September 03, 2010

The New McCarthyism of Google-Baiting Spreads Its Stain

Greetings. It's a truism that history tends to repeat itself. Sometimes this occurs in unexpected ways, and the rise of what I'd call anti-Google "New McCarthyism" is an object example of this particularly disappointing state of affairs.

GOP Senator Joseph McCarthy, a junior senator from Wisconsin, reached the zenith of his career around a half century ago by turning "red-baiting" -- the use of public accusations of communist membership, communist influence, or even casual contact with "communist causes," into a practically religious zeal of character assassinations.

While many of the individuals that McCarthy accused of communist ties of some sort -- however tenuous, historical, or innocent in nature -- indeed had such contacts, McCarthy, through his use of virulent exaggeration and demagoguery, purposely attempted to advance his agenda by fostering the fear of a vast and deeply dangerous communist conspiracy that in fact did not exist.

McCarthy's career began to rapidly implode in 1954, with the relatively new mass medium technology of television playing a vital role in his downfall. A brilliant and brave commentary by CBS' Edward R. Murrow in March set the stage, and a later televised congressional hearing exchange between McCarthy and Army legal counsel Joseph Nye Welch -- where Welch accused McCarthy of having lost all sense of decency -- helped to push McCarthy out of the spotlight and into well-deserved oblivion.

I found myself thinking of McCarthy's rampages -- and fall from grace -- while considering the dramatic recent escalation of reckless anti-Google rhetoric being spewed by some parties across a variety of venues.

The use of Big Lie techniques and "astroturf" funding sources in the battle against Net Neutrality are now all too traditional, so not particularly surprising.

But we seem today to have entered a "perfect storm" zone of exaggeration and hate being used as an anti-Google tactic by uncompromising pro-Net Neutrality factions -- and some elements of the "privacy intelligentsia" -- who have now deployed what could be termed "Google-baiting" techniques in some respects significantly like the red-baiting of decades ago.

As someone who has been involved in privacy-related causes for many years, and who is personally a strong believer in Net Neutrality (and the founder of the Net Neutrality Squad), it's particularly "fascinating" to find myself the target of attacks by "pro-privacy" and "pro-neutrality" forces who are apparently unhappy about my unwillingness to "toe the party line" in respect to their uncompromising "Google is the designated enemy" agendas.

The managing director of Free Press spent considerable verbiage in a recent essay declaring me a member of the "new enemy" of Net Neutrality. He condemned my attempts to find common ground in Net Neutrality debates, while ridiculing my opinion that the recent Google/Verizon Legislative Framework Proposal, despite some significant shortcomings, had the very positive effect of moving a long-stalled policy area forward and was to be congratulated as a serious, noteworthy effort. I've addressed this attack in some detail previously, so I won't dwell on it here.

I'm certainly not the only target of such attacks. Consumer Watchdog, which has been attempting to create a self-serving mountain over Google's accidental and harmless collection of Wi-Fi payload data, and is continuously pushing for an impractical and potentially privacy-invasive government-enforced "do-not-track" list, paid this week to display an obnoxious, misleading, and disgusting animation in New York City's Times Square, which seemed to portray Google's CEO Eric Schmidt as a child molester. Satire is one thing, but character assassination of the Senator McCarthy variety -- or any other kind -- is something else entirely. Consumer Watchdog could have spent that money far more usefully and honestly simply by providing meals for some of NYC's homeless.

It is indeed sad to see persons and organizations with presumably laudable motives now resorting to the same sorts of toxic political tactics that have previously so inflamed mindless passions, and so decimated rational discourse across the world -- throughout the centuries in fact.

Not only do these tactics -- by hardening positions and rejecting reasonable compromises -- stall forward positive motion on a range of important topics relating to the Internet, but they also serve to betray our basic humanity in the flame of unrestrained political opportunism.

Perhaps these factions should be more pitied than censored. But riding as they are with some of the ghostly sensibilities of Senator Joe McCarthy and the specter of McCarthyism, they should certainly be very much ashamed of themselves.


Posted by Lauren at September 3, 2010 09:44 PM | Permalink
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