Today I received the following email message:
Gregg, you asked us to keep you updated on Internet legislation and initiatives.
Starting December 3, the world's governments will meet behind closed doors to discuss the future of the internet. Some governments want to use this meeting to increase censorship and regulate the Internet.
Learn more about what’s at stake at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU):
A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. And a free and open Internet depends on you.
And so, I did (as I did the earlier version, once before... but, what the heck)...
...and here's what I wrote in the "add your voice" field:
The United States (US) has more freedom of speech than any other country; and it's seen on the Internet, like nowhere else. In the meantime, countries with less freedom of speech -- some of them engaging in outright censorship -- obviously have a far less-free Internet.
Right-winged Republican conservatives, in the US would love to censor the Internet; to control who has has access to what information on it; and to charge extra money to access certain parts of it. Witness what AT&T and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have tried to do over the years; what they are planning to do regarding peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing starting next month (December 2012); and what they would do if they could pursuant to their International Telecommunications Union (ITU) activities, if they could.
My fear is that once those from the US get into a room, behind closed doors, with those from other countries where censorship is normative, those in the US who want effectively the same, and who get caught-up in that pro-censorship echo chamber, will feel bolstered.
The Internet must be and remain free, open and uncensored... no matter what. And that's coming from a person who has been seriously defamed and personally harmed, online, because of the horrible (and false, of course) things that those impacted by his activism have, over the years, written about him online... all of it either anonymously or pseudonymously.
In 1995, I wrote a piece for the Time-Warner "Pathfinder" website, which was picked-up by many other news organizations, and which has since been cited in other articles and even a masters thesis or two, wherein I advocated for no anonymity on the web; wherein I stated my belief that all persons who post anything online should do so using their real names, and so should be identifiable. That way, I argued, they could be held accountable for their online words and activities. If I had gotten my way, then, yes, it would have been far easier for me to track down those who've defamed me...
...but I've since come to the conclusion that I'd also, by then, be living in an unlivable world where government -- and, worse, business -- can control otherwise-free speech. When I wrote that 1995 piece, I was angry and emotional because I had been so defamed; and the worldwide web part of the Internet was new, then, so I hadn't really considered the long-term impact and consequences of there being no online anonymity.
I have, since, however, reconsidered; taken a giant step back. I have, with subsequent years' additional experience, and the widom gained therefrom, come to the inescapable and admittedly-sometimes-painful conclusion that I was dead wrong, back in 1995: Dead wrong! There absolutely must be online anonymity, and pseudonymity, whether or not any of us like it. Without the ability to anonymously and/or pseudonymously do things such as we all remember from "US History" courses like "pamphleteering" and "the posting of bills" on trees and barnsides in 18th century, our great nation, as we know it today, would simply not exist. The free expression of ideas -- all ideas, whether or not popular; and especially if they're things the government would prefer weren't expressed -- is part of the very means by which this great nation was formed. That same nation will not survive if the modern version of the means by which today's equivalent of pamphleteering and the posting of bills happens -- today's Internet -- is, in any manner, impeded.
The positive results over the past two decades speak for themselves...
We've seen no end of that imperative in our own time: witness the so-called "Arab Spring," for examploe, starting in December of 2010; and through which no small number of oppressive and even brutal and rights-suppressing and previously-untoppleable middle-eastern regimes have, indeed, been toppled. Social media, texting, and emails -- among other things; and largely via the Internet -- played hugely pivotal roles in those movements and their ultimate outcomes. Note that it is always the government in danger of being overthrown that wanted to stifle the Internet. China's doing it, with increasing both frequency and effectiveness, even as you're reading these words.
The horrible, game-changing, and facially-wrong 2010 " Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" ruling, by a conservative US Supreme Court, found, in effect, that corporations are the same as people; and, so, have the same rights to free speech during such as elections as regular human citizens and voters. As predicted after that ruling, the uber-rich on the far-Right plowed literally billions of dollars into the campaigns of the candidates whom they wanted to win in the both 2010 mid-term election, and the 2012 general election. Republicans in the US, though, just suffered a defeat, in the 2012 re-election of Democrat President Obama to a second term, as well as the both election and re-election of House and Senate Democrats whom Republicans were virtually certai would win. Said defeat both took them by surprise, and they're still licking their wounds and now playing the blame game over it. Essential to understand about it all, though, is that it was, in large measure, the organizing and fund-raising by Democrats, using the Internet, that helped Obama, et al, to win.
Through such as Wikipedia, Bartlebys, and far too many other similar websites to here mention, literally billions of worldwide Internet users are able to obtain encyclopedic and literary information -- completely for free -- which, prior to the Internet, they tended to only be able to find by means which cost them money. As far back as 1996, in a consultative report to a south suburban Chicago elementary school district, I wrote (though quoting others, I need to make clear) that the Internet -- the public "worldwide web" part of which was but two years old at that point -- would become the great equalizer for poor and underfunded school districts across America because it would permit student access to learning and reference materials previously available only by their paying for expensive printed-on-paper volumes which said districts simply could not afford. Poor schools, I wrote, would be able to access, for free, the very same information, online, that rich schools could afford to purchase on paper. As Alex Maskovyak wrote, "[the Internet] flattens the world, removes boundaries, and empowers individuals."
Or as President Obama wrote, "[the Internet] is perhaps the most open network in history, and we have to keep it that way."
Through what is coming to be known as "massive open online courses," or MOOCs, Internet users from around the globe are able to take college-level courses completely for free; and using, in effect, "crowd sourcing" as a means of prioritizing student questions so that professors can better both structure lectures and respond to inquiries. This not only educates more students, and better, but also deprives especially the egregiously overcharging, unethically/illegally-recruiting/funding, and sub-standard-coursework-delivering for-profit colleges and universities of their ill-gotten gain, and obscene profits. In places like India, Africa, and both in other countries and on other continents where affordable quality higher-education is simply not an option, MOOCs are proving a godsend.
All of what I've described in the previous five paragraphs -- only a tiny fraction of the good wrought by today's Internet -- nevertheless means that oppressive and free-speech-suppressing either governments or businesses are harmed by the completely legal actions/activities of those whom they want to control, and from whom they want to profit. It is no wonder, then, that such as they are behind the movement to control and limit and censor and charge more for the Internet.
Notice that I wrote "legal actions/activites" in the immediately-previous paragraph. Nothing that I'm here writing argues for the freedom of criminals and those who break civil law to have their unfettered way online. Remember, though, that behind every illegal online/virtual act is an actor in the off-line/real world; and we, as a society -- both nationally, and internationally -- must not take the easy route to suppressing their real-world illegal activity by committing wholesale suppression of the Internet... any more than we should suppress anyone's right to speak freely in the public square, or to simply talk on the telephone. We must stop criminals the way we have always stopped them: using good, old-fashioned, lawful law-enforcement tactics and procedures in the real/off-line world, only lawfully using the Internet, through the lawful use of subpoena power and warrants, as a mere means; and not, instead, effectively throwing-out the baby with the bathwater, as the old saying goes, by implementing broad Internet restrictions that will, in the name of more easily stopping illegality, also irretrievably chill free speech and other now-lawful Internet use.
In that same vein, we must also ensure that laws are not enacted which suddenly make illegal the very free speech, and what are now the lawful Internet activities, that we currently enjoy. So doing will then empower those on the Right (and far worse) who read such as my argument in the immediately-previous paragraph to then misleadingly claim that their Internet suppression is "lawful," just as advocated by my likes. Do not be fooled, though. The dispassionate and objective definitions of words like "freedom" and "liberty" never change; only what the oppressor would have you believe those things mean, does. Read George Orwell's "1984" for examples of where such as that would surely lead.
"Where liberty dwells, there is my country."
- Benjamin Franklin
I want those who have anonymously and pseudonymously defamed me online to be held accountable. They have manifestly harmed me, in quantifiable ways, in the off-line/real world. However, limiting and/or impeding the Internet in any manner -- even if it makes it easier for me to bring to justice those who have so harmed me -- is simply not worth the manifest harm it will do to the world and its ability to freely communicate and do amazing things online in more, and increasingly-more-exciting, ways with each passing day. Today's Internet, like yesteryear's plain ol' free spoken speech -- and the pamphleteering and posting of bills that accompanied it -- comes with manifold pains and inconveniences; but it must still never be restricted.
As has many times been attributed to Voltaire, but as cannot be found anywhere in his works and so may well have been conjured by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre in her 1906 Voltaire biography entitled, "The Friends of Voltaire," the famous old quote most often used to convey the very essence of the importance of free speech has never been more profoundly appropriate as now, with respect to today's Internet: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Those, usually of big corporation or oppressive and free-speech-hating government -- who tend to nearly always be to the socio-political and theological Right, ranging from mere conservativsm all the way to downright facism -- abhor Tallentyre-as-Voltaire's famous words. They will, if we don't stop them, put an end to the free and open Internet as we now know it. And so we must stop them.
Vint Cerf, one of the co-founders, literally, of the forerunner of what we now know as today's Internet; and also the founder of, and evangelist for, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), wrote, today, in an email about this subject which invites everyone to take action by taking the pledge to which this is a comment, the truer-words-never-spoken following: "A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. And a free and open Internet depends on you."
Please read, learn and watch the video; then pledge your support for the free and open Internet at:
Gregg L. DesElms
895 Jackson St., #319
Napa CA 94559-1321
1-877-383-5148 (toll-free voice)
(206) 984-1288 (fax)
gregg at greggdeselms dot com (email)
Tell the world's governments you support a free and open web! Add Your Voice to Keep the Internet #freeandopen
Just as we celebrate freedom, we need to celebrate the tools that support freedom. Take the Free & Open Internet pledge.
SEE ALSO: Click here. (Free & Open Web and Net Neutrality Google search results)