Time to Regulate

The fallacy of “is-isms”: the mistake of confusing how something is with how it must be.-Lawrence Lessig

Code V2 is a very interesting read about regulation of cyberspace.  Lessig argues that although the internet was initially created without much regard for regulation, it doesn’t have to remain that way. That is the premise behind the fallacy of the is-isms.  When the internet was created, a whole world of cyberspace was brought into the picture, and the initial philosophy behind it was the belief that it couldn’t be governed. Cyberspace was thought of as a space with no control.  It’s very “nature” resisted government.

Some things never change about governing the Web. Most prominent is its innate ability to resist governance in almost any form. -Tom Steinert-Threlkeld

Lessig on the other hand argues that internet can be regulated, and this can be achieved through it’s architecture.  Initially, the internet’s architecture made regulation difficult, however, Lessig contends this can be changed. In fact, it has already begun. Lessig uses the example of two universities.  One offered open access to the internet.  Users weren’t required to enter any information. They didn’t have to sign-in. Therefore, their behavior on the net couldn’t necessarily be monitored which would make for a difficult attempt to regulate. The other university’s policy was the polar opposite; users were prompted to enter in information or sign-in to get access to the internet.  This simple process permitted monitoring, meaning behavior could be tracked back to users.  Adding one simple change in the code of the architecture enabled the process of regulating the internet easier. Lessig says this, a simple alteration of the code, is the key to regulating the internet.

One thing that constantly came to mind while reading this book was how and why anyone would care about regulating something this is not “real?” Cyberspace isn’t real space, it’s a virtual world.  So, why do we care about what happens there? And better yet, what agency would govern this space?  Then I realized that problems within cyberspace occur when it crosses over into real space. In class we discussed popular virtual reality game sites such as Second Life.  Some of these sites can involve a real world unit, money. So when something happens in cyberspace to one of these virtual worlds that is attached to the loss or gain or money, conflict occurs and someone is needed to arbitrate. However, it’s not just money.  It’s any entity or behavior that crosses over into the real world.  Another example is cyber bullying.  Over the past decade, we have seen cases of people being bullied over the internet which lead to them harming themselves.  I remember the story of one young girl who was bullied through MySpace so badly that she ultimately ended her own life.   A virtual space caused a problem in real space. This is when the lines get blurred.

Clearly, there isn’t a way to determine when or how something occurring in cyberspace can cross over into the real world.  One may ask where do you draw the line between real space and virtual space?  Some philosophers argue there are no lines between the two; virtual space and real space go hand in hand.  All though this may not be the case for everyone and everybody, I now believe this should be the standard.  And since the two go hand and hand with each other, the net should definitely be regulated.

Lessig wrote this book in 2006, which is ancient in digital times.  I can already see how his prediction of change in the regulation of the internet is coming to pass.  I firmly believe that as times continue to change, and the internet becomes more and more commercialized, we will see more and more regulation.


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