Imagine Father Coughlin, the hateful radio demagogue of the 1930s, spewing vitriol on YouTube. That's why poor people can't be trusted with the Internet, says Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur.
For that reason, writes Keen in the Daily Beast, we should not spend billions of dollars upgrading U.S. Internet connections. Expanding broadband access to the great unwebbed, at a time when the economy is in the tank, will just lead to the spread of halfbaked conspiracy theories and the rise of populist anger.
Wait, what happened to blogs stopping the rise of Hitler? Oh, well, Keen's a bit of a snob: He doesn't like blogs, YouTube, MySpace, or basically anything on the Internet that anyone else likes. But we had no idea he was actually, provably stupid.
First of all, let's get real about the broadband plan. It's not going to get that many more people on the Internet. Already, 90 percent of U.S. Internet users are on broadband. The ones who aren't are mostly happy with their dial-up connections, which they use to check email and download photos of their grandkids. And people who aren't online are generally old rather than poor. Anyone a demagogue would want to reach, they already can today.
No, what the broadband stimulus package really amounts to a bailout for phone companies, which would otherwise have to spend their own money upgrading their networks for higher capacity. This, in turn, will allow for faster delivery of online video.
And who's going to pay for all that video? Why, advertisers. And finicky advertisers are far better regulators of loopy extremists than the government will ever be. They hate controversy! As do Internet companies, if only because it means having to spend money on customer-service personnel. So much easier to let the community flag a video as "offensive" and take it down.
So the Father Coughlins of the world will be left broadcasting low-resolution bile over the slowest of connections, constantly running into bandwidth caps. Meanwhile, safe, apolitical pablum will zip speedily over government-subsidized lines, safely narcotizing the masses. Sure, we have plenty to fear from a national broadband plan. But it's not Andrew Keen's racist, classist paranoia that he might run into someone poorer and less white than him in a chat room.