“Ist” vs. “Soll”: the Dark Side of the Internet

This post by Richard Hill is part of a series related to the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy: The Third Man Theme Revisited: Foreign Policies of the Internet in a Time Of Surveillance and Disclosure, which takes place in Vienna, Austria from March 30 – April 1, 2014.

The internet has become a vitally important social infrastructure that profoundly impacts our societies.  It has transformed the way we do many things but the benefits promised for all have not been adequately realized. On the contrary, we have seen mass surveillance, abusive use of personal data and their use as a means of social and political control; the monopolization, commodification and monetisation of information and knowledge; inequitable flows of finances between poor and rich countries; and erosion of cultural diversity.  Many technical, and thus purportedly “neutral,” decisions have in reality led to social injustice as technology architectures, often developed to promote vested interests, increasingly determine social, economic, cultural and political relationships and processes.

Many of the issues outlined above are discussed in the context of what is called “internet governance,”  This is a minor industry, with something like 100 people working in it full-time, attending various meetings around the world.

Why isn’t there a “GSM governance” (Global System for Mobile Communications) industry, even though GSM reaches more than twice as many people, is more economically significant, and is more significant even as a tool for fostering political change?

Because offline law applies online, and some people don’t like this with respect to “the internet.”  In particular, some people think that the meta-rules, that is, the rules for making rules, should be different with respect to the internet.  Some think that technologists should set the rules for internet, others think that governments should set public policy, others think that all “stakeholders” should work together on an equal footing.  This last view in effect…

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