The Global Call for Internet Governance
In a perfect world, where everyone acted with respect and integrity, the internet’s open source model might have worked, but the reality is there are a lot of bad actors with bad intentions gaming the internet for financial, political, criminal and personal gain.
It really came as no surprise to those of us who follow the internet when powerhouses Google, Facebook and Twitter were invaded so easily by Russian hackers in the last election. For years they have aggressively fought off all attempts by legislators to put controls in place to address criminal and abusive activity on their platforms. As a result, they were totally unprepared to monitor the situation or respond effectively.
In 2012 when legislators came close to passing the Stop Online Piracy Act, Google and others from Silicon Valley mounted an eleventh hour scorched earth campaign. A campaign that played on the fear of censorship, painting supporters as anti-free speech. Their message was so inflammatory that legislators are still hesitant to revisit safe harbor reform again. And they must if we are to have a vibrant, healthy creative community.
Google spends tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and works with rogue organizations like the EFF and Public Knowledge to keep outside intervention at bay. A story ran recently in the Wall Street Journal stating that Google had gone so far as hiring scholars and researchers to write papers in support of their policies.
“Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating ﬁnancial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley.”
Over the past decade, Google has helped ﬁnance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying $5,000 to $400,000 for the work, The Wall Street Journal found.”
But everything changed for online companies last fall as reports began to surface about Russian interference and false advertising surrounding the presidential election. Washington was finally being forced to deal with Silicon Valley.
“After years of avoiding regulation, businesses like Facebook, Google and Amazon are a focus of lawmakers, some of whom are criticizing the expanding power of big tech companies and their role in the 2016 election.”
“The attacks cover a smattering of issues as diverse as antitrust, privacy and public disclosure. They also come from both sides, from people like the Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, as well as Senator Elizabeth Warren, a liberal Democrat….” Cecilia Kang, New York Times
Now, every news source in America is reporting on the story. Politicians and the public are realizing just how serious and widespread the problems are on the internet.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Institute 62% of U.S. adults get their news from social media with Facebook reaching 67% of their adult users. Huge numbers when you consider the proliferation of Fake News and misleading ads appearing on social media and search platforms.
But perhaps the most direct and powerful statement came from Senator Diane Feinstein D-CA, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee addressing the legal representatives sent by Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify on their behalf before the committee:
“I don’t think you get it,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose home state includes all three companies.
“What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyberwarfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. We are not going to go away gentlemen. And this is a very big deal.”
“You bear this responsibility. You’ve created these platforms. And now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will.”
America needs a comprehensive internet reform to address a long list of failed policies and ineffective legislation. Not piecemeal legislation addressing only the most emotionally charged atrocities like the current bill that addresses sex trafficking or Russian interference in our elections.
We need an oversight committee to address the ever changing challenges presented by this rapidly transforming medium, not decades to fix serious problems like copyright reform.
We need internet governance, not promises.