The Death of the World Wide Web
By Jack Kinsella
Last year, Twitter decided on its own that it would begin censoring messages of users based on the restrictions of local laws. Had Twitter had that policy two years ago, there would have been no Arab Spring.
Now, Google has decided to follow suit. Blogger, the web-log service run by Internet giant Google, will begin censoring the personal posts of its users in order to comply with local laws rather than encouraging an internationally open Internet.
While the company has previously allowed users of the World Wide Web to post wide-open opinions on its Blogger site, it will now allow individual jurisdictions to govern what can and can’t be posted on the Web.
Under Google’s new policies, personal pages hosted on Blogger will be redirected to country-specific URLs, such as “.in” for India and “.au” for Australia. The company writes that;
“Migrating to localized domains will allow us to continue promoting free expression and responsible publishing while providing greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests pursuant to local law.”
By implementing this, adds Google, “content removals can be managed on a per country basis, which will limit their impact to the smallest number of readers.”
Specifically, they acknowledge that “Content [will be] removed due to a specific country’s law.”
The company’s announcement comes only weeks after Twitter announced almost identical standards that will allow the microblogging site to start censoring tweets specific to their country of origin as well.
With both entities representing a massive chunk of online traffic internationally, advocates for Internet freedom fear what repercussions will follow.
The kick-off of the Arab Spring last year was magnified in part by the ease in which updates were transmitted from cities such as Cairo and Benghazi, where news was often relayed with tweets and emails sent direct from the scene.
Google and Twitter’s previous policies allowed users to operate as per American law, permitting a much more permeable flow of information. By adopting its new rules, however, the countries where freedom of speech and Internet are practically nonexistent will be able to censor specific topics.
Incidentally, it also means that Google will be able to censor content that Google doesn’t like in countries where freedom of speech and Internet freedom are practically unimpeded.
(They already do that, of course. Google kicked the Omega Letter off its news aggregator some years ago, despite the fact that the Omega Letter complies with all of Google’s policies, including that of having news and original content.)
But now that Google is no longer making a pretense at ideological neutrality, it makes censoring websites it doesn’t like much easier. I keep waiting for the day the OL gets scrubbed from Google’s web search returns, as well.
Google and Twitter are voluntarily agreeing to self-censorship in order to maintain control of how their content is censored. They know that if they don’t offer some form of alternative censorship, that governments will impose their own, public backlash notwithstanding.
You can try to get along without Google — I am. It is like trying to navigate a cross-country drive without a road map. You can do it, but it takes a lot longer when your only guidance is to keep heading west until you see water.
I don’t want Google to redirect my searches country-specific locations. If I am in Israel and I want to Google the USA, it is practically impossible unless you know Google’s secret code for bypassing it.
The secret code is google.com/ncr (ncr=no country redirect. (You have to do that every time).
Both Google and Twitter are using the same explanation for why they are censoring the internet:
“Migrating to localized domains will allow us to continue promoting free expression and responsible publishing while providing greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests pursuant to local law. By utilizing ccTLDs, content removals can be managed on a per country basis, which will limit their impact to the smallest number of readers. Content removed due to a specific country’s law will only be removed from the relevant ccTLD.”
They argue that they are voluntarily setting up internet censorship rules in order to “promote free expression.”
Because Google and Twitter are our friends.
The really important thing about Google and Twitter developing mechanisms for censoring the world wide web is that it sets a precedent. Now that they’ve done it, other major corporations will watch to see what backlash, if any, it will cause.
If it goes smoothly for Google and Twitter, other companies will follow suit. The result will be the “Balkinization” of the internet. It will become a hodge-podge of local laws and regulations. Say goodbye to the global net and be prepared for a new kind of internet geography.
But if Google and Twitter don’t get out in front of the curl, they will be swept away by the waves, because internet censorship has become the Holy Grail for governments the world over. Even politicians that at one time stood firmly on the side of internet freedom are rethinking their hole cards.
It isn’t just governments like those in Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Yemen that fear the internet. Free governments have just as much to fear from unrestricted internet speech. Obama would love to silence his internet critics.
Notice how few critics he has in the mainstream media. Obama owns the mainstream media. He can’t own the internet unless he can control access to the internet.
Currently, the Omega Letter has nothing to fear in terms of being a copyright violator in the way that copyright violators are being portrayed relative to this legislation. Legislators claim that they are after the websites that share movies and music.
But the proposed legislative remedies criminalize practically anybody.
We don’t share copyrighted material.. We try to obey copyright laws. But all it would take is for a copyrighted photograph somewhere on our website and a complaint to put us on the wrong side of the law.
Here’s what makes it so dangerous. Suppose I ran a story critical of Obama together with one of a photo of Obama gleaned from the internet. (Or one of our members did.)
The story offends Obama, but in a free society, there’s nothing he can do about it. Throw in a copyright violation for the accompanying picture…and voila! We go dark — accused of copyright violations. NO due process. No evidence. It only takes a complaint — and another Obama critic is silenced.
The Arab Spring really, really frightened governments — and not just the Obama administration. Career politicians worldwide have to re-evaluate their positions on censoring the net.
For them, it is a case of, “first they came for the despots and criminals, and, thanks to the internet, next, they could come for me.” So they want to set up rules that shift that fear from them to us.
To paraphrase the First Lady of the United States, for the first time in my life, I am really, really scared of the United States government. We are still brainstorming alternative strategies, several of which are already quietly going in place.
I don’t want to publish the details publicly. The OL is remailed and republished outside the membership firewall and some information needs to stay within the Fellowship. We’ll keep you posted via our members forums as the situation warrants. When there’s something to share, we’ll post a link like this one.
“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21:28)
Note: Written sometime in the early 2010s.