The battle over net neutrality is once again heating up. But not everyone has followed this somewhat complicated issue. Here, then, is a primer for understanding what’s at stake in the fight for an open Internet.
Just what is net neutrality anyway? Net neutrality is a principle that internet service providers (ISPs) — and the regulators that oversee them — treat all internet traffic the same way. The idea is to keep the net free and open, giving users equal access to any website or application. net neutrality would prevent companies that provide internet access from blocking or slowing down traffic to or from specific sites in much the same way as a phone company has to put through your call, regardless of whom you’re calling. Timothy Lee has a simple explainer at Vox. Rob Frieden, a professor of telecommunications and law at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a more detailed backgrounder on the issues surrounding net neutrality. And Armand Valdez at Mashable offers an accessible, two-minute video explaining the concept.
Susan Crawford and David Carr on Why You Should Care About net Neutrality
How does this affect me? As Susan Crawford, a telecommunications policy analyst, explained to Bill Moyers, “For most Americans, they have no choice for all the information, data, entertainment coming through their house, other than their local cable monopoly. And here, we have a situation where that monopoly potentially can pick and choose winners and losers, decide what you see, how interesting and interactive it is, how quickly it reaches you — and then charge whatever it wants.”
An open internet sounds like the right way to go — so why is this an issue? Some ISPs want to charge a premium to give content providers a fast lane on the electronic highway. In theory, that could mean a company like Verizon could privilege its own content over a competitor’s. Some activists worry that ISPs could also block legal content that an ISP finds objectionable for whatever reason.
Companies like Comcast argue that net neutrality rules hurt consumers. Certain applications are more sensitive to delays than others — like streaming video and internet phone services — and they say that ISPs should be able to charge more for customers who want to pay a premium for priority service.
Others argue that governments shouldn’t play a significant role in regulating the internet. Adam Thierer of the CATO Institute, for example, argues that net neutrality rules would “open the door to a great deal of potential ‘gaming’ of the regulatory system and allow firms to use the regulatory system to hobble competitors. Worse yet, it would encourage more FCC regulation of the Internet and broadband markets in general.”
Some key background: Congress had given the FCC broad powers to regulate the internet. But in 2002, then-FCC Chair Michael Powell, a Republican nominee, classified residential broadband as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service,” which sharply limited its own authority (the former are regulated under a different provision of the law than the latter). Many open internet advocates were angered by the decision, but it wasn’t until 2006, when Congress attempted to write net neutrality protections out of the Telecommunications Act, that the public got engaged in the fight. More than a million people took action to stop legislation favored by the Bush administration and Republicans in the House and Senate. Against immense odds, their activism — signing petitions, calling members of Congress and speaking out in town hall meetings — killed a bill favored by the powerful phone and cable lobby.
The issue was bounced back to the FCC where it languished until Obama administration appointee Julius Genachowski put forth an open internet ruling in 2010. Genachowski’s rule struck a convoluted compromise between internet users and the broadband industry. It stood on shaky legal foundation and was vacated by the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in a 2014 ruling that sent the issue back, once again, to the FCC.
In 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the FCC would be deciding the issue once and for all. Prior to the vote, the FCC opened its online comment engine and more than 4 million people took action, writing in their comments and calling the FCC to register their opinions. In February 2015, Chairman Wheeler and the FCC voted in favor of reclassifying high-speed internet access as a telecom service under Title II of the Communications Act. The move was heralded as a great triumph of public activism over corporations that had spent millions on lobbying against the reclassification. But, as Tim Karr noted on our site one year later, nothing in Washington, DC is final.
What’s the latest? President Trump tapped commissioner Ajit Pai to be the new FCC chairman in January. Since then, he has moved aggressively to roll back Obama-era consumer protections and other regulations. He has undermined a program that provided low-cost broadband service to poor customers; eased FCC limits on shared service agreements between TV stations in the same market; reversed a rule that limited the number of airwaves any one broadcaster can own throughout the country; and removed caps on fees that ISPs could charge hospitals, small businesses and wireless carriers in markets where there is little competition.
Meanwhile, in March, Congress voted to scrap FCC internet privacy rules that required ISPs to ask for permission before collecting data about users’ online activities.
“Recent weeks are prologue, and I am fearful that we are moving in a direction that will unravel and undo some incredible gains we’ve made for consumers,” Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democratic commissioner at the FCC, told The New York Times.
Last week, Pai met with Intel, Cisco, Apple and others in Silicon Valley to talk about changes to net neutrality policy. According to The New York Times, “The Internet Association, a trade group that represents Facebook, Google and Netflix… urged him to keep the rules intact.” Recode reports that Pai “will kick off the process to scrap the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules on Wednesday, according to four sources familiar with the matter.”
Is this just a case of big businesses fighting regulations pushed by grass-roots activists? Not really. Net neutrality is an issue that’s united a broad coalition of businesses and organizations from across the political spectrum. But it’s true that big businesses on both sides of the issue have spent a lot of money lobbying lawmakers to see things their way. When Congress considered the anti-neutrality bill in 2006, Bloomberg reported that AT&T, Comcast and other opponents of the measure outspent companies that favored neutrality rules — like Microsoft and Google — by around $51 million. The internet carriers won that vote by a large margin in the House of Representatives, but it was subsequently killed in the Senate after grass-roots activists got engaged.
One of the reasons this remains a charged political issue is that Congress has been similarly deadlocked on net neutrality rules on a number of occasions. There have been five unsuccessful attempts to pass net neutrality legislation since 2004.
So, is real net neutrality dead? Not dead, but it is endangered. Late last month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer indicated that net neutrality might be next up on President Trump’s chopping block. He told reporters that the president had “‘pledged to reverse this overreach.’ The Obama-era rules, Mr. Spicer said, were an example of ‘bureaucrats in Washington’ placing restrictions on one kind of company — internet service suppliers — and ‘picking winners and losers.'”
Pai, who voted against the rule that passed in 2015, has consistently said that while he favors an open internet, he opposes the Title II classification. Tim Karr of Free Press says Pai is essentially claiming to support the principle but opposing the best and only legal framework to make it a reality under current law. “That’s like saying I support free speech, but not the First Amendment.”
“Pai continues to rail against the successful and essential legal framework of Title II,” Karr says. “The Obama administration listened to the millions of people who called for net neutrality when the FCC passed protections in 2015, and not just because it’s a popular cause. It’s also sound public policy, and it keeps in place the principles that have worked since the start of the internet to keep it an open platform for all comers.”
Karr is confident that people will see through Chairman Pai’s latest plan to destroy net neutrality. “As they have before, they will fight back in Congress, at the FCC and in their communities, he said. They will use the internet to save the internet — and they will remember where their leaders in Washington stood when the future of net neutrality was in jeopardy.”
This post was updated from an earlier primer posted in 2014.
The post A Primer: Just What Is Net Neutrality — and Why All the Fuss? appeared first on BillMoyers.com.
Mustafa Habib. | Baghdad | (Niqash.org) | – –
The latest trend in politics in Iraq involves the creation of seemingly innocuous Facebook pages, that are used to spread rumours and lies about the opposition. It’s a trend that will only get worse as elections near.
Over the past few months ordinary Iraqis have noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of Facebook pages inviting them to subscribe or “like” a site. Most of these new pages are political in nature, and they try to either persuade or change opinions about certain local politicians; Iraqis have likened the phenomenon to an “electronic army”.
One of the political websites using pictures of women to attract followers. Source: Facebook
Often these new pages mobilise thousands of new followers and likes in just a few days. They do this by posting clickbait – that is, topics that ordinary Iraqis are particularly interested in, such as about soldiers on the front line fighting the extremist group known as the Islamic State or news about the plight of the displaced and wounded. Some use cartoons, others post pictures of well-known Iraqi female artists, actors and media personalities.
The undercover methods used by the ever-increasing number of Facebook pages make it almost impossible to identify those behind the lies and rumours, no matter how dangerous they are.
At first, it can be hard to tell if a page has political ambitions. The names of the pages may well have nothing to do with politics. But it is clear there are professionals behind the social media outlets and following up on further posts can enlighten: The Facebook page owners will either defend or denigrate certain political and religious personalities, or parties.
For example, one Facebook page called Video Only with more than 150,000 followers and another called Politics And Opinion, with 48,000 followers, only criticizes the Iraqi Prime Minister and leading cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr and his political wing. They leave everyone else alone.
Another page named Thieves has over 100,000 followers and focuses on making nasty comments about former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Only a few pages reveal their true intentions immediately. These include one Facebook page called Clear al-Abadi, which supports the prime minister and has more than 250,000 followers and the Fans of Muqtada al-Sadr page, with more than 370,000 followers. But most of them do their best to appear neutral.
But as soon as there is some contentious political debate, they show their true colours, publishing false news and rumours to tarnish the reputations of their opposition, whoever that may be. Additionally every new political stoush sees more Facebook pages created.
A Facebook page using cartoons to make political comments.
Of course, a Facebook page for propaganda is not necessarily unusual. The problem is that in Iraq, the Facebook pages will often publish rumours and even outright lies to achieve their aims. They may even fabricate whole stories and these may, depending on the number of followers, be widely publicized.
An example was the recent visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the US. The Facebook pages that don’t like al-Abadi posted updates saying that he had signed an agreement with US officials that would see the often-controversial Shiite Muslim militias abolished and the establishment of permanent US military bases inside the country.
When former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki released a statement on Iran’s support of Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State, the Facebook pages opposed to him published updates accusing al-Maliki of being an Iranian spy.
This problem is compounded because local media outlets then notice the Facebook updates and notes and spread them further. Sometimes this is because the news outlets themselves are partisan – many media outlets in Iraq are funded by particular political parties or religious organizations – and other times, it is because they simply believe the falsehoods and do not verify the information independently.
The undercover methods used by the ever-increasing number of Facebook pages make it almost impossible to identify those behind the lies and rumours, no matter how dangerous they are. Several Iraqi politicians have come out in interviews and accused their opponents of being behind what may best be described as the Iraqi version of online “troll factories”. Additionally Iraqi laws on this subject tend to be outdated, compared to current technologies, which makes it even more difficult to control the onslaught of fake news, rumours and lies.
And the problem of disinformation and mercenary, partisan “electronic armies” is only likely to worsen as the Iraqi federal elections draw nearer.
producers take advantage of networked knowledge and benefit from new available
production spaces. New skills and know-how are required, however, for the
inclusion of all social sectors. Español Português
In the last decades we have seen how the concept of
innovation has changed, as not only the ecosystem of innovation-producing agents,
but also the ways in which innovation is produced have expanded. The concept of
producer-innovation, for example,
where companies innovate on the basis of self-generated ideas, has been
superseded by the concept of user-innovation,
where innovation originates from the observation of the consumers’ needs, and then
by the concept of consumer-innovation,
where consumers enhanced by the new technologies are themselves able to create
their own products. Innovation-related business models have changed too. We now
talk about not only patent-protected innovation, but also open innovation and even free
innovation, where open knowledge sharing plays a key role.
A similar evolution has taken place in the field of
the smart city. While the first smart city models prioritized technology left in
the hands of experts as a key factor for solving urban problems, more recent
initiatives such as Sharing City (Seoul), Co-city (Bologna), or Fab City
(Barcelona) focus on citizen participation, open data economics and collaborative-distributed
processes as catalysts for innovative solutions to urban challenges. These
initiatives could prompt a new wave in the design of more inclusive and
sustainable cities by challenging existing power structures, amplifying the
range of solutions to urban problems and, possibly, creating value on a larger
In a context of economic austerity and massive
urbanization, public administrations are acknowledging the need to seek
innovative alternatives to increasing urban demands. Meanwhile, citizens,
harnessing the potential of technologies - many of them accessible through open
licenses – are putting their creative capacity into practice and contributing
to a wave of innovation that could reinvent even the most established sectors.
The virtuous combination of citizen participation
and abilities, digital technologies, and open and collaborative strategies is
catalyzing innovation in all areas. Citizen innovation encompasses everything,
from work and housing to food and health. The scope of work, for example, is
potentially affected by the new processes of manufacturing and production on an
individual scale: citizens can now produce small and large objects (new
capacity), thanks to easy access to new technologies such as 3D printers (new
element); they can also take advantage of new intellectual property licenses by
adapting innovations from others and freely sharing their own (new rule) in
response to a wide range of needs.
Along these lines, between 2015 and 2016, the city
of Bristol launched a citizen innovation program aimed at solving problems
related to the state of rented homes, which produced solutions through citizen
participation and the use of sensors and open data. Citizens designed and produced
themselves temperature and humidity sensors - using open hardware (Raspberry
Pi), 3D printers and laser cutters - to combat problems related to home damp. These
sensors, placed in the homes, allowed to map the scale of the problem, to
differentiate between condensation and humidity, and thus to understand if the
problem was due to structural failures of the buildings or to bad habits of the
tenants. Through the inclusion of
affected citizens, the community felt empowered to contribute ideas towards solutions
to its problems, together with the landlords and the City Council.
A similar process is currently being undertaken in
Amsterdam, Barcelona and Pristina under the umbrella of the Making
Sense Project. In this case, citizens
affected by environmental issues are producing their own sensors and urban
devices to collect open data about the city and organizing collective action and
In the last decade we have witnessed the emergence
of new forms of micro-production through the expansion of the so-called citizen
production laboratories – i.e., workshops for individual digital production -,
equipped with a series of computer-controlled tools and materials which can
produce "almost anything". Fab Labs, maker and hacker spaces have emerged in most cities, and have established
themselves as co-creation spaces for digital social innovation, for learning
21st century skills, and for citizen entrepreneurship.
A number of innovations have emerged from these
laboratories, such as the free code 3D Ultimaker printer,
or a startup that creates toys and electronic devices from waste in Togo. In
many cases, these innovations are co-financed by citizens through micro-sponsoring
platforms like Kickstarter (for instance, the Smart
sensor), or are being commercialized through p2p platforms such as Etsy.
In this way, citizens contribute to their city’s productive fabric, while
learning new skills and creating job opportunities for themselves and others.
In addition, these design
and production spaces enable the acquisition of digital production knowhow,
creativity and collaboration, all of which have been highlighted as necessary skills
for work performance in the future.
Digital social innovation is disrupting the field of
health too. There are different manifestations of these processes. First,
platforms such as DataDonors or PatientsLikeMe
that there is an increasing citizen participation in biomedical research through
the donation of their own health data.
Second, creations such as the open-source artificial
pancreas, resulting from the collaboration between scientists and amateurs, or
projects such as the Open Hand project, which uses 3D
printers to create prosthetic arms for low-income people, show that the
combination of new technologies, the free code and citizen skills can improve the
citizens’ quality of life at a cost and scale previously unimaginable.
Finally, projects such as OpenCare
in Milan and mobile applications like Good
Sam show how citizens can organize
themselves to provide medical services that otherwise would be very costly or
at a scale and granularity that the public sector could hardly afford.
Eating/feeding is one of the most important and
widespread human activities. However, industrial food production has a proven
negative impact on the environment and, from time to time, on public health. A
growing number of digital social innovation initiatives in this field are promoting
the emergence of a food system that can improve people's lives and contribute
to environmental sustainability, as well as to the creation of new production
ecosystems in the cities.
Several existing manifestations of these processes
allow us to view how networked citizen innovation can have an impact on the way
in which we produce and consume food. On the one hand, initiatives such as the
900-strong Europe-wide Food Assembly, a local consumer platform
that uses digital technologies to connect consumers and local producers, show
that there is a willingness on the part of citizens to promote local production
and consumption, and that this can be done at a very low cost, connecting already
existing elements within the ecosystem.
On the other hand, projects such as Aquapioneers
or Spirulina Lab show how customized digital production and open
source tools allow citizens to produce their own food so as to achieve food
self-sufficiency and reduce the negative impacts on the environment. Finally, urban
garden initiatives and projects such as Connected Seeds or the Grow
show how neighbourhood communities are organizing to re-appropriate existing
spaces, using sensors to monitor environmental factors and digital platforms to
share knowledge in order to produce food collaboratively at local level but on
a larger scale.
The production processes of these products and
services force us to think about their political implications and the role of
public institutions, as they question the cities’ existing participation and
contribution rules. In times of sociopolitical turbulence and austerity plans such
as these, there is a need to design and test new approaches to civic
participation, production and management which can strengthen democracy, add
value and take into account the aspirations, emotional intelligence and agency
of both individuals and communities.
In order for the new wave of citizen production to
generate social capital, inclusive innovation and well-being, it is necessary
to ensure that all citizens, particularly those from less-represented
communities, are empowered to contribute and participate in the design of cities-for-all.
It is therefore essential to
develop programs to increase citizen access to the new technologies and the
acquisition of the knowhow and skills needed to use and transform them.
It is also necessary to establish the collaboration principles
between the city and its citizens, so that the right of citizens to contribute
to the co-design of the physical and digital environment of the city is not
only acknowledged, but also appropriately valued (through incentives and
rewards), and their contribution motivated and not exploited for other purposes.
To this end, it is essential
to establish an ethical code and a set of engagement rules as the backbone of
open citizen innovation and of a new contributory model for cities.
Democracy and government
CC by NC 4.0
The burden of protecting online privacy should be placed on corporations and governments, not on citizens.
Rally in Washington DC Against Mass Surveillance. Susan Melkisethian. Some rights reserved.In recent weeks, two events have deviled the digital-privacy community and online commentariat. In March, Wikileaks released Vault7, a series of leaks detailing the CIA’s comprehensive program to surveil American citizens through such devices as smart TVs, Web browsers, and operating systems. Later that month, Congress voted in favor of S.J. Res. 34, a bill repudiating the late-Obama-era regulations of surreptitious user-data collection by internet service providers (ISPs) for commercial gain. In the wake of these developments, the matter of online privacy has reached the forefront of political discourse, lightly evoking the fevered concerns of Edward Snowden’s 2013 NSA revelations.
What can explain this dissonance between Americans’ supposed apathy toward online privacy and security, versus their actual, documented concerns about it?
Of course, it isn’t always this way. Discussions of online privacy within mainstream media occur periodically, following Congress’s lists of priorities. In the cybersecurity off-season, when no leaks have occurred within the last two weeks, and the House of Representatives has no privacy bill on which to vote any time soon, the notion of digital protection is relegated to a vaguely dystopian unpleasantry lying latent in the political conscious.
Since Snowden’s leaks surfaced, Americans have learned that use of the 21st-century internet poses a continuous, tacit threat: an ISP like Verizon, AT&T, or Comcast has a tremendous capacity to deliver user information and browsing habits to governments and advertisers alike. Websites like Google or Facebook, so-called “edge providers”, can do the same, but only--ostensibly, at least--when users are logged into their services. Yet most of the instances in which users are explicitly reminded of this threat are reactionary: the data exploitation they learn of is either long-established, or, in the case of S.J. Res. 34, conditions surrounding said exploitation have suddenly grown worse.
It’s easy, then, to dismiss the issue of online privacy as one that simply flies under most Americans’ proverbial radars. The Next Web did so in 2011 in an article entitled “Do we really care about our online privacy?” (Based on the content of the article, Betteridge’s Law applies.) Business Insider followed suit with 2012’s hot take “THE TRUTH ABOUT ONLINE PRIVACY: Who Cares?,” as did Forbes in a post-Snowden 2014 with “Let’s Face It, We Don’t Really Care About Privacy.” The central conceit: Americans are more than willing to relinquish their personal data in exchange for the conveniences of photo storage, auto-populated search, and artificial-intelligence “assistants” like Siri or Amazon Echo. And because there are often no perceived tangible consequences, they’re not motivated to care.
Though the theory may seem valid anecdotally, it’s not airtight. According to Pew research from late 2014, 46% of the 607 adults surveyed felt insecure sharing private information over their cell phones, 58% felt insecure texting private information, and 81% felt “not very” or “not at all secure” using social media to share private information. “Most say they want to do more to protect their privacy, but many believe it is not possible to be anonymous online,” the center concluded. A subsequent survey found that 90% of polled Americans valued controlling what information is collected about them, while 93% said being in control of who has access to their information is “important.” Echoing its 2014 conclusion, Pew noted, “Few feel they have ‘a lot’ of control over how much information is collected about them in daily life and how it is used.”
What, then, can explain this dissonance between Americans’ supposed apathy toward online privacy and security, versus their actual, documented concerns about it?
What citizens can and can't do
If civilians don't seem concerned about their digital security, it's because what's at stake... isn't made apparent to them.
If civilians don't seem concerned about their digital security, it's because what's at stake, and how to protect themselves, aren't made apparent to them. To state the obvious: the internet is an invisible, nonphysical entity. Users can’t see the mechanisms that spy on them, and most can’t escape them. Those who enjoy high levels of technological literacy--whether from a university education or a penchant for autodidacticism--may use their knowledge for greater protections, but for the layperson, cybersecurity is likely to be opaque and labyrinthine.
When users don’t know the internal contours of surveillance and data-harvesting campaigns, they won’t know how to obstruct them.
While these measures are within a user’s control, it’s hard not to suspect that their convoluted nature is by design. It’s this type of confusing framework that governments and advertisers can so easily capitalize on; when users don’t know the internal contours of surveillance and data-harvesting campaigns, they won’t know how to obstruct them.
It’s this type of confusing framework that governments and advertisers can so easily capitalize on; when users don’t know the internal contours of surveillance and data-harvesting campaigns, they won’t know how to obstruct them.
Increasing user protections on an individual basis is at least a temporary solution to this problem. A number of digital-rights organizations have sought to address the issue. The Tor Project offers an encrypted operating system, Tails, and the web browser Tor, among other services, to aid online anonymity. Last year, the nonprofit HACK*BLOSSOM released the “DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity,” which outlines strategies to avoid attacks ranging from harassment to phishing. Even Mozilla, the corporation behind the Firefox browser, has hopped on the cybersecurity-education bandwagon.
Government efforts and policy
While these efforts are of monumental importance, they’re merely Band-Aids covering the wounds of privatization. Even before Trump’s ascent to the presidency, the nature of internet oversight was historically laissez-faire, rendering the web an often predatory place ripe for commercial takeover. Governments have failed to regulate the internet as a public utility, furnishing it with unchecked invasive potential.
Though the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) technically classified internet as a utility in 2015, it wasn’t until late 2016 that the government barred ISPs from collecting such sensitive data as social-security numbers and healthcare information without explicit user consent--a law Americans now won’t see come to fruition any time in the near future. The loss of such regulation is foreboding: these requirements were protocol for a communications utility; were a phone company to eavesdrop on a user’s call without that person’s knowledge, it would be violating the law. Now, however, such strictures don’t apply to internet providers.
Historically, these companies’ unfettered powers have behooved governmental bodies pushing forward mass-surveillance programs. As the aforementioned leaks have demonstrated, federal agencies have colluded with talent from the privatized internet’s most powerful data beneficiaries--Google, Facebook, and the liketo clandestinely monitor their constituents’ activity. The executive branch’s prodigious surveillance powers, bolstered in large part thanks to the Obama administration, have ushered users into an era of unparalleled digital fragility.
The burden of establishing online privacy has fallen on the individual civilian.
And yet, ever since internet use became a staple of daily life, the burden of establishing online privacy has fallen on the individual civilian. Internet corporations justify their mass data acquisition with meticulously PR-veiled jargon about making the user experience “relevant” and “personal.” Similarly, governments do so with “anti-terrorism” propaganda, suggesting no real threat is posed if a citizen has “nothing to hide.” Both forces present themselves as serving the best interests of a public of law-abiding consumers; what they do is legitimate, worthy of being the default, they contend, and users who don’t accept that can fend for themselves.
The narrative of privacy apathy furthers this notion, betraying the idea that intrusive digital paradigms aren’t ultimately that bad, that the stakes aren’t actually that high, that there are no real, palpable effects to fear. Far too many Americans, however, can’t afford to feel this way. Poor populations living in food deserts are marketed soda and cigarettes online. Law enforcement disrupts protests based on social-media updates. Domestic-violence survivors are stalked by abusers who can use the internet to find their locations. The suggestion that users simply disregard the concept of online privacy ignores the ills created by powerful circles, both public and private, and the people who are most vulnerable to them.
The broadband-privacy regulations instituted last year were a glimmer of hope for ethical internet policy. In requiring ISPs to receive express user consent before collecting highly personal data and allowing them to opt out of less “sensitive” data collection, the FCC acknowledged the need to transparently present users with the risks they incur whenever they go online. It placed the burden on companies, not individuals, to prevent sub rosa data collection and protect user privacy.
It’s time for this to continue, for the onus to shift from the individuals who “don’t care” to the behemoths that deliberately confuse and prey upon them. Only then will the internet begin to have any semblance of the democracy we once expected of it.
CC by NC 4.0
Attempts to wrestle with fake news and post-truth lack a
concept of ideology to tell us not only what is believed, but why, and suggest
how to move on.
Trump refuses to answer a reporter accused of spreading 'fake news',January, 2017.Gary Hershom/Press Association. All rights reserved.In an age of so-called ‘post-truth
politics’ and ‘alternative facts’, the question of ideology has become pressing.
Following Donald J. Trump’s election, many journalists and scholars looked for
explanations. Did the electorate really believe the outrageous falsehoods that
his campaign was based on, or was there something else at work? The same goes
for the proliferation of fake news – how do we understand the fact that such
unreliable sources can wield influence in the public sphere?
If the only issue at stake
here were an absence of truth in politics and journalism, the solution would be
simple: politicians and journalists need to check facts (and stick to them),
and the public needs to maintain a critical stance and boycott unreliable
However, this solution may rely
on an outdated model of ideology: the theory that ideology is simply people
being told and believing inaccurate information. Many scholars argue that
ideology functions in a far more complex way than this. If we want to
understand and combat post-truth politics, do we need to update our
understanding of ideology first?
I will summarise three
theories of ideology whose application could take us further towards
coping with today’s predicament. In
doing so, I will have to omit the contributions of several other important
thinkers, such as Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,
Stuart Hall, Pierre Bourdieu and Judith Butler. I recommend that readers
wanting a more comprehensive overview of the subject read Theories
of Ideology: The Powers of Alienation and Subjection by Jan Rehmann.
Karl Marx – ideology
as an expression of class relations
One of Marx’s most important
texts in this regard is The German Ideology (1845). We can begin to understand
the essence of this text by examining this key passage:
The ideas of
the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is
the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling
intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its
disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so
that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of
mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the
ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material
relationships grasped as ideas.
Portrait of Karl Marx, 1865. Wikicommons/ John Jabez Edwin Mayall - International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Some rights reserved.There are two key points
here: one concerning who has power in a society, and one concerning the nature
of that power.
First of all, those who
control the means of production (i.e. owners of companies, political leaders
etc.) also control, overall, the dominant ideas in that society. By the same
token, those who don’t control the means of production (i.e. the workers) are
subject to these dominant ideas.
We can sum up this state of
affairs with the term ‘class relations’ or ‘material relations of production’:
some groups, or classes, own the means to produce commodities and circulate
ideas, while others do not. Marx’ and Engels’ thinking seems close to the
notion of ideology as false consciousness: the working class appear to be duped
by a ruling class who have the power to spread whatever falsities help them
With the second point,
however, we see that things are more complicated than a ruling class simply
telling lies and the exploited class believing them. Instead, these dominant
ideas are themselves expressions of ‘the dominant material relationships’. What
this means is that the dominant ideas are themselves determined by the material
relations of production. Ideology is a projection of the material relations
between classes (who owns what).
Although still on the tricky
terrain of ideology as false consciousness, Marx and Engels have introduced an
important nuance. If ideology is an expression of material relations, then
thinking of ideology in terms of ideas or consciousness is not sufficient.
Rather, one has to start by considering the relations of production, and treat
them as the source of ideology. In this model, if we are to undermine the
ruling ideology – such as the ideology that allows the proliferation of ‘alternative
facts’ – we would have to analyse and disrupt the economic structures from
which the ruling class draws its power. [This thinking led Marx to write his
most famous work, Capital (1863-83)]
In terms of combating fake
news, for example, a Marxist theory would argue that it is not enough to
approach the issue only on the terrain of ideas. Rather, it would advocate
looking behind the false headlines to the relations of production that allow
such headlines to circulate in the first place. Instead of pointing out that a
publication is inaccurate, we would ask who owns that publication, and what
relations between different classes (e.g. media moguls and the working class)
are being expressed and exploited. In Marxist theory, fake news is an
expression of the interest of the ruling class. Therefore, undermining it needs
to take place at the level of class struggle, of undermining the very relations
of class that permit fake news in the first place.
Ideological State Apparatus
Fast forwarding we come to
Louis Althusser, whose ‘Ideology and
Ideological State Apparatuses’ (1970) interprets and updates Marx and
Engels’s theory of ideology (with the help of several thinkers, including notably
highlights the fact that class relations determine ideology only in the last instance.
locates ideology in material apparatuses – institutions such as religion,
education, government and media.
theorises the way in which ideology ‘interpellates individuals as
The first point is important
to bear in mind since, as we saw earlier, Marx’s writing on ideology is liable
to be misunderstood as a theory of workers being brainwashed by the ruling
class. ‘Determination in the last instance’ means that we need to consider the
whole variety of factors that contribute to the development of society, the
ruling ideology and the effects of ideology on people. According to Althusser
there is no straight line between class relations, the ideology that is
projected by them, and people’s beliefs. Rather, we can say that the projection
of class relations onto ideology is actually refracted by several other
factors. Althusser goes into this theory in more detail in his essay
“Contradiction and Overdetermination” (1962).
The second point helps us to
understand this process of refraction, and to elaborate on the ‘material
existence’ of ideology. Althusser argues that ideology does not just come from
economic structures (class relations) but also exists in, and is influenced by,
really existing institutions. He calls these ‘ideological state apparatuses’
(ISAs) since they are usually related to the State and make up the site of
ideology. The various ideological state apparatuses include: the religious ISA
(churches), the educational ISA (schools), the legal ISA (law, courts), the political
ISA (the political system and its parties), the communications ISA (the media).
To engage with Althusser’s
third contribution, we need to understand the key word for his theory of the
functioning of ideology, ‘interpellation’. Interpellation is usually described
in terms of call and response. The example Althusser gives is that of a
policeman shouting ‘Hey, you there!’ and an individual turning round to answer
That moment of recognition
(turning round to answer) is the sign of successful interpellation. Through
interpellation we recognise ourselves as subjects of a certain ideological
formation, and we recognise our place in the world, as designated by ideology.
In Althusser’s example, the individual recognises themself as subject to the law and therefore responds to the
policeman’s call. In such instances the individual has a set place in relation
to an ideological state apparatus (that of a subject) and is expected to engage
in certain practises as a result (turning around).
Considering this in relation
to post-truth politics, we can think of the apparatuses in which it is most
manifest, such as the government and the media. As a citizen I am expected to
respect the will of the government, even if its power is based on ‘alternative
facts’ or false promises. As a consumer of news, I am expected to read and
engage with the media, even if it publishes blatant untruths. The only way out
of this, in Althusser’s model, is to dismantle the apparatuses themselves and
thereby totally refuse any position in relation to them.
'Leave' bus in Brexit referendum.(N.B. For a recent update on Althusser’s theory of
ideological state apparatuses, see ‘Postideological Market Apparatuses:
The Interpellations of Advertising and Unpayable Debt’ by Maria Kakogianni (2012,
currently only available in French).
Slavoj Žižek and the
‘secret’ of ideology
Fast forwarding once more, and
we reach the last stop on this tour of theories of ideology: Slavoj Žižek.
We’ve passed thinkers such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Pierre Bourdieu, and
Michel Foucault to name but a few. I can only recommend that interested readers
take the time to explore the works of these other important theorists.
While Žižek has had a bad
press recently, his theory of ideology has much to offer for understanding our
current conditions of existence. In his first English-language publication, The
Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), Žižek re-interpreted both Marx and
Althusser in a way that clears a path for the analysis of post-truth politics.
Slavoj Žižek at Occupy Wall St.Žižek
argues that Althusser’s account of ideology as interpellation ‘aim[s] at
grasping the efficiency of an ideology exclusively through the mechanisms of
imaginary and symbolic identification’. In other words, Žižek charges Althusser
with assuming that ideology completely interpellates us, and that we uncritically
accept the position that ideology designates for us.
responds by arguing that interpellation actually functions through a lack of
total identification between the individual and ideology. In other words, ideology
actually works when we don’t
fully recognise ourselves in interpellation’s call. According to Žižek, as long
as an ideology is experienced as containing something ‘senseless’ – a ‘secret’
– that we cannot totally comprehend or identify with, it will have authority
the power that post-truth politics holds lies in our belief that there is
something more to it – that it is part of an elaborate scheme of ideological
control. Once we abandon this belief we can realise the senselessness of the situation:
Trump really is an idiot (albeit one with a lot of power and money), and some
journalists do care more about clickbait than truth, and so on.
we put this together with the lessons of Marx and Althusser, we can define
ideology as: the belief that institutions hold authority due to their
possession of some secret knowledge rather than the material fact of their
owners’ and leaders’ privileged position in the hierarchy of class relations.
may be the end of this article, but it is only a beginning of the work we need
to do on ideology. We need to continue to build our comprehension of the
ideological formations that have contributed to our democracy stalling and a
politics of post-truth taking its place. It is not enough to say that people are
simply naïve, or that speaking the truth in public will resolve all our
problems. We need to look to economic structures, ideological apparatuses and
the obscene senselessness of power if we are to understand, and ultimately undermine,
Democracy and government
CC by NC 4.0
A weary Internet has checked itself in for double knee replacement surgery after another heavy week of standing up for people killed and maimed in acts of violence.
“I’ve been up and down like a bride’s nightie and my knees are clicking like a geiger counter,” said the Internet as it lay on the lounge with two heavily bandaged knees. “Not to mention how stuffed my back is from having to carry boxes of flags from the storeroom for everyone to whack over the top of their profiles. I don’t even know what the Syrian flag looks like and had to google myself to make sure I had the right one.”
“The patient made a small tear in the meniscus behind the left kneecap when it leapt up heartily in solidarity with the people of St Petersburg and further aggravated the injury when it stood again way too rapidly for Syria, Sweden, Egypt and wherever the fuck else,” said Dr Mark Welby from St Harambe’s Hospital in Zurich. “I’ve ordered it to stay off its feet and surf itself looking for funny cat videos and photos of other peoples overseas holidays until its able to stand again.”
The Internet had previously been under observation for suspected hepatitis after taking on a yellowish/orange tinge that was finally diagnosed as an after effect of displaying too many pictures of Donald Trump.
“Sorry Chad, Liechtenstein or Surinam if you happen to get caught up in something over the next couple of weeks but I won’t be able to stand with you,” said the Internet as it settled down to watch eight straight episodes of True Detective. “I suspect I’ll be needing to have these knees in tip top shape to deal with all the nutbags I’ve created.”
early 2017, a young woman's experiences of violence went viral on
Weibo. Her case demonstrates the paradox of social media in China.
Wushan June Snow’s Weibo post about her story. Source: Weibo.
the surface, 2017 looked set to be a good year for gender
equality in China. In early March, for example, Fu
Ying, spokesperson for the People's Congress
at a high-profile press conference for stronger protection of women's
acknowledged issues including gender discrimination at work and told
“It is important for people to change their mindset, and respect
women's employment rights. We need to be aware that women and
children are the future of our country.”
seemed like a significant step for the establishment, compared to
previous gestures to award honorific titles to women of extraordinary
achievements “on various fronts of socialist construction,” for
example, while neglecting the struggles and demands of ordinary
is certainly not well, however.
Weibo account “Feminist Voice” 女权之声
played a huge role in promoting women’s rights in China and has in
doing so become well-known internationally as well,
for example. But it was
censored—blocked from posting updates for a month from 21
for reporting the Women’s March in the US.
this year a young woman who shared her experiences of violence on the
Weibo social media platform was also allegedly put
under surveillance as a result.
in a rural village in the Wushan area in 1988, Ma
on Weibo that
sold by her relatives along with her sister, as a child bride. Then,
she said she was raped and beaten, and gave birth to a girl at the
age of 14.
2016 the Ministry of Civil Affairs acknowledged her forced marriage
upon her request for a divorce, but
not even investigated
involved in her abuse.
experiences went viral on Weibo, where she also recounted that there
was no proper facility or care during her labour, and a
rather than a medical knife, was used to perform a c-section. She
said she would have chosen to end her own life had her sister not
been by her side.
Ma's profile image on Weibo.Her
story prompted nationwide sympathy and outrage in China, particularly
from other women her age, including myself, who have had better luck
and are living comfortable urban lives. The absence of anything close
to sufficient institutional support or justice for Ma has further
fuelled anger over her case.
a few days after her story first emerged, she stopped updating her
Weibo account. Later, she posted to say four men seemingly sent by
the authorities to watch over her 24/7.
31 March, Ma suggested on Wechat that it was because of the timing of
her case, alongside the high-profile political Two Meetings, that
local cadres were watching her.
2 April report in the
Women's Newspaper published
by the All-China Women's Federation criticised
handling of Ma's case.
A 5 April report from the official party mouthpiece Global
references police responsibility as well, but also exposes a
relationship Ma had with another man after she ran away, in 2008,
from her abusive home.
gave birth to a girl with disability (cerebral palsy and autism) from
that relationship, and is also seeking
for her daughter to receive medical treatment.
username on Weibo, Wushan June Snow, refers to a famous tale in
classical Chinese drama written
by Guan Hanqing 關漢卿
1241–1320) during the Yuan dynasty about a young woman, Dou E 竇娥,
who was sold as a child bride and later wronged by her in-laws and
sentenced to death by beheading by the governor.
the tale is so well-known in China, Ma's username vividly
communicates the message of injustice and grievances to thousands of
Chinese netizens who were touched by her story and her courage to
case also reflects a paradox of social media in China: that despite
censorship, it remains a powerful means by which messages can be
conveyed to millions of people. Despite the existence of the almighty
“Great Firewall,” Chinese internet users are able to communicate
with people across the country and even beyond, allowing voices to be
heard and receive support from major international media, scholars,
reporters, and even world leaders.
China’s “feminist five” pulled street stunts including Blood
Brides (against domestic violence) and Occupy Men’s Toilets (to
increase the size of women’s public toilets and equalise wait times
for men and women). They also placed stickers to raise awareness of
sexual harassment on public transport, catching the eye through
of major international outlets like The Guardian and CNN, and
received a personal endorsement from Hillary Clinton.
netizens have remarked that fan groups for celebrities, commercial
online shops, and writers and public intellectuals’ Wechat
accounts, for instance, can be seen as a successful examples of civil
mobilisation and self-organisation.
the threat of state surveillance remains omnipresent and those
fighting for women's rights and civil liberties are unlikely to
forget this. Clear political demands that challenge ruling ideology
will still be censored and silenced.
few years ago on Weibo, there were a number of opinion leaders known
as ‘Big Vs’ (short for Big VIPs) who provoked public debates on
social issues. Today, none of them are still active or even visible
on the internet.
Manzi, a prominent commentator, disappeared from the online public
eye in 2013 after he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute by
Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. (Some
suspect that his real offense was sharing comments about corruption
and political reform with his more than 12 million followers on
Xuecun, a writer with almost 4 million followers, also disappeared
suddenly from the internet world in 2013.
The official party newspaper, People’s Daily, meanwhile published a
piece on how those Big Vs should spread “positive energies” on
is a popular idea among foreign policy and tech industry elites that
laptops and smartphones can function as “liberation technology”
in the hands of people challenging authoritarian regimes.
the same time, as Edmund
Fawcett writes in the New York Times,
most of us are somewhat stunned by the scale and complexity of the
forces in play, be they government surveillance, and China’s Great
Firewall, or the violent cyber-propaganda of militant Islam.
social media can be used and abused has become a pressing question
globally. It has also become a framework for examining the nature of
power in the circumstances in which powerless people operate. And in
patriarchal societies, women are often the least powerful among the
CC by NC 4.0
This post originally appeared at The Nation.
Unprecedented, misguided, counterproductive and potentially extremely harmful,” cried the Association of National Advertisers in 2016. Barack Obama’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had just prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from selling your browsing history. But the association needn’t have worried.
On April 3, Donald Trump signed a repeal of FCC privacy rules passed under Obama, following the previous week’s party-line votes in the House and Senate.
BY Timothy Karr | February 27, 2017
Trump’s new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is the telecom industry’s knight in shining armor. Over the past few weeks, as Congress prepared to repeal, he has advanced a truly peculiar argument in the repeal camp’s favor. Currently, “edge providers” that offer a particular internet-based service, like Facebook or Google, are governed by the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines, which allow them to sell information about what you do on their sites. But ISPs, because they form the backbone of the internet, are regulated as public utilities by the FCC, just like phone service is, and the FCC mandates tighter privacy protections. Pai argues that the repeal is simply making data exploitation “fair.” Or, in his own words, overturning “privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies.” Poor AT&T.
Privacy advocates note that while you might be able to avoid Facebook or even Google to protect your privacy, it’s awfully hard to avoid one of the major telecom providers in a nearly monopolized field. You have to deal with them if you want to be part of the modern world. And they have quite a holistic view of what you’re doing on the internet. Facebook might know that you’re a Jewish mother of three who went on the Women’s March and likes J.Crew. Your ISP also knows that you researched freezing your eggs on medical websites, you regularly visit HighTimes.com and that someone on your computer habitually watches pornography in private-browser mode. All this, Republicans feel, should be available for mining and selling by your ISP.
One of the most dangerous potential effects of the repeal is what Astra Taylor and Jathan Sadowski have, in these pages, called “digital redlining.” Digital redlining is when companies draw on your online information (for example, that you went to a for-profit college and come from an impoverished town) and use it to sell you harmful products, like payday loans or scam debt relief. With the quantity of information available to ISPs, this will only get worse.
One of the small consolations of this dark moment has been watching Republicans try to come up with explanations for the repeal other than Pai’s lame fairness argument, or that they sold your privacy for campaign contributions (the telecom industry contributed an average of $138,000 to each of the House Republicans, over the course of their careers, who voted for the resolution). Journalist Lee Fang has reported that telecom-funded, self-described civil-rights groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens and OCA–Asian Pacific American Advocates offered a fig leaf to Republicans by arguing that their constituents would prefer being alerted to discounts through advertising to maintaining their privacy. But it should be plain to any observer that telecom companies simply want to make money the way that edge providers do: by collecting and selling your personal information to advertisers.
Republican lawmakers have managed to pass a bill that absolutely no one but the telecom industry could love. Privacy is now a luxury item, available to the tech-savvy and those who can pay extra for it. The rest of us are now in the position of paying large companies to mine our private information. Call it surveillance, call it exploiting us twice or call it what even one Breitbart commentator did: “an attack against freedom.”
The post You Are Now Paying Internet Companies to Sell Your Browsing History to Advertisers appeared first on BillMoyers.com.