Friday, November 8, 2013

Interlude IV - America's Example Trumps Its Flaws

Imagine that the content of the Internet were controlled by a powerful global agency comparable to the United Nations. Explain the possible ADVANTAGES and/or DISADVANTAGES of such a system.

Ironically, the primary advantage of assigning all power over the regulation of the internet to one giant agency like the United Nations would be the decentralization of said power--by taking it out of America's hands. While the existence of one authoritative international body in the place of, for example, ICANN, would mean decisions regarding content control, censorship, naming conventions, and so on would still be in as few hands as always, those hands would then be from a much wider variety of cultures and international powers. This would also mean that said body would be in a better position to adapt to the sudden and unexpected challenges that so often characterize the internet, whereas right now it's much harder for anyone to get anything done if they're not in a position of power in the American system. It would also produce the intangible benefits that come with improved perception--regardless of its actual effectiveness as a regulatory body, the myriad nations of the world would likely be more patient in dealing with it given that they'd have at least nominal say in the decisions it makes.

Of course, without the military and financial might of the United States to back it up, other nations also might be less inclined to pay it much heed to begin with--as the United Nations in its current form can tell you already. Furthermore, modeling the disbursement of power over the internet after the powers of the UN would also mean dealing with the UN's extensive procedural and bureaucratic problems, making it harder to settle on effective regulatory policies and platforms in the first place.

Where censorship is concerned, while the United States pursuing free speech in China at the same time as it's pursuing Edward Snowden and Julian Assange means that we maybe don't have the strongest position from which to criticize China's censorship of the internet, one disadvantage of having a global agency manage the internet would mean detaching it from free speech in even a rhetorical sense--without powerful American corporations like Google loudly championing free speech in the popular culture, censorship would become a matter of popular opinion. One of the biggest procedural problems in the United Nations is overcoming vetoes from China and Russia, two countries who clearly aren't overly concerned about free speech, so if they were given equal footing in a theoretical internet management entity they could simply use their weight in the international community to prevent the enactment of any anti-censorship policies they disagree with.

In conclusion, I think that the best thing about the current system is that it highlights the problems of Chinese censorship by throwing them into harsh relief. While the Unites States should not, and cannot, lead the world forever on this or any other matter, I believe that the example our Bill of Rights sets for the rest of the world (a tainted example though it may be) is a strong motivator to drag more totalitarian countries into a more tolerant, Western mindset, where divorcing the internet from the American example, while philosophically appealing, would just mean a more tepid set of policies all around. Ultimately, I believe the most American thing about the internet is its free-market values; if the rest of the world comes up with a better system, I believe it will supplant ours whether we want it to or not.

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