Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Consent of the Networked Review

After a long wait brought about by coursework texts, I finally finished Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon yesterday (and recommended it to others). MacKinnon opened my eyes to many of the issues surrounding the internet and the numerous organizations trying to keep the net free for everyone. Many issues were raised by MacKinnon questioning the very current debate over identity-verification vs. anonymity, who controls the internet, and how can the internet be strengthened to ensure everyone, regardless of location or what governmental regime one may live under, has a right to a secure and safe internet. After reading this book I have a better grasp on the issues surrounding the internet, many of which complement the Human Flesh Search Engine debates over anonymity and the Chinese government's right (or non-right) to censor political discussion online.

A theme that ran throughout MacKinnon's book was the hypocrisy among western governments and companies between having a free internet while working to build and sell the digital shackles overseas. The book opens citing Apple's 1984 advertisement which claimed that the introduction of the Macintosh computer would not be like Orwell's 1984 - as Apple repeated again when it updated the advert in 2004 featuring it's iPod product (p. 3). However, in China Apple consents to the Chinese government's demand and it's app store censors its apps related to the Dali Lama and Uighur exiles. MacKinnon harks back to Apple's visionary 1984 ad by saying "fifteen years later, Apple seems quite willing to accommodate Big Brother's demands for the sake of market access" (p. 115).

Furthermore, while the US State Department works to fuel research and pumps funding into technologies to enable internet access around government "kill switches" and mobile blackouts during times of political unrest overseas, MacKinnon points out throughout the book that many US-based companies provide the technologies that countries such as Iran and China utilize to fuel their censors and firewalls. MacKinnon also notes protesters in countries who were met with tear gas only to later find "made in the US" labels on the empty canisters (p. 195).

One of the issues discussed deeply throughout the book was one's right to free speech and open access to one's content on the internet (p. 128). Should service providers or governments have the right and ability to remove content? While MacKinnon argued that the right should not be held by the companies or governments that at present hold control over the internet domain, as this greatly impacts social groups and activists working to enact change especially in repressive regimes. I disagree - I believe that certain websites and mobile apps should be taken down when they target specific groups or harm society at large. Recall a recent controversy in which an app was released (perhaps last summer?) titled along the lines of "how to tell if your son is gay." The app was deemed terribly offensive and taken offline. This also brings up the issue of kids who use these apps or view web content and cannot form their own opinions on what they view. Regardless of age warnings or restrictions, children view and are aware of this content.

Furthermore, while I agree that everyone should have the right to free speech on the internet, at present the boundaries of free speech, at least in America, are being pushed on a daily basis. In my opinion, freedom of speech in America has turned our nation into a land of slinging insults and legal bigotry, a political election environment that runs on finger pointing, and produced a media base that values nothing. Therefore I question is the internet should be the open space that we should be aspiring to make it. If that comes about, any Joe Schmo can post hate speech and hurt our social ideals while hiding behind the First Amendment.

Regardless, the internet is becoming globalized and as MacKinnon made evident, how can we make changes to the internet that appease everyone (and all governments/institutions too for that matter) (p. 146). Facebook, she writes, is working to break down barriers among people and Zuckerberg believes that one should know all the little details about the people surrounding them in their life. His aim is to make Facebook profile information and contacts less private. However MacKinnon notes that websites such as Google Plus and Facebook have changed their terms of service only to be met with extreme outrage from people across the globe who are affected by this demolition of privacy. A large rift is building between first world citizens who stalk co-workers and classmates on Facebook, from political activists using Facebook and Twitter to stage protests and call for change who need anonymity to remain out of the clutches of the regimes they aim to change. Therefore, Facebook's beliefs fuel how it can be used by others, but due to its choke-hold as being the foremost social media website, it is a much needed tool across the globe (p. 152).

And to tie this book back to the contents of this blog, MacKinnon alludes back to the Anti-CNN blog of 2008 in China and how Chinese netizens can actually work in favor of the Communist Party. As seen with the Human Flesh Search Engine, Chinese patriotism and nationalism can fuel participation on the internet and it becomes evident that their work is actually strengthening the Communist Party's rule. As pointed out in my research, with many injustices facing the Chinese people such as restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and rampant attacks on the environment by government-run corporations, netizens seek instead to oust low-level officials and seemingly anonymous individuals who they feel "embarrass" China. Why not bring the attack to Big Brother?

All in all, MacKinnon's book was what I'd hoped it to be: informative in documenting the various efforts to keep the internet open and the implications of having government control content online in this environment of internet empowerment and the translation of internet activism to the streets.

No comments:

Post a Comment