The Internet Red Scare

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Congressman Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty organization sounds like it's worried that Commies, or maybe Russian-style state capitalists, are plotting to take over the Internet. In a manifesto issued last week, the group warns that "the road to tyranny is being paved by a collectivist-Industrial complex -- a dangerous brew of wealthy, international NGOs, progressive do-gooders, corporate cronies and sympathetic political elites."

Away with antitrust enforcement, the manifesto proclaims. Away with Net Neutrality. Away with restrictions on "private property rights on the Internet." Away with laws governing what companies can do with our personal data.

Titled "The Technology Revolution: A Campaign for Liberty Manifesto," the document is filled mainly with platitudes about liberty and free markets (as well as lots of grammatical errors and typos.) Ironic scare quotes abound -- for example, around the word "openness" and the phrase "the public interest."

The document offers few specific examples of government overreach and the harms caused thereby. It's just an emotional expression of the default notion, "government bad." For example, "Net Neutrality" (also in quotes) rules are bad because they depend on the "government acting as arbiter and enforcer of what it deems to be neutral."

Net Neutrality, though, isn't quite as open to interpretation as the manifesto makes it sound. In part, it means preventing Internet service providers from favoring some traffic over other traffic, thereby gaining an unfair advantage. If Comcast, which owns NBC, decided to restrict its Internet customers' access to Netflix traffic while freeing up access to NBC shows, that would violate Net Neutrality rules. Those rules exist to prevent the accumulation of power over Internet traffic in the hands of companies that would wield that power to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of competitors. The manifesto also puts "competition" in scare quotes when it refers to how Ron Paul's ideological opponents use the word, but not when it extols, in vague terms, the virtues of a competitive marketplace.

The coiner of the term Net Neutrality, Tim Wu, is himself a libertarian, but one who is concerned with the concentration of power in too few hands, whether those hands are governmental or corporate.

As Wu has demonstrated, a competitive marketplace can't exist without some basic laws protecting it. An entirely hands-off government would almost certainly lead to giant companies determining who wins and who loses on the Internet. As always, dumb and dangerous laws and regulations must be guarded against, as must governmental overreach (Paul and his supporters were rightly opposed to SOPA, for example). But many libertarians seem to think that corporate power is by its nature somehow better than government power -- which at least has a chance of being challenged by the citizenry.

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Dan Mitchell
Dan Mitchell

 Yes, I saw your other comment about this. Message received. I tried researching this a bit, as I have vaguely wondered about it myself in the past. I didn't dig very deeply, in part because so many of the top hits on my searches were dominated by you asking and complaining about it, all over the place. In a couple of cases, people directed you to what looks like the best known facts about the etymology of the phrase. I don't think I can help you any more than that. Words and phrases are used all the time without people knowing their precise origins, including by you, whether you know it or not. Since I employed the phrase according to its universally accepted meaning, the way it has always been used, and since there is no other meaning for it, you can't really call it a "misnomer" or a "wrong term." In any case, your apparent fixation on this is ... let's just say, interesting.

Dan Mitchell
Dan Mitchell

He's not a mindless ideologue, but he is in fact a libertarian - just not your kind. He refers to himself that way, and his views generally comport - at least with its classic definition. It's admittedly a fairly squishy term (even if you'd rather believe otherwise), which is why it gets a lower-case "L." Since the libertarian movement in general has become increasingly dogmatic, fundamentalist, and witlessly doctrinaire over the past couple of decades (along with the rest of the right wing), it has encouraged people to declare who is and who is not an apostate regardless of what someone might call him- or herself or what the facts are. This is pretty much like a protestant declaring that a Catholic isn't a real Christian. Which is about right, since it's all just religion to me.

That First Libertarian Again
That First Libertarian Again

He's an Orwellian, not a libertarian, telling people that freedom comes from having smart bureaucrats run things. See his anti-First-Amendment New York Times piece? Not libertarian.

And Another Libertarian...
And Another Libertarian...

I honestly don't know a single libertarian who was in favor of Net Neutrality or virtually any of the other regulations that Tim Wu pushes to preemptively solve his own hypothetical doomsday predictions. Also, Net Neutrality was a regulatory capture scheme by some tech companies with close ties to the FCC. Not exactly an effort to stop "concentration of power in too few hands whether those hands are governmental or corporate." Kind of the opposite actually...

Danbloom
Danbloom

you use the term scare quotes and you have no idea who coined it or when or why or that it is a misnomer. google "scare quotes + dan bloom" to see my current take on scare quotes being used as wrong term all over. and blog on it?

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