I have a serious problem with significant, massive Internet services being owned and controlled from a central point, be it government or a corporation.
Just take a look at Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Paypal and, first and foremost, Google.
In order to figure out why that is a problem, let’s see what Internet is and how it works. On the bottom layer of the Internet you have the networking hardware. Then you have the central infrastructure of ICANN which defines top-level namespaces and the DNS system. Then you have servers that run services, and clients who connect to those services.
Now, in the good old days of the Internet, the services were standard: HTTP, NNTP, IRC, SMTP, POP3/IMAP, FTP and similar. Essentially, if you wanted to host a website, you needed to run a HTTP service on your web server and put files into the designated directory on the server, and everyone on the Internet could access it. If you wanted to write a blog, you put a blogging CMS into the webserver directory, install and configure the database, connect the blogging CMS to the database and you could write your blog. If you wanted to host a mail server, the process was similar – you installed a SMTP service which received mail on your domain, and a POP3/IMAP server which enabled users to access their mailbox on your domain. Those services were standard, worked the same everywhere, were accessible using standard clients.
Then came the services that offered to make things easier. You got things like Blogspot which made it easy for someone to write a blog – you just registered, chose a visual template and off you went. If you wanted to have a website, there were options that made it very easy, and ultimately most people decided all they need is a Facebook account. If you wanted a chat, you had ICQ and Skype and what not. If you wanted to host video clips, you had Vimeo and Youtube. Basically, the standard generic services that ran on any number of Internet servers were replaced by huge corporations that offered to do it all for you.
Now, what’s the problem with that? Why would we not have it easier if we can? Why would someone configure mysql database and apache webserver and wordpress blogging CMS in order to write a blog, if he can go to the Blogger service owned by Google and create a similarly-looking blog in seconds with zero effort? I’ll tell you why. Because if you host your content on some company’s web-based service, you are in a position where that company can essentially close the tap at any time. If you start writing something they don’t like, or something that will make some socially evil entity with lots of influence pissed off, they can complain to that company’s helpdesk and you’ll find your account suspended, and you’re basically silenced with a single click. On the other hand, if you host your content on a server you personally maintain, one would need to have something very serious, like a court order, in order to force the hosting center to suspend your service. You still can’t do anything criminal, but today you don’t need to do anything criminal in order to be silenced on the Internet. It suffices to have some social justice warrior complaining about you and you’re fucked. It won’t do them any good in a court of law, but they can suspend your Twitter or Blogger or Facebook account, because those accounts are hosted by companies that are publicly traded and their revenue is generated exclusively from advertising, and advertising revenue depends hugely on good public relations, which basically means yielding to pressure from lobbying groups and professional complainers.
What I find extremely worrisome is that huge parts of everybody’s online functionality are based around services provided by huge, centralized corporations that are hugely sensitive to pressure for more censorship, and we will unfortunately see more and more of this every day, because people will continue using what is easier and gives them good results with a minimum of effort, which will result in producing single-point control over their online functionality, forcing everyone to basically censor themselves and reduce variety in the mental space in which we all operate. Because, if you unconsciously censor yourself in order not to have your account suspended, and the rules for account suspension are generated at a non-democratic single-point (corporate management and public relations departments in Facebook and Google, for instance) which is vulnerable to pressure from minority focus-groups (the professional complainers and whiners), the logical result will be either people reducing their thoughts to an increasingly narrow space of political correctness, or doing what I did: taking things into their own hands and doing it the hard way, by hosting everything on their own server (which is very inexpensive to do these days) in order to be able to write whatever they want, and if someone doesn’t like it, he needs to actually take you to court in order to take your content down. And in order to take your content down by a court order, it isn’t enough that they don’t like it or that their feelings are hurt. It needs to be something that is actually illegal, like piracy or child porn or giving advice to terrorists on how to make bombs. It can’t be mere opinions you disagree with. The point of the freedom of speech is that the option to speak offensive opinions needs to be protected by all means. Freedom of saying only inoffensive things isn’t worth having; they had that in Stalinist Russia.
Certainly, if all you want to do online is post pictures of your cat and talk about coffee, then by all means use Facebook and Youtube. That is, until some focus group starts complaining that cats and coffee trigger their psychotic episodes and hurt their feelings about something, that white cats and black coffee are racist and your offensive content needs to be taken down in order to protect their right to be fucking idiots.