To the Editor:
Re “The Hacking of America” (Sunday Review, Sept. 16):
Jill Lepore is correct that the internet today lacks many of the values that sustain democratic governance. But this battle was joined many years ago.
Twenty-five years ago, the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility published a timely report as Vice President Al Gore was charting a future path for the internet. The group said then that the internet “must promote the public interest along with private interests.”
It was a blueprint for an internet that upheld democratic traditions. And then there was the campaign of Facebook users in 2007 that led to the creation of democratic decision-making for Facebook.
At one point, Facebook agreed that users should vote on changes in the company’s policy. But the company changed course, shut down the political groups and prevented the creation of future user groups concerning Facebook’s business practices.
Today the internet companies fund academics and N.G.O.s to oppose government regulation, further muting meaningful public discourse.
Professor Lepore is right that the ahistorical understanding of the internet era diminishes our country’s commitment to democratic values. But there is more work to be done on the structural biases if this battle is to be won.
The writer is president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.