DDD Gavel

Dot Dot Dot: How will the Internet govern itself?

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Make no mistake, Internet governance is coming. In fact, it’s already here. But is it the governance we want?

In India, police arrested a young woman for complaining about a politician’s funeral. They arrested someone else for simply liking the post.

The Indian government said arrests like these were not the intended effect of the Information Technology Act, which prohibits Internet users’ “abuse” of others online. Police officers involved in the incident have been suspended and magistrates disciplined for their overzealousness. The government has instructed police officers to check with senior members of the force before arresting anyone else for a Facebook post.

India had been cracking down on the Internet over the last year, drawing the concern of Internet activists everywhere. And when a Facebook “like” can get you thrown in the clink, you have to figure the law may need a little work.

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In Ireland, students are no longer allowed to take any sort of pictures in school, in an effort to end cyberbullying, which has recently been linked to two teen suicides in the country. Students have also been suspended for harassing teachers online. School governance bodies around the country are proposing a range of social media and cyberbullying guidelines. The proposed rules are pretty much what you would expect—though they seem to be as often inspired by bullying of teachers and principals as often as they are about bullying entirely among students.

There’s nothing unique about Ireland or India, of course. Cyberbullying is inspiring both government and grassroots reforms all over the world, from Canada, to Australia, to many parts of the U.S.

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YouTube, which has been spending millions to encourage content producers to produce high-quality content, has developed a bit of a habit of banning YouTubers from using AdSense, the Google advertising platform that many use to make money.

One YouTuber, Nick Reineke, was banned after one of his fans clicked ads too many times. The fan just wanted to help Reineke make a buck, not knowing that insincere clicks are entirely verboten and quickly sussed out by AdSense. Reineke tried repeatedly to appeal the banning with Google, but to no avail—there was no one he could talk to.

“It is not possible to contact Google. No one will speak with you, and there are no other avenues unless you are friends with someone who works there. Once your appeal is rejected, they will not reply to your emails or speak with you further on the issue (they actually tell you that in the rejection letter). It is essentially a LIFETIME ban for your account,” Reineke explained.

Once Reineke’s story hit Kotaku, however, the ban miraculously lifted. Of course, many other YouTubers came to Kotaku to tell their stories, but, there were no more miracles to be had, apparently, because none of them have had their AdSense restored.

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Facebook, by contrast, has always, at least ostensibly, taken a more democratic approach to its user base. According to its policy, any revision to the company’s practices can be put to a vote if at least 7,000 people comment on its announcement. If 30 percent of the user base (that is, 300 million people) participate in a vote on the changes, then the most popular option will become company policy, overruling management.

Well, not anymore. New policy changes allow the social network to share its information seamlessly between affiliates and removes the popular vote option. Of course, the company says it is doing this in order to be more responsive to our input.

To be fair, last time there was a vote, only .038 percent of the electorate turned out.

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Given that the Internet is not bound by any lines on a map, really the only option for coherent governance is a supranational organization. Enter the U.N.

The U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is meeting in Dubai to discuss the Internet. Everyone—from “Father of the Internet” Vint Cerf to the U.S. Congress—is concerned that the ITU will bestow upon itself the power to regulate the Internet. This sounds like a good idea to pretty much no one. The vigilante Internet group Anonymous, however, is the one doing something about it: they DDOSed ITU’s website.

Some regulation does seem needed; just look at Anonymous’s own actions. While the hacktivist collective is protesting world governments’ attempts to regulate the Internet, they are also meting out a little Internet justice.

After revenge-porn pioneer Hunter Moore announced that his new site would not only host nude pictures submitted by people other than their subjects, it would also expose the home address of the naked people, Anonymous gave Moore a taste of his own medicine. The hacktivists doxed him, posting his personal info online. Moore backtracked, saying he was “drunk and coked out” when he said that.

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Just today here at the Dot we elected to take down an article about the latest sexually themed advice animal (memes like Scumbag Steve or Overly Attached Girlfriend), which involved a picture of a minor. We didn’t name the person in the photo—as a general rule, newspapers do not publish the names of minors in anything but completely positive articles. But in the era of social networks, is his face any different than a name?

Sure, that was a little like trying to get the toothpaste back in the tube, but we decided that given the climate of cyberbullying, we did not want to add to the pile on this kid. It will be interesting to see if the rest of the Internet—the other publishers, meme generators, and online forums—react similarly. So far, we are the only site that has removed the images.

Part of what we all love about the Internet is its freewheeling, Wild West quality. But there must be limits to every freedom. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, “The bill of rights is not a suicide pact.”

Because freedoms can be abused, initiatives like the Internet’s Bill of Rights are something that we should all get involved in. At times, it seems as though an inability to even check your own email is a prerequisite for public office. We cannot allow legislators and foreign representatives of oppressive governments to decide what the regulation of the Internet will be. Nor can we allow the corporations that operate much of the Internet to act without concern for their users.

If we want to preserve the Internet we know and love, we need to be the ones proposing the limits upon it. 

Photograph by bloomsberries