Friday, March 24, 2006

The Internet's Absence of Filters

Commentary by Martin Kelly
April 11, 2005

The Internet is not a corporate medium.

In order to pipe his Fox News guff into American homes, the Australian-born ‘news magnate’ Keith Rupert Murdoch must incur certain large and ongoing capital costs in order to employ the personnel and erect the infrastructure necessary in order to broadcast one second of Bill O’Reilly. Although the thought of having to write, film, edit, produce and introduce every item on his channel might be Keith’s personal vision of Hell, soon even he will not be able to compete with the unfiltered, unedited news and opinion revolution that’s been gathering pace ever since the Nixon-era political saboteur Lucianne Goldberg was feeding gossip about Monica Lewinsky to Matt Drudge; a revolution in which the only things you need to participate are a modem and a browser.

Murdoch has been an advocate of free markets for decades; well, now he’s got one in his backyard, and as time passes and the current non-existent level of Internet regulation continues, it’s a free market that is really going to hurt the corporate interests of anyone who ever borrowed money in order to put on a TV news show.

Although the Internet will have a saturation point, it’s probably nowhere near it yet, a thought which should make the Establishment quake at the prospect of the awesome power of the unleashed cyber-citizen.

This advent of this inter-connected reality has the power not just to change the way news and opinion is delivered; not just to provide other forums for activists; but also to change the very face of the political landscape.

A hyperlink serves no function other than to provide a reader with a choice; click on it or not. Obviously, this enables readers to experiment with information that would not otherwise form part of their regular intellectual diet. The attractions of writers who may have seemed thrilling only a short while ago may soon pall, to be replaced by new gurus.

The harsh reality of the Internet era is that it is not only the mainstream media but also those in government who are petrified of it; the central regulation and flow of information, the very means by which all states keep control, has been truly abolished at precisely the same time that Western governments have reached depths of authoritarianism never before reached in peacetime.

As the Iraqis might say, the genie’s out the bottle.

If one starts to selects one’s news from different sources, one may also soon collect opinions from different sources, and if enough people collect enough of a range of opinions from different sources, then the end of bipartisan politics will be well and truly spelled.

The Internet happened so fast that the political elites have only been able to react to it; the danger for Internet users will come when they want to control it, for the day may come when a politician, tired of the bad press they have received in unfiltered cyber-media, proposes that Internet use be licensed, and if not licensed then registered.

There would be a storm of protest, of course, but ultimately it is in the interests of both the Republicans and the Democrats for the flow of information to be regulated, preferably by them, and if not by them then by others favourable to them and their interests. They are political movements; they exist for no reason other than to seek and hold power. Once in power, the only means that exist of challenging that power lie in the regulated, infrequent and predictable turns of the electoral cycle.

A blogger with a piece of hot news can be read around the world in minutes. This is the biggest challenge the mainstream politicians have ever faced, an unconscionable threat to their interests.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts; and beware of politicians who say they want to protect the public in the aftermath of the very first big story that a blogger gets wrong and which has tragic consequences.

The day of the licensed blogger may not be far behind.