More and more people are living portion of their life in the virtual world of the Internet. (Some, a very large portion. Please don't forget your hygiene.) Not surprisingly, this is creating an atmosphere where people want to exert controls in the community to protect children, promote the public welfare and all of those other things that people say they want to achieve when they want to control things. Here is an example of the kinds of things that people are exploring: "China, Russia and Other Countries Submit the Document of International Code of Conduct for Information Security to the United Nations"
I suppose that my first question is "Can they do it?" I know that there will be laws and law enforcement. Some people could be hit really hard by this if they want to take out the "big guns". However, there is so much that happens on the Internet that is driven by private providers and personal devices. Sure, they have rules about the telephone lines and the airwaves, but technical people find ways around existing limitations all the time. If we really don't want it, could they really squash things?
How much control should the government have over what is done through the Internet? and who's government? We already seem to have a lot of trouble with isolating information because what is taboo in one area of the world is accepted in another. In the past, geographic isolation shielded people from things that they weren't supposed to know... but that is no longer the case. Does the Internet go beyond any single governing body? Can it be addressed directly by the people who use it?
I really don't have answers to these questions. They are things I am pondering.
Vote now? I thought the election was over!
There might be a test of some of these questions happening right now. If you are a user of Facebook you may have heard that they are looking to make some significant changes to their rules. I won't express my opinion on the changes because that's not the point here. After a lot of discussion on the matter, Facebook appears to be opening this up to a vote. If 30% of the users participate in this week-long vote it will be a binding decisio. If fewer than 30% participate, then it will be advisory.
Let's look at the numbers for a moment, though. Facebook claims to have 1.01 billion users in September of 2012. 30% of that number is 300 million people. In 2011 the population of the entire United States was estimated to be about 311 million people. We only get about 60% of them to vote in a presidential election! Of course, this is global, which has a higher population, but the numbers are still staggering. As of this righting the voting hasn't even reached 1%. (In a presidential election they describe numbers like that as "wasting your vote".)
Other thoughts come up. There seems to be some fuzziness of what is considered the real population. Are they going to do 30% of so-called active users or of the total population? I know of a few dead people who still have Facebook accounts because they were never removed. Do dead people count as part of the voting population? How could that possibly be determined? There are also many people who have accounts that they created long ago (or were created for them by enthusiastic people) who just never got into Facebook. Their account is just a table in a database somewhere with no participation and no stake in the changes. Are they counted in the voting population as well?
My prediction is that the numbers will fall far below the needed amount. I will be surprised if there is even a 1% turnout in this election. Right now the vote is overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the rules as they are. We'll see how that progresses. If the vote is advisory, I would not expect Facebook to give it much weight. They've clearly decided that these changes are beneficial (to someone) and I would expect them to say "Thanks for the advice" and then move forward. This would be disappointing if the vote was largely against it.
If you want to participate in this experiment, the link is open until the 10th of December: Facebook Governance Vote. Bring a few million of your friends
What about the rest of it?
Obviously, there is a lot of Internet outside of Facebook (which is probably a good thing). The real question is not about voluntary online services but things like putting up web sites, doing commerce, using the Internet for your own things in your own ways. Do we need a list of regulations deciding what may and may not be done, or do we need ways to better self select and self-isolate as we choose. I think that these kinds of technology are becoming more fundamental to how we do things. Knowing how to search for what you want on the Internet may be right up there with being able to balance a checkbook as far as life skills are concerned. Being able to keep bad guys from your information is on par with knowing whether or not you might be in a dangerous parking lot. How do we promote informed usage and a little self-reliance. Am I just overly skilled here and don't appreciate how hard it all is? I honestly feel like there are oceans of information about these technologies that I don't understand, but I don't feel lost.
Ultimately, someone will start pushing on all of our uses of the Internet because something will make them uncomfortable... and some people react to discomfort by trying to eradicate what troubles them. When people are largely alike this works. When you have global diversity it's going to be pretty tricky. I don't know where it's headed.
But... again... does it matter? Can they make all the rules they want with fancy kill switches and task forces and scrutiny and it will never be enough to catch up with what people want to do? Does technology become the real equalizer? the real global world?
All I can say, kids, is it's going to get weirder before it gets better.