The internet is utopian to some, and dystopian to others. Is it constantly clashing between what is right and wrong, whether it be morally, ethically, economically or lawfully. In a world of such ‘freedom’, how ‘free’ are we on the net?
In 1996, John Perry Barlow wrote ‘a Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace’, a short composition outlining the utopian hopes of the internet at the time. The declaration, whilst wildly outdated, addresses the several romantic cyber-utopian views:
We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
Nearly twenty years ago, Barlow stated this. In twenty years of digital development, the internet is still very far from achieving such a goal. For instance, Africa still only has about 15% internet penetration, which is less than half of the world average. Therefore, our current cyberspace is still not a world where “all may enter” regardless of “station of birth.” Furthermore, Barlow addresses the internet as a world without borders, without a government.
Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions
However, having lived in both Australia and China, and despite being a member of the virtual class, I am constantly a victim to an internet controlled by the boundaries of a nation. Whether it be a YouTube video which “the uploader has not made available in your country” (Australia), or even trying to access YouTube (China). The internet has created borders. These, of course, can easily be bypassed, but are ultimately unessential considering the internet is supposedly a world wide web.
Barlow’s 1996 Declaration was created from a cyber-utopian perspective of the mid-1990s. This period, as Hetland (2012) states, is where the general public first encountered the internet as a mass media. These views and declarations, however, can be considered as thought-provoking suggestions, which pull and tug at the idea of border-less freedom.
Last month the founder of 4chan, Chris Poole, possibly the most controversial social media platform ever created, was interviewed by The Guardian. 4chan is responsible for some of the internet’s earliest and most popular sub-cultures including ‘lolcatz’ and pioneering the infamous hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’. In the interview, Poole (2014) addresses most other social media platforms where a user creates and refines their digital profile, whereas 4chan relies and maintains internet anonymity. Considering 4chan has been at the foundation of internet revolution repeatedly, could internet anonymity rather than digital infamy be the key to a cyber-utopia?
Bernstein, M, Monroy-Hernandez, A, Harry, D, Andre, P, Panovich, K & Vargas, G 2011, ‘4chan and /b/: An Analysis of Anonymity and Ephemerality in a Large Online Community. Fifth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, AAAI Publications.
Krotoski, A 2014, Founder of 4chan: Chris Poole, the ‘anti-Zuckerberg, podcast, 11 July 2014, The Guardian, viewed 16 August 2014, <http://www.theguardian.com/technology/audio/2014/jul/10/podcast-chris-pool-4chan-podcast?CMP=twt_gu>