The Internet Regulation Debate
Posted by: Brett Bisbe
Read time (bolded): 4 minutes
Read time (comprehensive): 7 minutes
The conversation has been going on for years, but in the past several months, a particularly hot topic has come back into the public discussion. That topic, subject of much debate around the world, is Internet regulation.
The issue is on the tongues of political and economic leaders alike, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling for tighter digital copyright laws and general “civility” at the last G8 Conference, and the music industry clamoring for heftier anti-piracy laws.
Of course the online community, the users themselves, are just as adamant (if not more so) about keeping the Internet a free marketplace, as unregulated as possible.
Both sides of the argument are ripe with strong points.
The music industry has taken a massive hit from online piracy, as most people are aware, and the film and publishing industries are no exception. From the early days of Napster and the beginnings of mass file sharing, major music labels say they’ve lost $55 Billion in revenue. Even as the industry has tried to adapt, users still find a way to access entertainment without going through the industry approved channels.
President Sarkozy and other regulation advocates have more delicate issues on their minds. They are out to protect children from online predators, to stop the flow of underage pornography, and to squash hateful and violence-advocating social groups from spreading a message of intolerance. They are also concerned with online economic practices, based in part on the toll piracy has taken on the entertainment industries, but also to divert online companies from creating monopolies or conducting business within present regulatory loopholes.
While many of these concerns are valid, and do come from a desire to protect public interests, much of the online community remains opposed to regulation of any kind.
Part of the opposition is, of course, based on simple principle, that the Internet has had a long history of unregulated activity, and the innovations we’ve seen in the past two decades are directly related to that lack of interference. Major players in online companies like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt argue that Internet regulation will cripple innovation.
Those opposed to regulation supply a multitude of reasons to keep the Internet neutral and open. Some argue that the Internet is a representation of society itself, and that censoring hateful or lewd content is not fighting the actual problem, only its online presence. By choosing to censor some areas of society because of potentially offensive content, regulators would be opening the floodgates of controversy over what content is deemed acceptable and what is not. In short, it becomes an ideological issue.
Perhaps the best argument against government intervention comes from Eric Schmidt himself, saying that technology will “move faster than governments,” and that we should look to technology to control undesirable online content.
It’s a tough call for most of us. The online CEOs are of course fighting against regulation of their industry, and government leaders are on soapboxes to defend the nation’s youth from the dangers of the Internet. Somewhere in the middle is the rest of the online community, and we’re in a great position to voice our opinions. What’s more important? Safety and security? Regulation and standardization? Or is it innovation and expansion? Neutrality and freedom?