Books

From Chile to China, an International Look at the State of the Internet: 'Consent of the Networked'

From technologies intended to block pornography sites to legislation putting business interests before citizens’ rights, Rebecca MacKinnon delivers a pointed report on the state of the Internet that should prompt all of us to speak up for the future of the web.


Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom

Publisher: Basic
Price: $26.99
Author: Rebecca MacKinnon
Length: 320 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-02
Author website
Amazon

Before I had the chance to review Internet policy researcher Rebecca MacKinnon’s latest work, Consent of the Networked, I caught an interview with her on CBC’s Spark podcast, a great source of commentary on technology, social media, and culture. MacKinnon’s current area of research fascination is how Internet users in various geographic locations and vastly differing political climates are impacted by decisions made by governments they never voted for and under whose jurisdictions they do not fall.

It’s a timely topic, with news stories emerging every day about how bloggers in China or Iran are discouraged by various means from continuing to report situations or opinions on the ground that impact the very foundations of Internet freedom. MacKinnon asserts that the vast majority of us are too complacent, and that the entities responsible for regulating control of the Internet, or allowing web-based commerce and transactions to happen freely, don’t have the same interests as the common everyday user of the world wide web. She writes, “Sadly, the elected leaders of the world’s oldest democracies are disappointing the people who could most use their help by demonstrating very little enlightened leadership and a great deal of short-term self-interest.”

Efforts to quash free use of the Internet don’t always originate with what some might see as a controlling dictatorship, either. Many tools are being co-opted for purposes that contradict the creator’s intent, like cameras produced by American companies that are being used for citizen surveillance abroad, or website monitoring software sold to parents in the US and intended to block pornography. If a government uses that kind of technology as part of a blanket approach to blocking inappropriate content, all it takes to get a legitimate website or blog blocked is to add a comment with a link to a porn site.

These stories may seem minor to an outsider, but the infringement on the human rights of citizens caught up in the circle of enforcement is frightening. Not to mention that these efforts are inefficient and often ineffectual; MacKinnon cites researchers in Europe who found that a website campaigning against child pornography has been blocked multiple times in The Netherlands for setting off Internet filtering technology alarm bells.

MacKinnon is a whiz at providing names and details of companies and individuals complicit in these kinds of abuses. When Google pulled its search engine out of China, the move made big headlines, and Google was applauded for balancing their moral compass against their profit margins. On the other side of that story is Apple, whose flagship products continue to be manufactured in China; stories about questionable treatment of factory employees has forced Apple to take a closer look at the situation for workers who bolster the company’s remarkable financial success.

MacKinnon’s best moments are those when she delivers anecdotes about the state of the Internet in China or other regions she has worked in. Fluent in Mandarin, MacKinnon spent nearly a decade as a CNN correspondent in Beijing, including several years as the bureau chief. When she writes about attending events intended for foreign media compared to those for Chinese journalists, her writing is sincere, because she was there, and because she understood every word. Her insight into how Western perception of the state of the Internet in China differs from the true situation on the ground is invaluable.

Story is where MacKinnon excels; a few style tweaks would make Consent of the Networked even more accessible for readers. I hope that with the next version of this book or MacKinnon’s next work a stronger editorial process is used; copy and pasted paragraphs that are essentially verbatim in chapter 3 are an unnecessary distraction. If the author or editor anticipated that a reader might pick and choose chapters rather than reading straight through I could understand some paraphrasing in different sections with overlapping themes, but self-quotation in the same chapter looks sloppy. The book’s complex use of language is undergraduate reading level at a minimum, which may appeal to academics looking for a broad overview of the topic, but means the vast majority of MacKinnon’s potential audience isn’t likely to stick with the text.

Luckily for those who might find the book too wordy to merit finishing, in July 2011 MacKinnon delivered a TED talk in Edinburgh at TEDGlobal, touching on many of the central concepts in Consent of the Networked (see video below). She’s clearly investing a good deal of time and energy into spreading the message that those who want the Internet to stay open and sane need to educate themselves and make their voices heard. Otherwise the consent of the networked will be taken for granted and most certainly abused by companies interested in money, and governments interested in power.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image