Tech Policy In Times Of Trouble

from the pep-talk dept

A colleague was lamenting recently that working on tech policy these days feels a lot like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. What does something as arcane as copyright law have to do with anything when governments are giving way to fascists, people are being killed because of their race or ethnicity, and children are being wrested from their parents and kept in cages?

Well, a lot. It has to do with why we got involved in these policy debates in the first place. If we want these bad things to stop we can’t afford for there to be obstacles preventing us from exchanging the ideas and innovating the solutions needed to make them stop. The more trouble we find ourselves mired in the more we need to be able to think our way out.

Tech policy directly bears on that ability, which is why we work on it, even on aspects as seemingly irrelevant to the state of humanity as copyright. Because they aren’t irrelevant. Copyright, for instance, has become a barrier to innovation as well as a vehicle for outright censorship. These are exactly the sorts of chilling effects we need to guard against if we are going to be able to overcome these challenges to our democracy. The worse things are, the more important it is to have the unfettered freedom to do something about it.

It is also why we spend so much energy arguing with others similarly trying to defend democracy when they attempt to do so by blaming technology for society’s ills and call for it to be less freely available. While it is of course true that not all technology use yields positive results, there are incalculable benefits that it does bring ? benefits that are all too easy to take for granted but would be dearly missed if they were gone. Technology helps give us the power to push back against the forces that would hurt us, enabling us to speak out and organize against them. Think, for instance, about all the marches that have been marched around the world, newly-elected officials who’ve used new media to reach out to their constituencies, and volunteer efforts organized online to push back against some of the worst the world faces. If we too readily dull these critical weapons against tyranny we will soon find ourselves defenseless against it.

Of course, none of this is to say that we should fiddle while Rome burns. When important pillars of our society are under attack we can’t pretend everything is business as usual. We have to step up to face these challenges however is needed. But the challenges of today don’t require us to abandon the areas where we’ve previously spent so much time working. First, dire though things may look right now, we have not yet forsaken our constitutional order and descended into the primordial ooze of lawlessness. True, the press is under constant attack, disenfranchisement is rife, and law enforcement is strained by unprecedented tensions, but civil institutions like courts and legislatures and the media continue to function, albeit sometimes imperfectly and under severe pressure. But we strengthen these institutions when we hew to the norms that have enabled them to support our society thus far. That some in power may have chosen to abandon and subordinate these norms is no reason that the rest of us should do the same. Rather, it’s a reason why we should continue to hold fast to them, to insulate them and buttress them against further attack.

Second, we are all capable of playing multiple roles. And the role we’ve played as tech policy advocates is no less important now than it was before. Our expertise on these issues is still valuable and needed ? perhaps now more than ever. In times of trouble, when fear and confusion reign, the causes we care about are particularly vulnerable to damage, even by the well-meaning. The principles we have fought to protect in better days are the same principles we need to light the way through the dark ones. It is no time to give up that fight.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Tech Policy In Times Of Trouble”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Thank you Cathy, you’ve nailed it precisely, which is why we must strongly fight back against the censorship being handed down against others for nothing more than sharing their opinions. They call it “deplatforming” but it is clearly an attempt to chill debate and stifle innovation, and it represents an outright attack on the marketplace of ideas. One thing is certain: the fact that Gab and Alex Jones and Stormfront have been unfairly ousted from their webhosts, it can only be seen as the forces of Political Correctness admitting they cannot win without underhanded tactics.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We can argue about the deplatforming of Gab and Stormfront from their hosting providers and how that legitimately threatens free speech, and I welcome that discussion. But last time I checked, InfoWars was still alive and well. Jones got deplatformed from other people’s platforms, which he does not have a legal right to use.

Being able to use Twitter, Facebook, and other such sites is a privilege. Jones had his privileges revoked for breaking the rules.

Also: The “marketplace of ideas” argument, and your attempt to put Jones, Stormfront, etc. in that “marketplace”, implies that unabashed racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism (among other forms of hatred and bigotry) deserve legitimacy by way of having a spot in the “marketplace”. Arguing about the minimum wage is one thing; arguing that we should put Black Americans back in chains or that “Hitler was right” puts you in an entirely different neighborhood of discussion. I acknowledge the freedom of those assholes to spew that bile, but I also acknowledge how no one has an obligation to host it on their platform.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

it represents an outright attack on the marketplace of ideas.

No, Mr. Coward, it is the marketplace of ideas. The market made its decision.

That’s the thing about markets. Sometimes they produce results we don’t like. Sometimes Firefly gets canceled. And sometimes some asshole gets kicked off Twitter.

I liked Firefly, and I didn’t think it should have been canceled. You liked some asshole, and didn’t think he should have been kicked off Twitter. Welp, the market didn’t agree with us. That’s life. No sense whining about it.

the fact that Gab and Alex Jones and Stormfront have been unfairly ousted from their webhosts

That’s not how facts work, Mr. Coward.

That Gab and Alex Jones and Stormfront have been ousted from their webhosts is a fact.

That it’s waaaaaah, so unfair, waaaaaaaah is an opinion.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: De-Platform

I dare anyone in the history of the internet to point to a website with user content that could EXIST without some sort of terms of service/usage.

You can’t just say it’s wrong to kick anyone off unless you are willing to show me your website that doesn’t allow any moderation.

Every site needs to moderate – it’s only a question of how much.

Y the Known says:

Re: Re: Re: De-Platform

I dare anyone in the history of the internet to point to a website with user content that could EXIST without some sort of terms of service/usage.

What’s that got to do with the de facto corporatized control? You’re evidently another "free speech" advocate who cheers when corporations enforce their own ideology. — But CDA Section 230 was to allow The Public to publish easily and without interference, certainly never intended to empower corporations to be censors.

On other hand, corporations ARE to enforce common law terms. That’s what is stated in CDA. Outside of common law (US, since by evidence ou’re a British serf) they should remove content: within must allow. Period. By US Supreme Court standards. Not to pick and choose according to SJW pinions.

Corporations care nothing even if you’re politically correct: are just biding time until have total arbitrary control. Read "1984", the goal is already stated.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 De-Platform

1) Do don’t understand CDA 230.
2) Clearly don’t understand Common Law.
3) I was making a relevant comment about moderation – which you disagree with but can’t cite a single argument against by showing an unmoderated website. (That isn’t a complete shithole – and even 4chan moderates.) (‘Muh – buh common law’ is meaningless redirection.)
4) You broadly confuse people who try to point out the actual law with people against your religious dogma.

I have cited the textbook definition of common law well over 20 times – and have yet to see a rebuttal. In what was does the actual, textbook definition apply to your manta?

Section 230 clearly says that they MAY moderate – it was based on a key case where a website was slapped down for moderating. Thus, they are allowed to moderate per CDA 230.

I don’t care what your opinion is on Corporations – your postings are based on fiction and fantasy.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 De-Platform

But CDA Section 230 was to allow The Public to publish easily and without interference, certainly never intended to empower corporations to be censors.

Um. The entire CDA was passed explicitly to make corporations to be censors. Like, that was the entire original point of the law. So to claim that Section 230 was never intended to enable that is flat out ignorant of the history of the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

herd mentality

I have a hard time taking seriously the ideas of any writer who starts out an article by rattling off, point by point, all the current Democratic party talking points, appearing like some brainwashed idiot who has not a single idea in her head that’s outside the official orthodoxy of the cult she has aligned herself with, in this case the Democratic party and the left-wing press attached to it. (yes, the brainwashed Republican ‘Kool-Aid drinkers’ are just as bad, but it seems none infect Techdirt)

At least Mike Masnick tries to present himself as a non-aligned independent thinker, and to a degree, he actually is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In honor of your erudite response, an ode to the sheeple

You look like a real human being
But you don’t have a mind of your own
Yeah, you can talk, you can breathe
You can work, you can stitch, you can sew
But you’re brainwashed
Yes you are, yes you are
Get down on your knees
You’ve got a job and a house
And a wife, and your kids and a car
Yeah, you’re conditioned to think
What they want you to think
And be happy to be where you are
Yes you are
Get down on your knees
Get down on your knees

The aristocrats and bureaucrats
Are dirty rats
For making you what you are
They’re up there and you re down here
You’re on the ground and they’re up with the stars
All your life they’ve kicked you around and pushed you around
Till you can’t take any more
To them you’re just a speck of dirt
But you don’t want to get up off the floor
Mister you’re just brainwashed
They give you social security
Tax saving benefits that grow at maturity
Yeah, you’re content just to be
What they want you to be
And to do what they want you to
Yes you are, yes you are
Get down on your knees

(Next time, engage the topic, don’t just spout something off about the artist being brainwashed blah blah)

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: herd mentality

I have a hard time taking seriously the ideas of any writer who starts out an article by rattling off, point by point, all the current Democratic party talking points

Since when did accurately describing factual events become “rattling off Democrat talking points”? I mean, think about the wording there…

ECA (profile) says:

To understand:

Government, go watch C-span..REALLY..
A live broadcast of 1 small part of our gov.
IT IS Sooo BORING.. you would record it to help you sleep at night..
The reAL THING happening tends to be AWAY from this building..
And for some strange reason, once they get into Office, they make it hard to get info on whats happening up there, hard to Watch our Own reps.. and everything we see is BORING as hell in winter..( i like a good sun tan)

there is so much that is happening in this building that you dont see and dont know about that you would be amazed.. Its like watching the olympics and GOING TO the olympics…2 DIFFERENT THINGS and lots of changes..

With the internet, we do have a chance at FORCING them to do things..IF we can monitor them MORE often then we have in the past…

Y the Known says:

Whew! Hide under the bed! DOOM IS AT HAND!

This is low-quality generic doom porn.

I’ll just take apart one link-heavy sentence (refer to above if needed):

True, the press

Jim Acosta is a loudmouth from one MINOR "news" org who aggressively tried to bait Trump for not the first time but of dozens, refused to give up. — And now he can be barred for breaking The Rules that he caused to be written, so HA on him and you.

is under constant attack,

The press IS the enemy of the American people. Non-stop DOOM, pro-immigration, pro-corporate, pro-drugs, pro-Deep-State, flat-out lying about "Trump-Russia collusion", almost never mention Israel except favorably despite murdering hundreds of protesters recently.

disenfranchisement is rife,

Stacey Abrams LOST THE ELECTION. But to you commie-libs that possibility just cannot be: you’re supposed to always win.

and law enforcement is strained

Whitakers is demonized because not a Deep State puppet like Sessions, who should have reined in Mueller after a year with exactly zero found on his assignment of "Trump-Russia collusion". Mueller is now just raking over details to trap in "perjury".

by unprecedented tensions,

Again, simple refusal to admit that Comey could even possibly have favored Hillary to win and illegally decided to let her off with no investigation; flat-out ignoring that FBI went to FISA court with faked-up politically paid-for dossier — and omitted facts to that court. Comey belongs in jail.

Y the Known says:

Whew! Quite a burst of censoring in last ten minutes!

Good ol’ “free speech” Techdirt. (Can’t embiggen those quotes proportionate to the fully deserved sarcasm.)

Your notion of “free speech” is to censor what you don’t like. EXACTLY as every other censor throughout history.

You can change cosmetics, Techdirt, but won’t affect the cancer of censorship that you’ve willingly embraced. No one reasonable comments here.

Anonymous Coward says:

What does something as arcane as copyright law have to do with anything

Copyright law has been linked to everything from terrorism to gay marriage to whether anyone would buy anything from supermarkets.

Copyright fanatics get their grubby fingers into anything and everything. And ruin whatever they touch to boot.

It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...