TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

Posted in Rants on September 21st, 2011 by Ed

Several times in the past I have talked about the problems I have with the novel 1984 and its place in American education and culture. It is by no means a bad piece of required reading for high school students, but I believe it reflects the ways in which Americans are afraid of the wrong things in politics and society. It depicts the straw man enemy against which most Liberty loving Americans think they must do battle: the all-powerful, oppressive government controlling the flow of information with monopoly power and armies of jackbooted thugs. For my money, Brave New World did a far superior job of predicting the problems we would face in the future. Important information is available, but it is drowned out in a cacophony of nonsense. And we're all too busy entertaining ourselves with meaningless diversions to bother looking for the truth. But I digress.

The point is that Americans are thoroughly paranoid about government and specifically its attempts to influence the flow of information. Hell, the founders wrote the press into the Constitution specifically to guarantee that The Government could not maintain a monopoly on information. Unfortunately, people concerned about the freedom of ideas and information today are vigilant against the wrong enemy. While they keep a wary eye on government's alleged desire to become Big Brother, the actual threats to the free exchange of information are running wild in the private sector.

Several internet outlets have reported that Yahoo! appears to have censored emails about the "Occupy Wall Street" protests in New York City. While emails to groups such as Tea Party Patriots could be sent without issue, emails containing the name of the Wall Street group were blocked for "suspicious activity." It is fair to note that there could (at least plausibly) be a benign explanation. A sudden surge of outgoing emails with a specific phrase could trigger some kind of spam blocker. However, the protest hardly seems large enough to have generated the high volume of emails presumably required to raise that red flag. Yahoo's mea culpa announcement relied on a vague spam filter-related explanation, which in their phrasing sounded only slightly more believable than the BTN's explanation that Old Bailey collapsed due to a premature but planned demolition in V for Vendetta.

An objective analysis of our current information/media environment would conclude that there's absolutely no reason for Big Government to censor us; the private sector, to which the airwaves and cables have been handed over in their entirety, is doing a perfectly fine job of that on its own. When we're oppressed by governments there is at least recourse in theory if not in practice. When the eventual abandonment of things like postal mail, books, and printed documents leaves us entirely at the mercy of Google and the other information giants, we will realize what "censorship" really is only when it is too late to reverse our course. This one example should not be blown out of proportion, but it is a stark reminder of the direction in which we're heading. While we stand guard against the government boogeyman, massive telecommunication and internet concerns are slowly developing a stranglehold on our ability to communicate with one another and access information.

But, uh, I guess the real threat is Barack Obama and the Fairness Doctrine. Or something.