Cyberspace Offers A Revolutionary Form Of Social Communication Constituting A New Public Sphere Of Democratic Society. Discuss. In this day and age we, as a global community, are growing at a super fast rate and communication is a vital tool that aids us in defeating the distance barrier. The Internet has started to change the way of the world during this decade. More homes, companies, and schools are getting hooked online with the Internet during the past few years (Malkin & Marine). Hence making it accessible to almost everyone and predominantly used in everyday life.
By the sharing of information, the Internet has allowed a global society to exist within cyberspace. A society not run by and governments or laws but contributed to by all the users within it and accessible to everyone. As it stands now, the Internet seem to be the only truly democratic society in the world. Cyberspace is a global community of people using computers in networks supported by the Internet.
Over 17 million Web pages float throughout cyberspace (Malkin & Marine). Never before has information been so instant, and so global. The Internet supports many forms of relaying information and communicating. From sending electronic mail (e-mail), reading the works of Shakespeare, instantly talking to people on the other side of the world just by typing, listening to music, ordering food & products, paying bills, reading newspapers, and so on, the internet offers a world of information available at the users fingertips. It is an elaborate source of education, information, entertainment, and communication. Users are able to access people and information, distribute information, and experiment with new technologies and services.
The Internet has become a major global infrastructure used for education, research, professional learning, public service, and business. But the one characteristic of internet use that makes it one o the most powerful, and possibly threatening, mediums in the world is that anyone who has access to it is also able to 'publish' anything they wish on it. So far, the only laws that exist in relation to what materials are allowed to be posted (published) on the Internet are the already existing laws of copyright (Hauptman, 1991). If someone wants to voice an opinion about a political issue, a personal issue or anything else, they can do it in total freedom.
A major principal of law and order is to control a certain area and population. Laws that apply to one state or province don't necessarily apply to another. An interesting quality which the internet has, is that even in countries where freedom of speech is not a reality, the internet cant be censored by law (however, perhaps it can by fear). Hence, the Internet makes it possible to document information, which under no other circumstances would have been possible to document because of region specific laws.
Cyberspace does not reside somewhere nor is it a physical thing. It has no physical boundaries and it is so vast that there is no one board able to control it, and no one organisation liable for how it is used. The Internet has given the global community a voice. It has made cyber-democracy a reality and has given people the tools (in the way of information) to challenge ideas that are presented in the usual mediums. For example, in the past it has been mostly television and newspapers that report on national and international issues. But each television station or newspaper usually only shows one angle of the issue.
For example, the media coverage during the Vietnam War was ver biased. No longer are we limited to what our government wants to show us, or to what we see in the narrow scope of national news coverage. With access to views held by other countries, cultures and organisations, people now have information that enables them to see more angles of the same situation, hence taking a certain degree of power to influence out of the governments hands (Feinberg, 1990; Kapor, 1996). It brings us one step closer to giving so called democratic countries real democracy. That can only be done when the level of information known by the governments, and the level of information known by the citizens, is brought to less of a difference. Now the global community has a source of information that brings to them the views from all over the world concerning almost any topic.
This makes it harder for governments to use propaganda and to influence the minds of its countries citizens. It makes it almost impossible to shape public perception into what the government wants it to be. Fundamental civil liberties are as important in cyberspace as they are in traditional contexts. The right to speak and publish using a virtual pen has its roots in a long tradition. With the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, American Congress has prepared to turn the Internet from one of the greatest resources of cultural, social, and scientific information into the online equivalent of a children's reading room.
By invoking the overboard and vague term "indecent" as the standard by which electronic communication should be censored, American Congress has insured that information providers seeking to avoid criminal prosecution will close the gates on anything but the most tame information and discussions. The American First Amendment states that no laws shall be made towards an establishment of religion or prohibiting the freedom of speech or of press. The Act breaks the laws of the First Amendment and takes away this right. It is a fact that some materials found on the Internet have indeed caused concern. For example bomb and drug recipes. There have been a number of cases in the past few years where people had found these recipes and attempted to follow them, but for one reason or another the incident turned to fatality.
Now, of course it can be argued that for these reasons certain information on the Internet should be censored. However, the main issue, which isn t being acknowledged, is the individuals responsibility for both the writing and reading of these materials. The Internet is not the cause of the fatalities. Indeed if anyone really wanted to learn how to make a bomb or a drug they could have gone to their local library and found books about it there. The only difference is that the Internet is easily accessible, and widely used. The cause of the fatalities is the misusage of information, which is the sole responsibility of the user.
Information should be given out freely. It is up to the individual to decide how to use the knowledge they have. Another issue is that of data integrity. How does one know what to believe of what they can access on the Internet Who is responsible for data integrity How much effort is made to ensure that integrity Certain service providers have rules, which if broken will lead to ones being banned from using that server any longer. However, the types of rules which the service providers outline are to do with intentionally disrupting network traffic; commercial or fraudulent use of service provider computing resources; theft of data, equipment, or intellectual property and so on. Nowhere is it even hinted at that a certain degree of honesty in web publishing is required.
Again, the Internet is so vast that it can t be policed. It is said that if one person sits at a computer 24 hours each day they will never be able to cover all the information on the web because it continues to grow at an enormous rate. Hence, the only people that can be responsible for data integrity is each individual who published something on the web. And if they do not wish to keep this data integrity, they do not have to.
Hence, the ultimate responsibility lays in the hands or the reader to decide what do recognise and what to ignore. If the internet does become censored, then the global community that resides amongst the pages of it will lose its power of democracy and will be once again broken down into a system of government and ruling just as the one that exists in physical government today (Kapor, 1996). Another major concern is that if any government does have the power and begins to censor information then the internet will only become another of their tools to attempt to shape public perception to precisely what they want it to be. The Internet acts as an ideal forum for free speech. It allows ideas and structures of cultures to be challenged and compared by everyone, by arming people with information that allows then to challenge ideas fed to them by their surrounding physical society. It has created a cyber-society that has possibly represented democracy more than any other social structure.
But this ideal cyber-world of democracy would collapse in a moment if any party had the power to censor the information contained within its pages.
Feinberg, A. (1990) "Netiquette" Lotus 6, no.
9: 66-69. Hauptman, Robert, Ed. (1991) "Ethics and the Dissemination of Information".
Library Trends 40, no. 2: 199-375. Kapor, M (1996).