cr> The Political Economy of the Internet: a new essay by Strangelov


Sender: "Michael Strangelove" <•••@••.•••>

Here are the first few paragraphs from an essay on the relationship
between of freedom of speech on the Net and the "statehood" of
cyberspace. I am trying to define the role of values (ethics) in the
new culture of online speech and am searching for sources/theories
that will help explain the new value system of the Net within the
larger context of global media culture.

For the complete text of this essay, send the command GET POLITICS in
the SUBJECT line of an e-mail message to •••@••.•••

Michael Strangelove

The Political Economy of the Internet
Draft -- March 12, 1996

Copyright (C) 1996, Michael Strangelove. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to the author at •••@••.•••
This document may be forwarded and archived on the Internet, so long
as no changes are made to the text,

Publishers take note, this draft is part of a book on freedom and
speech and the Internet which I am working on -- contact
•••@••.••• for table of contents (for publishers only).


"There is a growing concern that the very existence of the Internet is
a threat to the nation-state" (Globe and Mail, Feb 3/96, p. A1).

Recently, the headline "Nations see Internet as threat to security"
appeared on the front page of Canada's national daily newspaper, The
Globe and Mail. Consider for a moment that more than two decades after
its "invention" and three years after its integration into popular
culture and the business process, the Internet has distinguished
itself on two fronts. It remains the only mass media system to escape
monopolistic ownership by media conglomerates (with no sign of this
changing) and it is increasingly seen, correctly, as a threat to
national security and sovereignty. Meanwhile, the business community
throughout the world is gradually integrating the Internet into the
core of its communication and marketing infrastructure. The inevitable
outcome of these trends is that the communication infrastructure
(including marketing, customer service, and financial transactions) of
the business community is destined to conflict with the information
policies of governments. One way of looking at the Internet is to
understand it as an emerging nation-state, a state that, with each
passing day, becomes more entwined with the fabric of the geo-
political balance of power. The corporate world, particularly
multinational corporations, and governments are soon going to have to
come to terms with the statehood of the Internet.

Political theorist Anthony Giddons writes that "significant power,
within any type of organization, consists in the capacity to determine
or shape policy." This understanding of power -- policy making -- is
one that any manager, executive, or bureaucrat can certainly
appreciate. Power-as-policy-making sheds light on the type of power
the Net, (and more comprehensively, cyberspace,) wields. More
precisely, the statehood of the Net is founded on its power to deny
existing nations any concrete method to exercise direct, unilateral
influence over the "policy" of the Internet.

It is quite clear that, congressional saber-rattling aside, no nation
has successfully legislated the information policy of the Internet. As
a landless nation-state, the Net's constitution, or bill of rights, is
its internal information policy -- no one group, community, ideology
or nation is universally recognized to have the right to determine
what values, art forms, beliefs, or private thoughts can or cannot be
expressed on the Net. While this information policy is framed by pre-
existing international treaties concerning copyright, thus far this
unwritten but very real policy has not been further defined or amended
by any individual nation's internal moral standards or legislature.
Bear in mind that no significant content has ever been removed from
the Net as a result of any one nation's information-policy making
process. Indeed, just the opposite is the case -- every attempt at
censoring content on the Net has lead to increased exposure of the
censored or banned content and its further proliferation throughout
the Net.

Admittedly, it is theoretically possible for a government to censor
material on Internet servers within its borders. Yet all previous
attempts at doing so have simply resulted in the censored material
migrating to the Net servers of other nations and remaining accessible
via the Net to all. The dynamic of regional censorship being
undermined by the international Net community is now almost a daily
occurrence. This "end of censorship" in the international information
sphere is not threatened by the possibility of a global information
policy trade agreement on censorship. Any attempt to impose the
freedom of speech standards of one nation on another will certainly be
interpreted as a violation of national sovereignty.

As a new form of borderless state, Cspace (Internet/cyberspace) has
demonstrated sovereign power over its internal information policy. The
front pages of newspapers around the world are demonstrating a growing
awareness of this new political animal. But neither the global body
politic nor the corporate realm have come to terms with the extent of
the Net's sovereignty and the future impact of this "new wired world

For the complete text of this essay, send the command GET POLITICS in
the SUBJECT line of an e-mail message to •••@••.•••

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