How to become an Internet freedom warrior*

Get seriously worried about the Internets. Surround yourself with social media gurus who don't know anything about foreign policy but have a gazillion Twitter followers. Try convincing the world that U.S. technology companies are your new ambassadors, out on a noble mission to spread freedom and democracy around the globe (things not to mention: oil, Iraq, Dick Cheney). Send their CEOs to Siberia, have them play beerpong with the locals. Don't dare mentioning how these very companies abuse freedom and privacy at home, on their own sites. Develop some ambitiously empty buzzword that could make your ridiculous theories sound somewhat convincing (try "21st century statecraft").

Disregard all but the most naïve and dubious assumptions in framing your "Internets problem." Grope for the nearest historical analogy -- the more inappropriate, the better -- and then misread it in a way that would confirm your original thesis. Assume the world hasn't changed since 1989. Remember that "Berlin wall" and "firewall" rhyme; use it to your advantage. Stock up on misleading metaphors that build on "cyber-" and "digital." Commision a few ambitious studies and major conferences to find more non-existing links.  Run a grant competition.

Rediscover the toxic ideas behind the Congress for Cultural Freedom and repackage them under the fancier label of Alliance of Youth Movements. Find a bunch of desperate and cash-strapped bloggers from a harsh authoritarian country of your liking -- you'll score bonus points if these hand-picked bloggers-cum-dissidents are completely unknown to anyone who lives there -- and use them as token symbols of your heroic fight to defend the Internets.

Arrange for POTUS to be interviewed by them. If they visit the United States, make sure they meet with a bunch of fringe neocons, keen on promoting regime change in the home countries of your token cyber-dissidents. Think of ways in which to secure a political asylum for them – for they'll probably need one after meeting all these luminaries. Remember to invoke Sakharov  when introducing them to the press: as in "Sakharov 2.0." The more "2.0 juice" you spread, the better: hence “samizdat 2.0”, "glasnost 2.0," and "Solidarnosc 2.0"  (basically,  any Slavic-sounding words with a 2.0 ending would strengthen your case – use them excessively - but watch the pronounciation!)


Meet a group of weird Chinese engineers who are equally confused about the "Internets problem" but are convinced that they can solve it through more engineering. Don't question the viability of such approaches: engineers know better. Ensure their solution solves the wrong problems, lacks transparency, and will convince everyone in Tehran and Beijing that they need to double their incarceration rates for bloggers. Verify that the engineers are as excited about 1989 as you are, albeit for different reasons. Make sure they have some bizarre political or religious affiliation that would make your partnership look extremely odd and geopolitically suicidal. Toy with the idea of giving them funding but decide otherwise, pissing off everyone and their uncle in DC.

Go visit the usual think-tanks in search of aging conservatives who feel nostalgic for the last years of the Reagan administration. Begin by telling them how much you appreciate their (otherwise non-existent) role in ending the Soviet Union by smuggling a bunch of Xerox machines. Practice your rudimentary Polish and Hungarian. Hold their hands  and salute Reagan's bust on their table. Proceed to enlighten them about blogs, tweets, and social networks. Watch their faces light up when they grasp the full implications of what you are saying. Surprise them by announcing that Cold War is now officialy back in town.

Remind them to go back to their private libraries and dig up that passionate but unpublishable op-ed they wrote in 1987, the one about tearing down the walls and all that. Have them add "cyber-" to every "wall" in that op-ed and advise them to resumbit it to The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Act surprised on discovering that the last two paragraphs of their op-ed accuse you of not doing enough to support the revolutionary tweets coming out of Tehran.

Lose control of the nascent but increasingly dangerous debate about your favorite Internets. Convince everyone that you used the Internet to organize the post-election protests in Iran; if it fails, get in touch with Twitter executives and leak your communication with them to the New York Times. Continue telling everyone it was Twitter that caused the protests.

Make no effort to educate the public -- and especially editorial boards and policy-makers --  about the utter idiocy, inappropriateness and outright danger of operating on extremely simplistic assumptions about Internet Freedom. Instead, aggressively embrace those assumptions yourself and turn up the volume on your favorite Cold War songs. Dream up some fancy terms like "information curtain." Let everyone figure out what all that stuff actually means.

Distract everyone by dropping periodic references to the success of technology in rebuilding Haiti and monitoring (sham) elections in Sudan. Benefit from the ensuing confusion -- it buys time. Continue meeting with the weird engineers. Don't debunk any overblown and essentially unverifiable claims about the success of their technology in fostering a "Twitter Revolution” in Iran. Then tell everyone how much you care about Internet Freedom. Wait until your refusal to support the engineers looks extremely hypocritical and doesn't match your own overblown rhetoric. Write a check for $ 1.5 million. Start over.

* Inspired by Lorrie Moore's short story "How To Become a Writer" and the recent announcement that the State Department is about to give $1.5 million to Global Internet Freedom Consortium

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