The End Of The Open Internet: Cory Doctorow's Op-Ed From The Future

from the let's-hope-it-doesn't-come-to-this dept

The NY Times is running an “Op-Eds From the Future” series, which is a creative idea. In a recent one, Cory Doctorow matched the theme perfectly by highlighting what world looks like without an open internet, when companies are forced to monitor and filter everything. The point he’s making is that, especially with changing laws in the EU and some of the proposals in the US, the liability for hosting content will become too great, and we’ll shift from an internet that is open for communmications to one that is a “broacast” world of carefully vetted and fully “licensed” content. His title makes the premise clear: I Shouldn?t Have to Publish This in The New York Times.

Ten years ago, I could have published this on my personal website, or shared it on one of the big social media platforms. But that was before the United States government decided to regulate both the social media platforms and blogging sites as if they were newspapers, making them legally responsible for the content they published.

The move was spurred on by an unholy and unlikely coalition of media companies crying copyright; national security experts wringing their hands about terrorism; and people who were dismayed that our digital public squares had become infested by fascists, harassers and cybercriminals. Bit by bit, the legal immunity of the platforms was eroded ? from the judges who put Facebook on the line for the platform?s inaction during the Provo Uprising to the lawmakers who amended section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in a bid to get Twitter to clean up its Nazi problem.

He goes through the inevitable progression of events in a world without Section 230, in which various countries enact stricter and stricter laws, and the liability burdens become increasingly too great on companies, leading them to ramp up automated filters that don’t work very well, and then nothing works right, especially if you’re discussing a serious topic:

The platforms and personal websites are fine if you want to talk about sports, relate your kids? latest escapades or shop. But if you want to write something about how the platforms and government legislation can?t tell the difference between sex trafficking and sex, nudity and pornography, terrorism investigations and terrorism itself or copyright infringement and parody, you?re out of luck. Any one of those keywords will give the filters an incurable case of machine anxiety ? but all of them together? Forget it.

And the real kicker, none of that automation solved any of the “issues” that lawmakers insisted they were solving in the first place. And the key point in all of this: in deciding that bad stuff on the internet was the fault of big internet companies, you inevitably lock in those giants:

But instead, we decided to vest the platforms with statelike duties to punish them for their domination. In doing so, we cemented that domination. Only the largest companies can afford the kinds of filters we?ve demanded of them, and that means that any would-be trustbuster who wants to break up the companies and bring them to heel first must unwind the mesh of obligations we?ve ensnared the platforms in and build new, state-based mechanisms to perform those duties.

It’s a good, fun, readable vision of the world we’re currently heading for based on EU regulations and some of the nonsense being suggested regarding Section 230 today.

The really annoying part is how little those who are pushing these regulations seem to realize what they’re doing. Everyone is so focused on Section 230 these days as if it’s the only “lever” they have to pull in regards to their complaints (some of which are totally reasonable) about the big internet companies. Very few of them bother to consider how all of this plays out — which is why it’s great that Cory is doing so. Of course, those who don’t want to recognize what will happen don’t seem to care. I’ve seen a few people dismissing the story as “fiction,” which kind of misses the point. Hilariously, they’re doing so on social media platforms enabled by the laws that these people are now trying to kill.

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 “The End Of The Open Internet: Cory Doctorow's Op-Ed From The Future”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
71 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How it happened

The uprising started when an anonymous coward made a joke, on some on-line forum or other, about a person misinterpreting some simple politeness as a sign of disrespect. This was followed by another joker remembering how they once visited a little college town where a smartly dressed person indeed was polite to them. Then a butterfly flapped its wings behind a great firewall in China.

Nobody is sure who first suggested that the original incident actually might have happened, once, in Provo if they remember right, to someone who supported one party or other, or maybe they were some minority, not quite sure. This detail also spread. Street demonstrations against disrespectful politeness began to be organized #provo. And then things got out of hand.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: The End Of The Open Internet For Most People

What’s funny about this kind of comment is arrogant twats not realising how much this stuff will affect you. Not, you’re not invisible because your childish mind came across a services that most other people stopped using 20 years ago, usually for good reason. and you’re not better than them because you upgraded from AOL like the rest of us did after puberty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The End Of The Open Internet For Most People

USENET is a protocol, and in theory, USENET could continue by people standing up their own servers. Also not, USENET will work over intermittent or dial up connections, and could be supported by the same technology that allow bit-torrent hosts to find each other.

However, third party liability would discourage its use, as it puts any node in the network at risk of legal action about content they did not create or even know about.

alternatives() says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The End Of The Open Internet For Most People

Considering I ran B and C news I’ve got an understanding of what USENET is. UUCP used to transfer USENET data was a protocol. The network news transport protocol (NNTP) is a protocol.

USENET is not a protocol. Unless you can show otherwise.

And at the theoretical point in time where 3rd party republishing is a legal risk, one can also posit SELLING someone access to material which is offending will ALSO be a crime.

Chris Terry Cull says:

OKAY. How did world EVER work with print media?

Sheesh. This sheer assertion that teh internets can’t work without Section 230 just exposes Doctorow as a silly corporatist hack.

I’ve tried reading one of his "free" books, too. Childish, inept propaganda. Believed and touted only by masnicks.

The fact that he DOES get a piece in the "paper of record", The Establishment New York Times, shows that he’s one of Them.

Chris Terry Cull says:

Re: Re: OKAY. How did world EVER work with print media?

Since 230 isn’t about protecting corporations – sounds more like you are a spokehack for Media Rightsholders.

Sheesh! outright silly contradiction.

Section 230 IMMUNIZES corporations and supposedly confers POWER to arbitrarily control all speech!

And I’M the corporatist, eh?

You’re just putting up text to confuse.

Anyone new should look over "Gary’s" account. First two years were only a dozen comments, since exploded to over 1300!

"Gary" is astro-turfing by Timothy Geigner, aka "Dark Helmet". Both in IT, know lawyers, bombastic, and TOTAL supporters of TD.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Oh fuck it's him

Oh jeeze it was Blue Balls and he’s on a tear.

1) You can’t just "Break Up" the corporations you don’t like without an actual reason. You know – a fucking law. So stuff it.
2) You are a corporatist – you LOVE copyright, the tool that gives corporations the right to censor you. Enjoy.
3) You STILL can’t show us your Fre Peach website, or any other website that exists without moderation. Until then – stuff it.
4) Still not Tim. Take your meds.

Chris Terry Cull says:

Re: OKAY. How did world EVER work with print media?

Only the largest companies can afford the kinds of filters we’ve demanded of them, and that means that any would-be trustbuster who wants to break up the companies and bring them to heel first must unwind the mesh of obligations we’ve ensnared the platforms in and build new, state-based mechanisms to perform those duties.

That’s a ball of propaganda. First is the assertion that corporations are doing the work of gov’t, which is NOT true if mean serving The Public’s interest. Corporations are empowered by Section 230 with IMMUNITY and (according to Masnick) arbitrary absolute control over all speech.

Then he tries to claim that nothing can be done without causing greater harm. As Masnick often claims. Simply false assertiion.

Letting corporations have arbitrary absolute rule is the problem right now.

That ball of Big Lie propaganda is easily unwound by SIMPLY BREAKING UP THE GIANTS, which automatically gives smaller companies a chance too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: OKAY. How did world EVER work with print media?

Corporations are empowered by Section 230 with IMMUNITY and (according to Masnick) arbitrary absolute control over all speech.

So tell me, how is it that facebook and twitter can control the drivel you spew here on a regular basis? Since, you know, they have absolute control over all speech… as you like to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: OKAY. How did world EVER work with print media?

Letting corporations have arbitrary absolute rule is the problem right now.

That is some properly stupid other-wording. The law immunizes platforms from liability for the content that other people post thereon leaving the liability where it belongs, with the original poster. It also recognizes that those platforms can do whatever the hell they like with all of that content but encourages them to moderate it.

Your talking points are bullshit. Thanks for playing. Please don’t bother to try again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

First is the assertion that corporations are doing the work of gov’t

Uh, where is that assertion again? Not seeing it here. And exactly what is the "work of government" you are prattling on about?

Corporations are empowered by Section 230 with IMMUNITY and (according to Masnick) arbitrary absolute control over all speech.

On their platforms. Nobody ever said it extended outside their own platforms. Stop putting words in people’s mouths just so you can pretend to have an argument.

Then he tries to claim that nothing can be done without causing greater harm. As Masnick often claims. Simply false assertiion.

Really, why? "Because!" Oh yes, very convincing.

Letting corporations have arbitrary absolute rule is the problem right now.

Over what exactly? The only things I see them having control over are their own platforms and software, which is as it should be.

That ball of Big Lie propaganda is easily unwound by SIMPLY BREAKING UP THE GIANTS

How do you propose to do that "Einstein"? How do you break up Google Search? How do you break up core Facebook? How do you break up the Amazon Marketplace? Hm?

which automatically gives smaller companies a chance too.

Nothing is preventing smaller companies from starting up and competing with the big ones, and there are in fact many. In the search engine space alone there are dozens of competitors and you are free to not use Google’s search engine if you really want to.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Uh, where is that assertion again? Not seeing it here. And exactly what is the "work of government" you are prattling on about?"

I’d assume he means that corporation is a legal construct and law is from the government.

"On their platforms. Nobody ever said it extended outside their own platforms."

It doesn’t. The problem is that the platforms that accepts his type are far less popular than the ones that block his ass. He doesn’t want free speech, he wants guaranteed listeners.

"Nothing is preventing smaller companies from starting up and competing with the big ones"

The problem is that the kind of knuckle-draggers who get banned from popular sites have neither the wit nor the drive to crate their own platform. They’d rather whine about how the man is keeping Nazis down.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, look at when patreon banning sargon. The reason they gave is the whole sargon’s brand, that is, what he do on other platform, in that case, on youtube. Yeah, "but my private platform".

Then when these companies argues in court that they are both platform and publisher according to convenience. Choose one, not both. As a platform, protected by cda, as publisher, not protected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

No and maybe, maybe not? Depends on what you mean by "legal advice". But neither I nor anyone else has to be a lawyer to understand that the law does not define a "platform", nor do they have to "choose" to be one or the other. Multiple laws and court cases have made this explicitly clear.

I guess if you want to get REALLY technical, there is no such thing as a platform, so my statement isn’t entirely accurate since it’s hard to distinguish something that doesn’t even exist. It isn’t defined and doesn’t exist in any law.

However "providers" or "content providers" do show up in various laws, including Section 230, and websites are essentially defined as such. And since websites (including social media sites) are defined as providers, Section 230 says that providers are NOT liable for content posted to their site by a user. This is not only established law but common sense. You don’t blame an innocent party for something they didn’t do.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

As a platform, protected by cda, as publisher, not protected.

Incorrect. Please educate yourself: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20190613/03172142391/once-more-with-feeling-there-is-no-legal-distinction-between-platform-publisher.shtml

CDA 230 does not provide protections for "platforms" or "publishers." It doesn’t use those terms. The term used is "Interactive computer service." This applies to any entity on the web that allows for people other than itself to post content to it. Platform, publisher, blog, whatever the term you use for it, CDA 230 applies.

And, summarized, all it says is that if the ICS lets Joe Schmoe (or Anonymous Coward) post on it, the ICS will not be treated as the publisher of that content, and will not be liable in any way for that content, even if they take the editorial action of taking that content down.

Patreon is not liable for Sargon’s content. Neither is Patreon obligated to host Sargon’s content. Since what Sargon used Patreon for was to fund his Youtube stuff, it’s entirely valid for Patreon to say "no, we don’t want support for that on our platform" and shut that down.

Notably, Patreon didn’t do anything to the already existing content on Youtube, which is entirely correct, because Patreon has no control of that. It can only determine that it won’t provide Sargon its services anymore because of how those services are being used.

Note that the same protections and rights are extended to Sargon himself. If he created his own system, he would similarly not be liable for anything you posted on his system, nor anything someone who hated him posted on his system, and he would have exactly the same right to kick people off.

CDA 230’s protections are agnostic to your viewpoint. It only immunizes you from what other people do on your system. If you posted it, then it no longer protects you.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"The reason they gave is the whole sargon’s brand, that is, what he do on other platform"

Yes, what a person does can negatively affect things in places other than the place you did the first thing. You can be fired for something you did away from work. You can be barred from a different store to the one you shoplifted, or a different bar from the one you got kicked out of. If you abuse the staff at one company, others won’t necessarily let you in the door. Get a bad reputation in some businesses, and others don’t need to wait for you to cause them problems before they also kick you out.

I know the adult world is hard and confusing, but none of this is new.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: OKAY. How did world EVER work with print media?

How did it work? People weren’t trying to hold them directly accountable for what they wrote on the paper after it was published. Maybe you should stop trying that with websites.

"I’ve tried reading one of his "free" books, too"

Yes, I know it was too complicated for you, but at least you tried and you admit that someone can make a living while allowing free content to exist.

Do you have any of your own work to share, or are you just an angry idiot attacking people more successful than you?

tp (profile) says:

We're already living the horror

While the article is supposedly located in the future, it misses important point that this future is already happening:
1) web browsers are implementing copyright-limitations
2) twitter & facebook are implementing filtering of terrorist propaganda
3) russian trolls are spamming the internet with their own manifesto
4) tech companies are subscribing to the RIAA/MPAA rules, not because they want to do it, but because they have no other alternative under current laws

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"But there are no public platforms"

There aren’t?

"With no public places the large private spaces where the bulk of the public go become the public space."

No, you don’t get to co-opt someone’s private property because it’s a popular place for people to go. That doesn’t work in the physical world and doesn’t work here.

Sok Puppette (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

> "But there are no public platforms"
There aren’t?

Well, no, not according to what you say in the next paragraph. They’re all private property.

No, you don’t get to co-opt someone’s private property because it’s a popular place for people to go. That doesn’t work in the physical world and doesn’t work here.

First, you’re shifting the frame. The grandparent just means that the "large private spaces" are assuming all the functions of the old public spaces. There’s nothing in that post about what to do about it.

But I am prepared to go there.

Why shouldn’t we co-opt it? Private property is just a social convention. If it ceases to be of value, it can be limited or modified as necessary. In fact, it always has been limited.

In the "physical world", you have never, ever been allowed to do just anything you wanted with or on your property. Never. Not in any human society since villages popped up, and probably not before that.

There have always been taxes, land use restrictions, zoning, obligations to provide specific facilities if you provided other facilities, adverse easements, nuisance rules, etc, etc, etc. The denser the population has been, the more such restrictions there have been.

Do not pretend that private property is or should be absolute in the "physical world".

As for when you might want to limit virtual private property, one example might be when a space in which we’d previously recognized a very broad right of private control began to assume the functions of a public space…

alternatives() says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

And thank you for noting the frame shift and putting forth the idea that perhaps as a data-ologoply member you lose "rights" because of your importance in the market.

If I call PaulIT some kind of false bad-thing s/he has more rights because PaulIT is not known to be an elected official or a "public figure" of some type. If PaulIT seeks to have a "public figure" status then some "rights" are "lost" VS being just this guy/gal. Same with if PaulIT is a person VS PaulIT being PaulIT Inc entering into contracts. The corporation has FAR less ability to say "I didn’t know" vs the person. Your size and status effects your rights.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Well, no, not according to what you say in the next paragraph. They’re all private property."

All non-public spaces are private property, yes. The mall being popular does not make it public property, even if you get to reach more people there than you do at home.

"Why shouldn’t we co-opt it?"

Because you have no right to it.

"In the "physical world", you have never, ever been allowed to do just anything you wanted with or on your property."

Yes, same applies online. Twitter can’t kick you out for being black. They can kick you out for being a white supremacist. Same as offline.

"Do not pretend that private property is or should be absolute in the "physical world"."

I won’t, although I’d check whatever you’re taking to have made you think I was to begin with.

alternatives() says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually private property can be co-opted for public use. The railroad companies which bought the most feasible land crossings ended up having to share with their competitors. Public access cable channels. Places where the fiber has to be shared with public co-ops.

So yea, private things can be forced public in the physical world. It just hasn’t happened in the caselaw of the US of A yet where a "private" common electronic space has been deemed public.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Don't open that can, you will not like what comes out

The railroad companies which bought the most feasible land crossings ended up having to share with their competitors. Public access cable channels. Places where the fiber has to be shared with public co-ops.

All three of which involve a limited resource(either space or frequency), where one could argue that there’s a public benefit to ensuring ‘public’ access, as it would very quickly become a hefty mess(assuming there even was space) to have multiple companies setting up railways or fiber lines. The same limitations do not really apply when it comes to digital platforms or services and as such the same argument doesn’t really work.

It just hasn’t happened in the caselaw of the US of A yet where a "private" common electronic space has been deemed public.

Besides the reason listed above perhaps because people realize that doing so would open up a massive can of worms. If private property can be forced public simply because a lot of people use it then exactly where do you draw the line, not to mention good luck getting anyone else to set up shop in the same industry if they know that if they’re successful enough they’ll lose ownership rights.

Congrats, Facebook, thanks to massive popularity, is now classified as a public space!

Not so congrats, it’s now overflowing with spam and abhorrent(yet perfectly legal) people and posts! Hope you like nazi, racists, sexists, and various other brands of losers, you’re going to be seeing a lot of them.

Also not so congrats, after seeing what happened with Facebook any potential competitors who might have replaced it and provide a platform not overflowing with filth either changed their minds entirely or set up hard limits on how many users they will accept so they don’t go over the limit and lose ownership!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Don't open that can, you will not like what comes out

"Hope you like nazi, racists, sexists, and various other brands of losers, you’re going to be seeing a lot of them."

I’m fairly sure that the people who make this kind of argument already do, or at least did and are angry that half the people they follow have been banned, but are too dumb to understand why.

alternatives() says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Don't open that can, you will not like what comes out

1) Why worry about a massive can of worms? Just shine a light at he top and the worms at the top will attempt to go down out of the light pushing worm-brothers and sisters to the top until the whole can dies from the caloric consumption and cell damage from the light. A can of cockroaches or mosquitoes is more problematic.

As for The FaceBook (or others) being claimed to be a public space and all of its problems there is another choice. Use the power of Government TO set up a public space. I’m guessing if the choice is regulation of the private space VS funding a public space a large slice of the techbros would back the creation of the public space.

Toss in elected officials have to rotate into the job of content moderation, attribution, and geo-fencing as part of their duty to the public and the people who enjoy posting popcorn eating GIFs would back such a plan.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Don't open that can, you will not like what comes out

Why worry about a massive can of worms? Just shine a light at he top and the worms at the top will attempt to go down out of the light pushing worm-brothers and sisters to the top until the whole can dies from the caloric consumption and cell damage from the light. A can of cockroaches or mosquitoes is more problematic.

That’s… not quite what the saying means. ‘Opening a can of worms’ is another way of saying ‘creating a bunch of problems’, in this case ‘creating a precedent that private property can be taken by the government simply because it gets popular enough’.

As for The FaceBook (or others) being claimed to be a public space and all of its problems there is another choice. Use the power of Government TO set up a public space. I’m guessing if the choice is regulation of the private space VS funding a public space a large slice of the techbros would back the creation of the public space.

So long as the government is the one footing the bill have at it, but ‘fund our platform or we regulate yours’ is veering into extortion territory.

Toss in elected officials have to rotate into the job of content moderation, attribution, and geo-fencing as part of their duty to the public and the people who enjoy posting popcorn eating GIFs would back such a plan.

After a few rounds of ‘elections’ I can all but guarantee you that no-one would be willing run for the ‘office’ of moderator unless it came with some amazing perks(great pay and free psychological treatment during and after the job would be the the minimum), as the disgusting content that the job involves would make working at a sewage treatment plant with open containers seem downright nice in comparison.

A government run platform, and thereby one bound by the first amendment, would provide an alternative for people that don’t like the current ones, however as I and others have noted in the past it would also very quickly be turned into the internet’s Mos Eisley, as those that have been kicked off of the other platforms would swiftly overrun it such that no-one who wasn’t a deplorable person would want to go there.

Now, this is not to say that it shouldn’t be done, I’d actually be in favor of such a platform, as while it would be a waste of taxes it would also very clearly demonstrate what a platform without the ability to choose who is and is not allowed to use it and is only allowed to revoke access to those that break the law would look like, and ‘not pleasant’ would be a massive understatement.

alternatives() says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Don't open that can, you will not like what comes ou

A can of worms is not an actual problem as noted. The saying is a poor one considering you can put far more problematic things in a can to open.

"So long as the government is the one footing the bill have at it, but ‘fund our platform or we regulate yours’ is veering into extortion territory."

Extortion is what Governments do. What’s the difference if it is a tax everyone pays or only certain businesses?

And how is that any different than the mantras about self regulation – either fix this yourself or the Government will?

The group of people complaining about "1st amendment" "[tech] censorship" have a strong overlap with "waste of taxpayer money" so they are not going to support it. But give ’em something to talk about VS going over the list of failed "free speech" "alternative" sites.

(BTW is there a list out there? Like deadcoins.com ‘cept for "free speech" sites like seen.me or whatever.)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Actually private property can be co-opted for public use."

It can be under certain circumstances, but the reasoning has to be there. Taking land to create public transportation that will benefit millions is sound reasoning. Taking Twitter because lots of people use it and white supremacists can’t create an equally popular platform is not.

Sok Puppette says:

P2P, Baby

Also, decentralized annotation, Baby.

We don’t need no stinkin’ platforms. We don’t need no stinkin’ comment sections.

Free your mind, and your speech will follow.

All we need is agreed protocols. People are working on candidates. People have built candidates for decades. They keep getting squashed by the "platforms", because free can’t compete with advertising-subsidized. They mostly can’t afford to finish their core code, let alone polish their UX.

So none of them are there yet. They all have holes. Some of them are dormant or dead. Some are struggling. But if the "platforms" die and the demand rises, these things can be done. What the space needs most is attention and energy.

A few links and keywords for y’all, to see the embryos of The Future(TM).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: P2P, Baby

None of that gets round the problem of a world when third parties can be held liable for content, as without that protection you can be held liable for anything found on your computers, especially of there is evidence of you participating in the distribution of third party content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: P2P, Baby

It’s too expensive to go after users on a retail basis like that. More likely they’d just outlaw using those things at all, which would be relatively easy to enforce, and thereby force everybody onto centralized services.

However, to enforce anything against you, they have to find you first.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

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...
Loading...