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March 24, 2009

Susan Crawford goes to the White House [REVISED]

[April 1, but no joke: I spoke with Susan a couple of days ago and de-confirmed this “news.” National Journal got it wrong, and I repeated it, perpetuating the error. Sorry. Susan is indeed part of the Obama team, but reporting to Larry Summers, advising on tech policy, which is indeed fantastic. And true.]

Fantastic news:

Internet law expert Susan Crawford has joined President Barack Obama’s
lineup of tech policy experts at the White House, according to several
sources. She will likely hold the title of special assistant to the
president for science, technology, and innovation policy, they said.
Crawford, who was most recently a visiting professor at the University
of Michigan and at Yale Law School, was tapped by Obama’s transition
team in November to co-chair its FCC review process with University of
Pennsylvania professor Kevin Werbach. Her official administration
appointment has not been formally announced. Crawford may be best
known for her work with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
and Numbers, the California-based nonprofit group that manages the
Internet address system. She served on ICANN’s board for three years
beginning in December 2005. She also founded OneWebDay, a global Earth
Day for the Internet that takes place every Sept. 22. Crawford, a Yale
graduate, clerked for U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie before
joining Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering where she worked until the end of
2002.

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January 29, 2009

Radio Berkman: Steve Schultze on regulating the Internet – an explainer

Steve Schultze explains how the FCC got into the business of regulating the Internet in this Radio Berkman interview. I’m the interviewer, so I’m biased, but I think Steve does a great job talking us through this, so that Title I vs. Title II, etc., is clear at last.

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November 22, 2008

Our strange new home

I’ve published a new issue of my free newsletter

Our strange new home: A talk to the people in the Chinese government designing ways to use the Net to deliver government services.

Has the Internet been saved?: Obama’s appointments to head the FCC transition team fill me with joy.

The main article is the text of a talk I gave a few weeks ago in Beijing at a one-day seminar/conference for the people in the Chinese government who are putting together sites — portals, usually — to provide government services. These were, I was told, the government people most excited about the opportunities brought by an open Internet. I gave the closing keynote. The previous speakers, from China, S. Korea and Denmark, had expanded the audience’s practical imaginations. I would’ve if I could’ve. Instead, I tried to resolve the seeming contradiction and doubtless cross-cultural meaninglessness that the Internet is weird and the Internet feels homey. It occurred to me afterward that that is the theme of Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

You can read it here.

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November 16, 2008

Is the Net dangerous for kids? The research shows …

“…the increased popularity of the Internet in America has not been correlated with an overall increase in reported sexual offenses; overall sexual offenses against children have gone steadily down in the last 18 years”

That’s from a preliminary 70-page review of the literature on the topic. Actual research, not scare stories or assumptions. The draft was put together primarily by Andrew Schrock and danah boyd (of the Berkman Center), for the Research Advisory Board of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. It of course finds some important problems — for example, “the Internet increases children’s risk of ‘unwanted’ (accidental or inadvertent) exposure to sexual material” — but “Threats involving the Internet have not overtaken other harmful issues that youth encounter.” There’s lots and lots of details in the paper. For example:

On the topic of sexual solicitation, studies show that things are either improving or have been shown to be not be as prevalent and distressing to minors as initially anticipated. Between 2001 and 2005, the proportion of youth receiving unwanted Internet sexual solicitations went down (Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2006), although this decline was only seen among white youth and those living in higher income households (Mitchell, Wolak, & Finkelhor, 2007a).

The Task Force will publish its findings in January.

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September 12, 2008

Echo chambers: The meme that will not die

Last night, I went to the JFK Library to see a panel on the Internet and the campaign, with Matt Bai of The New York Times, Garrett Graff of Washingtonian Magazine (and Howard Dean’s first political webmaster), and Joe Trippi, who ran Dean’s campaign.

It was an interesting session not just because of the caliber of the people, but because the sight it gave of what’s been settled and what we’re still arguing about. These three astute observers — two of them straight-ahead Obama supporters, and one maintaining professional neutrality, but, c’mon, you think Bai’s going to vote for McCain?? — agree that the Internet is transformative of politics and ultimately of democracy. It’s worth pausing to remember that four years ago, we were still arguing about that. They also agree that this is overall for the good, albeit with various important doubts and reservations.

They also agree that the Internet is loosening party affiliation to the extent that in the next four or eight years we’re likely to see a viable independent presidential candidate.

But the three did not agree with one another and sometimes with themselves about whether the Net is making us more partisan (“echo chambers”) or better informed. Is it manipulated by pols throwing out chum that predictably attracts the mindless sharks or, as Trippi replied, is that more characteristic of cable news than the Net? The fact that we are so uncertain about this might indicate that it’s just too soon to tell, but I suspect it indicates that there’s something malformed in the question.

For example, last night one of the audience members expressed concern that the Net is naught but a series of echo chambers. Bai earlier had maintained that he worries that the Net is not about persuasion but about confirmation: you only read that which confirms your views. Ellen Hume of MIT’s civic media project worried from the floor that we’ve lost a unified, authoritative press, feared enough by politicians that when they’re caught in a lie (“I said thanks but no thanks”) they’ll actually stop repeating it.

These are all good points. And yet the question of whether the Net is making us better voters or not remains unsettled, including, I suspect, in the minds of each of those speaking last night. Ultimately, I think it’s unsettled not simply because we lack evidence or because the Internet revolution isn’t over yet. There are more difficult reasons this issue remains an Internet cultural Rohrschach test

1. We don’t yet know how to make intuitive sense of the open connective nature of the Net. We don’t fault our real-world discussions with friends because they’re not arguments that are based on persuasion that work themselves down to first principles. We’ve chosen our rw friends in part because of the sympathy of our views and the sympathy of our discussion styles, yet we don’t count those friendshipsas echo chambers. Online, we can engage with people before we’ve become friends with them. We thus sometimes bond based on agreement (“echo chambers”) or on disagreement strong enough us to get us to respond (“flame fests”).

2. We don’t know how to handle the new publicness of the Net. We can hear — and blog about — every nasty conversation held. Imagine you could listen in on every barroom quarrel and every fratboy gabfest. Well, now you can. We now know just how awful we are.

2a. To put the previous point differently: We make the mistake of treating the Net as if it were a medium. But it’s more like a world than a medium. Everything humans can do and say is done and said there. Want to find hate-based OCD? Got it! Want to emphasize the way in which bloggers bring skeptical intelligence to stories promulgated by the worst of the MSM? Can do! Because the Net is an open world, no examples are typical .

3. We therefore don’t really have anything to compare the Web to. Before the Web and off the Web, how much of our time was spent in persuasive rather than confirming discussions? How diverse was the nightly news compared to the “average” encounters with news on the Net? How much disagreement was allowed in watercooler discussions before people just crumpled their cups and walked away, and what is the online equivalent of watercoolers anyway?

Perhaps the persistence of the question is due to our shock at being shown who we really are. When all you can see of yourself is what the sanitized mass media show you and what you can see around you in your physical environs, the differences the Net makes visible unsettle us profoundly.


The Financial Times has a good article on the Internet’s effect on the US campaign.

It quotes me (and — what are the odds? — it begins by quoting an Obama supporter named Stacey Weinberger, who is no relation), but I want to rise on a point of personal privilege, i.e., egocentric nitpicking. The article introduces me as “Mr Dean’s internet adviser.” Later in the article, it more accurately refers to me as “a Dean adviser,” which is much closer to the truth. Jeez. I hate being perceived as a taking credit I don’t deserve, and I definitely was not the campaign’s internet adviser, as if I were the one who figured out how to do all that Internet stuff. Ha! I twice told the interviewer that Trippi and Zephyr Teachout et al. had come up with their groundbreaking Internet strategy before I ever got there, and that the title Trippi kindly gave me (“Senior Internet Adviser”) was far more grandiose than my actual role. If there’s one thing that bothers me more than getting undeserved credit, it’s being perceived as taking undeserved credit.

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March 23, 2008

Susan Crawford on the 700MHz auction

Susan Crawford has a brilliant, clear explanation of the significance of Verizon’s winning the auction for Block C in the FCC’s 700MHz auction.

If that sentence made no sense to you once you got past the phrase “Verizon’s winning the auction for,” all the more reason to hie yourself to Susan’s post. Ten minutes ago it didn’t make sense to me, either. Don’t worry. Susan will explain it.

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