Internet and Democracy: The Sequel

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April 10

A decade ago, the Internet was widely seen as a means to diminish the power of countries to regulate the flow of ideas and information. However, we have witnessed the resurgence of national sovereignty in cyberspace, with many countries now resorting to a combination of technology, law and intimidation to reign in the spread of free speech via the Net. Often aided by the technological support of the private sector in the United States, for this class, we will debate the ethics, practicality and implications of Internet censorship.


Additional Resources

Class Discussion

April 10: Internet and Democracy: The Sequel Just Johnny 17:12, 15 February 2012 (UTC)

I was surprised by the numbers from the "Evolving Landscape..." reading as far as how normal people use the internet in restrictive countries. We tend to think of the internet as this powerful tool to access multicultural views and information, especially if you live in a censorious society. This neglects the fact that around 80% of the websites I use/read/visit commonly are based out of the U.S., and 99% are English-language, so why would that be substantially different for someone from China? Part of our assumption that this resource is so valuable is that people would want to read the same info we are, because it is presumably the best (and to be fair it at least quite often is, as far as the areas it actually covers). But that often is not the info most relevant to those readers.

The shockingly low % (1% at a guess by the reading) of people in China, for example, who are using circumvention tools makes a lot more sense when you realize that internal Chinese sites like youku fill the vast majority of their internet needs, and that specifically Chinese concepts and constructs like microblogging avoid censors through a much more realistic approach to political censorship for the average internet user there. This is troubling in light of the conclusion that censoring technologies may now be outstripping circumvention technologies/abilities of average internet users to avoid censorship/attack/tracking. The solution of aggressively empowering a small group of activists, who would then spread messages through the local networks, seems to me to be a good one. It does place those activists at even more risk by further singling them out though, and obviously detracts from the crowd-sourcing type benefits that are at the heart of the internet's value.

I'm looking forward to discussing in class the balance of an international company's responsibility to its shareholders to create profit and remain competitive v. its responsibility to its original nation's norms/laws/etc. v. its responsibility to to an international "human rights" type code for the internet, regardless of where it comes from or where it's serving.

There are always arguments to be made for profit above all else, and what if trying too hard to be moral lowers your profits to where an 100% immoral (in relation to these internet issues) company corners the market? Then your idealism ruined you AND actively hurt online rights, since you left the door open for someone far worse than yourself to control that chunk of the web. AlexLE 17:03, 9 April 2012 (UTC)