The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fuzzy Logic: The Gatekeeper

"In June, the Wiesenthal Center released a discussion document (that's how Littman describes it) entitled `The need for Regulation on the Information Highway,' to Canadian legislators, the press and the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission ... calling for a legal crackdown on the Net to combat hate propaganda. Among the document's recommendations were broad additions to Canada's already strict anti-hate laws and an `international conference to arrive at uniform, world-wide regulation.'

"Littman later admitted that, at the time he wrote `The Need for Regulation...' he had never actually seen the Internet. The whole report was based on the work of a single research assistant....

"The Wiesenthal Center report left no doubt how far it believed the Internet should be regulated. It was the most radically restrictive plan for government control of Internet content ever proposed in a western democracy. The Center proposed that all Internet communication with the exception of person-to-person electronic mail be defined as broadcasting, thus placing it under the CRTC broadcast regulations.<8> Needless to say, if such a plan had ever been implemented, it would have thrown an impenetrable pall over the use of the Internet in Canada. When asked if this covered text messages on FTP sites and posts to Usenet newsgroups, Littman was quick to point out that he intended to censor `any public messages, nothing should be out of bounds.' Littman had no trouble with the implications of blanket censorship.


"Littman's proposals had little to do with reality to start with. The purpose of the document was to create a climate of fear, to inspire panic in otherwise reasonable people whenever they looked at a computer.Littman chose his words and illustrations carefully, prefacing the report with a quote from an inflammatory message from a known white supremacist, while neglecting to mention that it did not violate Canadian hate laws and that, in any case, was posted by an American user, far beyond the reach of Canadian courts.


"...Littman's power and prestige is predicated on the existence of an immediate neo-Nazi danger, and though it has become clear that the ultra-right's on-line presence, as objectionalbe as it may be, does not constitute much of a social threat, he has gone out of his way to create the appearance of one.


"The Holocaust and the threat of Nazi violence are Littman's franchise. His whole message is paternalism at its worst -- there are nasty ideas out there that society has to be protected from, and _he_ is the one who will do the protecting. What seems to bother him the most is the way in which the Net either subverts or circumvents traditional authority structures. His essay `Some Thoughts on the Regulation of Cyberspace,' appended to the 1995 report, is particularly revealing:

The cyberspace information-giver need not list his qualifications, display his degrees, prove his competency, supply proof of his membership in a professional society or provide his bibliography... The necessary props of scholarship are obliterated, expertise goes out the window.<10>

"In short, Littman's principle complaint is not with _content_, but with the potential of the Internet to enfranchise groups and individuals that were silenced by the rigid patterns of authority and prestige prior to the information revolution. His problem is with the apparent lack of authority, a manifestation of the Net's decentralized discourse and distributed structure. Dismissing Internet civil libertarians as children -- implying, of course, that they require steadying adult supervision from people like Sol Littman -- he attacks the very interactivity that provides activists like Ken McVay with the opportunity to strike back at hate. Despite the Nizkor Projects successes, Littman believes that it doesn't go far enough, and that McVay's tactics are an invitation to disorder. ...

"What people like Littman fear is that on the Net authority will pass from traditional power centres to the users themselves...." (Friedman, 130-134)

Work Cited

Fuzzy Logic: Dispatches from the Information Revolution, by Matthew Friedman

Fuzzy Logic:
Vehicule Press:

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