Many, many years ago I was part of a steampunk chatroom. The website it was one was fairly new, and there wasn’t much in the way of regulation. It was, at heart, a steampunk place of rebels who sought to live with the class of the victorian era, with the values of a punk victoria. Freedom of thought, rationality, anti-censorship, and open conversation of all topics was the law of the chat, and indeed, the entire site.
It was a chat that thrived. Though there was the occasional troll, they rarely lasted a night and then life went on as normal. We dealt with them by either debating them into oblivion, or ignoring them. But, it seems, it is the fundamental rule of our modern world that all good things must come to an end. There was a troll, he lasted a night, but he managed to accomplish something that did more damage than his capslock repetition failed to do.
He cause Moderators to be created over the chat.
At this point I’m not going to explain what a mod is, we’ve all had the net for two decades, if you don’t know go look it up. One the most basic level though, moderators are censors. Either by action or fear, Mods censor conversation.
The chatroom went nearly overnight from a place of lively discussion and adventures on any subject to a ghost town. One mod didn’t like foul language and would ban anyone who swore regardless of context. One mod didn’t like political discussion (a fundamental topic of the victorian era and steampunk) and would ban anyone who brought up politics. Another didn’t like religious discussion and would ban anyone who discussed religion or criticized religion.
The mods were brought in so that they could removed people who were blatantly trolling…but they used their power in a manner far beyond anything they were supposed to do. They took a thriving community and silenced it.
Now, it seems that President Obama wants the FCC to become moderators of the entire internet. Through regulation of prices, of data flow, and inevitably I would suspect, of website types. Telecom companies who were ready to let out newer, faster transmission lines needed to keep up with the flow of data have stalled all roll outs because of what this new regulation could mean.
Even if it starts with the best of intentions (to allow all websites to be seen) eventually there will be censorship. There is a finite amount of data that can be transmitted along any transmission source. At what point will regulators see one site getting more data-flow and then restrict that flow so that other websites who might not be getting as much can have “equal access.” then you have a website being flooded with people wanting to see their site, but no one can because there isn’t enough transmission of data available.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s known as a Denial of Service Attack. The FCC, or any regulator, would essentially be able to create a forced DSA and censor any website they decided they didn’t want seen.
Even if such a thing never happened, the fear of such a thing would cause people to restrict their speech and action. People on the chatroom didn’t leave because they were banned. Very few were banned. But everyone left because of the fear of being banned and the knowledge that if they didn’t converse in the appropriate manor, they would be punished and shunned away from their friends and companions. Allowing regulation of the net, insistence of regulation of the net, will do the same thing.
The internet is the last bastion of true free speech. It is the one place left where there are spots where people can freely discuss ideas. regulate that, and we might as well say goodbye to freespeech as anything but a vague concept.