A FREE & INDEPENDENT INTERNET: It’s disappearing fast, but there are a thousand reasons why it mustn’t.

God knows how many times I’ve blogged about (a) the future of the Net NOT being 8 billion bloggers, and (b) why the Threebies – Big Barbarian Beasts – will take over in order to make it censorious and give it an agenda. But the evidence is all around us that the process is accelerating at an alarming rate.

Ian Dale has gone. Anna Raccoon has retired hurt. Guido gets the odd great scoop, but on the whole he’s become an online media-buying house, and doyen of the hard, vaguely anarchic Right. And as the blogging fad reaches its nadir, so too the control-freaks (sporting grey suits, thick necks and bizarre bigotry) are buying their way in.

Newsweek has bagged The Daily Beast, and – infamously – Arianna Huffington has sold out (in every sense) to the weird AOL cult. Huffpost was one of the last bastions of eclectic opinion and open-minded comment-thread management. Now – as The Slog discovered quite quickly – threaders either toe the Party line, or get banned.

Equally shameful is the decision by Steve Jobs to do a tablet deal with Newscorp, an arrangement that will see Rupert Murdoch’s News online portal getting massive access to all kinds of lucrative niches. You only have to read the output of The Sun and the New York Daily Post to grasp what an infestation of paid-for Murbollochs Newscorp online will be…..if it survives the UK Hackgate scandal, which I increasingly doubt.

One genuinely independent and unbiased UK title – The First Post – was founded by Mark Law and backed by ethical US financier Marty Finegold. Law’s editorial policy – “all over the place” – was a delight, and gave open-minded writers (including me) the chance to express their views in a calm environment free from off-limits subjects. But Law did not hang around long after the The Week founder Felix Dennis took it over; now it too is a sort of soulless online digest of news, largely devoid of interesting analysis.

Along with the agendas and the paywalls and the party lines has come the inevitable Invasion of the Truth Snatchers – aka, the superinjunction sector of the legal ‘profession’. Most online surfers know the identity of the soccer star who gratuitously used his hugely inflated salary to keep a grubby sexual dalliance out of the media. He has now instructed his hand-rubbing solicitors to force Twitter to hand over the names of those who ‘broke’ the injunction he had successfully negotiated….via a judge of whom the kindest verdict would be an assumption of dementia. If this isn’t money and influence flouting equality before the law, then what is? Worse still, it’s wasted money: the secret will out in the end, as Freddie Goodwin’s did yesterday. Only the superego believes in the eternal power of the superinjunction.

The word is that Twitter (a company based in California) will comply with the Court’s demand on behalf of this footballer. That too would be a sign that this once mould-breaking outfit has lost the plot.

For it’s not just the suits buying their way into the Web: former pioneers have turned into clones of those they once despised: Microsoft is down in the silo complex along with Google and Facebook, and the last of these is busy consorting with the Lloyd Blankfein and his fellow bonus-bandits at Goldin Sacks.

My original discipline of choice was modern history. Most folks in the elite use history to justify arid thinking, or ignore it in order to claim the future. Few if any of them ever learn from it. I take one lesson above all from history: it is not made by social trends and technology and climate – or any other pseudo-science. These things drive history, but they don’t change it. History is changed – and the future redefined – by very special human beings.

The overriding assumption of everyone from the cynically ignorant Establishment down to the chattering classes is that the future will be big, globalist, unethical and brutish. I think that the edifice will collapse before we get anywhere near that, because its internal contradictions almost dictate such a conclusion.

However, I also think that the future could and may well be media-combine dominated and invasive; and it is going to take ballsy individuals to stop that eventuality…because there is no inbuilt cultural reformation on the horizon to stop it.

25 thoughts on “A FREE & INDEPENDENT INTERNET: It’s disappearing fast, but there are a thousand reasons why it mustn’t.

  1. You may be aware that the nature and spirit of BBC blogs has been “improved”
    ……in our new system, comments have a maximum length of 400 characters. It’s my view that this makes for sharper contributions, though I know some disagree.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2011/05/our_next_step_in_news_blogging.html?postId=108713430#comment_108713430

    Even for those who dislike the general slant of the BBC site there was at least a good debating community. This is being dismantled.

    I think you are correct to see an enforced fragmentation of opinion on the web. Your site will survive (even if it has to move now and again) but posting links and ensuring listing on search engines does appear to be a near future worry.

  2. Well, the tree may have been shaken a bit but the best fruit has stayed firm. There are still plenty of great blogs left, and yours is one of them.
    As for that footballer, well, he’s coming accross as a bit of an arrogant twit. I dont care about his bedroom antics personally but these superinjunctions bother me a lot, because I think all the courts ought to be open and transparent, to prevent miscarriages of justice. I expect the people who go to watch the football will probably show what they think of him using his wealth trying to gag and bully everyone, I dont like football much but I know they make up funny songs about the players and sing them at thye matches. I should imagine some wag is writing some very topical lyrics right now!

  3. Great essay John. I’m trying to get my wife to read it, since only this morning I was trying to explain to her the importance of a free internet as a tool for the truth, and that for the first time in history ordinary people have access to facts and diverse opinions.
    Like a lot of people, encouraged by the bias of the mainstream media, she only sees the bad side.
    My children and grandchildren, on the other hand, don’t understand the dangers in allowing a few organisations to become portals through which all internet traffic flows. Or the dangers of letting the elite get control.
    They think I’m just getting batty in my old age when I have a rant about how lucky they are to enjoy such an information resource, and that they’ll regret giving it up so easily.
    To paraphrase, “All that is necessary is that good men do nothing”

  4. Spot on piece John!

    I don’t have your optimism I am afraid. In my opinion we (western culture) are slowly slipping back into a fascist mindset. This is not because of the Internet and its propensity to be, by its very nature, a democratising force but more because the West, with some exceptions, believed that there was such a thing as a post industrial economic model that can create wealth equally as good as in the past. The tremors of this fact are all plain to see, as you have commented upon for some time. All we need is a new incarnation of the Fuhrer and make no mistake, the poor, unemployed and squeezed middle classes will vote for him with gusto. In the end, worrying about Internet freedom is or will soon become irrelevant.

    Sorry for being so pessimistic.

  5. Why shouldn’t the player have tried to protect his two children from the taunts that they may suffer when the news got out? This is all about hatred of the rich and a feminist-inspired antagonism towards successful men. Footballers do not exploit ‘family values’ in their sponsorship deals. If anything they are usually portrayed as single men. This player has never claimed to be any kind of moral role model at all and I can’t see how he is guilty of hypocrisy.
    The actions of the Twitter superinjunctions breaker are crass and destructive, just like Julian Assange. The information has been released without thought to the consequences. I enjoy reading about shenanigans as much as anybody but I defend the right of the courts to decide how the law applies and the wider interests of society are balanced against those of privacy…particularly the privacy of innocent parties like this man’s wife and children.

    • Maybe this footballer should’ve thought about his children’s feelings when he shagged a slapper.
      We must all learn to take responsibility: there can be no exceptions.

      • I agree about responsibility but I am saying it is also our responsibility to see it from the wife and children’s point of view. Doesn’t wider society have a duty of care towards children whose parents fail them? This is what the courts should be allowed to balance. If somebody breaks the law then it wouldn’t serve society’s interests to keep it secret, but although the footballers actions were wrong no law has been broken in this case. There is no particular way in which society will benefit from knowing the truth apart from satisfying salacious interest.

    • @Anthony Ward:
      Methinks you’re saying that a married professional footballer can freely continue having affairs because he can cover them up by hiding behind his kids shouting: “think of the children”. That may be exactly what he had in mind. Responsibility for the consequences is his and his alone.

      • Again, you are seeing it only from the footballer’s point of view. There are other people involved in this but people are homing in on the celebrity to the exclusion of the others. It is wrong to have affairs but how can we say that society’s needs to know about these affairs outweigh the necessity of protecting children who have been let down by their parents?

      • If it were the Archbishop of Canterbury carrying on then it would be different and society would need to be told. You are going to have to convince me that society NEEDS to know about this footballer’s naughtiness, rather than simply WANTS to know…

      • @Anthony Ward: Each of us is accountable for what we do. IMO we cannot claim that our indiscretions should not be exposed by the media because of a risk that of our kids might be ridiculed at school.
        That is cowardly.
        Either Mr **** ***** should not commit indiscretions in the first place or should have a plan on how to explain it to his wife/kids.
        His legal action amounted to asking the court for a licence to carry on misbehaving indefinitely. Too bad for him, he’s been outsmarted.

        The issue of need to know -vs- wants to know is a strawman diversion IMHO. Peace.

    • Why should his tart be outed and her life ruined because she can’t afford an injunction? It takes 2 to tango. He should have protected her with his injunction as well.

      • Beefdripping
        It was she who sought publicity by contacting the newspapers when the affair was taking place and later by going to court publicly. She could have protected herself. The footballer may well have argued in court that he did want to protect Imogen Thomas from publicity for all we know.
        Bankrupt Taxpayer
        It is not cowardly to try and protect one’s kids. He did not ask for a licence to carry on misbehaving because that is not in the gift of the courts anyway. His wife would have had a view on it by that stage anyway.
        However I am asking you not to focus exclusively on the celebrity’s morality but to consider whether society has a duty of care towards the children of a father who has let them down, even if it galls everyone that by doing this he might escape public condemnation? He is presumably suffering at home so maybe that can be enough for everybody.

      • @Anthony Ward: We may have to differ on this one.
        Although I agree that Mr **** ***** did not actually ask the court for a licence to misbehave, IMV that is essentially what he was doing:

        As soon as his antics became public – or risked becoming public – he rushed to the courts and took out a super-injunction on grounds that the publicity would cause distress to his wife and kids.
        We can all see that in different ways, but I see it as him trying to hide his antics behind his family, hence my reference to him being a coward. Not a good moral course of action for an ambassador of footbal methinks.

        IMHO a better solution is for his s-j to be lifted by the courts and for him to make amends with his family.

  6. Regarding web access – what is to stop bloggers buying their own little servers and using open-source software to publish? Similarly are there not independent search engines being developed by the open-source crowd? I thought the whole idea of the technology revolution is that people can run their own little bedroom operations, be it film-making, sound studio, web publishing etc.

      • I think that bloggers and open-source developers can make a better effort yet on a technical level before running up the white flag. As long as they stick to the law with what they publish then Justice Trousers can be kept at bay. I’m no techie but I suspect its only bytes, wires and hard-disks and that big business and governments can be thwarted with some application.
        I gather that if one uploads any pictures to Twitter and Facebook that they then become their property for ever, to do what they like with. The answer surely is to have an open source social media software that can enable us to host our own pics on our own servers.
        I can’t pretend to have any expertise though…just musing.

    • Scary. And the true comment in that article (paraphrased) is that the West, having done its best to rid the world of totalitarian govts, is now adopting the very same practices.

  7. What we are talking about here, it seems to me, is the death of investigative journalism in Britain, and by “journalism” I mean informed comment across all of the media and not just the Internet. For this, blame English libel law, which is an utter disgrace, and which shelters the rich while threatening to financially ruin the not-so-rich. We have reached the stage where to express any opinion whatsoever on anyone wealthy enough to employ leading libel law firms is an invitation to disaster. This is not what libel legislation was designed for.

    Reform of the law is desperately needed, but powerful vested interests will do their level best to keep things exactly as they are. It’s not the alleged takeover of the Internet by the big players that worries me – as I see it, the Internet is surviving quite well, thank you, and grows more diverse by the day. But unless something radical is done about the libel laws, John is right: British-based blogs that deal with opinion on political and social issues will have an increasingly hard struggle to survive.

  8. Pingback: THE SUNDAY ESSAY: Why we need more ambition in our ideas about reforming Britain. | The Slog

  9. Well well.
    That name.
    By tonight – Sunday – it seems that the American press has published, the Scottish press has published, the Spanish press has published and anyone with Internet access or a mobile phone, anyone who tweets or uses Google has access to the name.
    viz
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:0CgY4myiy2kJ:www.facebook.com/topic.php%3Fuid%3D86037497258%26topic%3D23979%26post%3D168261+Manchester+United+player+injunction+scandal&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-a&source=www.google.co.uk

    Whatever m’Lord Judge says anyone who wants to know knows.
    Even the “expert” commentator on Saturday mornings “Today” prog said “blah, blah R**n ….., er, ah, I mean the footballer in question said, blah blah…” Lovely moment – pity that no-one picked him up on it. It’s on the podcast if you want the evidence m’Lord Judge.

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of an old Welsh Man U player screwing a slapper and thus putting himself AND his family in a position of potential ridicule and misery, the law – and the European Act – is making an absolute stupid ass of itself again.

    If it is not now obvious to everyone by now – if you don’t want the jeering criticism don’t do the deed. It WILL get out. The right to guaranteed privacy is very limited if you are in the public eye. And I don’t think there is very much any old judge will be able to do about it.

    European Privacy Laws versus the American Second Amendment.
    Bring it on!

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