I used the term "internet liberal" on facebook yesterday; a friend said he'd be interested in reading a further elaboration on the coinage. Since I have a blog, this post was pretty much inevitable.
At the most basic, the internet liberal is simply a liberal who is on the internet. It goes further than that, in that most of the internet which is not specifically dedicated to ideology is nonetheless dominated by at least quasi-liberal social mores. Some of this is simply demographics, I suspect: conservatives seem, on the whole, more liable to limit their children's internet time, and thus on the whole I suspect conservatives grow up to have less of an attachment – and less of a presence – on the computer. (The major exception seems to be in the political sphere, as especially demonstrated by the various right-wing blogmedia groups.)
These habits and expectations are, roughly, tolerance as defined by the modern left wing, and a mostly unquestioned acceptance of social democratic political ideals. Europe is everybody's favorite place on the internet; America is an ignorant backwater. Insulting homosexuals (or calling them wrong, or even asking the obvious question, "So wait, if you guys get 'married', which dude is the 'wife'?") is a major offense, as is, quite often, insinuating there might be actual physical differences between men and women when it comes to achieving careers (or on other liberal-sensitive issues). Abortion is mostly accepted without question and any questioners abused with the usual nonsense about "women's reproductive rights" (to immediately deny the child a chance to ever reproduce). Religion, especially Christianity, is assumed to be an enemy of science. In short, the usual denizen of the internet is practically a left-wing stereotype: Occupy Wall Street is mostly viewed as well-intentioned (even when actual methods and results are questioned) while the Tea Parties were roundly mocked.
I exaggerate, a little, in that in most cases the conservatives are at least allowed to have their say, as long as they don't seriously transgress these bounds of liberal taste. But in short, the liberal on the internet tends to view the argument as over, left-wing progressivism as a clear winner, and anyone who disagrees as the person who is really being "tolerated".
The irony, of course, is that the internet in its modern incarnation is, in most of the world, a shining example of practical conservative laissez-faire policy at work – and where it isn't, or where those liberties are threatened, the internet mobilizes and complains and spreads the news.
True, the necessary infrastructure is provided by others, by ISPs and webhosts, but as government analogues go, they do pretty much nothing beyond keeping things running while you pay your taxes, I mean bills. Most importantly, when contrasted to the social democratic government ideal, regulation is practically nonexistent – notoriously, even various illegal materials (either immoral or violating, say, copyright law) are freely available and not hard to find.
If you questioned one of these internet liberals and pointed out this contrast, I suspect the usual response would be something like, "But in the end, the internet doesn't really matter, nobody's life is ever going to be at stake because of something I write on my blog". It's a good point, as far as it goes – but confident behind that objection I suspect it will be almost impossible to get them to listen to the one point the conservative movement keeps trying to hammer home: there is no – none, zilch, nada, zero – proof that the liberal social democratic regulatory state actually improves things overall even when the outcome does matter (for a thorough exploration of this, see Amity Shlae's book The Forgotten Man).
The internet as an example of a contrary model working (even as a limited test case) still hasn't made a dent in the indoctrinated liberalism of these people. That's why I talk about the "internet liberal": they're the one class of liberal who really ought to know better, and do know better when it comes to their private hobby horse (the internet), but they refuse to see beyond that.