I just want to get this on the record and off my (fully clothed) chest: I was wrong about Anthony Weiner.
I’d said nothing about the whole hoo-ha because I didn’t think it was worth the attention. Then I got a call from Howard Kurtz’ Reliable Sources to come on last Sunday and talk about it. My wife said, Why are you doing that? I said, I’ll be on the right side. As always, she was right. On the show, I said that media were using this as an opportunity for sophomoric jokes and that the fuss over a penis was a symptom of American Puritanism. What’s the worst that happened here? I asked: So what if he had a stupid picture on his phone and accidentally tweeted it, so long as he wasn’t sexually harassing anyone? But that’s not the worst that happened.
Weiner lied. That is the story. That’s what haters said in email to me after the CNN segment. They were right.
What’s most amazing to me is that anyone in politics in this age could still be stupid enough to think that the coverup won’t be what kills them. That’s not just a matter of the age of publicness and the net that I write about. It is perhaps Richard Nixon’s most important legacy. I gave Weiner too much credit when I thought he must have figured this out.
The personal irony for me is that I’ve long thought Weiner is a weasel. I chose to overlook that in this case. Wrong again. I confronted him at a Personal Democracy Forum a few years ago (it so happens that PDF11 is going on right now) over his support of noxious legislation to raise fines on so-called indecency on broadcast. Weiner would go onto Howard Stern’s show as an alleged fan to get the attention but then he’d turn around and throw Stern, the First Amendment, and freedom of speech to the wind for a politically expedient vote. So he voted with prudery and isn’t it always the case that the prudes are the ones with something to hide? Now we see what he was hiding.
I’m trying to pull back from my personal embarrassment and stupidity at giving this shmuck the benefit of the doubt and see the lessons here about our age of publicness. There are many. It fascinates me that Twitter provides such an easy way for people to connect for *any* purpose. It astounds me that Weiner thought he could do this under his name with his face and think it would not end up being a public act. Once he was public to the extent of sharing with one person — a stranger — then it’s nothing for that to be shared with the world in an instant. All this affirms my belief that the only sane way to operate in one’s life today — as a public figure especially — is as if *anything* you do can and will be seen by *anyone.* I would still like to think that eventually this will lead to an assumption, a default of transparency.
But then, I keep forgetting the calculate into this view the forgetful, venal stupidity of the public official. That’s where I was wrong. Have I said that enough?
: I emailed a link to this post to the people who emailed me after the CNN segment. They were nasty in how they said it but they were right.
That is the message I would like to bring to the e-G8 summit on the internet gathered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy this week in Paris.
I am apprehensive about a meeting of government and industry that begins with the presumption that they wield authority over the internet, the people’s internet. Cory Doctorow decided not to attend, declaring it a “whitewash” for regimes that are at “war with the free, open net.” Perhaps that’s the right decision. Given the chance to go, I decided to witness it up close and say what I have to say so at least I can say I said it. And that is this:
The internet was born open, free, and distributed. As conceived and built, all bits are created equal. It must stay that way. Sarkozy called this meeting to discuss the growth of the internet. It will grow only if it is open and free.
Like John Perry Barlow, I believe that governments have no sovereignty in the net. There is no consent of the governed as there are no governed there. Governments are not the appropriate bodies to protect the internet. When one government assumes that authority, all will. If the U.S., the U.K, the E.U., the U.N., or the G8 impose their wills on the net — no matter how benevolent they claim to be (and none should be trusted) — then China, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and no end of tyrants and despots will also claim the right to govern the net. We will end up living under the high water mark of regulation. That means the death of the open net and all it affords society. Instead of reducing the internet through regulation, government should protect the internet.
Companies are also not to be trusted as protectors of the net. Even as I praised Google for at long last deciding to stop doing the bidding of censorious Chinese dictators, it was negotiating a cynical devil’s compact with Verizon to apportion the net into a neutral wired net and a constrained wireless net. No, companies are not to be trusted. The most appalling thing about the Google-Verizon-FCC pact was that the people were not at the table. These companies and agencies presume to cut up our internet and do not even try to give the appearance of including us. That is the dangerous vacuum they try to fill.
Some argue that protecting net neutrality is a form of government regulation. At South by Southwest, Sen. Al Franken convincingly counters that all net neutrality is doing is assuring that the internet is not changed, not perverted from its original state of freedom. He exhorted the crowd of net people, creative people, and entrepreneurs: “It is time for us to use the internet to save the internet.”
The pity is that this meeting on the future of the internet and its growth was called by a head of state and not by us, the people of the net. We have only ourselves to blame. Imagine if this meeting had instead been called by some other body closer to the people with preservation of net freedom as its agenda: an Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Mozilla Foundation, a Berkman Center, SXSW, a university, students in Egypt, an ad hoc disorganization of people online… who?
And what would such an assembly do? I have argued that we need to have a discussion of the principles of the net. I don’t think we will ever get much past discussion, as I do not want to see the imposition of governance on the net from government or corporations or self-appointed bodies, either.
But we must have an open and vigorous discussion of principles so we can discern the shape of our beliefs. In the course of that, I argue at the conclusion of my book Public Parts, “some truths will become self-evident. We will come to examine what matters to us and what we must protect. We will expose different views, priorities, dangers, and needs. Most important, we will have an expression of some principles to point to when powerful institutions try to control our net and diminish our publicness, power, and freedom.”
I welcome the discussion in Paris. I wonder about context set by the convener and the congregants it gathers. Yes, government should be at the table. See German Justice Minister Sabina Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger also calling (auf Deutsch) for a debate over digital values. Yes, companies should be at the table. Like it or not, they build the net. But the table should be ours, not theirs.
I. We have the right to connect.
II. We have the right to speak.
III. We have the right to assemble and to act.
IV. Privacy is an ethic of knowing.
V. Publicness is an ethic of sharing.
VI. Our institutions’ information should be public by default, secret by necessity.
VII. What is public is a public good.
VIII. All bits are created equal.
IX. The internet must stay open and distributed.
The last one is the internet’s best protection: its own structure. To the leaders gathered in Paris, I say of that architecture: Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.
* * *
I am also set to be on a panel about privacy and data. There, I plan to say that the framing of the discussion is limited and prejudicial. Why is the discussion about privacy? It should also be about protecting publicness.
The internet is our greatest tool of publicness ever. It is everyperson’s Gutenberg press. It enables anyone to speak to everyone. It allows revolutionaries to organize and supports their revolutions. It brings transparency to governments and markets. It helps us find and organize our own publics, across boundaries, apart from mass labels. We should be discussing protecting the internet rather than protecting us from it.
In Der Spiegel (auf Deutsch), Christian Stöcker warns against the demonizing of tools. That is, I fear, the starting point of this discussion, like so many others. If this discussion is about the growth of the internet, then we should guard against restricting it because of prospective fears before we even fully understand it.
At this entire meeting, we must be aware of the internet as a means of disruption. That is why it frightens institutions of legacy power and why they hope to regulate and limit it, using convenient masks — privacy, security, civility…. And that is why I worry when those institutions call a meeting to discuss governing the agent of their own disruption.
* * *
There is no reason for me to be at the E-G8 except that I happen to know people who invited me (after the initial lists were out). No one elected me. I have no standing to represent anyone. But I would like to try to represent some of your views, as best I can. So please enter into the discussion here.
(Full disclosure: As an academic without corporate support, I accepted travel accommodations from Publicis, which is organizing this meeting on behalf of the French government. I did not pay nor am I being paid to attend.)
: Here is a petition urging Sarkozy et al “to publicly commit to citizen-centered policies like expanding internet access for all, combating digital censorship and surveillance, limiting online intermediary liability, and upholding principles of net neutrality.”
* * *
FROM PARIS: I got to ask my question of Sarkozy this morning. He acknowledged in his talk today that government does not own the internet. I said that if a government asserts authority over the internet, any internet can. So I asked him and the G8 to take the Hippocratic pledge: First, do no harm.
He mocked the question, saying that was easy, that he would take the pledge. Ah, but then he defined harm. He asked whether it was harmful for the government to protect intellectual property, security, children… Having no microphone now, I could not say that, indeed, it could be harmful.
I write from the city where Gutenberg’s erstwhile partner and funder, Johann Fust, was nearly arrested because he came here to sell printed Bibles. The booksellers in Paris called the policy on him, declaring there was no way he could have so many Bibles except from the work of black magic. Well, today, the internet is still black magic. We don’t know what it is yet. To define it, restrict it, regulate it, limit it before we even know what it is, there is danger there.
Yes, President Sarkozy, you can do harm.
: Here is video of Sarkozy’s talk and my Q&A (starting at 48:10):
: LATER: Here’s Dave Morgan’s good summary of the event.
Given the discussion about Facebook enabling other sites to use its comment infrastructure — and what that means for identity and anonymity in discussion — I thought I’d share some of what I’m saying about the question of multiple identities in my book, .
* * *
One tactic to cope with the fear of exposure and overexposure is anonymity. Anonymity has its place. It protects the speech of Chinese dissidents, Iranian protestors, and corporate whistleblowers. It allows Wikileaks to expose secrets. It helps people share, for example, medical data and benefit others without having to reveal themselves. It lets people play with new identities. When the game company Blizzard Entertainment tried to bring real identity into the forums around its massive, multi-player games, including World of WarCraft, players revolted, and no wonder: Who wants everyone to know that in your other life, you see yourself as a level 80 back-stabbing night elf rogue who ganks lowbies at the Crossroads? Taking on identities—pseudonymity—is the fun of it.
But anonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls—of the human race, not the WarCraft type—attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician’s Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behind their own words with their own names, as I do.
Real identity has improved the tone and tenor of interaction online. That was Facebook’s key insight. Twitter’s, too. Tweeters want credit for their cleverness; they are rewarded with followers and retweets, their nanoseconds of microfame. Facebook is built on real relationships with real people in real life. “The whole thing was based on this foundation of reality,” Mark Zuckerberg says in an interview. “That doesn’t mean that every single thing is true. But on balance, I think it’s a lot more real than other things on the internet. In that way, I think, yes, it does create authenticity.”
Zuckerberg believes we have one authentic identity and says it is becoming “less and less true” that people will maintain separate identities. Emily Gould, admitted oversharer, agrees. Julia Allison, on the other hand, sides with those who say we should maintain many identities—one for work, another for school, another for home, another for friends. Those folks say we get in trouble online when these identities mix and blur, when our boss sees our picture from the college beer party (as if bosses never had beer). In a New York Times Magazine piece arguing that “the internet records everything and forgets nothing,” Jeffrey Rosen tells the story of a 25-year-old student-teacher who was deprived of her diploma after posting a MySpace photo of herself drinking over the caption, “Drunken Pirate.” On his blog, Scott Rosenberg counters that “the photo is harmless; the trouble lies with the people who have turned it into a problem.”
What needs to change is not so much our behavior, our rules, or our technology but, again, our norms: how we operate as a society and interact with each other. When presented with someone’s public face, which may differ from our own, is our response to disapprove, condemn, ridicule, and snipe, or is it to try to understand differences, offer empathy, overlook foolishness, offer freedom, and share in kind? When we do the former—and we all have—we are guilty of intolerance, sometimes bigotry. When we do the latter we become open-minded. I suggested in my last book that because we are all more public, we will soon operate under the doctrine of mutually assured humiliation: I’ll spare you making fun of your embarrassing pictures if you’ll do the same for me. “An age of transparency,” says author David Weinberger, “must be an age of forgiveness.”
There are two forces at work here: identity and reputation. Our identities are the first-person expressions of ourselves. Our reputations are others’ third-person views of us. Thanks to our increasing publicness, the two are coming closer and sometimes into conflict. As I was discussing these topics on my blog, Weinberger left a sage comment wondering about what he called the private-public axis:
Marilyn Monroe was a public figure but most of us are private citizens. That used to be pretty easy to compute and, because of the nature of the broadcast medium, it used to tend toward one extreme or another: He’s Chevy Chase and you’re not. But there’s another private-public axis: who we really are and how we look to others. We have tended to believe, at least in the West, that our true self is the inner self. The outer, public self may or may not reflect our inner, private self, and we have an entire moral/normative vocabulary to talk about the relation of the two: sincerity, authenticity, integrity, honesty….
Those are the two identities we are trying to manage—not our work selves and our home selves, not our party selves and our serious selves, but our inner, real selves and our outer, show selves. When our inner and outer selves get into conflict and confusion, we look inauthentic and hypocritical. In all our spoken fears about privacy and publicness, I think this is the great unspoken fear: that we’re not who people think we are, and we’ll be found out.
These are new skills for everyone, celebrity and commoner alike. Marilyn Monroe never had to deal with blogs and Twitter, let alone 24-hour TV news. She had press agents to create and manage her identity and big, frightening security people to keep the scary strangers away. Today, stars and pols have to deal with being constantly exposed. When they are caught in a contradiction of words or deeds—not exactly a challenge—they suffer the gotcha. Then again, stars like Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga, and Howard Stern are grabbing the opportunity on Twitter to interact directly with their publics without scripts or PR people in-between. Reputation.com, which makes a business out of helping people whose online reputation is being harmed by others, suggests that the solution is not to hide but to publish more about yourself so that will rise in Google’s search about you. The way to improve your reputation is to share more of your identity.
The best solution is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk with your shrink. Better yet, blog about it.
Friends, I need help choosing a subtitle for Public Parts, my book. You all were helpful with What Would Google Do? (which I initially wanted to call WWGD?, but the publisher fought me and you convinced me the publisher was right). Many of you have already been helpful with great suggestions via Twitter (some inspired some of these candidates).
The book is about the value of publicness. It’s about technology, change, privacy, fear, and protection as well. But I try hard not to pit private against public. Instead, I argue that when we make choices about what to make public or private and how we build the tools and laws that enable or regulate t hat, we need to include in the equation in the benefits of publicness. We also need to protect our new tools of publicness. I interview Mark Zuckerberg, danah boyd, Ev Willliams, Dennis Crowley, Philip Kaplan, Josh Harris, Eric Schmidt, Elizabeth Eisenstein, and more. I explore the history of privacy (and its definitions) and the development of our notions of the public.I also explore the progression of the tools of publicness. It’s a book about choices and optimism. I also talk about lessons from my public life. And saunas. (My editor, @bloehnen, will write much better jacket copy than that, but it gives you an idea.)
Here’s the shortlist of subtitles (not listed in any order so as not to prejudice you with the preferences of me and my editor and publisher). The main title, Public Parts, I already like (and, yes, it’s a bit of an homage to Howard Stern). Please weigh in with a discussion in the comments. If you have a new suggestion, what the hell, by all means add that. And if you have a great idea for imagery, that’s next.
[Hat tip to @chrisgordon77]
What Happens When Companies, Governments, and People Let It All Hang Out
(Variations: Should “people” be “all of us” or “individuals” or “you”?)
[Hat tip to @txhoudini for inspiration]
If We’re So Worried About Privacy, Why Do We Share a Billion Times a Day?
(Variation: take off the first clause)
Privacy and Fear, Openness and Opportunity
The Private Self, The Public Sphere, and Principles for a New Society
Exposing Ourselves for Fun, Profit, and a Brighter Future
[Hat tip to @zekeweeks]
: Oh, and no plug would be complete without telling that Public Parts will be out in the fall from Simon & Schuster.
In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland is the latest curmudgeon to recycle Nick Carr’s distraction trope, microwave it, and serve it with gravy. The argument is that Twitter—though possibly a wonderful thing for Egyptian revolutionaries (we can argue that trope another day)—is distracting us Westerners from our important work of deep reading and deep thinking and something simply must be done. We have a crisis of concentration brought on by a crisis of distraction, he tells us. Some people I respect react and call this matter urgent.
Bollocks, as my Guardian friends would say.
I want you to think back with me now—I’m hypnotizing you, which should alleviate the stress of distraction, at least momentarily—to the moment in 1994 or soon thereafter when you discovered the World Wide Web and a new activity: browsing. Didn’t we all, every one of us, waste hours—days, even—aimlessly, purposelessly clicking links from one site to the next, not knowing where we would go and then not knowing where our hours went? Oh my God, we would never get anything done again, we fretted. We are all too distracted. We were hypnotized.
I know from market research I did that back then that it was not long before browsing diminished and died as our primary behavior online. We became directed in our searches. We came to the web looking for something, got it, and moved on. That’s partly because the tools improved: Yahoo gave us a directory; brands took on the role of serving expected content; Google gave us search. But this change in behavior came mainly because we got over the newness of browsing and had other, more important things to do and we learned how to prioritize our time again.
It is ever thus. Think back to the early days of TV and cable: My God, with so much to watch, will we ever get anything done? The exact same argument can be made—indeed, one wishes it were made—about books: With so many of them unread, how can we possibly ever do anything else? But, of course, we do.
Twitter addiction shall pass. Have faith—faith in your fellow man and woman. I was busy doing other things yesterday, important things, and so I pretty much did not tweet. I survived without it. So, I’m depressed to say, did all of you without me. I just wrote in my book that Twitter indeed created a distraction to writing the book, as I was tempted by the siren call of the conversation that never ends. But it also helped with my writing that I always had ready researchers and editors, friends willing to help when I got stuck or needed inspiration.
Twitter is a tool to manage and we learn how to do that, once the new-car smell wears off. That’s exactly what has happened with blogging. And here is the moment the curmudgeons triumphally declare the triumphalists wrong and blogging—which, remember, was also going to destroy us—dead or dying. What killed blogging? Twitter. Ah, the circle of life, the great mandala.
But I can guarantee that the distraction trope will be pulled out of the refrigerator and reheated again and again as the curmudgeons raise alarms about the destructive power of the next shiny thing. I’m loving reading a long-awaited new book by the esteemed Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein. In Divine Art, Infernal Machine, she takes us back to exact same arguments over the printing press among the “triumphalists” and the “catastrophists.” That is perhaps better title for our curmudgeons. She quotes Erasmus arguing that
the benefits of printing were almost eclipsed by complaints about increased output: swarms of new books were glutting the market and once venerated authors were being neglected. “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books?… the very multitude of them is hurting scholarship, because it creates a glut, and even in good things satiety is most harmful.” The minds of men “flighty and curious of anything new” are lured “away from the study of old authors.”
And isn’t really their fear, the old authors, that they are being replaced? Control in culture is shifting.
What are our catastrophists really saying when they argue that Twitter is ruining us and Western (at least) civilization? They are branding us all sheeple. Ah, but you might say: Jarvis, aren’t you and your triumphalists making similarly overbroad statements when you say that these tools unlock new wonders in us? Perhaps. But there is a fundamental difference in our claims.
We triumphalists—I don’t think I am one but, what the hell, I’ll don the uniform—argue that these tools unlock some potential in us, help us do what we want to do and better. The catastrophists are saying that we can be easily led astray to do stupid things and become stupid. One is an argument of enablement. One is an argument of enslavement. Which reveals more respect for humanity? That is the real dividing line. I start with faith in my fellow man and woman. The catastrophists start with little or none.
Ah, but some will say, these tools are neutral. They can be used by bad actors as well. That’s certainly true. but bad actors are usually already bad. The tools don’t make them bad.
Take the Great Distractor of the age: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. The real debate over him in The Social Network and among privacy regulators and between catastrophists and triumphalists is about his motives. I write in Public Parts:
If, as the movie paints him, he acts out of his own cynical goals—getting attention, getting laid, getting rich—then manipulating us to reveal ourselves smells of exploitation. But if instead he has a higher aim—to help us share and connect and to make the world more open—then it’s easier to respect him, as Jake [my son] and I do. . . .
There is the inherent optimism that fuels the likes of him: that with the right tools and power in the right hands, the world will keep getting better. “On balance, making the world more open is good,” Zuckerberg says. “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.” The optimist has to believe in his fellow man, in empowering him more than protecting against him. . . .
He believes he is creating the tools that help people to do what they naturally want to do but couldn’t do before. In his view, he’s not changing human nature. He’s enabling it.
I talked with Ev Williams at Twitter and he says similar things. He’s not trying to distract us to death. (That would be Evil Ev.) He’s trying to help us connect with each other and information, instantly, relevantly. (That is Good Ev.) It’s up to us how we use the tool well—indeed, we the community of users are the ones who helped invent the power of @ and # and $ and RT to refine the gift Ev et al gave us. I heard a similar mission from Dennis Crowley at Foursquare: helping us make serendipitous connections we otherwise wouldn’t.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the one who started this whole mess in the beginning (damn you, Sir!) is trying to push all the toolmakers to the next level, to better understand the science of what they are doing and to unlock the data layer of our world. Wonderful possibilities await—if you believe that the person next to you isn’t a distractable dolt but instead someone with unmet potential. There’s the real argument, my friends. And you are my friends, for remember that I’m the one who respects you.
At two privacy conferences—one in New York, the other right now in Victoria, B.C.—I’ve watched the growth of privacy’s regulatory/industrial complex and seen its strategy in action: scare, then sell.
Yesterday, before I spoke at the Reboot conference, the privacy commissioner for the province, Elizabeth Denham, got up to demonize the social net and its leaders. She said that Google’s Eric Schmidt believes privacy is not relevant anymore, citing his jokes about changing our names at age 21. She belittled Mark Zuckerberg, too. She bragged about helping to bring Facebook to accounts when she was in the federal privacy office. And she gloated about the fizzle of Google Buzz. Then she boasted about adding more regulators to her office and getting more resources. Scare and spend.
At a later panel, I saw a vendor go through his PowerPoint showing the growth of so many outlets of social media. He said 500 million people were using Facebook. Then he paused … dramatically. Then he said, “scary.” Why is that scary? He didn’t say. He talked about watching YouTube videos as if that could be harmful in and of itself. How? He didn’t say. That’s how the discussion of the social web has advanced in this industry: all you have to do is say people are using these mysterious tools and the fear is assumed. But then he sold his service. Scare, then sell.
I spoke with the head of an association of chief privacy officers. Boy, I said, I’ll bet your membership is growing. In increments of a thousand, he said. He also noted how the growth in the U.S. is in privacy officers while in Europe it’s in privacy regulators.
I saw the two come together at the other conference, MediaBistro’s in New York, when the head of a privacy advocacy organization issued his fearsome spectres for the crowd of companies and regulators. It becomes a self-powering machine: The privacy advocate feeds the regulators arguments to be scared and regulate more, then companies think they need more privacy services, and more companies are born to provide them—companies that set up booths here in Victoria. One handed out a slick magazine with the big cover billing: “Social Media RISKS: Four Areas You Must Examine At Your Company.”
In the draft of my book Public Parts—which I’m furiously editing now—I had not gone after privacy’s regulatory/industrial complex. I’m trying hard not to pit privacy and publicness against each other as they are not binary; one depends upon the other in a continuum of choices we all make.
But the emergence of Privacy, Inc., as a industry built on scaring people is beginning to scare me.
In my talk yesterday, I warned of unintended consequences of too much regulation enacted too quickly. I cited Germany’s Verpixelungsrecht, its blurring of images in Google Street View and the precedent that sets for others taking pictures in public of public views.
I also worry that efforts to bring in a Do Not Track list and other demonization of ad targeting could cripple the revenue of the media and news industries even as they struggle to find sustainability; it could kill news outlets and reduce journalism.
At the final panel I attended, moderated by Denham, I saw execs from trade groups and Yahoo as well as a reasonable friend from Ottawa’s privacy office talk about meaningful efforts that are being made to be more transparent about advertising, which—lord knows—is needed.
The ad and media industries have been damned fools, not being open enough about what they do and how they do it and the value that comes to them—in higher ad rates—and much more importantly to the public—in relevance (and less noise). But Yahoo showed off a good tool to see and change how you are being targeted. The Canadian Interactive Advertising Bureau put forward a good framework for self-regulation. FutureOfPrivacy.org gave good advice about seeing past tools and disclosures and making advertising actually worthwhile for consumers.
Denham, to her credit, asked the panel to define bad regulation. They said it’s taking a narrow issue and using broad strokes to regulate it, doing collateral damage. She came to the view of regulation I’ve learned from danah boyd: that we need to concentrate on controlling use of data more than the gathering of it. (It’s illogical, indeed impossible, to tell people what they may not know; it’s logical and feasible to tell them what they may not do with what they know.)
So at the end of the day, I felt a bit better. But I fear that the reasonable and necessary moves to protect privacy—and it does need protection—won’t be able to outrun the fear strategy. For fear is building a new industry, a very fast-growing industry.
: Here’s Mathew Ingram’s GigaOm report on my talk with a brief chat. I hope to be able to post the talk itself soon.
In her second major speech on internet freedom, I’m delighted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood for the freedom to connect and recognizes the internet as a public space (as I will argue it is in Public Parts). The right to connect is first on my list of principles for our net society. I’m also delighted that she is calling for a discussion about those principles. But I will say that discussion should not come from her or from any government. The internet is not theirs. It is ours. The discussion must come from us, the citizens of the net.
To maintain an Internet that delivers the greatest possible benefits to the world, we need to have a serious conversation about the principles that guide us. What rules exist‚ and should not exist‚ and why; what behaviors should be encouraged and discouraged, and how.
The goal is not to tell people how to use the Internet, any more than we ought to tell people how to use any public space, whether it is Tahrir Square or Times Square. The value of these spaces derives from the variety of activities people can pursue in them, from holding a rally to selling their wares to having a private conversation. These spaces provide an open platform‚ and so does the internet. It does not serve any particular agenda, and it never should. But if people around the world are going to come together every day online and have a safe and productive experience, we need a shared vision to guide us.
One year ago, I offered a starting point for that vision, by calling for a global commitment to Internet freedom to protect human rights online as we do offline. The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs‚ these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog.
The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace; in our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or union hall. Together, the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I have called the freedom to connect. The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same.
Because we want people to have the chance to exercise this freedom, we also support expanding the number of people who have access to the Internet.
Amen to all that. I’m disappointed that she used this speech to once more attack Wikileaks (even as she praised other nations’ citizens’ efforts to use the net to bring transparency to their governments) and that the Administration has not taken the opportunity of Wikileaks to examine its own level of classification and opacity. They could still disapprove of Wikileaks while also learning a lesson about being more open. By not doing that, some of the high-minded words in a speech such as this come off as at least inconsistent if not hypocritical.
In his column complaining about Huffington Post and the new economics of content competition, I think David Carr makes two understandable but fundamentally fallacious assumptions about news and media: that the value in journalism is in content and that making content must be work. Because that’s the way it used to be.
In their op-ed the next day in The New York Times complaining about copyright losing its hardness, Scott Turow, Paul Aiken, and James Shapiro extend the error to entertainment, assuming that content is entertainment and content is what content makers make.
Pull back to view the true value of these things: information, knowledge, enlightenment, amusement, experience, engagement. Content can be and has been a vessel to deliver their worth. But it is not the only one. That is the lesson of the internet — indeed, of Huffington Post itself. I have argued that The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the BBC, and other media should have but never would have started the Huffington Post because they, like the gentlemen above, still see content as value in itself and further believe that content is their own franchise (granted by their control of the means of production and distribution). So the benefits of content cannot come from others — bloggers, commenters, citizens, amateurs — as new wine in new casks. They instead want to put their old wine in the new skins (witness The Daily).
That is why old media people are missing new opportunities. It’s not about the content (stupid). It’s about the value.
We can be informed now by many means: by our neighbors telling us what they know, enabled to do so by the net, at a marginal cost of zero, doing so not because it is work (and work must be paid) but because this is what neighbors do for each other. We can be entertained by many means: by clever people making songs and shows and telling stories because they love doing so and because they are compensated in attention rather than royalties (and that attention may well lead to money when they can finally detour around the gauntlet of old media’s closed ways to find audiences on their own).
Why do people write on Huffington Post? Because they can. Because they give a shit. Because they like the attention and conversation. Because they couldn’t before. Why do they sing their songs on YouTube? Same reasons.
Is there still a role for the journalist, the professional, the artist in this? Perhaps. I think so. That’s why I am teaching journalism school. But I’m not necessarily teaching them to make content. That is now only one of many, many ways to meet the goals of adding value to information, time, and society. Some of my entrepreneurial journalism students are, for example, creating businesses that will use data to impart information; they will add value by gathering and analyzing it and making it possible for you to find the intersecting points that matter to you. Other of my students are creating platforms for you to get more value out of your own data. Others are creating platforms for people to connect around interests and make and find their own value. Others are finding new ways to sustain reporting and the making of content. They are all valid if they bring value.
If you concentrate on the value, not the form — content — then the possibilities explode.
Turow et al shut down the idea that opening up information can yield greater value that protecting it. Sharers are…
… abetted by a handful of law professors and other experts who have made careers of fashioning counterintuitive arguments holding that copyright impedes creativity and progress. Their theory is that if we severely weaken copyright protections, innovation will truly flourish. It’s a seductive thought, but it ignores centuries of scientific and technological progress based on the principle that a creative person should have some assurance of being rewarded for his innovative work.
No, I’d say rather that there are more ways to open up value. If Wikipedia were copyrighted by a publisher, it never would have become Wikipedia because it would be owned, not shared. We now have a new means to collect value rather than merely to own content.
I remember at the DLD conference a few years ago when Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales defended himself from a ninja-knife-wielding Jason Calacanis over paying people to contribute to online resources. Calacanis, like Carr, called it work. Wales instead likened it to a pickup game of basketball. Viewed from a distance, basketball certainly looks like work; they sweat enough. So why don’t we demand that they be paid? Why aren’t we lamenting the loss of a marketplace for their value? Because that’s not where the value is. It’s in the fun.
Granted, what’s done with that fun — how it is exploited — is relevant. If I start charging admission to watch you play basketball — it is great content, after all — or if I put sponsors’ banners on the court — you did draw an audience — you might want a cut. If you can get it — if you can show that there aren’t a million competitors for court time in an open marketplace — great! But what if the gate or the ads merely support my ability to provide free court time to you or free uniforms to your town-team kids? The economics are not necessarily sweat = work = product = pay. Neither is it any longer true that owning the expensive means of production and distribution assures a return on that investment. There are other expressions of value.
The truth is that Huffington Post recognizes the value of professionalism. I’ve lately recalled Arianna Huffington talking with Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger in London a few years ago when he — with native irony, in front of his reporters — asked why the hell she was hiring reporters, who are a pain in the ass to manage and expensive to boot. Because their stories get more traffic, she said. They add value. That’s why she has editors and curators. They add value. That’s why she has technologists who make the Huffington Post such a social experience. They enable value.
That’s what I’m teaching my entrepreneurial students: add value. And be efficient: take advantage of the free exchange that is already happening — the free and open platforms and the information that now easily passes on them. Then put your precious resources where you most add value. Do that before you even think of extracting value. There are the new economics of what we used to think of as content.