Discover more from Network Affects
Launching liber-net, a digital civil liberties initiative
A contribution to the challenge of digital authoritarianism
After wrapping up nearly 18 years at the head of a digital rights NGO I promised myself I’d go and do something different, ideally involving less time online or at least working at a more philosophical level.
The Covid crisis however ushered in a new level of authoritarianism, much of it made possible by digital technologies, but also by a new “progressive” culture that craves the hammer of state power. The digital rights field (the sector meant to ensure Big Tech and governments respect human rights where they intersect with technology) mostly turned a blind eye to the overreach, and sometimes helped facilitate it.
The Twitter Files revealed how a swathe of NGOs and academics were key components in the aptly named Censorship-Industrial Complex, many of them I knew personally. Some feel the name is hyperbolic, but having spent months digging through documents with Matt Taibbi and other Twitter Files journalists I can tell “complex” is indeed the right word. The ecosystem is massive and we are still probably scratching the surface.
The recent revelations by Public and Racket regarding the Proximal Origins / Nature scandal (whereby the authors of the paper used to debunk the lab-leak “conspiracy” privately thought a lab-leak was “so friggin’ likely”) should utterly destroy the “anti-disinformation” industry. After all, “anti-disinformation” NGOs fanned out across the Internet to shut down critics saying publicly what the paper’s authors believed privately.
Unfortunately the digital rights sector has revealed itself to be highly resistant to accountability, which is why liber-net and swathes of other initiatives are needed.
liber-net will also look at digital authoritarian initiatives beyond censorship, such as biometric ID systems, programmable currencies, and other surveillance and control technologies in the early stages of deployment around the globe.
More broadly, we want to make civil liberties and free speech central again to the digital rights field. They have been lost as such a high cost.
How? liber-net will shine a light on the corruption through research, writing and media-making. Some of that I’ll continue doing via Racket, and also the Network Affects substack. But we also want to grow other channels. I’ll also continue to work with Michael Shellenberger on building a global free speech movement, as launched last month in London. You’ll be hearing more about that soon.
We’ll also draw together the growing number of dissenters from the digital rights sector who are unhappy with the way freedom is being sacrificed for an authoritarian form of safety. If you are among those dissidents, please reach out. Together we can change the conversation.
Making all this happen will require funds. Subscriptions to this Substack go into the liber-net pot but we also need donors with deep pockets. The Censorship-Industrial Complex is awash in money and challenging it takes resources. My critique of the philanthropy and NGO sectors has made me persona-non-grata with my former benefactors. New models are needed.
If you are interested in working with or supporting us, please make contact.
Of course, the biggest contribution you could make is getting the word out. The likes, shares, and comments may seem modest but they go a long way toward building a base and creating a movement to push back against the tidal wave of digital authoritarianism.