Why politicians don’t get the Internet

May 13th, 2012 at 2:55 pm by David Farrar

An interesting blog post at Amused Cynicism

on why politicians don’t get the Internet. To be fair this is less of an issue in New Zealand. We have a fair few MPs who do get the Internet, but this is far from universal. Some quotes:

Politicians sometimes say (and do) things that internet users think are both clueless and immoral. Why is this? Politicians want people to vote for them, so they don’t deliberately come across as stupid and nasty. Furthermore, they know the internet is important to the economy, and don’t deliberately want to sabotage it.

So why do politicians so often say things that give off the wrong tone? I think there are three systemic reasons for this:

  • They are not digital natives
  • They don’t understand the technology
  • The way the internet works doesn’t fit in with their worldview

Talking on the issue of potential disconnection for infringement:

And that’s why the threat to disconnect internet users is seen as so bad, so disproportionate: it’s banning people from talking to their friends, from socialising, from being part of the communities which have meaning in their lives and through which their lives have meaning. If someone wants to take away my internet, they threaten to take away a large part of my identity. I’ll fight them to the end, and because there are millions of people like me, and we’re growing stronger every day, we’ll win.

The US is demanding termination for copyright infringement allegations in the TPP negotiations. The Government so far is saying no to this, which is good. If they change their position at some stage, there will be considerable political risk in doing so. As the post says, Internet natives take disconnection as the state trying to take away their identity, and will fight it all the way. I would not want to be a Government that is on the wrong side of that issue.

Then on the issue of world-view:

Everyone attempts to understand the world through the filter of the categories they understand. What if the nature of the internet doesn’t fit in with someone’s pre-defined categories? Then they will struggle to understand it. So, what is the nature of the internet?

Firstly, No-one owns it, though different people own bits of it. The internet isn’t a thing, it’s a protocol — to be precise, the tcp/ip suite of protocols — an agreement that certain patterns of bits mean certain things, and because everyone keeps that agreement, the internet works.

Secondly, everyone can use it, so once you’re connected to it, you’re connected to all of it and can use all of it.

Thirdly, anyone can improve it. Tim Berners-Lee didn’t need to get anyone’s permission to create and deploy the world wide web. Nor did Bram Cohen need anyone’s permission to create BitTorrent.

How does this fit in with how politicians see the world? Well:

  • No-one owns it: governments are defined by what they control.
  • Everyone can use it: in government, making laws means imposing restrictions on people.
  • Anyone can improve it: Business and government cherish authorized roles. It’s the job of only certain people to do certain things, to make the right changes.

As I said things are not too bad in New Zealand. But we should not be complacent.

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11 Responses to “Why politicians don’t get the Internet”

  1. Daigotsu (458 comments) says:

    I think John Key might be the only head of government in the world who understands the internet…

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  2. Doug (410 comments) says:

    This is how the Left use the Internet, eat themselves from within.

    http://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-12052012/comment-page-1/#comment-470796

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  3. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    if no one owns it.. how can the yanks make an internet kill switch?

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  4. Mr_Blobby (173 comments) says:

    Yes Governments want the ability to control and censor the Internet. If big business asks, then the US and in turn The NZ Government will comply.

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  5. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    The Yanks (companies in US) have control over specific registries and other important chunks of infrastructure. Personally, would love to put them in the control of a country like the Swiss who are paranoid about being neutral.

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  6. Viking2 (11,471 comments) says:

    Interestring analysis and one I agree with.
    Politicans don’t like questioning and other opinions. Mainly becuase most of them are socially dumb because of their entrenched political bias.
    No matter what reason you put in front of them they have already a bias according to their limited world view.(if they even have one).
    It amuzes the hell out of me that politicans think they can make a law and the human minds and all will immediately all fall inline. It will never be so. Sure you can change incentives and for any law to succeed then that’s what makes it suceed.
    Pollies should have learnt by now that the internet has more power than them and it has the power to rapidly harness people for or against them. Soapboxes don’t work no more.
    As always the greatest result will be from FREEDOM.

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  7. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    Politicians crave setting the message and controlling the agenda. The internet denies them both. Which is good medicine for them, and excellent libery for us.

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  8. Johnboy (16,597 comments) says:

    But how much do you think the Swiss would then charge for their neutrality slijmbal? :)

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  9. Spiritfree (79 comments) says:

    krazykiwi, I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I’ll just repeat your post here. I’m having to type it out again, though… not sure whether that’s WordPress not getting the message about Internet freedom being outside of their control, or Apple. Thinks…what am I saying!? *Definitely* Apple! :-)

    Politicians crave setting the message and controlling the agenda. The Internet denies them both. Which is good medicine for them and excellent liberty for us.

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  10. tvb (4,425 comments) says:

    The internet is changing a number of businesses. Newspapers are probably finished in our lifetime. Retail shopping is about to be hit. Banking has changed. Post is dying. Commerce generally is changing and so on. I do not think anyone fully knows where it is going to end up. Do we need parliament in its present form. Why cannot the people vote instead of politicians for instance. The possibilities are unlimited. Let it roll.

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  11. Camryn (543 comments) says:

    tvb – The idea behind parliament (representative democracy) is that the overall population can’t manage itself because it would take too much time to become educated on the issues, in addition to our day jobs. The internet could make the educating and voting of direct democracy easier, but the vast majority wouldn’t do their homework. The system where a small group focuses on laws and the rest focus on paying just enough attention to vote them out, or not, works best. As an aside, look at California. They have binding referenda and constantly vote themselves lower taxes and higher benefits and public salaries. Will only stop when they go broke.

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