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Slay the AOL Monster By: Robert Locke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 02, 2002

As a conservative columnist, it amazes me to get favorable e-mails from people whose addresses end in @aol.com. I mean, don't they know that AOL Time-Warner is an evil liberal media conglomerate and that they are thereby putting money into its pockets every month? Not to mention increasing its influence by enlarging its subscriber base? Don’t they know that these things matter? Therefore, I urge all my readers who use AOL to dump it and press politically sensible friends and family to do the same. CompuServe is owned by AOL; dump it, too. Microsoft's MSN, whose search engine describes FrontPage as an “extreme right-wing magazine,” is a just-as-liberal AOL wannabe and its profits get funded to causes like defending affirmative action in Washington State, so dump MSN and Hotmail accounts, too. (I’ve just switched my address to robertlocke@cspc.org.) You can take your business to any ordinary apolitical ISP, or you can go with the best people I have been able to find: anonymizer.com, which provides full-featured and truly private Internet access.  Take their free test to see how much information you are exposing right now.

Most conservatives realize by now that the key to the liberal victory in the 60's was their control of the media. The liberal media lied about Vietnam, which we were winning by 1968. They depicted the vicious extremists of the New Left as gentle flower children. They blacked out huge counter-trends like the vast Young Americans for Freedom rallies. And all because they had a monopoly. Conservatives have a unique opportunity now with the Internet to end that monopoly, but we must seize the opportunity on our own initiative. The underlying trend is in our favor, but will not be properly realized without deliberate effort on our part. What terrifies the liberal elite the most is not that Matt Drudge will reveal the misdeeds of their presidents, but that the Net will fragment the media market so much that they can no longer control it. In 1980, five men in Washington and New York effectively controlled the media in this country: one president each for the TV networks plus an editor apiece at the New York Times and the Washington Post. If get our act together, these days will never come back. To take back this country, we must first take back our own minds, and this requires a secession of conservatives from opposition media, starting with AOL.

The opposition does have a counter-attack in the works, and AOL Time-Warner is its spearhead.  Their hope is to re-centralize the media by buying up web sites and restructuring them to a standardized content-production model which will be simultaneously efficient enough to be profitable and give them the opportunity to re-impose a political bias. What makes this attempt to net the mercury of the Web plausible is the fact that already, AOL and Microsoft's MSN account for over 15% of total Internet traffic (source: Forrester Research). Indeed, 80 percent of all Web traffic goes to a relatively small core of only about 15,000 sites out of the millions that exist. They are hoping to both exploit and drive this consolidation. Frankly, they probably think this web site’s days are numbered, and plan, no doubt, to replace it with a commercially packaged and defanged product, a sort of placebo or baby-pacifier for conservatives.  (The existing co-optation to corporatism of a large section of the “conservative” media will make this easy enough.) They hope to leverage their existing position in magazines and TV to provide web content that no-one else can. They hope that such assets as Time-Warner Cable's extensive cable network will enable them to force people onto AOL when high-speed cable modems become the standard. Serious business analysts credited their strategy with enough of a chance to endorse AOL's purchase of Time-Warner despite its being paid for with bubble-inflated stock.  That this strategy’s profits have evaporated with the decline of this stock doesn’t mean it’s going away; these Gramscian (1) bobos are in it for the long haul.

To advance its conglomeration strategy, AOL is one of the slimiest operators around when it comes to simultaneously demanding government deregulation when there is something it wants while also pressing for government control to hamper its competitors when convenient. This is, of course, the classic behavior of big corporations that have found out that they have a lot in common with big government and like to mouth the rhetoric of free-market capitalism while actually practicing co-optative corporatism. For example, at the same time that AOL was resisting government efforts to prize open its messaging system on anti-trust grounds, it was lobbying elsewhere to force AT&T to open up its cable television lines to it. But then, when it bought Time-Warner and suddenly found itself owning cable TV lines of its own, it promptly reversed its position, and decided that "the free market and not government" should decide who has access to cable systems.

AOL is involved in even more sinister legal efforts that could in the long run seriously undermine the rule of law in this country. It has promoted a mischievous and self-indulgent doctrine called the "choice of law" movement. This asserts that consumers should be permitted to choose which nation's laws apply to their Internet transactions. So you could have Monaco's tax laws, Albanian medical-safety regulation, Mexican food purity laws, and Dutch child-porn standards. This comes dressed up in the hip garb of "cyber-libertarianism," but is in fact a serious assault on national sovereignty. (To their credit, some intellectually rigorous cyber-libertarians won't touch this irresponsible idea.)

AOL Time-Warner as a company is deeply enmeshed with the liberal establishment. Most famously, Ted Turner, founder of CNN and the rest of the Turner Broadcasting Company that is an AOL-TW subsidiary, is a major Democratic National Committee donor, not to mention former husband of Jane "Hanoi" Fonda. Other smaller examples: Deni Green, wife of ultra-liberal New York City mayoral candidate Mark Green, is a senior director of corporate philanthropy. Kathy Bushkin, senior vice president and chief communications officer, was Sen. Gary Hart's press secretary. Janice Brandt, head of marketing, has been a major supporter of the animal-rights nuts People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Greenpeace, Ted Kennedy, loony-left Congressman Ron Dellums and the California Democratic Party. The place is littered with connections like that.

 By giving your business to AOL, you are in effect feeding a giant liberal slush fund. AOL, like many leftist organizations, is remarkably open about its aggressive agenda if you know where to look. Its CEO, Gerald Levin, has openly expressed its comically sinister power-hunger in these words: "We're going to need to have these corporations [media companies like AOLT-W] redefined as instruments of public service because they have the resources, they have the reach, they have the skill base, and maybe there's a new generation coming up that wants to achieve meaning in that context and have an impact, and that may be a more efficient way to deal with society's problems than governments," (CNN, January 2001)

In other words, AOL-TW isn't content to be a propaganda adjunct to the liberal state; they want to replace some of its functions. This is egomania.

As an actual online product, AOL's liberal bias starts with its use of left-wing CBS News as its news partner. It has prohibited pro-life subscribers from putting photographs of aborted fetuses on their personal AOL web sites. It prohibits anti-homosexuality arguments on its message boards. It prohibits its subscribers from selling firearms or ammunition they own on their web sites and has had a running battle with Second-Amendment advocates. This is why AOL is reputed by some of it dissatisfied subscribers to stand for "Allow Only Leftists" or "Always Oppose Liberty." In a shameless capitulation to the same people who hounded Salman Rushdie, it has removed pages that were deemed "offensive to Moslems," a delicacy of politeness that does not seem to extend to Christians. AOL limits what outside sites its subscribers' pages may link to. It has even been suggested that part of the reason why AOL maintains its enormously expensive censorship systems, which also expose it to a legal liability that uncensored providers do not face, is that due to its aspiration to become a worldwide ISP, it wants to show governments like China that it can provide Internet services on a leash.

AOL reads its users' e-mails and censors them. Last year, it blocked the conservative e-mail journal The Federalist for several weeks. As of this writing, AOL has confirmed that they blocked it, but has refused to say why. The Federalist's publisher suspects it may have something to do with the fact that on March 9th, 2001, they quoted Ted Turner's comment to a group of CNN personnel observing Ash Wednesday with an ash mark on their foreheads: "What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks?" AOL later lifted the blockade, but should conservatives, or any liberty-loving Americans, be doing business with a company that behaves this way in the first place? And remember, this is all coming from a company that refuses to block pornographic spam, and despite its heavy-handedness, still has user profiles and other content littered with four-letter words and other filth. And don't forget these are the same AOL censors who allowed the Columbine killers to maintain a web site for a year in which they announced their murderous intentions.

AOL's other offenses are legion. It has been widely and plausibly accused of fraudulent marketing practices, in which people are signed up for service without being told this is what they are doing. It was recently caught selling the names and phone numbers of its subscribers and then apparently tried to lie about having done this. It doesn't respect its users' privacy; there is a group called the Electronic Privacy Information Center that documents this in detail. AOL collects detailed information about what its users click on, revealing personal habits and interests, and although it claims it doesn't use it for anything more than aggregate studies, one must wonder why they bother if this is so. AOL lobbied against California legislation that would have imposed standards for protecting consumers against having intimate financial and other data shared by corporations they do business with without their permission. Indeed, it is hard to avoid the impression that AOL holds its users in contempt as sheep to be herded and sheared.

AOL, despite its high-tech image, is an enemy of technological innovation. It resisted for years the next logical step in instant-messaging technology, an open standard, preferring to require people to stay within its own network. At one time, it incredibly wouldn't even let non-AOL-e-mail over its system! Its poorly-managed computer systems have experienced several security break-ins, which have allowed hackers to gain access to sensitive account information including customer names, phone numbers and credit card numbers. AOL's absurd control-freak arrogance extends to the demand that, as stated in their Terms of Service agreement, "you are required to follow our TOS no matter where you are on the Internet" if you connect using AOL. They also block sites simply for being critical of them; I will be very surprised if this page doesn't eventually get blocked.

Just to encourage the reader to dump AOL, here is a list of its non-ideological shortcomings, all of which can be avoided on a plain-vanilla ISP or Familink (which in the interests of full disclosure I will admit gave me a free e-mail address for endorsing them.)

1. AOL prevents its users from using a proper, full-featured, e-mail client like Outlook Express.
2. Its e-mail system won't display graphic attachments in-line.
3. E-mail cannot be sorted by name, date, subject etc. like on other systems.
4. It doesn't use industry-standard e-mail standards MIME & SMTP, resulting in garbled messages sometimes.
5. Most surveys of online connection quality show AOL near the bottom.
6. It kicks you offline if you leave your computer unattended for a few minutes.
7. It is noticeably slower than a plain-vanilla ISP for surfing the web, as everything has to be routed through their network
after traversing the Internet.
8. When sending or receiving from non-AOL addresses, its mail delivery is often much slower than a plain-vanilla ISP.
9. It forces you to view annoying pop-up ads.
10.It has terrible customer service that puts you on hold forever.
11.Its software can interfere with other software on your machine.
12.Its main program takes up a huge amount of memory and takes forever to load.
13.It often won’t sign you off immediately when you need to make a phone call, forcing you to wait while it downloads this or that “update” to its system.

Some answers to anticipated objections: One, I realize some people find the whole boycott thing a bit petty and, well, leftist. Remember grapes? Let's just remember that if the Left has gotten good mileage out of a tactic, this is empirical evidence that it is a useful one. If the Right doesn’t learn to boycott companies on its own, the Left will intimidate and dominate the entire corporate sector.  Two, I realize some people are attached to their AOL. Without meaning to be rude,

I think this comes down to laziness. Switch and feel good about fighting back.  People will adapt to your new address soon enough.

The most beautiful thing if a conservative boycott of AOL succeeds is a great old saying from Russian chess: "A threat is more powerful than its execution." We could potentially have a magnificent chilling effect on the propensity of the media to engage in political mischief. It's time to show these people, who not without reason assume that conservatives will whine but put up with anything, that we can throw our weight around too. The stunning out-of-nowhere success of Fox News, which has surpassed CNN  as the largest cable news network, shows that conservative demand can reshape the media landscape.

In truth, AOL Time-Warner is already doing its stockholders a disservice by gratuitously annoying the half of this country that doesn't share its political views. If the boycott has a meaningful impact, this could lay the ground for a stockholder lawsuit against them for failing to uphold their fiduciary responsibilities by compromising their profitability to serve the political ends of management. That would be a real nightmare for them which could oust management, not to mention laying the precedent for lawsuits in other industries against managements that indulge their political hobbies on the job.

So please, please, make it a personal goal over the next month to wipe out all @aol addresses among the people you exchange e-mail with. If you control a web site of your own, put in a link to this article so that more people will see it and the boycott campaign will keep going. The number to cancel your AOL account is 888-265-8008. You can also mail the cancellation to:

America Online
P.O. Box 1600
Ogden, UT 84401

Or fax it to 801-622-7969. Be sure to give them your master screen name.

Note: Over the last year or so, AOL Time-Warner’s fortunes have declined gratifyingly.  Its stock has lost a total value in excess of $100 billion. That’s billion, folks.  It is now under investigation for accounting fraud. It is losing the battle to control the broadband market. Its palatial new headquarters continues to rise next to New York’s Central Park, but it will be a diminished company that will occupy it.  The title of this article is taken from the song, "MTV get off the air" by The Dead Kennedys. But that's another article.

(1) “Gramscian” means pertaining to the philosophy of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937.)  He taught, in opposition to traditional Marxist-Leninists who wanted to take over society by means of a violent revolution, that the way to take over society was to take over the institutions that create and transmit its ideas.  99% of the American Left, which wouldn’t know one end of an AK-47 from the other, is Gramscian.  In truth, Gramsci wasn’t original; he just rediscovered Left Hegelianism, a philosophy from 100 years before.  Sometime when we both have a lot of time on our hands, I will explain what that was about.

Help spread the boycott! Put this on your homepage and link to this article.

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