Rampant abuse, hate speech, censorship, bias, and disinformation - our Internet has problems. It is governed by technology companies - search engines, social media platforms, and infrastructure providers - whose hidden rules influence what we are allowed to see and say. In Lawless, Nicolas P. Suzor presents gripping examples of exactly how tech companies govern our digital environment and how they bend to pressure from governments and other powerful actors to censor and control the flow of information online. We are at a constitutional moment - an opportunity to rethink the basic rules of how the Internet is governed. Suzor offers a vision of a vibrant, diverse, and flourishing internet that can protect our fundamental rights from the lawless rule of tech. The culmination of more than ten years of original research, this groundbreaking work should be read by anyone who cares about the internet and the future of our shared social spaces.
In some ways, this book is well intended. It focuses on very real human-oriented problems that need better policy mechanisms, certainly. No one can easily dismiss serious issues that have developed out of present digital discourse. It primarily intends to look at both historic practices of regulation and a traditional "human rights" based perspective of how the Internet should function. While it proposes this as such, and proposes this as a "universal" solution, it feels intensely western in its approach, which is ironic, discrediting, and depressing. Additionally, it makes some ideological claims that, from my past reading on the subject and my own experiences, appear entirely false. One thing this book does get right is that the web is dominantly run by the intermediaries and present state-based legal systems by-and-large do tend to give them more sovereignty than other agents.
While this book does seem to find the source of the problem, it ignores the materialistic structure of the web, and moves quickly to ideological history of the web as being the problem. While I am also tempted to believe that the Internet eventually will have to constitute a governing body of a kind, it seems that, if Alexander Galloway, Benjamin Bratton, Yochai Benkler, or Tarleton Gillespie are correct in their various expertises, this feels like more of a call for a powergrab by technological/political elites. While clearly, the ideology of cyber-libertarian/anarchist perspective is not quite as in favor as it used to be due to recent events, at least their perspectives were grounded on the material backbone of the web. While certainly the web might appear "lawless" this does not mean that the web has no central nervous system as Suzor claims. Galloway (in terms of protocols), Benkler (in terms of new economic incentives enabled by information-commons), and Bratton (in terms of institutional relationships) make this clear. The fundamental assumptions of Suzor feel quite misplaced.