Oh man, I could not stop laughing at this old “Kids Guide to the Internet” video from the 90s. My thanks to my former colleague Amy Smorodin for tweeting it out today. I just had to post it here so that everyone could enjoy.

(Note: You can turn this video into a great drinking game. Just make everyone in the room raise their glass each time the lines “Does your computer have a modem?” and “Not all that cybernet stuff, OK?” are uttered.) And yes, as the opening line of the video notes, “the first thing you need to know about the Internet is that it is amazing.”

do not panicIn a recent essay here “On the Line between Technology Ethics vs. Technology Policy,” I made the argument that “We cannot possibly plan for all the ‘bad butterfly-effects’ that might occur, and attempts to do so will result in significant sacrifices in terms of social and economic liberty.” It was a response to a problem I see at work in many tech policy debates today: With increasing regularity, scholars, activists, and policymakers are conjuring up a seemingly endless parade of horribles that will befall humanity unless “steps are taken” to preemptive head-off all the hypothetical harms they can imagine. (This week’s latest examples involve the two hottest technopanic topics du jour: the Internet of Things and commercial delivery drones. Fear and loathing, and plenty of “threat inflation,” are on vivid display.)

I’ve written about this phenomenon at even greater length in my recent law review article, “Technopanics, Threat Inflation, and the Danger of an Information Technology Precautionary Principle,” as well as in two lengthy blog posts asking the questions, “Who Really Believes in ‘Permissionless Innovation’?” and “What Does It Mean to ‘Have a Conversation’ about a New Technology?” The key point I try to get across in those essays is that letting such “precautionary principle” thinking guide policy poses a serious threat to technological progress, economic entrepreneurialism, social adaptation, and long-run prosperity. If public policy is guided at every turn by the precautionary mindset then innovation becomes impossible because of fear of the unknown; hypothetical worst-case scenarios trump all other considerations. Social learning and economic opportunities become far less likely under such a regime. In practical terms, it means fewer services, lower quality goods, higher prices, diminished economic growth, and a decline in the overall standard of living.

Indeed, if we live in constant fear of the future and become paralyzed by every boogeyman scenario that our creative little heads can conjure up, then we’re bound to end up looking as silly as this classic 2005 parody from The Onion,Everything That Can Go Wrong Listed.” Continue reading →

Is geek culture sexist? Joseph Reagle, Assistant Professor of Communications Studies at Northeastern University and author of a new paper entitled, “Free as in Sexist? Free culture and the gender gap,” returns to Surprisingly Free to address geek feminism and the technology gender gap.

According to Reagle, only 1% of the free software community and 9% of Wikipedia editors are female, which he sees as emblematic of structural problems in the geek community. While he does not believe that being a geek or a nerd is in any way synonymous with being a sexist, he concludes that three things that he otherwise loves—geekiness, openness, and the rhetoric and ideology of freedom–are part of the problem inasmuch as they allow informal cliques to arise, dominate the discussion, and squeeze out minority views. Reagle also comments on a unintentional androcentricity he has observed even amongst free software community heroes, highlighting the ways in which this behavior can be alienating to women and prevents geek culture from growing beyond its traditional base.

Reagle prescribes a 3-step solution to sexism in geek culture: talking about gender; challenging and expanding what it means to be a geek; and not allowing the rhetoric of freedom to be used as an excuse for bad behavior.

Reagle further supports efforts to form female-only subcultures within the geek community, which opponents argue goes against the free software value of openness. Instead of the balkanization of their movement that opponents fear, these closed-group discussions actually strengthen geek culture at large, according to Reagle.


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[NOTE: The following is a template for how to script congressional testimony when invited to speak about online safety issues.]

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you inviting me here today to testify about the most important issue to me and everyone in this room: Our children.

There is nothing I care more about than the future of our children. Like Whitney Houston, “I believe the children are our future.”

Mr. Chairman, I remember with fondness the day my little Johnny and Jannie came into this world. They were my little miracles. Gifts from God, I say. At the moment of birth, my wife… oh, well, I could tell you all about it someday but suffice it to say it was a beautiful scene, with the exception of all the amniotic fluid and blood everywhere. I wept for days.

Today my kids are (mention ages of each) and they are the cutest little angels on God’s green Earth. (NOTE: At this point it would be useful for you to hold up a picture of your kids, preferably with them cuddling with cute stuffed animals, a kitten, or petting a pony as in the example below. Alternatively, use a picture taken at a major attraction located in the Chairman’s congressional district.) Continue reading →

by Berin Szoka & Geoffrey Manne

In advance of today’s Senate Judiciary hearing, “The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?,” we’ve assembled a list of fallacies you’re likely to hear, either explicitly or implicitly:

  1. Competitors, not Competition.  Antitrust protects consumer welfare: competition, not competitors.  Competitors complain because a practice hurts them, but antitrust asks only whether a practice actually hurts consumers. The two are rarely the same.
  2. Big Is Bad. Being big (“success”) isn’t illegal.  Market share doesn’t necessarily create market power.  And even where market power does exist, antitrust punishes only its abuse.
  3. Burden-Shifting. Google, like any defendant, is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  So Google’s critics bear the burden of proving both that Google has market power and that it has abused that power to the detriment of consumers.  Yet, ironically, it’s Google at the table defending itself rather than the antitrust agencies explaining their concerns.
  4. Ignoring Error Costs. The faster technology moves, the greater the risk of a “false positive” and the more likely “false negatives” are to be mooted by disruptive innovation that unseats incumbents.  Thus, error costs counsel caution.
  5. Waving the Magic Wand.  Google’s critics often blithely assume that Google is “smart enough to figure it out” when it comes to implementing, or coping with, a wide range of proposed remedies.  But antitrust remedies, like all regulation, must be grounded in technological reality, and we must be realistic about real-world trade-offs.

Continue reading →

The Supreme Court will be issuing its opinion in the case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association any day now (TLF’s previous coverage is here). The case was previously known as Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, but Mr. Schwarzenegger has been trying to stay out of court of late. I was just sent a draft of the statement that the Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund, which filed an amicus brief in the case, is planning to release if the decision goes its way. The Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund was founded by Phyllis Schlafly.

[Not really. This is a joke (but the quotes are true).]
Continue reading →

Adam and I spent a lot of time on our joint amicus brief with EFF—which Larry has artfully summarized. But Jon Stewart has outdone us both with this witty satire on the case:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
You’re Welcome – Violent Video Games
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

[Fellow members of the Society for the Prevention of Vice, I urge you to take immediate action to continue our crusade to clean up America’s media marketplace by ridding it of the scourge of media hyper-violence.  A clip has come to our attention that merits particular concern and I hope you will agree something must be done by our government before such filth gets widespread dissemination. So, please join me in signing this petition to the FCC to take action now—for the children—before such unspeakable acts of violence are mimicked by millions of youth across America.]


TO: Julius Genachowski, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission

FROM: Adam Thierer, President, Society for the Prevention of Vice (formerly known as the Society for Soft Pillow Fights)

RE:  Another example of unspeakable media violence that must be stopped

Dear Chairman Genachowski:

A video has come to our attention that displays, once again, the media industry’s utter disregard for human decency and the dignity of life, and we hope you will agree something must be done to stop its dissemination before it is too late.  In this video:

  • A man’s nose is seemingly twisted off his face (as he screams in agony) and then his face is forced onto a grinding machine while sparks fly off his burning flesh (he again screams in agony);
  • A shoe with an extended spike is inserted into a man’s head and then his eyeball and then his ear lobe (he screams in agony each time);
  • The man who was impaled with said shoe spike then bites the offender’s foot (he, too, screams in agony);
  • A blow-torch is used to light a man’s buttocks afire (he screams in agony);
  • A man climbs a pole, plays with live electrical wires, is then is electrocuted after chewing on said wires, and then falls to the ground still shaking from the voltage running through his body (he screams in agony);
  • A wrench is dropped on a man’s head (he screams in agony) and he then uses said wrench to hit another man over the head and violently twist his nose with it (he screams in agony); and
  • Finally, the electrocuted man has a light bulb inserted into one ear and a screwdriver into the other (he screams in agony and then, bizarrely, he laughs to end the clip — as if he is mocking the depravity of what we have just witnessed!)

I have attached a clip of this unspeakably evil carnival of pain, but I warn you that it could forever darken your soul. Can you imagine, sir, if earlier generations of American youth had seen this? Could America have produced “The Greatest Generation” if the youth of the World War II era had grown up watching such filth?  We now know from several psychological studies that children will mimic whatever they see on the screen. If they see such depictions of violence in media, they will reenact it themselves in the real world. In other words, “monkey see-monkey do.”  Please, on behalf of all those signing this petition, and for the sake of our children, I beg you to help us put a stop to this moral outrage before our great civilization decays and withers away in a sea of media hyper-violence such as this:  Continue reading →

[I’m always amazed by the misuse of language in debates over media and communications policy. Some regulatory advocates, like Free Press and Public Knowledge, seem to contort the meaning of everyday words in such a grotesque way that they are barely recognizable.  Luckily, via Wikileaks, Mike Wendy and I stumbled upon a secret copy of the “Free Press-Public Knowledge Stylebook for Public Debate” and now have a better idea of what they mean when they utter these terms. We thought we’d share…]


behemoth” – Use this word to refer to any corporation, regardless of actual size, and make them sound more nefarious than the much larger government that will regulate them.

Big Brother” – See “behemoth,” and be careful not to reference Orwell too much lest people actually read “1984” and discover that Big Brother was actually the government, not industry.

Censorship – Refers to efforts by nefarious corporations to control our thoughts and actions since that’s obviously how they make most of their money. Some people say government might be the real threat to freedom of speech, but don’t you believe such silliness!

Competition” – A centrally-planned system used to prop up free-riders who usually don’t have facilities of their own. (See “Open access.”)  Of course, the best forms of competition arise from government ownership.

the Constitution” – An odd document in that, for some reason, it contains a litany of limitations on the power of government to regulate evil corporations that the people wanted to see crushed. (See “the People.”)  However, the addition of the First Amendment partially rectified that by giving us the foundation for industry regulation. (See “First Amendment.”) Continue reading →

The UK’s Daily Mail reports that Phil Bissett, a 62 year old former gravedigger, transformed a steel casket into a street-legal single-seat automobile that does 100 mph, using the engine from his daughter’s 1972 VW. He acquired the casket — you guessed it — on ebay.

Digging in: Phil Bissett has dubbed his crazy new creation 'Holy Smoke'.jpeg

Now here’s where it gets interesting. The casket originally cost 1500 British pounds. He got it for just 98 pounds — about $146 at today’s exchange rate.  That’s 93 percent off!  The article doesn’t say how much he paid for the assorted spare parts from other vehicles needed to turn the casket into an automobile, nor does it explain what his daughter is doing for transportation now that the engine from her car powers his deathmobile.  Still, it’s a nice-looking little sports car, and I’ll bet it cost less and is more reliable than that fine piece of British automotive engineering I used to own, an MG Midget.

Bissett told the reporter, “I’ve learned never to go on the internet when you’ve had a drink. My friend said I’d never be able to turn it into a car but I knew I could.”

This must be what the wonks mean when they say the Internet is an “enabling technology.”

(Be sure to check out the Daily Mail link above to see the cool photos!)