The Internet has given a voice to millions of people, allowing for a Golden Age of information that is unprecedented in history. But not everyone likes an unregulated marketplace of ideas. Is there a conspiracy to control the Internet and thus, rid the world of conspiracy theories?
The Conspiracy to Control the Internet?
The answer, at least in certain quarters, is yes. For several years now, various high-profile academics, government employees, and reporters have called for the U.S. government to control the Internet by regulating or assuming control over its information. But how does one control the Internet? Some people call for indirect measures. For example, Cass Sunstein, the current Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, once recommended that government agents go undercover on the Internet and raise doubts about conspiracy theories and the like.
Some individuals call for more direct measures to control the Internet. The other day, Evgeny Morozov published an article on Slate complaining about sites that “undermine scientific consensus, overturn well-established facts, and promote conspiracy theories.” He wants browsers to mark “disputed information” in red (danger alert!). He also suggests Google manipulate search results so people won’t be able to find “sites run by pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists.”
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Whenever someone wants to limit your options on what to think, look out. At the core of Morozov’s paranoia is the collectivist idea that individuals are incapable of thinking for themselves since they might arrive at so-called wrong conclusions. Thus, we need a guiding hand (presumably, belonging to the government) to help us sort out right from wrong. And to do that, government must control the Internet.
Of course it’s all bunk. Sometimes consensus science gets overturned, well-established facts get called into question, and conspiracy theories are shown to be true. That’s the brilliance of the Internet. It’s the greatest marketplace of ideas ever invented. We would be wise to keep it free.
[The Internet] has been tremendously useful, giving us Wikipedia and Twitter. But it has also spawned thousands of sites that undermine scientific consensus, overturn well-established facts, and promote conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, the move toward social search may further insulate regular visitors to such sites; discovering even more links found by their equally paranoid friends will hardly enlighten them. Is it time for some kind of a quality control system?
People who deny global warming, oppose the Darwinian account of evolution, refuse to see the causal link between HIV and AIDS, and think that 9/11 was an inside job have put the Internet to great use. Initially, the Internet helped them find and recruit like-minded individuals and promote events and petitions favorable to their causes. However, as so much of our public life has shifted online, they have branched out into manipulating search engines, editing Wikipedia entries, harassing scientists who oppose whatever pet theory they happen to believe in, and amassing digitized scraps of “evidence” that they proudly present to potential recruits…