Welcome to the Internet. A strange and wonderful, dark and deep place that can be accessed by nearly anyone, from nearly anywhere at anytime. The Internet is a vital part of our current society, playing a crucial part in communicating our ideas to the world. However, because the internet is so complex and difficult to understand, with millions of sites, millions of users about endless topics, it’s easy to be overwhelmed if not afraid of the possibilities the internet can provide the world. We’ve already seen the internet do amazing, scary and wonderful things for society like connecting friends and family over Facebook, crowd sourcing money for new technology and even organise revolutions like in the Arab Spring, clearly demonstrating the power of citizens and the need for the freedom to share ideas.
‘The transformation of communication from mass communication to mass self-communication has contributed decisively to alter the process of social change. As power relationships have always been based on the control of communication and information that feed the neural networks constitutive of the human mind, the rise of horizontal networks of communication has created a new landscape of social and political change by the process of disintermediation of the government and corporate controls over communication’ (Castells, 2014).
The Chinese government exemplifies the immense control and regulation over the internet in order to satisfy government ideals. Commonly, the Chinese government is viewed as suppressing individual’s right to communication, whereas in fact China’s constitution allows ‘citizens freedom of speech and press, however can be regulated by Chinese authorities if they expose state secrets or potentially threaten then country’ (Xu, 2015), which of course is contradicting in nature. These restrictions are commonly known as ‘The Great Firewall of China,’ with potentially threatening websites like Wikipedia and Facebook being blocked (Xu, 2015).
Another alternative to complete censorship online is the idea of a ‘Magna Carta’ for the internet (MacKinnon, 2011). Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, believes that the internet indeed needs a Magna Carta to ensure net neutrality and privacy is obeyed (Berners-Lee, 2014). Net neutrality refers to internet equality. Berners-Lee uses Brazil as an example of how a government can positively influence ‘advancing web rights and keeping the web open’ (Berners-Lee, 2014). In her TED Talk, MacKinnon, an expert in Chinese media censorship, supports Berners-Lee’s internet Magna Carta, stating that the internet should be citizen-centric and that governments are supposed to serve the public interest and thus promote a sustained internet freedom movement (McKinnon, 2011). However, some argue that ‘net neutrality could harm minority groups and could potentially favour the rich and advantaged’ (Wasserman, 2014).
Regardless of your opinion of net neutrality or whether the Magna Carta for the internet is a good or bad thing, one thing is certain, and that is the internet will continue to change and evolve in the future and consequently affect society. It is important that our speech is protected and we continue to have the ability to spread our message to the world.
Net Neutrality in the USA: https://www.whitehouse.gov/net-neutrality
MacKinnon’s full TED Talk
Berners-Lee, T. 2014, ‘We need a magna carta for the internet’, The World Post, 5 June, accessed 9 April 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-bernerslee/internet-magna-carta_b_5274261.html
MacKinnon, R. 2011, ‘Let’s take back the internet,’ TED, July, accessed 9 April 2015, http://www.ted.com/talks/rebecca_mackinnon_let_s_take_back_the_internet?language=en#t-293626
Wasserman, T. 2014, ‘5 arguments against net neutrality’, Mashable Australia, 17 May, accessed 9 April 2015, http://mashable.com/2014/05/16/5-arguments-against-net-neutrality/
Xu, B. 2015, ‘Media Censorship in China,’ Council Foreign Relations, 7 April, accessed 9 April 2015, http://www.cfr.org/china/media-censorship-china/p11515