Facebook and the others seems unlikely.

As these are commercial platforms, which are operated for profit, you 
only have the privilege of using the private platforms so long as you 
use them in ways that benefit the platform operator.

The result of this, is that using these platforms becomes the only 
popularly accessible way to communicate with the masses, whether your an 
activist, an artist, a journalist or anybody who has something to say, 
privately run social media platforms are the only way you have to reach 
the majority of people.

Activists, artists and journalists often have things to say that upset 
people, sometimes powerful people, who can create problems for the 
platform operators.

As nobody has any explicit right to use a private social platform, 
these platforms have a strong incentive to remove users and content that 
may may create controversy.

The early internet was conceived as a sort of virtual public space. In 
his 1996 "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" John Perry 
Barlow writes "We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may 
express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of 
being coerced into silence or conformity."

Barlow's colleague John Gilmore famously claimed "The Net interprets 
censorship as damage and routes around it."

The critical feature of the Net that gave rise to such freedom was the 
mesh topology of the network and the distributed and peer-to-peer 
architecture of the applications that ran on it.

The early Internet was a social platform that allowed groups and 
individuals to interact directly with each other, and thus, such 
communications where unmediated by any public or private third party. As 
a result, it was difficult to monitor and control such communications.

To preserve this freedom Barlow and Gilmore became two of the founders 
of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, with Barlow's declaration 
becoming something of a manifesto for the group.

The immediate threat was Government legislation intended to make the 
net more suitable for the purposes of commerce and law enforcement.

Barlow's declaration warns how legislation such as the 
"Telecommunications Reform Act" (Telecommunications Act of 1996) are 
threatening to destroy the freedom of cyberspace. Barlow was so offended 
he claimed that the US 1996 act is one "which repudiates your own 
Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, 
Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis."

The 1996 act was followed by many more in the US, as well as other 
countries. Some of these are well known. DMCA, SOPA, ACTA, The Digital 
Economy act 2010, the list goes on an on, all with the usual concerns: 
piracy and cybercrime. All part of the effort to make the Net safe for 
business and under the control of law enforcement.

Yet, none of these laws where ever able to totally take away the 
freedom Gilmore and Barlow saught to protect.

Since legislation is a public sphere, there is public contestation.

These laws where opposed by the EFF, along with other groups such as Le 
Quadrature du Net, along with large social mobilizations, and even by 
the emergence of a political wing in the form of the Pirate Party 

Even if much of the opposition failed, some succeed. Certain laws where 
delayed, a few totally defeated, and many modified to include 

Opposition did not only take political form, the laws where also 
flaunted and simply shown-up by inspiring renegade sites such as the 
Pirate Bay.

Legislating the public internet was no easy task when the people where 
willing to fight for their online rights.

Laws such as the DMCA where conceived in the days of a peer-to-peer 
internet. When groups and individuals controlled their own means of 
communications, by, for instance, running their own mail and news 
servers, their own web servers, etc.

If somebody was hosting content somebody else objected to, coercive 
laws where required to force the person to remove the content from their 
own server.

While these laws where written in such ways so as to favour the 
interests of intellectual property holders and law enforcers, they where 
none-the-less regulating the internet as a public sphere. They recognize 
some rights and liberties for both sides, and, though with unequal 
capacity, both sides had the chance to fight for these rights and 

However, starved of sufficient financing, the original distributed and 
peer to peer applications that where the communications tools of the 
public internet began to be abandoned.

As capital can not fund such platforms, online communications has 
largely moved to privately controlled social media platforms. Being 
private, they are not subject to the contestation of the public sphere.

Our social space online has moved from the public square to the 
shopping mall.

 From the public sphere where we can fight for our rights and influence 
the laws and bylaws that govern our conduct, where we can engage in 
civil disobedience when we oppose the rules, to the private sphere, 
where we have no rights, and can be expelled and excluded at the 
pleasure of the private owners of the platforms.

Today, if somebody is hosting content that somebody else objects to, 
that content is not likely to be hosted by a server they control, but 
rather by a commercial social platform. Such content can be removed with 
no due process, with no recognition of the rights and liberties of both 
parties, simply the unilaterally imposed rules of the platform operator.

In the case that the content is controversial, and the objecting party 
is powerful, the operator has strong incentive to remove it, and very 
little incentive to put themselves at risk to keep the content online.

The powerful interest that wish to control content online no longer 
need coersive laws to do so, they simply need co-operation from the 
platform owners. Such co-operation is happily provided by most 
operators, and is often even a precondition of their financing.

Commercialization has made online rights irrelevant

The world where "anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no 
matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or 
conformity" can not exist on Facebook, and can not be built by capital.

A sharable version can be found online here:

I'll be at Cafe Buchhandlung at 9pm as usual tonight. Please join us.


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