Wednesday, September 3, 2008

People's republic of Internet?

About a week ago, members of the German left-wing anti-fascist activist alliance "Antifa" hacked the forums of the racist "Blood and Honour" organization. A German statement, plus links to the downloadable forums, can be found here.

What raised my attention was one phrase in the statement. Translated into English, it says "dear citizens of the people's republic of Internet". I was struck by surprise since I'd never considered the Internet to resemble "a people", let alone a "people's republic". I'm not sure whether this was just a fun phrase used by the notoriously socialist Antifa people or whether some more deeply rooted conviction had been expressed by it.

I tend to favor the latter as there are manifold examples of attempts to "democratize" the Internet. The net neutrality movement is a somewhat famous one. Net neutrality advocates claim that internet providers have no right to suppress certain internet activities on their wires or to discriminate against specific contents or services by slowing the data transmission over their wires. Most internet users would readily agree with this postulate since the internet is now widely considered to be "a public good", something not to be interfered with by single individuals or companies.

But is it really? Is the internet a public good, a democracy or a people's republic?

Actually, the internet is a prime example of a libertarian success story. In a number of ways, the internet may be compared to a completely privatized city. Private road owners (internet providers) connect real estate owners (servers, content hosts). Everything is defined by private property rights; road owners have created agreements on crossings and traffic allocation which allows for the fastest possible and therefore most profitable data exchange. Server owners are free to discriminate against any content they deem inappropriate (for example, quite a lot of hosts don't allow porn on their networks). So are (or were) road owners; they are (or were) free to slow traffic to and from content distributors they considered improper. That's a fine example of a self-governing private property society, but most certainly not of a people's republic.

But the primary difference between the internet and a people's republic is the lack of government. The internet equals a spontaneous order, created and maintained without centrally planned advice. Western governments, while certainly desiring to control and regulate the internet, have so far mostly confined themselves to only intervening when "real world laws" were broken within the framework of the net.

This could dramatically change with the onset of net neutrality legislation. While initially just working towards "net justice" and "securing equal access", government will soon begin to pursue special interest wishes in the name of these formerly named goals, just as "real-life government" now extends to almost every aspect of life even though it had been installed to merely "protect life and liberty". Net neutrality advocates ignore this danger of "legalizing government" and instead trust in the wonders of democracy to secure that "good people are being elected" in order to keep the internet clean and free. Just like it works in the real world, doesn't it?

Conclusively we might say the internet is a libertarian private property anarchy and that's why it has been so vibrant and successful. Every attempt to modify it by government regulation will most likely strangle its self-correcting mechanisms and thus, diminish its seemingly inexhaustible potential. Therefore, keep it clean of legislation !

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