January 10, 2001
12:29 AM   Subscribe

Author Caleb Carr argues in favor of government regulation of the Internet. He suggests that if we don't have government making the rules, the corporations will make them instead. (Yeah, it's a Salon link. You got a problem with that? Keep it to yourself.)
posted by jjg (21 comments total)
I don't understand the difference between the government and the corporations. I thought they had become pretty much one and the same.
posted by Postroad at 4:50 AM on January 10, 2001

While Postroad has a point, I still believe the government is more accountable than private corporations. Of course, I don't think the government should regulate the Internet, rather, they should use their regulatory power to prevent corporations from regulating it. That's where the power of government WRT the Internet lies.

<off-topic>BTW, I'm mystified by the common defensive stance taken when posting a Salon link. Salon often publishes provocative (if not in any way reasonable) articles that inspire some good discussion. Has anyone really complained about Salon (other than noting their bias in 'liberal media' parallel threads) or posting Salon links?</off-topic>
posted by daveadams at 7:43 AM on January 10, 2001

Well, he may have identified the right problem, but he definitely has the wrong answer.

He thinks it's dangerous that people believe what they read on the internet when some of it is false - well, people believe the Weekly World News tabloid, too, and I don't see anyone calling for it to be shut down.

The skill of questioning the veracity and value of an information source is a basic one, that should be taught in schools. I know I learned it there. If people aren't learning the discernment required to protect themselves from being duped on the 'net, then it's not regulation that's going to save them, it's education.

And as for his concern that too much information "leads to a society in which each member is increasingly concerned with the satisfaction of his or her own material appetites, and less and less concerned with the philosophical problems and principles that underlie the successful creation and maintenance of a civil society" - well, pehaps he has not noticed that there is a very large movement in this country of people searching for spiritual and moral value over physical wealth in their lives. From Steven Covey's "Seven Habits" books, to Oprah's "Life Makeovers," to (on the more esoteric end) the growing popularity of Ken Wilber's "integral psychology," - I think people are becoming more and more aware that information, entertainment, and the attainment of wealth are not going to provide them with meaning and value in their lives. This movement provides a counter-check to the growth of information technology, which I believe will prevent the kind of "dystopia" authors like Carr envision.
posted by dnash at 7:49 AM on January 10, 2001

Carr is either trolling for publicity or he's a despicable fascist. Here's my favorite quote from the article:

"I'm saying there should be an agency in place that would terrify Matt Drudge into vetting his reports and not publishing hearsay"

What??!!! He really wants a government agency that will threaten people who editorialize online? This is crazy. And dangerous. And just plain wrong.

This is not a solution, this is fascism. No thank you.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:58 AM on January 10, 2001

Well, he spends a while talking about his new book. Then, seems to base his whole proposition on the events of his science fiction novel.

Treat the internet as food or drugs, not print? It's just shocking to see an established author blatantly display his ignorance of a subject.

Another great quote, "People assume that what they read on the Net is true. There must be strenuous efforts first and foremost to guarantee that what is represented as fact is fact, and that what is not fact is clearly labeled as such." Clearly it is not a fact that....oh forget it. Lets just throw him in jail.
posted by Doug at 9:37 AM on January 10, 2001

Try to remember that Caleb Carr writes primarily about the American 1890's. This was a time when robber barons like Vanderbilt, Morgan, and Rockefeller *were* in many ways more powerful than the U.S. government.

Carr is warning us to learn from history's lesson: that we should protect the internet from corporate exploitation, just as we protected the working classes from corporate exploitation more than 100 years ago.

The question is not whether Carr is a fascist or a publicity hound. The question is: is this a valid comparision?

posted by ratbastard at 10:02 AM on January 10, 2001

My question is: Has Carr spent more then a couple days using the Internet or is he just a reactionary?

I don't think he's warning us about history's lesson at all. Maybe I missed that it the article.

It seemed to me he was trying to warn us that we're gullable idiots. I don't want to through him in jail. I want to back him into a corner and yell at him.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:30 AM on January 10, 2001

I think some level of government (or at least, uninterested third party) regulation would be a good idea, but only if it's optional, or limited.

Optional: If you want to be recognized as a legitimate source, you sign up with the agency, they examine what you do, and if they approve you get a badge to put on your website. They monitor you every once in a while to make sure you're still up to snuff.

Limited: This would be based on the content or presentation of the site. Personal sites would be immune, for example (I don't think anyone wants to regulate "here is a picture of my cat" type web pages), but any site claiming to be a reputable source of information, or presenting itself in such a manner, would need certification (or, at the very least, you'd know they might not be trustworthy if they *didn't* have it).

Any kind of across-the-board regulation is a bad thing, though.
posted by CrayDrygu at 11:35 AM on January 10, 2001


But why stop there? If this works online shouldn't we offer this badge to ALL journalists? What if Newsweek also wants this official seal of approval?

It could say something like "The US government has determined that the information contained within is true."

If people got rejected as "not legitimate" they could go to court and spend tens of thousands of dollars to appeal the government's decision.


posted by y6y6y6 at 12:10 PM on January 10, 2001

Eh. Unless the structure of the internet changes substantially, it can never be regulated effectively by anyone, IM admittedly non-expert HO.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:35 PM on January 10, 2001

On a related note, in a Wired story today, Nader is pushing for th' same kind of thing.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2001

Okay, also, nitpicking: (this article really annoys me)
It is teaching them how to assemble massive amounts of information, of arcane minutia, without simultaneously teaching them how to assemble those bits of information into integrated bodies of knowledge -- such integration being the only function that distinguishes the human brain from a mechanical computer.
What does he think knowledge is? Everything you know is unrelated bits of minutia which are assembled into context automatically by your brain.
observe how Napster has revealed its true colors as just another attempt to beguile members of the public with claims of being on "their side," only to turn around and try to bilk them.
Napster has always *publically* intended to turn a profit, and the majority of napster users are not offended by their actions. Business make money that's their purpose.
Okay, that's enough. :P
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:19 PM on January 10, 2001

Wow, that Wired article isn't too clear. It sounds like Nader wants a consumer protection org for the Internet, in line with his consumer advocacy work of the past. Nothing like the regulation that Carr advocates. But then Wired throws in this quote:

"A business-hating authoritarian like Nader doesn't really want a U.N. for privacy," says Wayne Crews, director of information policy at the libertarian Cato Institute. "He would be most content simply dictating policy himself."

Seems over the top. Mr. Crews should switch to decaf. And maybe Wired should be a little more discriminating when they seek out a conservative voice for "balance".
posted by wiremommy at 1:49 PM on January 10, 2001

any site claiming to be a reputable source of information, or presenting itself in such a manner, would need certification

So, in order to be consider a source of "truth" (or even "fact"), you have to be aproved by the U.S. Government.

Does anyone else think this sounds like 1984?
posted by dagnyscott at 2:17 PM on January 10, 2001

Personally, I'd have you all flogged by policeman for not seeking governmental approval before posting.
posted by Doug at 3:09 PM on January 10, 2001

The most astounding thing in this essay is that Carr puts forth - with a straight face - the notion that the US government should be the ultimate arbiter of truth. America was built on the ideal of an educated populace, and the reality of ignorant masses. The causes of the utter disregard in which most Americans hold intelligence and reason are varied, and beyond the scope of this forum; apparently these causes are also beyond Carr's understanding.
posted by mkhall at 3:28 PM on January 10, 2001

"So, in order to be consider a source of "truth" (or even "fact"), you have to be aproved by the U.S. Government."

Well, I should have phrased that better, because that honestly wasn't quite what I was thinking. I was thinking more along the lines of a badge to place on your site that says "not only do we say that this is the truth, but the US Govt backs us up." I don't think there should be any requirements for an internet presence of any sort beyond payment for service (or willingness to put up with ads if you use something like Geocities, er, Yahoo).
posted by CrayDrygu at 10:25 PM on January 10, 2001

This article is a perfect example of why celebrities should not be granted credibility by the public (or, more to the point, the media) simply because they are celebrities. Caleb Carr has zero standing as an expert on the socialogical effects of information technology. Any MeFi member would be more qualified to write an article on this subject. Giving him space to rant about this in a (semi-)respected public forum is sheer irresponsibility. Or blind worship by Salon editors ("Oh! Caleb Carr, the writer! Please sir, may we fellate you?"). Or a sad attempt to up the hit count of a dying web site by publishing sensationalism.
posted by aaron at 11:09 PM on January 10, 2001

Salon's Scott Rosenberg on reader reaction to Caleb's Folly.
posted by aaron at 12:11 AM on January 11, 2001

I was thinking more along the lines of a badge to place on your site that says "not only do we say that this is the truth, but the US Govt backs us up."

It seems to me that such a badge could only diminish the credibility and respectibility of a news organization. Who wants government-approved news? Part of the point of a free press is that they aren't beholden to the government, that they can investigate allegations and scandals that the government would rather ignore. Any type of government certification would ultimately lead to the appearance, if not the reality, of government-controlled news.
posted by daveadams at 10:09 AM on January 11, 2001

Hey, frankly, I don't want the US Government's grubby little paws groping around the internet either. All I'm trying to say is that, if they do anything at all, that would be the least damaging and the most acceptable in my eyes. I still wouldn't be happy.

Not to mention that I also originally spoke of an uninterested third party doing the certification...people seem to have forgetten that in favor of bashing the gov't.
posted by CrayDrygu at 8:19 PM on January 11, 2001

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