For decades, the idea has prevailed that the Internet incarnates distinctly American values, creating free markets and forms of free expression that need not states to sustain them – and that no state could contain. In the 1990s, two British media theorists dubbed this mix the Californian Ideology, and Bill Clinton predicted that authoritarians who tried to keep the Internet from spreading democracy would have an easier time “nailing jello to the wall.”
Today, the landscape looks rather different. New EU regulations have demonstrated that governments can in fact place limits on the free flow of information – and compel tech firms to change their practices. The staggering growth of the Chinese Internet, at home and abroad, shows that not only do ICP/TP protocols not necessarily bring American style democracy; the web can serve to create new forms of censorship and surveillance. Indeed, it’s doing so in California itself – where Los Angeles, for instance, has introduced a proprietary predictive policing system.
At this event, we will revisit the Californian Ideology and talk about what might come after. Was it always wrong to imagine that the Internet was inherently liberal and liberalizing? The evidence of white nationalists and neo-nazis who were already taking to UseNet to “spread racial Enlightenment” in the 1980s suggest that, indeed, it may have been. Or did the Californian Ideology simply become wrong as the surveillance capitalist business model developed and tech companies reached massive, monopolistic scales – scales that GDPR may, ironically help consolidate?
If the Internet does not bring freedom, what other values might it bring? And what should we, as makers, users, and citizens demand?
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