Did the Early Internet Activists Blow It? via @GeoffWozniak

Summary: Mike Godwin, an internet lawyer who first joined EFF in 1990 and worked for the Wikimedia Foundation, gives his take about the nexus of internet freedom of speech, censorship, large corporations and governments - from the 1990s to 2020 - giving autobiographical narrative for context. He addresses one journalist's popular opinion that there is "too much freedom of speech" on the Internet and that more regulation and control is needed. He argues for more freedom of speech and expression on the Internet without offering any more concrete solutions than Wikipedia.

my response to "Did the Early Internet Activists Blow It?" 

My take is that his analysis and worldview are hindered by presupposing the existence of large government institutions and corporations, and of the basic architectures of the Internet and Web. His view is as an internet lawyer who showed up in 1990, so he has little to say about the early architectural decisions that engendered the surveillance capitalist hell we have today. He maintains that we need more "leaders and policymakers and journalists and thought leaders" to deal with the nexus of problems we face today. And so he fails to challenge the mental models and structures that created this mess, instead preferring to stay in his comfort zone as a career lawyer.

While there were real legal hurdles to tackle in those days, namely the cryptography export restrictions by the US, I believe we would have been better served if the architects kept working to achieve their mission of internet freedom of expression. They were satisfied with good enough and perhaps feared researching in the same directions as the cypherpunks. More likely that their mental models presupposed the same power structures and sought merely to work within those whilst receiving research grants from the USG.

The author recognizes the terror that is Google and Facebook and their cozy relationships with government powers but again wants to address the problem with public policy. In my view, the internet architecture should avoid centralization of key services because of the perverse incentives and damage to social freedoms that those system structures create. The author says they failed to predict these dominant institutions, but I am not convinced since the system architecture requires them to scale and that would mean the internet founders hoped the internet would never get big and important. These were unsolved problems in those days, but my opinion is that we should've researched harder in that direction than we did.

A cyber-architecture that favors large socio-technical hierarchies as we have today is (now obviously) going to create more opportunities for oppression than any optimistic view would hope for. We know now that we have to "lock the web open" because the powers of public policy and the state are greater than the current internet's ability to oppose them. We should be thinking more about federated, peer-to-peer, and other mixed decentralized models such as the fediverse for inspiration, not the rigid hierarchies and collateral damage of the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia editors. While some detractors say that fedi in-fighting is tiresome and broken, I believe this is precisely how it is supposed to function and is more fitting to human behavior than large centralized services like Facebook and its army of AI moderators. Further is that the kinds of cooperative agreements and policies enforced by fedi instances are more appropriate and effective than any large sweeping countermeasures that a government or corporation could provide.

When 30-odd of us packed into a room at the Decentralized Web Summit 2018 with Cory Doctorow, he asked us: how do we keep the web from swinging between decentralization and centralization, or is that inevitable? I argued that we need blueprints for organizations and architectures that are known to be resilient to centralization creep, and noted that we tend to recreate systems with which we are already familiar (Conway's Law). So my conclusion is that we must re-architect the cyber-power-economic model to destroy the incentives that favor oppressive regimes so that the incumbent model will simply eat itself into irrelevance.

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my response to "Did the Early Internet Activists Blow It?" 

@theruran If your biggest problem with Facebook and Google is how cozy they are with USG, you are not scared enough of them, not by a long shot. They both have already transcended subservience to national governments. So far, they succeeded in nudging US democracy towards a designation as flawed, and there is no reason to expect them to stop there and not fully supersede nation states with a corporate hierarchy.

my response to "Did the Early Internet Activists Blow It?" 

@theruran Think Malka Older's Infomocracy, minus even a pretense of a democracy, just the Emperor Mark Zuckerberg Augustus.

my response to "Did the Early Internet Activists Blow It?" Cf this from twitter 

@angdraug @theruran
There are right now two talks on, civil society not invited
twitter.com/MichaelWestBiz/sta
Big tech lobbies against national regulation in #WTO talks while public interest groups don't get a look in. Story by Sophie Hardefeldt @AFTINET #auspol michaelwest.com.au/regulatory-

my response to "Did the Early Internet Activists Blow It?" Cf this from twitter 

@tqft @theruran I don't know how factual this is, but the local presence requirement is criminally stupid. I don't want Russia and China to store my data, and I want even less to have to report my citizenship to every site I use. This is a poison pill that will make the rest of the regulation much easier to dismiss.

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