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De Woodstock al centro comercial: tres décadas del nacimiento de las utopías digitales

De Woodstock al centro comercial: tres décadas del nacimiento de las utopías digitales

Varios helicópteros sobrevuelan una colina mientras lanzan margaritas. Medio millón de personas baila, bebe y fuma mientras en el escenario se suceden los grupos de música. Estamos en el año 1969, en el famoso festival de Woodstock. Una de las personas que estaba allí, Elizabeth Pimentel, cuenta en una entrevista con motivo del cincuenta aniversario: “¿Cómo no íbamos a pensar que cualquier cosa era posible?”. Cuando uno cree que todo es posible es cuando formula una utopía. Algo parecido ocurrió con algunos de los pioneros de Internet.

“Estamos creando un mundo en el que todos pueden entrar, sin privilegios o prejuicios debidos a la raza, el poder económico, la fuerza militar, o el lugar de nacimiento. Estamos creando un mundo donde cualquiera, en cualquier sitio, puede expresar sus creencias, sin importar lo singulares que sean, sin miedo a ser coaccionado al silencio o al conformismo. Vuestros conceptos legales sobre propiedad, expresión, identidad, movimiento y contexto no se aplican a nosotros”, afirmaba John Perry Barlow en 1996 con su famosa Declaración de Independencia del Ciberespacio.

Las utopías marcan el camino y suelen generar ideología. Sería injusto no leerlas a posteriori como un deseo irrefrenable por intentar construir un mundo mejor. Pero lo cierto es que enfrentar la imagen de un mundo idílico, igualitario y conectado colectivamente a la imagen de un mundo digital dominado por Amazon, Facebook, o Google genera una distorsión poderosa. De repente escuchamos a Perry Barlow como un lejano orador con eco que no danza colectivamente en un lugar de paz y armonía sino que habla a solas. Poco a poco su voz va sonando más hueca y enlatada, tipo Hall en 2001: Odisea en el Espacio o tipo Samantha en Her. Ahora, una agradable música acompaña de fondo la locución. Volvemos a escuchar la frase “estamos creando un mundo en el que todos pueden entrar” junto con un leve y homogéneo bullicio. Es el hilo sonoro de una tienda en un centro comercial. Hemos viajado de 1996 a 2020. En un mundo plagado de centros comerciales (físicos y online), ¿sigue viva la utopía digital?

Tim Berners Lee, quien inventara el protocolo de la World Wide Web, lleva varios años inmerso en una batalla por conseguir una red que luche contra la desigualdad y no que la reproduzca: “Desde el principio sabíamos que una tecnología poderosa se utilizará para el bien y para el mal, al igual que todas las otras tecnologías similares. Pero inicialmente nuestro sentimiento filosófico era que la web debía ser un medio neutral. No corresponde a la web tratar de corregir a la humanidad. Con suerte, la web llevaría a la humanidad a estar más conectada y, por lo tanto, tal vez más comprensiva consigo misma y, por lo tanto, tal vez menos centrada en el conflicto. Esa era nuestra esperanza. Pero, en general, esperábamos que la vida cotidiana en la web fuera como la vida cotidiana en la calle”, declaraba Berners Lee recientemente a la revista Time.

Las fundación de Berners Lee ha investigado que efectivamente existen colectivos concretos que sufren los efectos de la situación actual de Internet y este afirma sin titubeos: “Hay un dominio en la red actual de hombres blancos ricos. Las mujeres y las razas minoritarias no están tan bien representadas”. Y de hecho, el Brexit o la irrupción de Trump han sido dos incidentes políticos que nos han recordado que la tecnología puede no ser neutral y que no hay nada garantizado: “De repente nos dimos cuenta de que en realidad tenemos que asegurarnos de que la web esté sirviendo a la humanidad. No solo manteniéndola libre y abierta, sino asegurándonos de que las cosas que las personas construyen en este espacio realmente estén ayudando a la democracia”, concluye Berners Lee en la entrevista.

¿Es la privatización de la red parte del problema? Ofelia Tejerina, presidenta de la Asociación de Internautas trata de zambullirse en el debate en busca del equilibrio: “Obviamente la privatización es en parte necesaria, porque si no hay empresas privadas favoreciendo la difusión o la implantación de estas redes de forma correcta, con la calidad necesaria, pues va a ser muy difícil que un gobierno pueda hacerlo como servicio público sin ningún tipo de ayuda. Es más, es incluso peligroso que esto solo estuviera en manos de los Gobiernos”. Al mismo tiempo, Tejerina nos recuerda que las empresas privadas no siempre garantizan ser un servicio equitativo, justo y universal para la población: “Nosotros somos firmes defensores de la neutralidad de la Red y creemos que las redes tienen que ser un servicio útil al ciudadano. No se puede permitir que aquellos que aportan esa infraestructura para las redes de los operadores de telecomunicaciones tradicionales puedan tener el control sobre el tipo de contenidos que circulan a través de estas redes”.

Las grandes empresas que dominan Internet se han visto envueltas en numerosas polémicas acerca de su forma de proceder. Desde el famoso escándalo de Cambridge Analytica por parte de Facebook a la multa de 1.490 millones impuesta por Bruselas a Google por prácticas monopolísticas en 2019. En este sentido, el activista en defensa de los derechos digitales Txarlie Axebra opina que el problema no es la privatización per se: “En realidad creo que la cuestión no es tanto si ha sido privatizada sino que han dejado de aplicarse las leyes antimonopolio (...) A día de hoy no existe ninguna plataforma que te permita hablar con usuarios de WhatsApp que no sea WhatsApp. No hay ninguna red social que permita hablar con usuarios de Twitter que no sea el propio Twitter, etc”. Para Axebra, esto vuelve a redundar en lo que apuntaba Berners Lee: el monopolio perjudica a la ciudadanía. “En el momento en que eso sucede, el perdedor es el usuario, aunque obviamente dentro de los usuarios no todos se ven igualmente afectados porque las diferencias de clase, nacionalidad, etc. siguen existiendo”, advierte.

De hecho, hay proyectos que ponen en el centro esta cuestión para denunciar que la utopía digital no solo no se produjo sino que con el paso de los años se han ido acrecentando otros problemas de carácter social y político. Wikiesfera, por ejemplo, es un proyecto que nació en 2015 impulsado por la periodista y activista Patricia Horrillo ante la aplastante realidad de que solamente el 10% de las editores eran mujeres y eso genera una narración de la historia incompleta. “Wikipedia tiene los sesgos que hay en la sociedad, desde las lenguas, que no todas las lenguas tienen su propia Wikipedia. Tiene una carencia importantísima de toda la cultura que no sea la europea y la occidental. Y luego hay otra brecha que también es muy preocupante y que tiene que ver con el género”, decía Horrillo en una entrevista.

En 2017, la administración de Trump decidió cancelar las regulaciones que garantizaban la neutralidad en la red. En la práctica suponía crear un Internet de dos velocidades: uno para ricos y otro para pobres. Eso y dar rienda suelta en cuanto a restricciones de contenidos a los proveedores de Internet. Muchos activistas, periodistas y agentes sociales protestaron enérgicamente. Una de ellas fue la periodista especialista en antirracismo Collette Watson, que escribía en Free Press: “Las culturas corporativas son dictadas por el dinero. Internet debería ser dictado por las personas. El futuro ya está aquí: son podcasts, programas web, series independientes y películas y otro contenido online creado por muchas personas y que refleja las voces de todos. Ese futuro está en peligro a menos que luchemos por preservar la neutralidad de la red, que es 100% esencial para garantizar que se cuenten estas historias”. O, en la misma línea, Claire Lancaster firmaba un texto en el que recordaba “por qué la neutralidad en la red es un tema importante para el feminismo”.

Y es que al final, si Internet es como la calle, tal y como decía Berners Lee, los problemas son los mismos. Para Margarita Padilla, ingeniera y programadora especializada en software libre y autora del libro El kit de la lucha en Internet, la soberanía de Internet es central en este debate: “La red es parte del mundo y está sometida a las mismas relaciones de fuerzas económicas y geopolíticas que cualquier otra cosa”. Y, en su opinión, la clave está en cómo la falta de soberanía ciudadana sobre la red se transforma en una pérdida de capacidad para intervenir políticamente sobre la realidad: “Afecta a todos los grupos sociales que pierden agencia, que no alcanzan a acceder a los conocimientos tecnológicos que permiten una relación activa y soberana con las tecnologías”.

Para Padilla, esto se traduce en última instancia en una pérdida de salud personal, medioambiental y política: “En sociedades tan tecnificadas como las nuestras, esta pérdida de soberanía tecnológica finalmente se expande como pérdida de soberanía sobre el cuerpo y la salud, sobre las relaciones sociales, sobre el cambio medioambiental...y últimamente estamos viendo incluso cómo se convierte en pérdida de soberanía política”, concluye.

La declaración de Independencia de la Red imaginaba un mundo mejor, idílico, luminoso. Pero la precariedad laboral, el precio de la vivienda, los niveles de pobreza infantil o el cambio climático nos recuerdan que el mundo también puede ser mucho peor de lo que imaginamos, hostil, oscuro. ¿El neoliberal centro comercial se ha impuesto al hippie Woodstock? ¿Quizás la dicotomía se quede corta y el mundo ya sea mucho más complejo? Lo que parece seguro es que la batalla por la soberanía de Internet y que la tecnología sea un derecho social que no genere desigualdad sino que la combata es el diagnóstico de quienes, aunque transitan con resignación los centros comerciales, no olvidan las utopías digitales.


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How the Court Inverted Constitutional Protections Against Discrimination
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Indeed, several of the conservative justices wrote separately to say that they believed the religion clauses require the government to provide money to religious institutions for religious purposes, such as training ministers. Thus, whereas previously the Court had said the religion clauses prevent the government from providing financial support to religious schools for some purposes, now the Court says the clauses require governmental support for private religious schools in certain circumstances.This term, the Court will hear another religion-clause case that will likely result in even more government financial support for religious institutions, including when the institutions engage in discrimination. Fulton v. City of Philadelphia involves a challenge to Philadelphia’s contracting program for foster-care agencies. In order to receive a government contract to provide foster-care services, agencies must agree not to discriminate on the basis of race or sexual orientation. 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A federal statute, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, prohibits employers from using policies or practices that have a disproportionately adverse effect on minorities and are not sufficiently related to job qualifications. For example, a real-estate brokerage could not try to hire people whose ancestors owned land before the Civil War; that policy would disadvantage Black Americans and has no bearing on employees’ job performance. In the Ricci case, the City of New Haven was considering whether to use an examination to promote firefighters. But the city decided not to when the first round of test results showed that white candidates outperformed minority candidates.A group of white firefighters sued the city for racial discrimination. They alleged that the city’s decision not to use test results with disproportionately adverse effects on Black applicants constituted unlawful discrimination on the basis of race—against white applicants. The Court agreed, finding that the city violated Title VII’s prohibition on racial discrimination. The Court also suggested that taking into account whether laws or policies result in disproportionate disadvantages on underrepresented minorities amounted to discrimination in violation of the equal-protection clause. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a concurring opinion that the statute forbidding employment practices with adverse effects on minorities requires “employers to evaluate the racial outcomes of their policies, and to make decisions based on (because of) those racial outcomes.”The religion clauses and the equal-protection clause have thus proceeded along parallel tracks. The Court has gone from thinking that the Constitution prohibits certain actions (government funding of religious schools or institutions, or government practices that are selectively disadvantageous to racial minorities) to thinking that the Constitution now requires those very same actions.But perhaps most interesting is not that these parallel tracks exist, but why they do. And the answer comes down to not some abstract development in legal theory, but a more specific story that happens to be in the forefront of the country’s mind today—racial integration and racial equality. The trajectory of the religion clauses and the equal-protection clause share a driving force: opposition to Brown v. Board of Education and a desire to limit the reach of that decision.Although the religion clauses today primarily arise in cases involving discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, historically they came up in cases involving racial integration. A desire for racial integration, and the promise of integrated schools, is part of what drove litigants to challenge government funding for private religious schools and courts to invalidate such programs. Similarly, a desire for racial equality also drove challenges to government policies that did not explicitly mention race, but nonetheless had the pernicious effects of disproportionately disadvantaging Black Americans and preserving segregated schools.[Read: The limits of desegregation in Washington, D.C.]But it was white Americans’ opposition to this progress that has now inverted the interpretation of these clauses of the Constitution. It was this opposition that fueled the social movements that propelled to the White House presidents such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. As the New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has argued, “A hallmark of Richard Nixon’s ‘Southern strategy’ during his presidential campaigns” was that it “relied on unifying white anger about fair housing and school integration to build a successful coalition of white Southerners and white ethnic Northerners.” Reagan’s successful campaigning against one particular form of integration (school busing) is another example of this. And the judicial nominees of these and other Republican administrations shifted the equal-protection and religion clauses away from being weapons against segregation to tools to preserve it.This story of how these clauses were turned into shields against integration begins with Brown v. Board of Education, which invalidated the “separate but equal” system of segregated schools. The Court held that segregated public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. The schools in Brown were segregated by law in the sense that there were laws on the books that assigned white students to one set of schools and Black students to another. In the aftermath of the decision, the question became: What other kinds of racially segregated public schools might violate the equal-protection guarantee? Many laws or policies that did not explicitly mention race nonetheless resulted in schools that were primarily white and primarily Black. For example, given the prevalence of residential segregation in the U.S., assigning students to neighborhood schools often resulted in, and still results in, racially segregated schools.After Brown, some school districts adopted so-called school-choice plans that allowed parents to pick which schools their children attended. In the 1960s, the Court held that a school-choice plan was not legal if it resulted in schools that were primarily white or Black. Many other school-assignment plans, such as policies that assign students to schools in their neighborhood, also resulted in similarly segregated schools.In 1976, in Washington v. Davis, the Supreme Court concluded that the equal-protection clause allowed the government to adopt facially neutral policies that produce adverse effects on the basis of race. (The decision involved a challenge to the District of Columbia’s hiring and promotion tests for police officers.) As a result of the decision, schools were no longer required to affirmatively and proactively integrate. Instead, the schools could do nothing to address persistent segregation, and they could even take some actions to enable it. The decision ensured that facially neutral school-assignment policies that resulted in segregated schools were largely immune from judicial scrutiny. It represented, in the words of the University of Chicago law professor David Strauss, “the taming of Brown”—a way of limiting the decision so that it did not actually require integrated schools.The shift in the Court’s religion-clause cases accomplished much the same thing: It eliminated one method of achieving racially integrated schools. One of the ways that white parents avoided sending their children to integrated public schools was to opt to send their children to segregated private schools. Some of these schools were known as “segregation academies.” As the University of Virginia law professors John Jeffries and Jim Ryan noted in their history of the establishment clause, “by the late 1960s, both the rural and the urban South faced imminent desegregation. The result was a dramatic explosion in the number of private schools and a turn to church-based education.” Jeffries and Ryan also noted that the Court’s equal-protection-clause cases requiring integration contributed to the rise of private religious education: “The demise of freedom-of-choice … triggered a massive exodus of whites from public schools and a scramble to find private alternatives.” (The majority in Espinoza cited Jeffries and Ryan’s article as a source for their interpretation of the religion clauses, so the justices are aware of this history.)To challenge government support for private religious schools that discriminated on the basis of race, civil-rights advocates relied not just on the equal-protection clause, but also on the religion clauses, and the establishment clause in particular, because the government was supporting particular religions and religious instruction. In the obituary for Alton Lemon, the lead plaintiff in the Court’s foundational establishment-clause case on government support for religious schools, Lemon v. Kurtzman, The New York Times noted that the suit challenging government aid to religious schools relied on both the equal-protection and the establishment clauses. “The case was decided against the backdrop of resistance to the desegregation of public schools,” the obituary explained. The establishment clause, like the equal-protection clause, was one of the tools that civil-rights advocates used to counter that resistance—to try to stop the government from supporting private religious schools whose discriminatory practices undermined the development of racially integrated public schools.Private religious schools do not have to discriminate on the basis of race. But at the time, quite a number of them did. And they continued to for some time, at least through the 1980s.Today, racial discrimination is no longer the kind of discrimination that the religion clauses address. Instead, the modern religion-clause cases tend to involve discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, women, or women’s health care, as in the cases challenging the requirements that employers offer health-insurance coverage for contraception.[Read: What do religious women think of the contraceptive mandate?]Fulton itself underscores how the religion clauses have become a shield against states’ efforts to prohibit discrimination—in this case against LGBTQ couples. In Philadelphia, the government has conditioned a benefit, a government contract, on contractors’ agreement not to discriminate against certain groups. 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But the “election-security operation” he was pitching is actually a key element of the Trump campaign’s closing strategy—and its capacity to wreak havoc next week could be significant.In the coming days, thousands of pro-Trump poll watchers are set to fan out across battleground states—smartphones in hand—and post themselves outside voting locations to hunt for evidence of fraud. This “army” has been coached on what to look for, and instructed to record anything that seems suspicious. The Trump campaign says these videos will be used in potential legal challenges; critics say their sole purpose is to intimidate voters. But in recent conversations with a range of unnerved Democrats and researchers, I was offered another scenario: If the president decides to contest the election’s results, his campaign could let loose a blizzard of misleading, decontextualized video clips as “proof” that the vote can’t be trusted.“The goal here is really not producing evidence that stands up for any length of time,” Laura Quinn, a progressive researcher monitoring election disinformation, told me. “They’re interested in sowing just enough doubt … to develop this narrative of fraud—not only so that he can contest the election, not only so that he can refuse to concede a loss, but also so that some portion of his supporters will remain embittered and be able to say the results were illegitimate.” (A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.)[Read: The billion-dollar disinformation campaign to reelect the president]Partisan poll-watching has a long history in American politics—Trump did not invent it. But this is the first presidential election since 1982 in which the Republican National Committee is allowed to organize such activities without permission from a federal court. For nearly four decades, the party was restricted by a consent decree issued after a New Jersey election in which Republicans allegedly hired off-duty police officers to patrol minority neighborhoods wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. The decree expired in 2018.This history, combined with the president’s support among militias and other extremist groups, has fueled fears that the Army for Trump could lead to confrontation and even violence at the polls. In September, a noisy crowd of Trump supporters was accused of intimidating voters and disrupting an early-voting location in Fairfax, Virginia. (The Virginia Republican Party responded to these complaints on Twitter: “Quick! Someone call the waaaambulance!”)But the poll watchers’ real influence may not be felt until they go home and start uploading their videos. Three Democratic strategists who are involved in post-election “scenario planning” told me that—barring a blowout on Election Night—Americans should expect a last-ditch disinformation blitz from Trump and his allies to create the impression of wide-scale cheating. (The Democrats requested anonymity to candidly describe strategy discussions.)“This Election Day poll-watching will be part of a whole campaign to dispute, delay, and bring into doubt the counts in various states,” one Democrat told me. “[Trump] has been setting up the rigged-election narrative for a while,” another told me, “and he needs tools to show that the votes that are rolling in are probably these rigged votes: So here’s the video evidence!”Some of the Democratic hand-wringing had a slightly panicked, paranoid quality, rooted in the trauma of 2016. “Will there be photos and videos purporting to be, for instance, Chinese intelligence agents stuffing ballot boxes?” one Democrat mused. “Probably, yes. And even if the quality of these videos is poor and the provenance is suspect, they will have at least some audience.”Of course, Trump could simply win or lose the race outright, without any of the drama that many are anticipating. But it’s not far-fetched to expect a spike in unsubstantiated voter-fraud claims around Election Day. Such rumors often gain traction in the final days of a presidential race—and Trump and his media allies have been especially invested in amplifying them this year.Nate Snyder, who served as a counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security under Barack Obama, told me that if Trump contests the election results, things could quickly “converge into a perfect storm of disinformation.” In the already-overheated political environment, foreign adversaries could circulate conspiracy theories online, while domestic trolls and extremist groups amplify their own toxic messages. Chaos would be the goal—and Snyder says United States intelligence agencies are preparing for it.“But I’ll be pretty blunt about this,” he added. “We have a unique situation now where we have to worry about what we’d call, in security terms, an ‘insider threat.’ You have a president who is focused on pushing out whatever kind of information, from whatever sources, to help his narrative.” It might not just be Russian trolls and “boogaloo boys” trying to “sow discord,” he said—the president himself may be part of that effort.[Read: The election that could break America]There are reasons to doubt the sophistication of Trump’s operation. His campaign has hemorrhaged money this year, and suffered several high-profile logistical failures. (Remember Tulsa?) A recent perusal of the #ArmyforTrump hashtag on Twitter revealed that it had been temporarily hijacked by K-pop fans. And my own efforts, earlier this fall, to enlist in the campaign’s poll-watching efforts in Virginia were unsuccessful. After an initial phone call asking if I was willing to travel to another state (I said I was), I never heard back. It’s possible that someone spotted my name on the list and screened me out because I’m a reporter. But it seems just as likely that my application was lost in the shuffle of a disorganized campaign office.Some Democrats, meanwhile, are skeptical that collecting and amplifying video “evidence” of voter fraud will actually benefit the president. “Nothing has done more to bolster people’s faith in voting early and in person than videos of people perfectly happy to wait in line to vote Trump out of office,” Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told me. Prioritizing conspiracy theories over conventional get-out-the-vote efforts, he added, “would be consistent with every other incompetent Trump strategy.”Still, if the Trump era has taught us anything, it’s that a well-oiled political machine isn’t necessary to cause chaos. As I’ve written before, the most effective modern disinformation is defined by what scholars call “censorship through noise”—drowning out the truth with a barrage of lies, distortions, and conspiracy theories designed to confuse and exhaust.“Bad actors aim to break down trust because it makes us insecure,” Jiore Craig, a researcher who advises Democratic campaigns on disinformation, told me. “When we’re insecure, we’re defensive, and when we’re defensive for a long time, we get tired—and when we’re tired, we’re easy to control.” She told me that her recent research suggests a level of fatigue in the electorate right now that could easily curdle into apathy, making it difficult to sort out truth from lies if the election becomes a long, complicated, drawn-out affair.“The danger,” Craig said, “is that you just go with the loudest voice in the room to put it to an end.”
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