Viva la Internet!

Back in the day, around the time of the invention of mass communication tools, there was a preference for control. Without mass communication, like radio and newspapers, dictatorships and totalitarian states would not have been possible because audiences had no access to other material besides the propaganda they were given. Jump into the future a few decades and you have the Internet which threatens the “control the masses” ideology.

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I like the idea of Cyberlibertarianism. It presents the Internet with the idea that “all animals are equal” (George Orwell you genius you). The internet is “an information network independent from the infrastructure over which it runs”, this is a concept which is very prevalent in the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace to the point where the author, John Perry Barlow, completely disassociates the Internet from the society in which it was born.

“You do not know our culture, our ethics or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.”

While this statement criticises the state of our physical society, it also blames law makers and those in power for this imperfection. The statement is very idealistic, at a time when the Internet was beginning to grow no one could have predicted how the technology would expand into a haven for certain groups of people. Women are continually bullied online to the point where many don’t bother voicing their opinions as they will be trolled and abused based on their gender. This was seen when Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates was subject to very explicit and violent threats after she established the foundation.

Today, we know there are places on the Internet that promote ideals that aren’t conducive to a productive and accepting society and most of us try to avoid them. But why aren’t they removed altogether? No country has any power over the Internet so there are no laws that dictate what is and isn’t acceptable online. This is one of the main arguments that Barlow presents in the Declaration. Though lawless, the Internet does have unspoken rules of accepted behaviour. Most users abide, but some don’t and this is where there is a case of powerlessness for victims. If people were abused in a physical setting the way that some people are subjected to online they would face the force of the law, but as the Internet has no owner there is little one can do to stop a perpetrator other than “ignoring them”.

There’s another half to George Orwell’s Animal Farm quote “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” It was brought to my attention by a fellow student that “Net Neutrality” is a thing that the American government is interested in diffusing. If the corporations pushing this change to the Internet were to be successful it would mean that Animal Farm (required reading if you are a human being) would have been accomplished with (what is seen to be) freedom being changed to suit those in power, giving preference to those who pay more.

Barlow addresses those in power, “You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants.” Well…we know those notifications telling us we’ve won $1million aren’t legit.

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Works cited

Barlow, J.P. (1996) A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, accessed: 15 August 2014

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