Monday, July 20, 2009

The latest Obama outrage; controlling the internet

In the world of Obama there cannot be any dissent or criticism of the master designer (no, not God – President Barack Obama) and any attempts to impugn the Obama plans for “change” must be demolished. So if negativity comes from the internet, then of course the blogosphere must be added to litany of government control and censorship.

The recent Obama intended appointment of Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, to the position of head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is the next nail in the coffin of the First Amendment. In this position Sunstein will have powers that are unprecedented and very far reaching; not merely mind-boggling but with explicit ability to use the courts to stifle free speech if it opposes Obama policies. In particular, Sunstein thinks that the bloggers have been “rampaging out of control” and that “new laws need to be written” to contain them. Advance copies of Sunstein's new book, "On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done," have gone out to reviewers ahead of its September publication date, but considering the new position to which Sunstein is about to be appointed, the powers with which Sunstein will be endowed are very, very, troubling.

The Wall Street Journal reported that "the post wields outsize power. It oversees regulations throughout the government, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Obama aides have said the job will be crucial as the new administration overhauls financial-services regulations, attempts to pass universal health care and tries to forge a new approach to controlling emissions of greenhouse gases."

As an indication of where Sunstein is coming from, his previous book, “Nudge,” suggests that government ought to “gently force people to be better human beings.” Sunstein reviews the way views get cemented when people are presented with persuasive evidence to the contrary in his "On Rumors." He says he is concerned that we are headed for a future in which "people's beliefs are a product of social networks working as echo chambers in which false rumors spread like wildfire." He has written “We hardly need to imagine a world, however, in which people and institutions are being harmed by the rapid spread of damaging falsehoods via the Internet. We live in that world. What might be done to reduce the harm?"

Sunstein will be another Obama “Czar” but will really be the chief regulator of what can or cannot appear on the internet. It is very scary that the person who will be in charge of public cyberspace believes that - "Whether you're a blogger or the York Times or a Web hosting service - you should be held responsible even for what your comments say." Currently you're immune under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. "Reasonable people," he says, "might object that this is not the right rule," though he admits that imposing liability for comments on service providers would be "a considerable burden."

But who cares about a burden when insults to Obama and Obama plans are concerned; according to Sunstein we must exert a “chilling effect” on those who would spread destructive falsehoods” and this “can be an excellent idea," he says.

The soon to be internet Czar has written "As we have seen, falsehoods can undermine democracy itself;" but what he really means is that he doesn't like what he considers false rumors about Obama, his longtime University of Chicago friend and colleague.

In his book on page 3 (and on page 13, and 14, and 45, and 54 - the book is only 87 pages) Sunstein strives to denounce the supposedly insidious lie that "Barack Obama palling around with unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers (Ayers referred to Obama as a "family friend" in a memoir) did not "undermine democracy," i.e., prevent Obama's election. Although the facts got out the public chose to ignore this and other revealing facts about Obama and chose “change” over common sense.

Sunstein wants a system that includes a "notice and take down" law that would require bloggers and service providers to "take down falsehoods upon notice," even those made by commentators. This is more than a “nudge,” it is outright censorship. The way this works is that a blogger would get a letter claiming that your facts are wrong so you should remove your post. You refuse. If, after a court proceeding proves simply that you are wrong (but not that you committed libel, which when a public figure is the target is almost impossible), you lose, the penalty is . . . you must take down your post. How long would it take for a court to sort out the truth? Nobody will care about that but it will give politicians the ability to tie up their online critics in court.

Consider that the legal bill for bloggers to fight this would be staggering. Bloggers already have plenty of reason to be careful about what they say, even if they don't much fear a libel conviction, but add to that the costs of defense against a plaintiff with unlimited money and you have a clear subversion of the First Amendment.

"We could also imagine a future in which those who spread false rumors are categorized as such, discounted and marginalized . . . people would approach rumors skeptically even they provide comfort and fit their own biases," Sunstein writes. But if his warnings don’t work, Sunstein will likely make good on the implicit threat that runs through his book: that he would redefine libel as the spread of false information and hold everyone up along the way responsible.

Since Sunstein would declare war on bloggers, we should pre-empt him by declaring war on Sunstein, while we still can. Sunstein is an enemy to every news organization and blogger. We should return the favor and declare war on him.

3 comments:

Shakti Womyn said...

Thank you for bringing this critical issue to attention - the Censorship Czar will be dangerous to the blogosphere and to our Constitution.

pippoproducts.com said...

Excellent article. We should have expected no less form the president who think he knows what is good for all of us. This is a war against the American people by its own government. Wake up America.

Michael Roberts of Rexxfield and Mile2 said...

This is an outstanding post. It appears to me that there are two extremes, at one and it is the rabid advocates of absolute and unrestricted free speech and, and then there is the threat of a very scary arbitrary chilling of free speech. Why can’t we meet somewhere in the middle? In this day of open source exchange of ideas, creative commons, and all types of community efforts; why can’t we pull together a voluntary organization of mediators consisting of truth seekers that could act as binding arbitrators in disputes over statements of fact that the subjects claim to be libel? Surely Google, Yahoo, and Bing would defer to the judgment of such an organization and remove materials reasonably believed to be libelous?