Decentralized, borderless, and international by nature, the Internet has been hard to mediate.
Without beating around the bush: we're Americans, we're egocentric, and we forget to consider how other countries are handling this exact same problem. So, what's the precedent being set around the globe--and how do we measure up?
The Totalitarian: China
China's a good starting point, as they've decided a totalitarian approach is the best way to protect their citizens. They've successfully managed to control the Internet through government-owned routers and strictly regulated ISPS. It doesn't need to be said that this would never fly here, but it's a good extreme to observe.
We've probably all heard something about the saga between Google and China. But it doesn't stop there. China has a huge collection of websites they censor. Check out this infographic of banned keywords. Yes, the word 'democracy'? is banned.
The Military Dictator: Russia
Russia refers to their censorship as 'information security'?'which does sound a lot more socially acceptable. Russia has been standing on a soapbox trying to deter cyber threats, which they define as the use of the Internet 'to spread ideas that might undermine a country'?. They've been pitching this idea to the UN for twelve years now and are hoping to make these threats (sic) illegal. And, a whole lot of countries are onboard with them. (Note: one of these country's officials did suggest that Twitter is purely an American scheme to subvert foreign governments).
Basically, this is a good initiative if used to combat terrorism. Where this gets shady is when it's used to combat citizens who speak out in opposition to their government. There are plenty of other countries where censorship is the norm. Take a look at OpenNet Initiative's interactive map to see how different countries censor different types of web content. It might surprise you how prevalent it is.
Are we the Democracy?
When it comes down to it, even the most cynical of Americans would claim that our country is far from implementing information controls like these, and that our issues of net neutrality and online privacy appear minimal after peering into some of these other nations' policies.
With a transnational space, like the Internet, governments want to ensure sovereignty; they want to carve out a place in the Internet where they can police. At first glance, it seems like we can't relate, but what would losing net neutrality entail for American citizens? It would mean a segmented Internet where some web citizens are treated differently from others. And, what about our favorite tech company: Apple? As a ubiquitous platform for consumption in our country, they've successfully filtered web content based on their own (or one man's) ideals. And, did you hear about the proposed legislation on wire-tapping? It would build a back door online for law enforcement, allowing them to intercept our digital communications.
We're lucky to have a government which promotes freedom, both online and off, but this remains an issue that we need to be cognizant of and proactive about. The atmosphere in which we do business as both consumers and marketers, both within our own country and abroad, could be altered depending on how online authority is resolved.