More NewsDoes Democracy Get It?

Does Democracy Get It?

In a democratic system the majority rules. The Internet isn't like that. On the Internet, it's consensus that rules. Only rules and laws supported by a broad consensus of Internet users can be enforced. Our leaders' response to hack attacks is stiffer penalties and bigger cop budgets. But this will have a limited effect. Not all hackers go to jail. This puts democracy in a bind. The harder the majority pushes, the harder the minority pushes back. The Internet is giving democracy competition.

In a democratic system the majority rules.

The Internet isn’t like that. On the Internet, it’s consensus that rules. Only rules and laws supported by a broad consensus of Internet users can be enforced.

I wonder sometimes about even that. More than 99 in 100 of us know that spam is stupid, but I still get 12 of them per day.

There’s something needed beyond mere consensus to enforce behavioral standards on the Internet, and that’s the extinguishing of passion. People who are passionate about what they’re doing will do it regardless, and enormous efforts must then be made to catch them.

The passion of a handful of child pornographers, for instance, remains a terrible problem and challenge to democratic law enforcement. The passion of a handful of crackers (and their ability to automate what they do) is another big challenge.

The response has been for democratic leaders to request stiffer penalties against cracking and bigger budgets for the cops. Those of us who live online know that will have some effect, but only a limited one. That’s because it’s difficult to believe that everyone who was involved in last week’s hack-attacks against corporate sites will go to jail, while the unpopularity of the corporate “victims” (Amazon, eBay, Time Warner, etc.) will win new recruits to the crackers’ “cause.”

All this puts democracy in a bind. The harder the majority pushes, the harder the minority pushes back. The solutions Sun Chief Scientist Bill Joy has suggested – identify all users, charge for email, charge extra for “first-class” service given the identified rich – may eventually draw majority support. But even he admits they won’t draw the whole market. And if they fail to draw a consensus they’ll be hacked. Last week’s events should be a warning against any top-down solution.

Most Netizens distrust democracy and prefer the market. The market sounds like consensus, but it’s more than that. It would seem that those who did the “hack attack,” for instance, don’t care for the judgments of the financial market.

They might point out that so far the Internet era has seen the rich get richer and the poor kept either completely offline or shackled to censorware. You can go anywhere on the Internet if it’s your computer, your ISP account, and your choice. Otherwise, he who has the gold makes the rules.

But when I think of the market Netizens believe in, I don’t just think of the market that makes Jeff Bezos, Gerald Levin or Pierre Omidyar rich. I think instead of a marketplace of ideas, and my network of friends. I think of the connections behind the computers and behind (yes, even) the money.

I know there are crooks and idiots online. I choose not to deal with them. When the big ISP offends me, I ignore its ads and go to a smaller one. When a Sanford Wallace burns his credibility, it’s for all time. These are heavy penalties. These market judgments seem good and true – better than those offered by democracy.

Whomever we elect, and however our democracy chooses to go this November, the Internet is giving democracy something it hasn’t faced since the fall of Communism. The Internet is giving democracy competition.

Related Articles

GDPR: The role of technology in data compliance

Data & Analytics GDPR: The role of technology in data compliance

3w Clark Boyd
What companies can learn from the We-Vibe lawsuit about the Internet of Things

Legal & Regulatory What companies can learn from the We-Vibe lawsuit about the Internet of Things

8m Al Roberts
Has advertising arrived on Google Home?

Media Has advertising arrived on Google Home?

8m Al Roberts
Is Twitter slowly dying?

More News Is Twitter slowly dying?

9m Al Roberts
FedEx launches fulfillment service to take on Amazon

Ecommerce FedEx launches fulfillment service to take on Amazon

9m Al Roberts
Target is the top retail digital marketer, so why is it struggling?

Ecommerce Target is the top retail digital marketer, so why is it struggling?

8m Al Roberts
YouTube is "on pace to eclipse TV" thanks to savvy algorithm use

More News YouTube is "on pace to eclipse TV" thanks to savvy algorithm use

9m Al Roberts
YouTube is getting rid of 30-second unskippable pre-roll ads

Ad Industry Metrics YouTube is getting rid of 30-second unskippable pre-roll ads

9m Al Roberts