Last year at this time I wrote that 2009 was the year the internet moved to the centre stage of politics. In hindsight, that was merely the start of Act One. 2010 has been the continuation.
The now-familiar struggles for power and control — both of a society and economy being transformed by the internet, and of the internet itself — have continued to play out. Often with the same actors. Often also with different plot twists.
Facebook continued to be the social networking tool of choice, despite a mid-year backlash against its shoddy privacy practices and tabloid fearmongering about “Facebook murders”. TIME chose well in naming founder Mark Zuckerberg as person of the year. The transformation to people’s social lives is undeniably vast — as is the trove of personal data Facebook has compiled. Our world will never be the same again.
Those in the business of controlling the distribution of information continued to fight against upstarts and threats to their business models. My esteemed colleague Bernard Keane has already covered those issues nicely in his essays on Monday and Tuesday. I won’t belabour the point, but merely note two examples.
The precedent-setting and powerfully symbolic federal court case by the movie industry against internet service provider iiNet continued, moving from the initial trial that began in 2009 — which they resoundingly lost — into an appeal in 2010. We’ll hear the result of that some time around February 2011. But don’t expect it to end there.
As another symbol, consider The Australian’s bizarre war against bloggers, Twitter users and, essentially, anyone who doesn’t agree with their self-appointed status as the Purveyors of Truth. It’s clearly the lashing-out of a dinosaur against an uncertain future they don’t understand.
The Murdoch empire’s faith in Apple’s iPad as their digital salvation — and yes, 2010 was the Year of the iPad, but by Christ aren’t we all sick of hearing about that? — is another symptom. The iPad may be digital, but it’s still about Apple’s gatekeeper role in deciding what you may and may not read.
But none of that is really a surprise.
For me the big surprise was the National Broadband Network becoming the defining issue of the federal election. Sure, it’s tens of billions of dollars. But so were the tax cuts, the so-called “War on Terror”, and the economic stimulus that got Australia through the GFC.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. As columnist Paul Wallbank told me on the wrap-up Patch Monday podcast, in an age of me-too politics the NBN was the only big policy difference between the two major parties. That, and the fact that opinion on the NBN polarised along not just ideological lines about public versus private sector spending, but also about belief in a glorious digital future.
And then there was WikiLeaks …
To the eleventy megabazillion words already written about WikiLeaks I have little to add today. Instead I’ll point to Bruce Sterling’s fine new essay The Blast Shack, where he points out that Julian Assange is a genuine cypherpunk and WikiLeaks an embodiment of the BlackNet idea imagined by Timothy C May, author in 1992 of The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto.
Sterling has already highlighted the money quote: “The state will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be traded freely and will allow illicit and stolen materials to be traded.”
Add the word “p-edophile” and you’ve got the standard induce-the-fear strategy for demanding more control over these evil internets. Whether Senator Conroy knows it or not, that’s precisely the underlying power-play pushing for his internet “filter”.
That’s why there was such an outcry, at least on Twitter, that TIME had gotten it wrong. Assange was the true person of the year, not Zuckerberg. Assange is the true rebel hero, fighting the corrupt establishment — you can already buy the Assange-as-Guevara T-shirt. Zuckerberg is just some prick who’s made billions by selling your personal life.
Something very strange and wonderful is happening, I concluded last year. Same this year, but with one addition. Those who represent the ways of the past, those who see themselves as losing out in this Brave New World, have been fighting back. They’ll continue to do so in 2011. Ever harder.