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The Coming Fascist Internet
Lauren Weinstein
November 13, 2011

Around four decades ago or so, at the U.S. Defense Department funded ARPANET's first site at UCLA -- what would of course become the genesis of the global Internet -- I spent a lot of time alone in the ARPANET computer room. I'd work frequently at terminals sandwiched between two large, noisy, minicomputers, a few feet from the first ARPANET router -- Interface Message Processor (IMP) #1, which empowered the "blindingly fast" 56 Kb/s ARPANET backbone. Somewhere I have a photo of the famous "Robby the Robot" standing next to that nearly refrigerator-sized cabinet and its similarly-sized modem box.

I had a cubicle I shared elsewhere in the building where I also worked, but I kept serious hacker's hours back then, preferring to work late into the night, and the isolation of the computer room was somehow enticing.

Even the muted roar of the equipment fans had its own allure, further cutting off the outside world (though likely not particularly good for one's hearing in the long run).

Occasionally in the wee hours, I'd shut off the room's harsh fluorescent lights for a minute or two, and watch the many blinking lights play across the equipment racks, often in synchronization with the pulsing and clicking sounds of the huge disk drives.

There was a sort of hypnotic magic in that encompassing, flickering darkness. One could sense the technological power, the future coiled up like a tight spring ready to unwind and energize many thousands of tomorrows.

But to be honest, there was little then to suggest that this stark room -- in conjunction with similar rooms scattered across the country at that time -- would trigger a revolution so vast and far-reaching that governments around the world, decades later, would cower in desperate efforts to leash it, to cage its power, to somehow turn back the clock to a time when communications were more firmly under the thumbs of the powers-that-be.

There were some clues. While it was intended that the ARPANET's resource sharing capabilities would be the foundation of what we now call the "cloud," the ARPANET was (somewhat to the consternation of various Defense Department overseers) very much a social space from the beginning.

Starting very early on, ARPANET communications began including all manner of personal discussions and interests, far beyond the narrow confines of "relevant" technical topics. A "wine tasting enthusiasts" mailing list triggered reprimands from DoD when it became publicly known thanks to a magazine article, and I won't even delve here into the varied wonders of the "network hackers" and "mary hartman" mailing lists.

In fact, the now ubiquitous mailing list "digest" format was originally invented as a "temporary" expedient when "high volumes" of traffic (by standards of the time) threatened the orderly distribution of the science-fiction and fantasy oriented "sf-lovers" mailing list. Many other features that we take for granted today in email systems were created or enhanced largely in reaction to these sorts of early "social" communications on the very young Net.

The early ARPANET was mostly restricted to the U.S., but as international points began to come online the wonders expanded. I still remember the day I found myself in a "talk" (chat) link with a party at a military base in Norway -- my first international live contact on the Net that I knew of. I remember thinking then that someday, AT&T was going to start getting concerned about all this.

The power of relatively unfiltered news was also becoming apparent back then. One of my projects involved processing newswire data (provided to me over the ARPANET on a friendly but "unofficial" basis from another site) and building applications to search that content and alert users (both textually and via a synthesized voice phone-calling system -- one of my other pet projects) about items of interest.

For much of the Net's existence, both phone companies and governments largely ignored (or at least downplayed) the ARPANET, even as it evolved toward the Internet of today.

AT&T and the other telcos had explicitly expressed disinterest early on, and even getting them to provide the necessary circuits had at times been a struggle. Governments didn't really seem to be worried about an Internet "subculture" that was limited mostly to the military, academia, and a variety of "egghead" programmers variously in military uniforms and bell-bottoms, whether sporting crew cuts, scruffy longhairs, or somewhere in-between.

But with the fullness of time, the phone companies, cable companies, governments, and politicians galore came to most intensely pay attention to the Internet, as did the entertainment industry behemoths and a broad range of other "intellectual property" interests.

Their individual concerns actually vary widely at the detailed level, but in a broader context their goals are very much singular in focus.

They want to control the Internet. They want to control it utterly, completely, in every technologically possible detail (and it seems in various technically impossible ways as well).

The freedom of communications with which the Internet has empowered ordinary people -- especially one-to-many communications that historically have been limited to governments and media empires themselves -- is viewed as an existential threat to order, control, and profits -- that is, to historical centers of power.

Outside of the "traditional" aspects of government control over their citizenries, another key element of the new attempts to control the Net are desperate longings by some parties to turn back the technological clock to a time when music, movies, plus other works could not so easily be duplicated and disseminated in both "authorized" and "unauthorized" fashions.

The effective fall of copyright in this context was preordained by human nature (we are physical animals, and the concept of non-physical "property" plays against our natures) and there's been a relentless "march of bits" -- with text, music, and movies entering the fray in turn as ever more data could be economically stored and transferred.

In their efforts to control people and protect profits, governments and associated industries (often in league with powerful Internet Service Providers -- ISPs -- who in some respects are admittedly caught in the middle), seem willing to impose draconian, ultimately fascist censorship, identification, and other controls on the Internet and its users, even extending into the basic hardware in our homes and offices.

I've invoked fascism in this analysis, and I do not do so lightly.

The attacks on fundamental freedoms to communicate that are represented by various government repression of the Internet around the world, and in the U.S. by hypocritical legislation like PROTECT IP and SOPA (E-PARASITE), are fundamentally fascist in nature, despite between wrapped in their various flags of national security, anti-piracy profit protection, motherhood, and apple pie.

Anyone or anything that is an enabler of communications not willingly conforming to this model are subject to attack by authorities from a variety of levels -- with the targets ranging from individuals like you and me, to unbiased enablers of organic knowledge availability like Google.

For all the patriotic frosting, the attacks on the Internet are really attacks on what has become popularly known as the 99%, deployed by the 1% powers who are used to having their own way and claiming the largest chunks of the pie, regardless of how many ants (that's us!) are stomped in the process.

This is not a matter of traditional political parties and alliances. In the U.S., Democrats and Republican legislators are equally culpable in these regards.

This is a matter of raw power that transcends other ideologies, of the desire of those in control to shackle the Internet to serve their bidding, while relegating free communications for everyone else to the dustbin of history.

It is very much our leaders telling us to sit down, shut up, and use the Internet only in the furtherance of their objectives -- or else.

To me, these are the fundamental characteristics of a fascist world view, perhaps not in the traditional sense but clearly in the ultimate likely impacts.

The Internet is one of the most important tools ever created by mankind. It certainly ranks with the printing press, and arguably in terms of our common futures on this tiny planet perhaps even with fire.

The question is, are we ready and willing to fight for the Net as it should be in the name of civil rights and open communications? Or will we sit back compliantly, happily gobble down the occasional treats tossed in our direction, and watch as the Internet is perverted into a monstrous distortion to control speech and people alike, rather than enabling the spread of freedom.

Back in that noisy computer room so many years ago, I couldn't imagine that I was surrounded by machines and systems that would one day lead to such a question, and to concerns of such import.

The blossoming we've seen of the Internet was not necessarily easy to predict back then. But the Internet's fascist future is much more clear, unless we fight now -- right now -- to turn back the gathering evil.

-- Lauren --

I've been thinking, recently, about the U.S. system or checks and balances. The executive and judicial branch have both been heavily edited and changed since the initial constitution and they seem to be fairly regulated, with strictures in place but still a duly elected power to the positions in each. The legislative branch has not changed nearly as much. There is very recently starting to be, a rather insane in my opinion, push to "get rid of Congress." I have heard points on each. The For group gives the reason that this year when Congress refused to do anything, the people passed initiatives instead. And Against group points out that a rule by majority, especially the majorily uninformed majority the U.S. has, is a really bad idea. I'd like to add to that then ask what people think. I think that we'd have no time for discussion on new agendas and the difference in legalese understanding of everyone would put some at a great disadvantage in a full democracy. Furthermore, there would be no means to regulating the basis for new laws, in that the people could install a law that is harmful without even knowing it is because they don't consult economists. The current setup in Congress is definitely in need of change, so is our initial constitution. It has been so long since both were instilled that the means to change them is too time consuming and difficult to see true change. I would like to see a ten year plan of discussion boards, voting, true information advertisements, and re voting, from every citizen, to rewrite the constitution and reorder the powers of state to fit a current time frame, one inconceivable from the writing of our initial constitution. Thoughts, comments, concerns?

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Is funny cause is true

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This woman has some really hard hitting responses to some difficult questions. I like that articles like this that show the the trans community isn't a singular minded organization but, a conglomeration of people with varying beliefs and lifestyles.

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With all the wonderful hype of ALS and the ice bucket challenge I'd like to bring up other research that needs funding. Migraines may not seem serious to people who don't have them but, they are so painful that a lot of sufferers will commit suicide rather than deal with the pain. There is no cure and the treatment avaliable is largely hit or miss on whether it will work for a specific individual. They are debilitating in many cases and there are still a lot of medical professionals who will tell patients to just suck it up until they feel better. I'm not going to propose any silly challenge for this, I'd just like to let people know how much of a problem this is for many people, myself included.

I am looking for some advice and potentially some reassurance here. I identify as queer for both my gender identify and sexuality because I have not been able to find an accurate definition of how I feel. My problem is that I have not faced any discrimination for it. I am open about it and don't follow my gender roles most of the time but, I've never even had someone direct a slur at me. I feel like I'm not really part of this culture because I haven't had anyone even try to fault me. I feel guilty about it because so many people suffer violent outbreaks because of who they are and I haven't. I just don't feel like I'm part of this and I would very much like to be.

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I couldn't agree more! Gender fluidity is even more discriminated against then sexual fluidity.
Stop transphobia! Transgender people are human beings likes you! Which part of it so difficult to understand? 

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I don't wear skirts so I don't plan on backing this but, neat idea and a 10 dollar price point makes it easier to buy then make yourself.

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All of the awesome
Ultimate Science Selfie! This is at the first White House Student Film Festival.

Remarks by The President in the East Room:

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello.  My name is Shelly Ortiz -- oh, wrong page.  (Laughter.)  I was just teasing.  I knew I wasn’t Shelly Ortiz.  (Laughter.)  Everybody give Shelly a big round of applause for the great work.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thanks for not only the introduction, but for the beautiful video that you made about your dad.  Us dads, we get pretty touched by stuff like that. 
And I am thrilled that all of you are with us for our first-ever White House Student Film Festival.  And I know we're running a little bit late.  It's not because the projector was not working.  It was because of me.  But I appreciate all of you guys being here and your patience. 
The Academy Awards are not until Sunday, but, as you can see, we’ve brought the Oscars to the White House a little bit early.  And I want to thank our partners:  Fox, National Geographic, and the American Film Institute.  We’ve got the red carpet, we've got the big screens, the opening monologue.  The only difference is nobody asks what you’re wearing.  (Laughter.) 
And we've got Bill Nye, the Science Guy -- (applause) -- and Neil deGrasse Tyson from the Hayden Planetarium -- (applause) -- who might even give you a sneak peak of his new show, COSMOS, if everybody behaves themselves.  (Applause.)  I saw the original version -- I'm a little older than all of you -- and it was spectacular and wonderful, and I know this is going to be not just as good but even better.  And so we're thrilled with that.  And we’re putting on a big show here because we’re honoring some remarkable filmmakers.   
I've said before, I believe, and I hope all of us believe, that every child in America deserves a world-class education -- especially in science and technology and engineering and math -- because it’s skills like these that made us an economic superpower and built our middle class.  We also need folks who are studying the arts because our film industry is a huge generator of jobs and economic power here in the United States, and it tells us our story and helps us to find what’s -- our common humanity.  
And it’s skills like these that allowed NASA to announce the other day that we’ve discovered more than 700 new planets.  (Applause.)  That's cool.  I mean, we didn’t make the planets, but we -- (laughter) -- we found out that they were there.  And one of the ways that we deliver the best education in the world is by empowering our students with the best technology in the world. 
To help inspire us, we invited students from across the country to send their videos about how their schools use technology today, how they might use it in the future.  So kids got their cameras out and went to work.  And we received about 2,500 videos -- 2,500.  And we watched them all.  I did not personally watch them all, but the White House watched them all.
And today, the Oscar goes to -- all of you.  Because among all the incredible videos we received, yours stood out.   And in my official capacity as President, let me just say these movies are awesome.   Like all great movies, yours do something special -- they tell a story.  They help us understand, in this case, the amazing things that are going on in classrooms and how technology is empowering our students and broadening their imaginations and challenging them to dream bigger and reach further.  
Now, here is the spoiler alert:  There is some wonderful stuff going on out there.  So even before you have seen some of these films, you need to know that what these filmmakers have displayed is the incredible innovation and creativity of this generation coming up.
You’ve got Gabrielle Nafie and Miles Pilchik from SciTech Kids in New York.  (Applause.)  They showed us that their class isn’t just dreaming about going into space, they're actually going into space.  They designed density experiments and used a 3-D printer to build tiny satellites to hold them.  And then they actually launched a giant balloon that carried their satellites up to the edge of space -- very cool --
MS. NAFIE:  Thank you.  (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT:  -- so they could collect the data.  When I was in elementary school, I was not launching satellites into space.
You’ve got Alex Emerson, who showed how his 8th grade class at Brookwood School in Massachusetts changed the definition of “pen-pals” by video-chatting with students in Uganda.  And one of the things they did was collaborate on cook stoves that help families in rural areas cook safer and with cleaner energy. 
And it doesn’t stop with what’s possible today.  These videos show how students are imagining the future -- classrooms that are fully accessible to classmates with disabilities; individualized learning platforms that you can carry around in your pocket.  And that’s the kind of creativity and imagination we want all our young people to embrace. 
We cannot wait to see more of that innovative spirit later this year when we host our first ever White House Maker Faire.  (Applause.)  We already have a White House Science Fair.  This new event is going to highlight how Americans young and old — tinkerers and inventors — are imagining and designing and building tools and machines that will open our minds and power our economy.
We want to bring this spirit -- including more technology -into the classroom.  And that’s why I launched something we’re calling ConnectED - our initiative to close the technology gap in our schools and connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed broadband Internet within five years.  Because when the average American school has about the same Internet bandwidth as the average American home but serves 200 times as many people, that means our students are at a disadvantage.  And when less than 30 percent of our students have access to true high-speed Internet in their classroom, while in South Korea students have 100 percent, that's like waving the white flag when it comes to our global competition.  But here’s what I think:  In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi at our coffee shops, then we should demand it in our schools and in our libraries.  (Applause.)  
This is not thing we can do alone.  And as a consequence, I picked up the phone and started asking business leaders to help bring our schools and libraries into the 21st century.  They did not just answer the call, they came up huge.  So, earlier this month, some of our biggest technology companies committed to more than $750 million in computers and software and broadband access to put our kids and classrooms on the cutting edge of technology.
Today, I’m proud to announce that more companies are getting on board.  Prezi will provide over $100 million in presentation products to help students develop ready-to-work skills in slideshows and creative communication.  So give them a big round of applause.  We’re very proud of them for that.  (Applause.)
And Adobe will make available, for free, more than $300 million in creative and teaching software so that kids can turn their ideas into films and graphics, and teachers can deliver lessons electronically.  So give Adobe a big round of applause.  (Applause.)
If you’re quick at math, which I know you are, then you’ll see that this means we’ve delivered over $1 billion in technology commitments to our schools, which isn’t too shabby for one month. But there’s still more to do, and we need even more companies to get on board.  Because, thanks to innovative schools and teachers and students like all of you, we know what school might look like in the century ahead:  Classrooms wired to space; students who are fluent in coding and web design; teachers collaborating on projects with peers around the world.  We’ve always imagined giving every child the chance to learn like that.  And with these private sector partners, we’re helping to make it a reality.  
So let me leave you with a wonderful example of the difference that technology can make.  Kyle Weintraub is a 7th grader at David Posnak Jewish Day School in Florida.  And last year, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, had to move to Pennsylvania for treatment.  In the past, that meant Kyle would have had to leave his school and his friends behind.  But every day, Kyle puts on his school uniform and, without even leaving his room in Pennsylvania, he goes to school in Florida because he has a special robot with a high-tech video feed that goes to class for him.  And even as he’s getting medical treatment and fights to get better, Kyle can keep up with his studies -- controlling his robot from his computer at home.  And through a video feed, Kyle can see his classmates; they can see him.  So the robot doesn’t just have a name -- they just say, “Hey, Kyle.” 
And he can look around the classroom, move down the hallways, even sit with his friends at lunch.  And I know the teachers think this is just extraordinary as well, because if there’s one thing you don’t want to do, is start a food fight with a robot.  (Laughter.)  So everybody kind of seems to be better behaved when Kyle’s robot is around.  Kyle is here today. He did not bring his robot, but everybody give Kyle a big round of applause.  (Applause.)   
Kyle’s story is just one example of what’s possible when we put our extraordinary technologies to work for our students and our schools.  And that’s what this film festival is about.  So to all the young filmmakers out there, remember you’re much better at this than all that adults.  (Laughter.)  It’s your imagination and your creativity and your innovation and your dreams that are going to help this country move forward. 
Keep up the great work.  We could not be prouder of you.  Your parents are proud of you, I know that, but I am, too.  And America is counting on you.
So with that, let’s start the show.  Thank you, guys.  (Applause.)
END           4:23 P.M. EST

Photo via Bill Nye:
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