Irregular Times came of age in the 1990s. It was a time of great hope, when the Internet was seen as a tool that could bring about historic change. Wealth, education and political activism could be opened up online, with tools that ordinary people could use to achieve great things that could only be possible before with immense money and influence.
Two decades later, the potential for positive social change through the Internet is still there, but for the most part, it remains unrealized. We have greater access to information, but most people still use just few sources to gather information. There have been a few remarkable instances of online activism making a difference, but mostly, Internet activists have been channeled into signing fake petitions used to gather information to be used for later advertising, or astroturf operations that are run by Wall Street insiders even as they claim to speak for the people. Even the White House’s official petitioning web site has turned out to be a fraud: Nearly a month after the petition there to pardon Edward Snowden reached the threshold of 100,000 signatures that Barack Obama promised would trigger a response, the Obama White House is still pretending that the petition doesn’t exist.
It was hoped that political candidates could use online media to circumvent the corrupt funding of campaigns by corporate lobbyists and political action committees, but corrupt campaign finance of congressional elections has skyrocketed instead, and has largely gone into the shadows, with independent expenditures from mysterious sources twisting our politics in ways that we can’t know.
In the early days of the Internet, anonymity was liberating. A famous joke had it that, online, no one knows if you’re a dog. That original dynamic has been flipped on its head, however. Now, the Internet makes our lives less private than ever before. Through programs like PRISM, big online businesses like Google have teamed up with the federal government to transform the Internet into a vast surveillance network, with Big Brother watching what we read, what music we listen to, what movies we like, who we talk to, what we buy, where we go, when we’re on the phone… providing a Total Information Awareness of our personal lives. They know if you’re a dog, and if you’re a dog, they know what kibbles you eat, whether you have fleas, and where you wgo when you get off the leash.
When it started out, the Internet giant Google promised that it would “do no evil”. Now, it shamelessly collaborates with the government to snoop in on the details of our personal lives. Google allows the NSA, a military spy agency, to go through the records of the people who use its services, even when the military spies don’t have a warrant to conduct searches against anyone in particular.
Google isn’t a liberating network for the grassroots. It’s a corporation that helps the government violate Americans’ constitutional rights.
Google’s position defending those in power against grassroots change is confirmed in this week’s news that Google is now supporting politicians who oppose action to slow down climate change. This week, Google hosted Oklahoma Republican U.S. Senator James Inhofe at its corporate offices in Washington D.C. Inhofe is infamous for writing a book calling global warming “the greatest hoax” designed to “permanently hobble the U.S. energy sector”.
Google’s support of James Inhofe isn’t an isolated incident. Just a few weeks ago, Google NetPac hosted another fundraiser for South Dakota Republican U.S. Senator John Thune, who has signed a pledge promising never to support congressional action on climate change. A few weeks before that, Google hosted a fundraising dinner for Kentucky Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul, another prominent opponent of climate change action.