Whose Values

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February 19

The Internet is often thought of as one place, as in Barlow’s framing of “our world” in the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. But we have already seen that this framing does not play out quite so cleanly. And nor should it, necessarily, because the Internet’s global clientele represent a wide mix of values, both in abstract principles and practical solutions for when those principles collide. This class looks at that issue through the lens of a few specific examples, and starts us toward a larger question: Can we fit all of our different values onto the same Internet?

Download slides from this week's class.


  • Case Study: The Innocence of Muslims

Optional Readings

Videos Watched in Class


Class Discussion

Please remember to sign your postings by adding four tildes (~~~~) to the end of your contribution. This will automatically add your username and the date/time of your post, like so: Asellars 15:29, 21 January 2013 (EST)

I found Andy Sellars, 'The Structural Weakness of Internet Speech', article to contain an interesting analysis on the role that the US legal regime governing free speech should play in censorship of the internet. While I agreed with a number of his concerns, I disagree with his proposition that it is 'very' hard to change the constitutional law in the US governing free speech (in particular hate speech). While he, and many other Americans, take the position that the US constitution protects hate speech and that it would be 'very, very hard' to change the law, I do not agree with this. I concede that the wording of the first amendment would appear to place strict limits on the governments interference with speech in general, however, this has not stopped the government from restricting numerous forms of speech such as commercial expression, libel, pornography, child pornography, fraud, intellectual property theft, national security, and incitement to violence. If SCOTUS was inclined to change the laws on hate speech they would be able to do so without resort to formal constitutional amendment.

I also appreciate his point that we now have behemoth corporations making the decisions about whether to censor a citizens opinions. Youtube can remove videos at will and Google can rank pages it disagrees with down into the netherworlds of irrelevance on its search results. Google has done this in the past, leaving up derogatory pages about Rick Santorum, while downgraded pages it disagrees with for whatever reason. Joshywonder 15:40, 12 February 2013 (EST)

Thanks for the comment, Josh. (And yes, Andy Sellars from here is me, just as the article by Ryan Budish is the same Ryan.) I would argue that it is still difficult to change the US Constitution, even if we have majority support for a particular position (e.g. hate speech, where I think there is a growing consensus though certainly not unanimous support). Amending the constitution requires both massive turnout and very-high-percentage (66-75%) support. See this article for more. Where the Supreme Court has allowed exceptions has been places where the First Amendment has always been considered to be inapplicable - obscenity, defamation, "fighting words," and a few other places - and these are clearly defined with specific definitions that have evolved form the doctrine. In the words of the Supreme Court, "[o]ur Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it," and doesn't add categories to the list as a general rule. While they could change their mind, they have entrenched in this position for all of their history, and would face all sorts of collateral challenges should they start to arbitrarily decide what is an is not constitutional.
I am also not sure that we have seen a proven example where Google had down-ranked a page to serve its own interest, but that's beside the point of my article. My concern is that they could, and there's not much we could do about it. asellars 18:34, 12 February 2013 (EST)

Student Initials: TAG Student ID# 10789842

Mr. Robert Faris guest lecture was very interesting and inspired me to examine the intended democratic forum of the Internet. As mobility and being connected to the Internet becomes more affordable, accessible digital participation and digital representation has come to the forefront of the global debate. The article in The Economist the article on the future of the Internet, they reference Mr. Barlow when stating the declaration, “You have no sovereignty where we gather.” This topic should be viewed as a sub area of what freedoms the United States was built on. Challenging or infringing upon these freedoms should and never should be acceptable within the US. In a different view I do not feel that we (The United States) should impose other countries to allow the same freedoms to their citizens when using the Internet. It is not our job to be the freedom of Internet police around the world. The article “The Tweets Must Flow” challenges my view that states the

Mr. Ferris gave a detailed explanation of the evolution of the communication industry and the effects of regulations and monopolies have had on the industry, which was quite comprehensive and I enjoyed it thoroughly. In the article “The Evolving Landscape of Internet Control” it was clear that other countries who establish restrictive parameters for their citizens to access the internet spend more time on ethnocentric innovation, instead of blocking the outside sites. I find this remarkable, that they believe more in their own citizens to produce a better product that they do not spend a proportionate amount of time in blocking the external access sites. Interestingcomments 09:15, 14 February 2013 (EST)

I thought this weeks twitter postings on the new filter by country feature added to the original belief on non filtering was very interesting. While the posting made it clear that this feature, if employed, would be merely reactive, I am still unconvinced as to whether or not it serves to protect freedom of speech or is leading more to a geographically dominated net space. While it is one step above globally censoring content, I still don't believe that it aims to bolster true net neutrality. But when dealing with global internet usage and consumption, I guess this reactive filtering option would be the lesser of two evils. I thought the Google blog posting did a good job on expounding upon the issue of regional filtering vs. free expression. It seems to be an extremely non divisive issue and one that is ever-changing. I guess in a globalized world, it's impossible to satisfy every critic and country. While currently regional law seems to have the biggest impact on the institutionalization of a globalized internet, I wonder if one day the net legislation will override regional considerations on freedom of expression in places like China. AaronEttl 14:46, 17 February 2013 (EST)

The short, low budget video that became associated with the September 11, 2012 demonstrations at the American Embassy in Cairo is a case in point. York, Budish and Sellers all make valid points on this subject. I have to wonder, though, does the censorship that was exercised by blocking the video from being accessed in particular countries actually hinder those countries from having the free flow of conversation that might change the need to have the video blocked in the first place? I have read that the video initially depicts the mistreatment of Copts (a historic Orthodox Christian group) in Egypt. This is a valid conversation to have. Copts are a dwindling population in Egypt, not because they are converting to other religions, but because they are leaving Egypt seeking to live in countries where they will receive equal treatment in practice and under the law. Unfortunately, the video apparently goes on to depict the Egyptian majority religion in a demeaning light. That distraction, and the focus on it, has led to the censorship. Unfortunately, this also means that the more important theme of the video has been lost to the controversy. Egyptian society does need to have the conversation about religion as a basis for biased treatment. Some are having the conversation, but not all Egyptians are ready for that conversation. So here is something to consider: As Egyptians reach out to the world through the Internet, they know that they will encounter issues that do not align with their culture and values. As Westerners learn that world cultures need not westernize to get along in the world, Egyptians have opportunity to see that not all in the world will Islamize either. Additionally, because the West allows freedom for individuals to express themselves does not mean that the individual doing the expressing speaks on our behalf. Tessa May 00:46, 19 February 2013 (EST)

The articles for this week's lecture were phenomenal and categorical, but, were mostly politically charged versions of the "same information". Some things I have realized are that for instance the content of the Rowe vs. Wade argumentation, when typed as a citation or otherwise, is used by a lot of people as an immediate panacea to afford dissident contractualism. Regardless of the policy discussed within these articles this class is to discuss power and the integration of the internet into a system that is more than mere speculation. this quasi-pragmatic approach must be considered insane because the method used, here, is merely the economical perspective which for me bears little creedance. That typed, I continue: Is the regeneration of information bad? Now I will answer that question. No, and yes. Firstly, the internet certainly allows people to ascend to higher levels of Kantian reasoning regardless of the words written in a journal or in a blog or in a form of electronic communication. This data is then cited and reworked until it becomes common knowledge and then is the option for the individual to better understand the content from a more socialized perspective. An example here is that the dissemination of knowledge is good yet the method used is not always the target of concern. For all of those who deem the aspects of religion as something other than a latin language transcription, the articles this week proved that spin is not just a publication or a ping pong technique. Here game theory can be applied but not to Capital. Therefore, events such as internet rerouting, contract security, and the better integration of citations implicitly within work becomes essential. So regardless of nuomenon or phenomenon there really is an arbiter in between and that consolidated entity is the IP address, with all due respects to this course. To analyze, the recitation of information is always plagiarism except in the individual interested in experimenting with a progressive knack for Hegel and that is far from elucidated contextually, as I have learned. Further, the Pragmatic approach falters here because the institutor is consciously pragmatic (which yields another demention). In conclusion, this weeks articles were outdated and not relevant at all to current politics except for the knowledge that reading an article once does not mean that the article's meaning will not change as per the viewing after the transcriber has essentially made the knowledge structured as is Vygotzky's theory of Social Constructionism. Finally, where one deems dimention from these articles is "greek to me". Johnathan Merkwan 09:12, 19 February 2013 (EST)

I enjoyed reading article by Rachel Whetstone about free speech and free expression within the Internet, as it has been a hallmark of a successful democracy of a free society. In my view, the Internet and diverse communication technologies have become the main tools for expanding the thought of free speech by sharing the information around the globe. However, what is acceptable? Due to culture differences and diverse historical background, indeed, it could be “acceptable to one person and may be offensive to another”. However, I believe that future of Internet within free speech will continue and progress, by mainly recognizing the potential of new innovative technologies, while the First Amendment protection could host as a legal liability for content posted by users. Is the free speech is the main concern of diverse societies? The article “The evolving landscape of Internet control” supports the idea, that freedom speech shouldn’t be our main concern, but the “ddos attacks, site hijacking and defacement” should be the priority, which I completely agree with. We are using the Internet on the daily basis to pay the bills and even to do our taxes, the information is on the www, which must be protected and controlled on the highest levels in this digital age. user777 12:18, 19 February 2013 (EST)

The articles this week focus on “freedom of speech,” a controversial topic supported by countless perspectives. To organize my thoughts, I selected a few quotes from the various readings.

“[G]oogle is now vulnerable to demands from a variety of parties and will have to explain why it sees censorship as the right solution in some cases but not in others” (York, 2012).

My response to this quote is supported by a comment in Sellars’ article, The Structural Weakness of Internet Speech. “Pro-speech motivations of corporations are no more powerful than the staff’s own penchant for free speech and the persuasiveness of arguments that speech-defensive actions will reap business rewards....Google could quite easily be persuaded differently under a different set of facts” (Sellars, 2012).

This CNN-published statement illustrates the vulnerable reality that large Internet companies face. Who makes the decisions? How are the decisions made? Why are some decisions made versus others? And how can decisions be supported by concrete claims? This article also draws attention to one valid answer: corporations are run by Executives, who in-turn, respond to shareholders. To that end, decisions are made based on shareholder demands, and shareholder demands may not necessarily represent the most ethical solution; profit-generating perspectives can trump all other decision-making criteria. One must therefore question how decisions are made when they emerge from large Internet-related corporations.

“From an ethical perspective, almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits....Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to re-actively withhold content from users in a specific country—while keeping it available in the rest of the world” (The Tweets must Flow, and the response, respectively).

Boundaries should be drawn between "freedom of speech" and "hate speech." However, when referring to Sellars’ article, the decision maker becomes a primary focal point. Some believe that private companies should not make the call between “freedom of speech” and “hate speech;” governments should. Others believe that companies—such as Google and Twitter, for example—should step up and assume responsibility. Per the quote above, it appears that Twitter decided to make these decisions. Per the Anti-Muslim YouTube video, it appears that Google also made a conscience decision to ban the video in some geographical regions, but not in others (York, 2012). From my perspective, hate speech is often obvious, and Internet providers should ultimately assume some policing responsibility.

To conclude this post, I think it’s important to highlight the notion behind an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) (Krigman, 2012). Before reading The Next Battle over Net Ramps up Worldwide, I had never heard of this development. On one side, I think the idea makes perfect sense, similar to other unilateral UN organizations. On the other hand, it’s a complex scenario, because governments react in countless ways to freedom of speech. With this in mind, creating a global telecommunications union to monitor Internet activity will not only be challenging, but it will also require collaboration among private, non-profit, and government entities worldwide. Zak Paster 12:33, 19 February 2013 (EST)

According to Hal Roberts et al., "The Evolving Landscape of Internet Control," I’m one of the less than 3% of users in China who use a circumventing tool like VPN to get past The Great Firewall of China (a.k.a. “The GFW”, “The Nanny”).

I pay VPN service providers between US$10~30 a month to access, among MANY more others, blocked websites like the nytimes.com (since the paper published a report on Wen Jiabao’s wealth), imdb.com (don’t know reason), dropbox, Google services (including often times, even Gmail) facebook, twitter, tumblr, (basically all the non-Chinese social media platforms) various news and radio stations, and video sites like Youtube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion.

Privileged people like me who are used to accessing these sites, such as expats and foreign educated Chinese, have tended to rely on paid VPN providers because they used to offer the only reliable and adequately speeded (almost 1MB download speed makes me happy) access over The Wall.

Why do I use the past tense? Because the warning or prediction that Hal Roberts et al. made at the end of their August 2011 report came true: “Our recent round of testing of circumvention tools hints at the disturbing possibility that some governments are periodically attempting to block traffic based on protocol and traffic pattern, potentially disrupting entire classes of circumvention tools.”

Since The GFW was upgraded at the end of last year, it has become almost impossible to use VPN services. According to articles like the three I've linked below and my VPN service providers, The GFW can now target the protocols and ports the VPNs run through. Like a cat and mouse game, I am changing servers and ports several times a day. If I do successfully connect, internet speeds are so slow as to be useless.

I often cannot watch Extension School videos (and for the past few days, even just the audio) without VPN because while China does not block Harvard’s website, the buffering means watching a lecture take double or triple the time (imagine the Professor pause several seconds after EACH word).

It’s most upsetting when I go to yukou or tudou and the HD videos load at lightning speed.

I am very sad. I would say furious, but at this point, it's too tiring to be angry at something you can't control. I can only say my temper, patience, and black humor have been greatly trained.And according to the other foreigners in China, my internet should be excellent since I'm in metropolitan Shanghai.

For more reading on thr GFW’s upgrades:

China's 'Wall' Hits Business: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323926104578277511385052752.html#printMode

Adding More Bricks to the Great Firewall of China: http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/adding-more-bricks-to-the-great-firewall-of-china/ “Great Firewall 'upgrade' hits China's net” : http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking-news/great-firewall-upgrade-hits-chinas-net/story-fn3dxix6-1226541986825

--Muromi 13:47, 19 February 2013 (EST)

Muromi – Thanks for sharing this firsthand experience of censored Internet service. It is helpful for all of us to hear of the issues you face from a very practical perspective. It is a different internet than what others have access to and even differs from day to day and hour to hour. Tessa May 15:16, 19 February 2013 (EST)

So first, in response to Muromi, I can't tell you how sorry I am to hear of the latest difficulties in accessing the Internet from China. Not only do your comments provide an interesting perspective (you are actually living what we are discussing) but also I sympathize. I lived outside of the West for almost a year, and though many of the people in the country I was living spoke English, I relied on the Internet to stay connected to the West and, so, sane and happy.

Secondly, I'd like to hear more from Ryan and Andy. I think they are arguing slightly different point of views regarding censoring, Ryan seemed to come down on the side of self-censoring and Andy seemed to be asking for some delineation, for the rules to be made clear.

I'm wondering if there is some research out there on the difference the two different systems make.

"I wanted to write that my work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written. And precisely this second part is the important one." Wittgenstein

And hoping that I'm not taking this quote too far out of context, how will we know what goes unspoken for fear of reprisal, either social or legal? Raven 15:13, 19 February 2013 (EST)

The techno-utopianism of the 1990s today entails a reactionary defense of an unambiguously imperfect status quo. It is neither reasonable nor rational to expect that institutions such as corporations or governments might perceive their interests to lie in the hopes of others, or to approach problems collectively out of anything other than pecuniary utilitarianism. The operating logic of international capital at any rate prohibits managers and policymakers from impeding the institutional accumulation of wealth and power. The civil libertarianism of the post-Enlightenment West, which at its core functions as an apologetics of neoliberal globalization, will not dissuade leaders in Russia and China from the prosecution of their respective national interests. Humanitarian indignation of the kind that suggests firms in a capitalist order ought to behave as though they belonged to groups other than their shareholders and creditors will elicit no more than platitudes and quiet derision from responsible business executives. The notion of an international consensus leading to the ossification of social relations on the Internet as they existed at the turn of the millennium is unrealistic in that it denies or deprecates the needs and wishes of many of the world's most powerful actors. We must accept the basically conflictual, dynamically competitive forces at play in any "network of networks" like the Internet, and that divergent interests on such networks may lead to technical interventions in the networks on the part of powerful agents. Any attempt by Western states to impose a laissez-faire, neoliberal, supranational structure to human interaction on the Internet according to axiological codes of rightful behavior is doomed to a failure more spectacular than that of Marxism.

Johnfloyd6675 17:02, 19 February 2013 (EST) 17:02, 19 February 2013 (EST)

The Economist article - The Virtual counter-revolution - took a relatively thorough and comprehensive (given the assumed constraints on the size of the article) and well-organized, analytical approach to discussing information freedom from the perspective of citizens around the globe. However, the three theories provided for the balkanization of the Internet seemed inherently at odds. The first claim - that governments are reasserting their sovereignty - implies that overbearing, restrictive government is infringing on the rights of citizens to access information justified by law and order and necessary regulations. The second two theories - that private companies were restricting access in order to presumably obtain higher profits seemed to imply that more government intervention was needed. An interesting possibility that was not covered is that fragmentation into smaller networks may make it more challenging for governments that wish to regulate or prohibit access as they will need to direct their efforts against more than one "Internet".

The concept of designating some speech as "hate speech" is as unenforceable and hapless in cyberspace as it is in the physical world. The notion that a government is responsible for moderating and regulating discussion is both illogical and cannot be enforced. As time passes and communications technologies continue to progress, there will only be more ways to communicate ideas electronically which will effectively render such laws even more irrelevant.

On a separate but related note, the Wikipedia article on The Innocence of Muslims seems to incorrectly attribute the Innocence of Muslims film to the 2012 Benghazi attacks. I do not believe there was any sort of evidence available to the public to make such a connection.

CyberRalph 17:28, 19 February 2013 (EST)