Earlier this week, the Spanish government raided the Barcelona office of the PuntCat Foundation, the company that administers the .cat domain, and arrested one of its senior executives.
PuntCat means “dot cat” in Catalan, the language spoken in the Catalonian region of Spain as well as places in France, Andorra, and Italy. The office was raided because Catalonia hopes to hold a referendum on October 1 to decide if it should secede from Spain, and in an effort to quash the referendum, the government of Spain ordered puntCat to “block all .cat domain names that may contain any kind of information about the forthcoming independence referendum,” according to a press release from the foundation.
This is an astonishing attempt at censorship by a member of the E.U. but, unfortunately, that aspect is going largely uncovered because the media is idiotically obsessed with cats.
For example, The New York Times ran a story about the .cat domain under a picture of a cat.
“An arrest. Cats. The internet. Naturally, we were curious,” the Times piece says, before diving into the “storied history” of cats on the internet. “Given the web’s rich cat history, you’d think that domain names ending in .cat would be another online feline gold mine.”
But the .cat domain has nothing to do with your pet. There are only something like 113,000 websites that end in the domain .cat. It’s an exclusive club: Only websites about the language, culture, and history of Catalonia are allowed to use it.
That’s because Amadeu Abril i Abril, a lawyer who was influential in the formation of internet infrastructure in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, was Catalonian. In 2005, Abril was about to convince ICANN, the international U.S.-dominated organization that assigns TLDs, or top level domain names, to reserve .cat for the benefit of the Catalonian diaspora, which he estimated at the time to be around 10 million Catalan speakers.
It was a goal for Abril because Catalonia has at times throughout history pushed for autonomy from Spain. Abril called it “a matter of identity” for a minority group that feared having its language and culture subsumed. “A TLD puts you in the top league,” Abril said at the time. “You are not then just a regional team. Prestige and glamour are important for sustaining a living language. You don’t like being in the second league. It is important to demonstrate that Catalan, with its ten million speakers, is a top–division language. A TLD is important for the self–esteem of people feeling that they are Catalan.”
Most people are probably familiar with the joke that 15 percent of the internet is devoted to cats, a meme started by Friskies. Yes, people, and especially people on the internet, like cats. But cats aren’t really a big part of the internet, and most internet users wouldn’t even call the furry gremlins who poop in a box “cats.” A not-insignificant number of internet users call them 猫, for example.
“Don’t Catalonians know that cats rule the internet?”
Cats have long been an internet “thing,” with help from sites like the Something Awful forum, which gave rise to the cat-themed site I Can Haz Cheezburger in 2007. The cat joke spread to other fora, like Facebook and BuzzFeed and Instagram, where it picked up a more representative fan base. Of course, there were always people who love cats and love pictures of them organically, but research has found that there are just as many pictures of dogs online.
Still: LOL, cats. “If cats rule the Internet — which they do, obviously — .cat puts .com, .net and .org to shame. And yet, you almost never see it,” the Chicago Tribune ruminated. “From a cat lover's perspective, the audacity of being usurped by Catalonia is a catastrophe. Don’t Catalonians know that cats rule the Internet?” asked USA Today in August of 2015 when the .dog domain came into existence, prompting a wave of stories about the lack of felines on .cat. The same story quotes a representative from the Cat Fanciers' Association, who called it “unfortunate” that the domain hadn’t been reserved for cats.
Pretty much from the beginning, Abril had to deal with people assuming that the .cat domain would be for cats. “Probably a bad joke,” wrote Paul Huffman, another internet pioneer, on his blog at the time. “Anyone who believes that the folks sponsoring ‘.cat’ really only intend it for Catalonian probably don’t know ICANN’s history or think that the sponsoring agency have never heard of cat-lovers.” Ten years later, the .cat domain has remained true in its dedication to Catalan.
The web has always been biased toward English, even as more non-native speakers got online. It wasn’t until 2010 that any domain names were written in non-Latin characters, when Egypt got مصر , Saudi Arabia got السعودية, and the United Arab Emirates got امارات. “In 1996, more than 80 percent of internet users were native English speakers. By 2010, that percentage had dropped to 27.3 percent,” wrote Quartz. Jokes implying that the .cat domain ought to be full of cats should be viewed in that context. Besides, a country that is supposed to be part of the free world just censored part of the internet by force. There is a story here, and it doesn’t have whiskers. I can haz accurate coverage of global politics in the media? Apparently not, if cats are involved.