Obituary: The Internet

The Internet contained a flaw. It allowed unfettered access to information and the opportunity for people to make up their own minds about things. Unlike network TV. Unlike cable TV. The Internet’s promise/poison was unfiltered.

Now that flaw is being fixed. And with it how we understand free thought. It is no longer about reason and debate. Out with the dialectic. In with emotion and identity. The people cannot be trusted. Feelings is the new truth. Unreflective, personal feelings. Were you offended by that thing you didn’t have to watch? Did a voice transgress (acceptable) dogma? Does it bother you that people are somewhere talking about things that hurt your feelings? Destroy the heretic. Smash his blasphemy. Cut the feed.

Too many Americans are frighteningly eager to relinquish their liberty by claiming for corporate power autonomy and rights it should never have. “But it’s their companies!” Yeah, that’s what the white supremacists said before the Civil Rights Act stopped businesses from banning black people from places of accommodation.

When everything is in the Cloud, will the companies that own the Cloud decide what content people store there? Why not? Why can’t Gmail determine the content of the emails that are transmitted using its service? Imagine if AT&T censored your phone calls because it objected to the content of your conversations. Why not? They’re a private company. Want to talk about whatever that was you were talking about? Form your own phone company, then.

There is no end to thought control once the people accept the premise that corporations can determine for the public what ideas can and cannot be transmitted. It is a call for cerebral hygiene.

Those advocating corporate tyranny cite the First Amendment and then dismiss it. Go home, Freedom. You’re drunk. But the First Amendment—even if irrelevant, which I do not concede—is not the final word on free speech. Personal liberty to express and receive information and opinion is a human right. That cannot be justifiably limited by corporate power. “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Even by its own lights, human beings retain rights not enumerated in the US Constitution. “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” (Amendment 9 of the US Bill of Rights). We retain the right to freely transmit and receive information and opinion. Where in the US Bill of Rights does it say we have no right to this? Doesn’t the Constitution establish a free republic? “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people” (Amendment 10 of the US Bill of Rights). We retain the power to determine what information and opinion we have a right to freely transmit and receive. Where in the US Bill of Rights does it give corporations carte blanche the power to control the transmission of ideas and opinions?

The Internet is a public utility. It is a gift to the world from the people. It is ours, and corporations use it with our consent, with our permission, tacit as it may seem. Corporations pay us a fee to use it and are accountable for misusing it. Violating our civil rights by censoring ideas is a misuse of a public utility. That’s why it is wrong to keep blacks or Muslims or MAGA hat wearing Trump supporters out of restaurants. A free society doesn’t put property used for public means over the civil rights of human persons.

People have rights whether recognized or not. And the people should have the recognized power to announce and protect their rights. When in justice.  Which we’re not. We’re in the clutches of corporate despotism. As long as this remains the situation, this situation will dictate the truth—or, more accurately, “truths.”

Corporations are state-sanctioned entities. That’s why they they’re chartered. They’re extensions of government power. But the government has become an extension of corporate power! Money-power has corrupted our democratic republic.

And people are down with this. Citizens are asserting the power of corporations over their government—over their sovereignty. They’re pining for unaccountable private tyranny. They desire to be subjects not citizens.

They think they’re telling other people what to think and celebrating the quashing of objectionable speech. They got this or that person censored or fired or beat up. They’re winners. But really, they want to be told what to think. They’re losers. This is masochism.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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