Your children are at risk on the Internet! Terrorists want to kill you! Erotic imagery turns men into sex pests! It must be true – I read it on Facebook.
For anyone trying to understand political campaigns and events, it’s useful to understand the vested interests that lie behind them. Many liberal-minded people are tricked into supporting attacks on free expression by scare campaigns like the ones above. Here’s a selection of things that upsets corporations. By understanding the things that corporations would like to get rid of, we can begin to understand the fake, media-initiated panics that sweep society (and conversely, understand why some important issues are ignored).
The BBC is constantly under attack. Sure, they’ve messed up lately with reporting of child abuse allegations… but that doesn’t explain the never-ending torrent of hate from right-wing media outlets. The BBC upsets major media empires for two simple reasons: it is relatively balanced, and thus breaks the corporate monopoly in defining The Truth; and it takes market share (and thus, profit) from private companies. The Beeb is often accused of left-wing bias, which is nonsensical. If bias is detectable, it is toward the British establishment and its interests. Thus, you can expect decent coverage of (for example) African news; but don’t expect to find out what’s going on in Afghanistan; the BBC knows its job is to support “our boys”, not impart the truth of “our” wars. The same applies to public broadcasters elsewhere – America’s PBS for example. But PBS and many others have already been neutered by the corporatocracy. And if you want to see the result, just spend some time watching American TV.
“But weren’t the railways built by corporations?” I hear you cry. Sure, but that was before they discovered a far more wasteful form of transport. Why travel at up to 200mph in clean, modern railway carriages when you could be in a traffic jam doing 10mph and consuming non-renewable energy by the gallon? A transport system based on people having drive themselves slowly and expensively makes no sense. But who needs sense when there are profits to be made for road-builders, car makers and oil companies? If you wondered why a train crash that kills one person makes the front page while five people die on British roads every day, usually without media comment, wonder no more. Cars make billions of pounds in profit for corporations and trains don’t. Game over.
My home city, London, is blessed with a great selection of parks, commons and heaths, protected from property developers and other profiteers – but London predates modern capitalism. To corporations, free public space is a missed opportunity to make a profit. New towns are based around the “consumer”. Consumers are like people, except if they want to sit down, they must first buy a coffee. If they want a playground for their kids, they must feed them McDonalds. In fact, why build towns at all? Build a mall surrounded by houses. The people will come, and they will buy, and they will forget that once, a day out with the family could be had for free. Abolishing public space also, subtly, attacks free speech (which is a general annoyance for corporations that would rather get on with business without public scrutiny). In free societies, the public have a right to protest on public land. But replace the high street with a private mall, and the right to protest is removed. This is vividly illustrated by events such as the 2003 arrest of a man in a US shopping mall for refusing to remove an anti-war T-shirt.
It should go without saying that anything renewable is bad for profit. It is perfectly possible, technically, for humanity to stop using fossil fuels within a few decades. A multi-trillion-dollar investment in clean energy would save hundreds of trillions of dollars in the medium term. But one man’s gain is another’s loss… if we stopped buying all that oil, gas and coal, how could oil execs buy their next mansion?
In Victorian times, child prostitution was common in London; more recently, child malnutrition was still widespread. The British left fought for a welfare state to protect the poor, and especially poor children, from poverty and abuse – and in the 1940s, they won. But the introduction of welfare closed many doors to profit. Welfare removed opportunities for offering credit, and credit enslaves the masses to the corporations; and corporations love nothing more than slavery. So when you read yet another “news” story or blog post about “welfare scroungers”, you’re reading a cry for help from corporate interests; for every pound cut from welfare, a loan shark can lend a pound at an extortionate interest rate. As for child prostitution – this is now illegal; but someone, somewhere, is calculating the opportunity cost; those pesky publicly-funded courts and social services are standing in the way of a good profit. When you hear an impassioned plea for “small government”, you’re listening to an advocate for child prostitution. You should tell them so.
Once upon a time – well, about 20 years ago – the right to publish information globally was the preserve of multi-millionaires. Then along came the worldwide web, and the power to publish was placed into the hands of geekery. And then came Web 2.0 with its simple interfaces, and anyone with an Internet connection could publish. This causes distress for the 1%, understandably. If being worth a billion doesn’t buy you preferential access to the meme pool, what’s the point of money? Over the past three decades, corporations had gained a stranglehold over the dissemination of news (or whatever they chose to distribute in the place of news) – with the exception of public broadcasters (see above). The book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies carefully documents the decline of journalism and the rise of PR-as-news serving corporate interests.
With the rise of the blog, Twitter and other tools, corporate/government control of information was blown wide open. This, of course, attacked corporate profits, which they never appreciate; but more than that, it threatened the right of the control freaks of the corporatised state to control the message; and of course, the control freaks would inevitably strike back. Now, war on the free Internet has begun, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle. A series of moral panics is being rolled out via the media to soften up the public for unprecedented levels of surveillance and censorship. As ever, vague threats to children are at the forefront of scaring the population into submission: child “grooming” or the availability of pornography and “sexualised” music videos – none of which has any solid evidential backing. Terrorism, of course, is an old favourite, and is being used to justify US attempts to create an Internet “kill switch”. Even the UK riots of summer 2011 – small and contained as they turned out to be once the hysteria had died away – were blamed on Twitter and Blackberry’s BBM network.
In the UK, ludicrously draconian laws against “causing offence” have already seen people dragged into court for statements made on Twitter and Facebook. How to balance free speech vs. security? This is almost always a false dichotomy. No threat from terrorists, paedophiles or “subversives” is remotely as dangerous as the threat of police and security services with draconian powers, able to monitor and control free expression with no recourse to due process for the public
Free speech is the only defence against dictatorship, so it’s natural that it comes under constant attack from those who would stand to benefit from the removal of freedoms. Everyone – including you – is either part of the solution, else they’re part of the problem. Next time you see a friend post a petition on Facebook demanding more “child protection”, tougher sentencing for non-violent crimes, or for certain types of “offensive” speech to be banned, point out to them where this is going: censorship is never in the interests of the majority, even if it’s sold as “child safety”.