Monday, October 10, 2011

The Internet: A Case of Industrial & Societal Regulation

The Internet serves as a perfect case study of how industrial and societal regulation can play out in the same medium.

Industrial regulation, essentially meaning to treat the media as a commodity or good, is seen in various domestic and international regulations that have already been set into place. Such an area is copyright or other issues of intellectual property, where ideas, art, products, etc are given exclusive ownership by their creator or patent holder. There are regulations in place that if anyone attempted to replicate or use another's copyrighted material it is punishable by law and the creator is owed damages. Examples of how this can be seen on the Internet are music, movies, photos, scripts or other products that are available for others to view but not utilize as their own.

However, this type of industrial regulation does have its fair share of circumvention. Many use various Internet tools to illegally copy these materials for their own use, and without a highly sophisticated method of immediately tracking down perpetrators, the laws surrounding the piracy of these materials online can be weak.

Not only are government bodies and private industries attempting to alter the seemingly "wild west" characteristics of the Internet, but the general citizenry do so as well.

Think of the many online social platforms we have available to us (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube etc). Nearly all of these platforms have a built in social regulator - the ability to flag any content that is deemed inappropriate or unsuitable. Oftentimes we are the ones to catch and blow the whistle on those who are posting unsavory items online when the social platforms themselves would not have the capability to do so as efficiently. This doesn't have to be limited to social networks either. Any article or forum that has interactive elements and allows commentary can be subject to socially unacceptable statements, which, in many cases, will face a wave of moral backlash from other users.

I personally am fond of a post by Natania Barron for Wired Magazine in which she details the outright vulnerability of having an online persona and the possibility for social regulation.

Barron writes, "Both my husband and I have run into conflict in the last few months as more and more people we know join Facebook. I’ve been scolded for being snarky; my husband has been called out for being too political. And it occurred to me: our audience has changed drastically. We can no longer pick and choose—our audiences are now related to us, people in our daily interactions. That puts a whole new spin on social networking: obligation. It’s societal regulation all over again!"

In this sense, we are protecting our normative social atmosphere, enforcing what our society has collectively determined as appropriate and inappropriate. The social platforms have instituted flagging as a way to make it extremely easy for us to use social regulation online, but this 'flagging' would continue in some fashion even if an official system didn't exist.

With both industrial and societal regulation taking place in regard to the Internet at the same time, it is critically changing how we perceive it as an information communication technology. With more stakeholders entering into the discussion on how to regulate the Internet, especially across international borders, it is getting to be a hot button issue for nation-states all over the world. The only way to regulate, it would seem, would be to consult international bodies and groups, but at the same time nation-states want their individual authority. It is a tender situation, and I don't believe a clear answer will come in the near future.

1 comment:

  1. To your point about citizen's policing social media sites, I do not think tools such as flagging and reporting are as effective as they should be. In my own experience for example, I once attempted to report a picture on facebook picture that I perceived as inappropriate, but the picture was never removed.

    I sincerely believe that internet governance should do more to protect citizens from offensive content on the web. Of course there will be several challenges to this. Some of those challenges might be in determining what countries will govern and under which laws. Hopefully this issue will be resolved as more conferences are held such as the Internet Governance Forum to discuss the future of internet security.