So yeah, there was never a free internet. Just a Cabal (There Is No Cabal) of Admins who were more interested in keeping the system running than policing speech.
At one point, 75% of Usenet traffic was spam and spam cancellations.
Usenet didn't have such a solution. They had the cancelbot wars instead.
On Usenet, you can send a message to cancel a previous message. People sick of spam wrote bots that would forge cancellation messages for spam posts.
Nowadays, the server you expect outgoing email to come from is in your DNS records and most email servers reject incoming mail from servers other than the listed ones.
This is the Sender Permitted From record.
An email exchange that took mail from anyone to anyone is called an Open Relay.
Spammers took advantage of open relays to send their garbage, so The Cabal launched a war on open relays to save the internet.
Open relays are basically dead today.
I'm talking about Spammers.
Back in the day, email was expected to allow for forwarding, and there was no difference between the protocol for me sending email to my server, and my server sending email to your server.
The only methods of enforcement between sites were either personal favors or the nuclear option of not peering.
But, The Cabal (which does not exist,) would smack people down if they became too outrageous. Not mere assholes, but people who ruin the commons for everyone...
If somebody was being an asshole, what were you going to do? Wheedle your admin to tell his admin to take away his access? And how would your admin enforce that? Threaten to stop peering?
What happened was your admin told you to put the asshole in your killfile.
The admin for your server had total power over what you could see and do. Your apparent freedom came mostly from their light touch, and their limited reach.
Between servers, only basic peering agreements and personal charisma mattered.
I've been thinking about the politics of the early internet. It was very libertarian; the idea that you could do whatever you wanted. "An it harm none", etc.
But this was a lie.
The early internet was really some kind of anarcho-feudalism.
I'll be honest: I have no idea what to expect here.
Well, except one thing...
I expect it to be bizarre
a Schelling point for those who seek one