Policing the internet is necessary, but which entity shall we entrust with doing that work?
Governments fear a decentralized internet, but individuals should be alarmed about the centralization that has been firming up, “dominated by the corporate imperatives of advertising and data mining.” So writes Kaye (Law/Univ. of California, Irvine), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, in this lucid exploration of the internet, which has become the domain of media and commercial monopolies instead of the earlier one in which numerous individual bloggers and publications were influential. Owned by Google, YouTube, for instance, has no incentive to clean up posts that fuel discord and hatred. Nor does Facebook: “There is no denying that they make a lot of money from a model that serves up video after video, or post after post, that takes one further and further away from verifiable information and toward the clickbait world of disinformation that intends to meaningfully deceive an audience." Instead, it is in the corporate interest to hide behind claims of free speech that until recently sheltered the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones. Entities such as the European Union and the U.N. are now pressing companies to police such speech under penalty of heavy fines, with legitimate information at risk of being cast away along with hate speech. Kaye proposes the application of human rights law to address some of these concerns, and he advocates better transparency and accountability as well as civilian oversight and democratic governance, since “whoever is in charge will have massive power over the future of civic space and freedom of expression worldwide.” Usefully, the author draws on examples from around the world, especially places where access to information is a literal matter of life and death, such as Syria and Myanmar. While corporate dominance is an undeniable threat to free speech for its own sake, he also observes, provocatively, that “fighting disinformation begins with governments telling the truth.”
An essential contribution to the discussion of free speech and its online enemies.