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Charles Stross: Thinking About the Internet

Charles Stross

The inadmissible assumptions: Underlying all debate on the future of the internet are a constellation of unspoken assumptions. These include:

a) Advertising is socially neutral or good,
b) Internet content provision on the internet is therefore best funded by selling eyeballs to advertisers,
c) Most people just want to consume content the way they used to consume TV or movies, and it's socially acceptable to orient the internet around this model (call it the broadcasting fallacy),
d) We can be trusted; it's Big Government/Big Corporations/Foreign Governments/Weird Religious Nutters/Those crazy guys with the opposite politics to me who can't be trusted.

Reality check:

a) All advertising tends towards the state of spam (which is merely free-as-in-dirt-cheap-and-unregulated advertising),
b) Funding content via ad sales holds our public arts hostage to a boom/bust bubble economy. Furthermore, there is an incentive for web publishers to prioritize paid ads over editorial content, and to censor editorial content that threatens advertizing revenue,
c) The idea that "most people only want to consume" is profoundly offensive and serves the interests of abusive "producers" who tend towards rent-seeking (see the MPAA for a worked example—most notably in how they run the film classification system in the USA),
d) Nobody can be trusted. (See also when Google turned evil.)