As more and more speech migrates online, to blogs and social-networking sites and the like, the ultimate power to decide who has an opportunity to be heard, and what we may say, lies increasingly with Internet service providers, search engines and other Internet companies like Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook and even eBay.
The most powerful and protean of these Internet gatekeepers is, of course, Google. […]
“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and a former scholar in residence at Google, told me recently. “One reason they’re good at the moment is they live and die on trust, and as soon as you lose trust in Google, it’s over for them.”
Most people’s focus is on the software involved in this extermination of peripheral information:
It is a revolution not just in terms of technology, but in terms of who does the censoring. It’s no longer just the big boys – the media magnates, the state, corporations; there are a whole host of middlemen who now play a part in deciding what we can and cannot read.
But I think what this really emphasizes is that there is no such as thing as “the internet.” There are only a plurality of internets, overlapping strata of accessibility, whose control is generally divided along two axes: the corporate and the statist. Google and other corporate decisions, like much self-censorship, are a constant form of control that auto-restricts the possible number of connections and types of information. National restrictions, which have more direct access to infrastructural solutions like switching parts of the internet on and off (a possibility dramatized by the cables cut (!) in the Gulf recently), are a broader and more spectacular display of the fragmentary nature of the internets.
Which is worse?
In a way, this is the choice posed by Google, etc., who say that restricted Google is better than none in these countries. Like a displaced and updated version of the repressive hypothesis, it may be that the head needs to be cut off the king of information sovereignty…