Tag Archives: OPEN

veles

How A Bunch Of Macedonian Teenagers Trumped Jay Z

veles

My last book was about the ways in which knowledge, and learning, has become ‘open’. My next book is going to be about the power of us: how ordinary people can punch above the weight of corporations and the so-called ‘elite’ (you know the elite, those very rich people who complain about a handful of people having all the power). And there’s probably never been a better – or more confounding – time to be looking at this. I freely admit that I’m struggling to get a handle on 2016, but I’m in good company, as the events of last week demonstrated.

Paul Mason, author of Post-Capitalism and Channel Four news journalist, did his best to make sense of the world turned upside-down as he curated the Meaning Conference in Brighton, but even he is still processing where we might be headed. 

The year’s two seismic events – Brexit and The US election – are flag-bearers for something far more widespread, and it’s not clear how any of this will pan out. 2016 may well go down as the year when the power of social networks was wrested from the hands of the liberals, by the conservatives.

Consider the man who, until now, made the most of collaborative networks: President Obama. His 2008 campaign marked him as a man who galvanised millions of young, well-educated liberals to organise themselves. They got the youth vote out, raised unprecedented amounts of money and countered media smears – all while the republicans were wondering what this Facebook thing was. The digital gap was even bigger by the time of the 2012 campaign, with Obama’s social media views outnumbering Romney’s by 2 to 1.

Up to this point, the establishment of social networks was, in the main, the prerogative of the good guys – one of the reasons why OPEN had such an optimistic.demeanour. Peers all over the world were self organising for the common good. They were tracking and reporting the disappearance of political activists; they collectively paid for medical procedures for those who couldn’t afford them; they harnessed the incredible power of open source platforms to build everything from continuous glucose monitors to low-consumption cars, to malaria cures. Most of these movements embodied the Indian principle of ‘jugaad’ (good enough) and some, like Occupy, were without leaders (and – to all intents and purposes – a plan). It was all intentionally amateurish but well-meaning and highly infectious – and it was a giant leap forward from piano-playing cats.

Then along came ISIS. We seemed shocked that the same platforms that had been used to help our neighbours, could be commandeered by the bad guys – and with brutal efficiency. Twitter, once the great social connector, started to feel like a much more polarised, shouty, space, and middle-class liberals began to abandon it to the cynics and the intransigents.

But the events of November 8th have pressed the panic button among liberal media sources – and it isn’t just because they didn’t get the president they wanted. The bedrock of any traditional journalism is fact-checking: insisting that if you speak truth to power, you at least need to have your facts right.  It was their USP. Now, with the arrival of ‘post-truth’, even that seems to have gone up in flames. And Zuckerberg, Bryn and Page were found asleep at the wheel as the alt-right juggernaut ploughed into the electorate.

In the same calculated way that two well-educated British journalist-politicians – Michael Gove and Boris Johnson – knowingly told lies in order to frighten enough people to vote ‘leave’ in the Brexit referendum, so Donald Trump has used social media to devastating effect in quoting ‘authoritative’ sources for his views, knowing all the while that his ‘facts’ were sourced from fake news sites. Hell, we didn’t even know that ‘alt-right’ was even a thing until earlier this year.

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton was relying upon neoliberal cliches and the support of Beyonce and Jay Z. Trump’s celebrity endorsements were restricted to Mike Tyson and Tila Tequila, but it didn’t matter because he had a bunch of teenagers in Macedonia on his side.

Yes, hip-hop’s royalty were out-influenced by a group of young men living in Veles, a tiny town in Macedonia. From here they launched over 100 US political websites publishing, well let’s not call it ‘fake’ news, it’s just lies. Headlines like Hillary Clinton In 2013: ‘I Would Like To See People Like Donald Trump Run For Office; They’re Honest And Can’t Be Bought. or claims that the Pope, Harrison Ford and Taylor Swift had all endorsed Trump – all made up. But they provided some significant pocket-money for our young entrepreneurs. That fake Clinton story? 480,000 likes on Facebook. And these stories were plagiarised and spread around social media like a bad smell.

Of course, it wasn’t just the alt-right that was peddling lies masquerading as facts. There are left-leaning fake news sites too, but in significantly smaller numbers. Why? Because they didn’t have Clinton or Bernie Sanders driving people toward them, as Trump did, on a daily basis.

Shortly before the election, President Obama saw the danger in these sites, saying “if they just repeat attacks enough, and outright lies over and over again, as long as it’s on Facebook and people can see it, as long as it’s on social media, people start believing it,” he said. “And it creates this dust cloud of nonsense.”  Well, it turned out to be a poisonous, toxic cloud of nonsense. No-one can say that Clinton lost the election because of lies, but in the hands of Steve Bannon, Breitbart chairman, Trump’s campaign manager and soon to be chief strategist in the White House, it was clearly a well-organised, well-executed part of an overall strategy, inherited from Brexit.

One of the great democratising aspects of social networks is that no individual’s views count for more than another’s. The depressing part is that ‘the bubble’ has also led to a disdain for accurate and informed opinion. As Gove said during the Brexit campaign ‘I think this country has had enough of experts’. When such stirrings of emotions over evidence were voiced by Trump’s beloved ‘poorly educated’ they were condescendingly, catastrophically, dismissed by the left. When this stuff comes out of the mouths of those who may well be part of the next administration, then it’s far more sinister, as witnessed by last week’s interview with Breitbart’s Senior Editor, Milo Yianopoulis:

So, how should the left respond to this shift towards polarisation, nationalism and populism? Leftist UK journalists like Paul Mason, John Harris and Owen share a widely held view that the party political left is in crisis. But they are less clear on the way forward, not least because, as Owen Jones says “we know that stating the facts and hoping for the best will not blunt the right”. Some have said that you have to fight fire with fire – the left needs a form of emotional populism that Trump tapped into, and to hell with the facts.

My own view is that Clinton’s defeat has given the last rites to top-down party political dominance, and good riddance. But progressive politics is far from dead. We’re witnessing a surge in grass-roots progressive activism, and that offers not just hope, but also a way forward. And it has a powerful figurehead – a man who is re-discovering the importance of community activism, and the power of self-organising networks: Barack Obama.

“we’re going to have to redesign the social compact in some fairly fundamental ways over the next twenty years. And I know how to build a bridge to that new social compact. It begins with all the things we’ve talked about in the past—early-childhood education, continuous learning, job training, a basic social safety net, expanding the earned-income tax credit, investments in infrastructure—which, by definition, aren’t shipped overseas”

Personally, I can’t wait to see how he will support the next phase of self-organising networks to rebuild that social compact.

The left has been consoling itself since Nov 8th with a phrase, often – though incorrectly – attributed to Martin Luther King (it was originally coined by Theodore Parker): ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’  But there’s no immutable law that says that it will. We will need to bend that arc to our collective will – away from the new cynicism, and back towards social justice. We won’t be able to achieve that through the broken hierarchical political party system – instead it will have to be in challenging abuse wherever it appears, through the power of networked, distributed, self organisation.

I said in my book that the fight for OPEN was ‘ politically and commercially contentious. In reality, it marks a battle for for the control of knowledge’. Trump’s hyperventilated response to the cast of Hamilton shows just how politically contentious  that control is, and  that the fight  for civilised and truthful debate will be long and bitterly fought for. But it can be done.

Open Closed

Brexit, Trump and The Battle For Open

When The Economist runs two articles on the same theme within a week there’s a need to take note. Both pieces argued that the big split in western politics is no longer between left and right, but between open and closed. 

Open and closed, in this context, refers to borders, trade, culture – pretty much how we live. As the author of a book called OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live And Learn In The Future, you can guess where my sympathies lie. Although my book dealt specifically with knowledge, I looked at geo-politics: the book was written during the exhilaration of the Arab Spring. Although I contend that the opening of knowledge didn’t trigger the fall of dictatorships in that region, it made it easier for the revolutionaries to collaborate and make their campaigns more effective. Critics of my book cite the subsequent tragedies in the region in the intervening years as proof that Open isn’t always the victor. Events in Europe (with the rise of the ‘drawbridge-up’ brigade, most notably seen in Brexit) and in the US, through the realisation that Trump – global champion of ‘closed’ – could actually win, would seem to underline their claims.

Two quick clarifications: first, I argued in the book that the battle for open was in play, not a done deal – admittedly, we’re seeing a swing of the pendulum, but it hasn’t stopped moving yet; second, would defenders of Closed preferred to have seen Gadaffi, Mubarak et al, still in power? The emergence of Daesh is, I’d argue, what happens when Closed becomes criminal.

 Before explaining why I still think Open will win, let’s look at Brexit as an illustration of why the Economist has it right, and that Open/Closed is where the real political schism lies. Analysts have sought to explain the ‘Leave’ victory along all kinds of lines: class, regionalism (North vs South), age, race. The only analysis that hasn’t been applied is the old Left/Right. It’s as if we accept that the world is more complex than that, it’s just that our political systems haven’t adjusted.

One school of thought was that those who voted Leave were the ‘economically left behind’ – but that doesn’t explain why swathes of the prosperous South-East of England also voted to Leave, or why large economically deprived parts of Scotland voted to Remain. The only correlation that seems to hold up is that of social attitudes, seen most graphically in Lord Ashcroft Polls:

Social Attitudes and Brexit

In other words, those who wanted to pull the drawbridge up, were – by and large – the culturally  left behind. The world has changed, through globalisation, through more liberal attitudes,  – in becoming more open – and they don’t like it. ‘Taking back control’ – of borders, of migration, of law making – is the closed credo.

Closed narrowly won the battle of Brexit, and the world will hold its breath over the Trump/Clinton choice, not least because it’s the biggest play so far in the Open/Closed war. But here are five reasons why I’d argue that, regardless of the outcome of the November vote, Open will eventually prevail.

  1. Innovation – the key to our future prosperity – happens faster when businesses are open.  BrewDog, the fastest growing beer company in the world, is committed to making all its recipes open source. It wants people to become home brewers – it will even scale and distribute the best recipes received from its customers. Despite giving away its intellectual property, BrewDog’s profits rose 69% last year. Similarly, Elon Musk has made all of Tesla’s patents open-source, because he believes our reliance upon fossil fuels will end sooner that way. Sure, Apple are still an example of a closed strategy, but the chickens appear to be coming home to roost, as its well of innovation seems to have run dry.
  2. Open leads to personal freedom and control of our own lives. The Brexiters argued that pulling up the drawbridge would give us more control of our destiny as a nation state. But a nation is a collection of individuals, and keeping the drawbridge down means that we have far more control over our personal lives. The phenomenal growth of the sharing economy (and I’d argue that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg) has allowed us to be more in charge of our lives – who’d want to give that away?
  3. Globalisation isn’t going to go away. However many walls you build to keep out the foreigners, globalisation is a thing: the whole world is on the move, and coming out of the EU will have a negligible effect on immigration. But the economic argument for diversity in the workforce was not well made during the Brexit debates. Recent OECD evidence suggests that migrants spur innovation and economic growth, contribute more in taxes than they take in benefits and fill important gaps in the workforce. This is not to say that there aren’t significant problems with mass migration, and discussing these doesn’t make you a racist. But the Closed ideology seeks to make the problems of globalisation go away by ignoring them – while snapping up cheap phones from China.
  4. Open, by making trade, knowledge and innovation accessible to anyone, anywhere, contributes to making the world a more level playing field. Being closed perpetuates inequality – the entire neoliberal philosophy rests on there being winners and losers. Trump is avowedly committed to keeping less prosperous countries in their place, thus giving future terrorists still more ideological fuel for their fires. 
  5. Open reveals our better selves. The aforementioned sharing economy is just one example of an open system that relies upon trust to be successful. Being closed fosters fear, distrust, and anger. One of the great ironies of social media – the epitome of open communications – is that it has been largely discredited by the closed brigade being allowed to vent their spleen to all and sundry. But to blame Twitter for the existence of Trolls is akin to blaming the combustion engine for drunk drivers. And for every bilious tweet there are ten expressions of empathy, or  donations to good causes.

A recent opinion piece in the Guardian warned of the futility of countering Closed misinformation (citing the £350m for the NHS lie) with logic alone. The Closed brigade appear to be gaining ground because they’re ignoring troublesome things like facts, and instead honing in on stoking up emotions.  Open advocates need to learn from Michelle Obama’s barnstorming speech at the Democrat’s convention

Open will win but it needs to appeal to head and heart. But it will win because, in the words of Google’s Jonathan Rosenberg people “gravitate towards it, then they will expect and demand it, and be furious when they don’t get it….the future of government is transparency. The future of commerce is information symmetry. The future of culture is freedom. The future of science and medicine is collaboration. The future of entertainment is participation.

The battle for Open is far from won. These futures have to be fought for, because the people who want to pull up the drawbridge on every aspect of our lives aren’t about to roll over.

generation-screwed

Generation Screwed

generation-screwed
www.trendhunter.com

When I wrote the final chapter of OPEN, I wanted to draw attention to what I saw as the increasingly desperate plight of young people and the bleak prospects they were facing.

Here’s how I summarised the inequality we in the West had created, and it’s effect upon young people:

“Despite the best efforts of successive UK governments,…the number of Britons in relative poverty has consistently risen since 1980. In 1970, CEOs in America earned 39 times the average salary of their company’s employees. By 2000, that multiplier had risen to 1039 times the average worker’s salary. By 2011, the 1% of wealthiest Americans, who so angered the Occupy movement, controlled 40% of the nation’s wealth. Even in the post-Global Financial Crisis era of belt-tightening, the top 1% have seen their incomes rise 18%, while middle-class incomes have fallen – so much for the power of trickle-down economics….Everywhere you look, the people who are being disproportionately punished are the under-25s. Globally, young people (aged 15-24) constitute a quarter of the world’s working age population, yet they make up almost half of all those unemployed. Here’s a depressing stat: 1 in 5 of the entire world’s young live on less than $1 a day.”

At the time, I feared I was perhaps being overly alarmist. It turns out I didn’t go far enough.

A report just published in the UK by the Equality and Human Rights Commission ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ concludes with a resounding ‘no’ – especially if you’re young. As the Independent reported:

“Young people are suffering the “worst economic prospects for several generations” as a worrying age inequality gap is opening up in Britain…Younger people have been hit by the greatest drop in income and employment in recent years compared with older age groups. They also face even greater barriers to achieving economic independence and success than they did five years ago. ..During the recession and up to 2013, people under 34 experienced the steepest fall in incomes and employment, less access to decent housing and better-paid jobs, and deepening poverty. Between 2008 and 2013, those aged 16-24 lost 60 pence an hour on average, dragging average pay down to £6.70. For the 25-34 age bracket, wages fell by an average of £1.40 to £10.60.” 

Spanish Youth Protestors
“No work, No house, No Pension” Youth Without Fear

England is not alone in its shameful treatment of young people – other European countries, and the US have been similarly neglectful. But we seem to have a government that is, at best, indifferent to the very people it should be cherishing, if for no other motive than pure self-interest. Consider what we’re asking the millennials to take on:

  1. Support the baby boomers, who will live longer than any previous generation having racked up eye-watering amounts of public debt, and starved the National Health Service they will increasingly come to rely upon (I speak as one of their clan);
  2. Address, as a matter of urgency, the need for drastic action on climate changes as the clock runs down, and we approach the point of no return of global warming;
  3. Fix a broken political system that – Jeremy Corbyn excepted – they have been excluded from, and therefore have no interest in;
  4. Reverse the growing inequality gap that the report highlights, while facing multiple vested interests and an inexplicable mood of apathy.

…and there’s more, but it’ll only depress you. I know it depresses me.

And their reward for all this? What Philip Brown described as a ‘high skills/low income’ future, increasing unemployment prospect thanks to the inexorable rise of automation and artificial intelligence, and little prospect of owning their own home and building a pension pot to sustain them in old age.

The mystery, in all of this, is the apparent absence of resistance. Where’s the UK equivalent of the excellent ‘Generation Screwed’ in Canada?  Aside from the English riots of 2011, and anti-austerity demonstration in Spain and Greece, there are few signs of widespread revulsion and refusal to accept the status quo. Some have put this down to a sense of weary acceptance, but I prefer to believe that, contrary to media portrayals of millennials as selfish and feckless, they have retained a sense of optimism.

Though it never made it to the final draft, here’s how I rationalised it in OPEN:

“I have the privilege of working with young people in a number of countries, and the miracle is that, despite all of the above, they seem remarkably free of resentment towards us. Maybe they haven’t realised yet what a bloody awful mess we’ve left them with – when they do, I’d hide the knives if I were you.”

Via Campaignasia.com

The Liberation of Trust

Via Campaignasia.com
Via Campaignasia.com

If there’s a better social and political analyst than Thomas Friedman, I’ve yet to meet him or her. It’s not just the depth of his pieces (see his New York Times interview, this week-end with President Obama for helping us see the guy we knew was always in there) – it’s the breadth too. The World Is Flat remains a brilliant wide-angle view of globalisation, but I was a little surprised to see that ‘disintermediation’ was missing from his list of 10 forces driving these tectonic shifts.

Disintermediation (simply stated, it’s the process of cutting out the middle-men) is perhaps the biggest social, economic and (soon) political force re-casting how we live. I had another reminder of it a few weeks ago. On a family trip, four of us were stuck in Paddington station in London where multiple signal failures had turned the place into a hot, sticky, hell-hole. The train we wanted (to Slough) was not likely to leave for 2 hours. So, we looked for a taxi – as did thousands of others. My son then took out his phone, registered us with Uber (the sharing economy’s paid-for lift service), put in our location and before we knew it, Mohammed had turned up in his very comfortable Audi to take us to Slough for less than half the quoted black-cab price. The whole thing took less than five minutes.

Friedman recently interviewed Airbnb’s co-founder, Brian Chesky, in the New York Times. The exponential growth of the sharing economy can be seen in Airbnb’s ascent: on July 5th 2014, 330,000 stayed in a house/castle/apartment/yurt courtesy of the company. On July 5th 2012, that number was 4,000.

Although Friedman’s article was entitled “And now for a bit of good news” that isn’t the whole story, of course. Disintermediation is connecting us but it’s also cutting jobs at a tremendous rate – which partly explains why New York hotel chains and London taxi drivers have tried to get Airbnb and Uber blocked. Brian Chesky see this as not losing jobs, just re-distributing labour:

“you may have many jobs and many different kinds of income, and you will accumulate different reputations, based on peer reviews, across multiple platforms of people. … You may start by delivering food, but as an aspiring chef you may start cooking your own food and delivering that and eventually you do home-cooked meals and offer a dining experience in your own home.”

Thomas Friedman (via possumgolightly.com)

Whether this future scenario of sharing entrepreneurs delights or horrifies you, there’s no denying we’re going to see more of it. Mohammed has a nice car, and likes driving it and meeting people – why shouldn’t he accumulate a little spending money by doing a few hours Uber-work a week?

Friedman highlights the key to the sharing economy’s success, and the source of good news: our rediscovery of trust:

“Airbnb understood that the world was becoming hyperconnected — meaning the technology was there to connect any renter to any tourist or businessperson anywhere on the planet. And if someone created the trust platform to bring them together, huge value could be created for both parties. That was Airbnb’s real innovation.”

In my book ‘OPEN’ I describe the logic chain which is allowing the world to go SOFT:

1. Because we now can, we SHARE. We used to share what we saw (lolcats, etc), then we started to share what we knew, then we started to share what we owned, now we’re starting to share what we do;

2. If we want to share we need to be OPEN – this applies as much to big corporations leveraging  ‘radical transparency’  as it does to individuals communicating socially;

3. In order to share openly, we inevitably prioritise FREE: freedom to reproduce, re-mix and re-purpose, freedom to apply our skills in contexts previously denied to us, and freedom to communicate and collaborate directly – without the need for intermediaries;

4. And all of the above fall apart without TRUST. ‘Reputational capital’ (feed-back ratings) has become the new social currency, and we work hard to accumulate it and safeguard it. To paraphrase St Paul, these are four values that have emerged, and endured in the technological age – but the greatest of these is trust.

Strictly speaking, ‘disintermediation’ is something of a misnomer. We haven’t eliminated intermediaries (like travel agents, hoteliers and taxi companies). We’re merely replacing them with ‘digimediaries’ – digital platforms that give us the power in transactions.

The coming battle will be fought by the protectors of the old system’s vested interests, and, well, we the people. But we’ll see SOFT values spreading, and we’re only at the start of exploring what might be possible when we trust each other more. And this is why the ‘flattening’  of the world, as Friedman sees it, has taken place: because we’re winning the trust argument.For decades, our most established institutions have said we mustn’t trust each other. Pillars of society like investment companies, mortgage lenders,banks, the clergy, police and politicians.  They said ‘trust us, and we’ll protect you from the untrustworthy ones’. And then they abused that trust, spectacularly. Thanks to technology, however, we began to trust ourselves, against all their advice. And we found it exhilarating. So, now we think nothing of transferring money to a complete stranger’s account on eBay, or sleeping on a strangers couch, or paying a stranger to drive us somewhere (so long as their positive feedback rating is 99% or better).

Which brings me back to Mohammed. As we were speeding along the M4, I asked what safeguards Uber had in place. He told me that he could not operate if his customer feedback dropped below an agreed level. “But that also applies to you – I’ll rate you as a customer after this ride. And if your passenger rating slips, no-one will want to collect you!”

You see, we’ve even disintermediated trust.

open infographic-02

What Does OPEN Mean?

Since the publication, and very positive response, to OPEN: How We’ll Work Live And Learn In The Future, I’ve had a number of people ask what the concept of ‘open’ means. here’s an attempt to present it visually (you’ll need to click on the image to view it properly).

Boiled down to its absolute basics, the logic chain goes like this:

1. Technology is helping to democratise learning – but it’s not just about the kit;

2. Through technology we’ve managed to re-connect with powerful values and actions – we share, we’re making our organisations more open; information has become free (in almost all senses); in order to turn these values into autonomous actions, we now trust each other;open infographic-02

3. This is having a profound effect on the way we view, and use, knowledge. Its value economically may not be what we were told it would be, but the value now lies in what we do with it. The Linux model (give the code/information away, people will need you to help them make best use of it) applies to almost every aspect of business now. Sadly, the glaring exception remains how schools are forced to treat knowledge by standardised testing regimes. Here, what you do with knowledge is irrelevant – all that matters is being able to regurgitate it.

But things are very different in the social space. Here knowledge really, really, matters – because we place great store in reputational capital.

4. The rise in sharing, open, free and trust isn’t found in most companies and education centres. So, the disparity between the formal learning space and the social space, couldn’t be greater. The result? An epidemic of disengagement, at work and in school.

But OPEN is irreversible and I believe that, eventually, learning in work and in formal education will have to become more open, and the playing field of life, and prosperity, will become more even.

Which is why we should welcome Open, not fear it.

advocating-net-neutrality

Sleepwalking Towards A Closed Internet?

advocating-net-neutralityThe ecologist Garrett Hardin is best known for his famous essay ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’.  In it, he reasoned that, since we are driven by self-interest, it is only human nature to try to take the most out of a shared utility:

“…this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit – in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

The internet is – for the moment – such a shared utility, governed by some important principles. One of these is the concept of ‘net neutrality’: that no knowledge or service shall be privileged before any other. When campaigning for the US presidency in 2007, Barrack Obama explained why preserving net neutrality was vital in a democracy:

“I will take a back seat to no-one in my commitment to network neutrality because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The internet is perhaps the most open network in history and we have to keep it that way.”

As Bill Moyers argues in the clip below,  it looks at though the president has indeed taken a back seat. His Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing  a ‘two-speed’ internet for the US – and as we all know, what happens in America today, often spreads around the globe tomorrow. In a new proposal,currently out for public consultation providers, like Netflix (assuming they were willing to pay a premium) would get access to a ‘fast lane’ provided by cable providers – Comcast and others.  Those who couldn’t pay would find their voices ‘squeezed out’.

Bill Moyers Essay: What Happened to Obama’s Promised Net Neutrality? from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

So, an important precedent is in danger of being established, and the gatekeepers are on the side of the near-monopolistic corporations  who govern access to the internet.

Around the world governments are being urged by advocates of an open internet to enshrine into law the principle of net neutrality. Some East Asian and South American countries have acted, while others (including the UK) appear to support the differentiated speeds and services that go with fast and slow broadband lanes. Indeed the UK currently seems to be leading the way in riding roughshod over personal freedoms. Last week the coalition government (with opposition support) rushed through, in a single day, legislation which increases government powers of surveillance and data retention. The act, known as the DRIP act (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers) has been widely criticised by civil rights campaigners, authors, even the UN Human Rights boss. But public outcry on both DRIP and the FCC proposal, appears to be in short supply – why?

There appears to be a common tactic in both cases: bore the public to death. TV presenters Charlie Brooker and John Oliver both rumbled the arcane and tedious language used to switch off even well-informed citizens.  Make it as tedious as possible, then they’ll assume if it were important, somebody else would be jumping up and down, right? Oliver, to his credit, shows how using humour and plain speaking can both educate and agitate. The brilliant clip below has, at the time of writing, had almost 5 million views. The day after John Oliver’s programme aired, the FCC servers crashed under the weight of comments being made. The have now extended the consultation period until September.

My book takes an unashamedly optimistic view of  our capacity to take more control of our lives through free and open means of communication. But I also caution against the danger of having those means taken from us by stealth – the battle for control of the internet will require constant vigilance, people like Oliver who can see chicanery buried beneath arcanery, and all of us to protest loudly when those freedoms are being stolen from under our noses.

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