Internet deregulation seminar
I was at the Internet deregulation forum hosted by NTU as a curious onlooker. I tend to see this blog as a site for random ramblings, which sometimes get read. Maybe 3 people have read this blog? *shrugs* So I don’t really consider myself an active blogger the same way these people see themselves as. Maybe that’s why I see myself as looking outside in.
What did strike me about the seminar were two things.
First, the idea of self-regulation and a slightly more controversial about extending protection beyond racial and religious discrimination.
Self-regulation is not new in the Internet. In fact, it is acknowledged as one of the outstanding virtues of the Net. In many ways the Internet is like the Hobbesian idea of a dog-eat-dog, man-kill-man type of landscape. It is literally every man for himself, the individual at the centre of the universe, except that he is not alone. Men are NOT made equal. Some are biggers, faster, stronger than others. If it was everyone for himself, the biggest, fastest and strongest would beat the pulp out of everyone else. He would rule by sheer strength. But the catch is, even the Hulk has to sleep or turn back into Bruce Banner, and that’s when the smaller guys would stick a knife in his back.
The idea is simple: In a dystopian world without rules, chaos would ensue. No one would be safe and hence, to gain liberty one must put liberty at stake. That is when the idea of socities, polities, citites, kingdoms, states and nations was formed. There has to be a central power to ensure that the big guys don’t beat the pulp out of the smaller guys, and the smaller guys don’t sneak in to stab the big guy in the middle of the night. At the end of the day, all individuals throw down the guns to the floor and say, we all agree not to kill each other but to let someone else decide who needs to be killed to maintain stability and peace.
That was enforceable in real life. Geographical boundaries, physical weapons made it possible for a state to enforce laws that would ensure stability in a given piece of land.
The Net on the other hand has overturned this equation. It has brought the individual back into sharp focus. On the Web, there are only individuals, or individual computers acting within a larger network. This same self-serving nature is raised as a result, although not with the same effects as it would in real-life. No one dies, but many people get flamed, gamers get “ganged” on by other players, cheated, spam is sent en masse by bot farms..etc. Generally, there is a lot of bad stuff going on in the Net, which would not be condoned in real lif, but which real life police don’t act upon simply because it is virtual reality.
What then could be done? Forum creators appointed moderators to moderate forums to ensure that discussion threads are not offensive or disruptive to the theme being discussed. But this was not enough because moderators are not robots who are on 24/7. What usually happens is that forum members would end up policing the forums they frequent. For instance, in a game trading forum, if there was a guy trying to cheat others in the forum, members would flag the person to the moderators so that the cheat would be booted out of the forum.
Similiarly, in an MMORPG virtual world, it is not uncommon to see individuals coming together to defeat or beat off “bullies” who prey on newbie characters. Others would join guilds – a form of a Hobbesian state – to seek protection, among other things, and maybe even beat up newbie guild-less characters.
Yesterday, the group of “13”, as it were, tried to sell the idea of a IC3, Internet Citizen Consultative Committee (correct me if I am wrong) to act as the group that would regulate the Net, based on self-regulation. Their premise was simple: In the case of controversial issues, instead of sweeping it under the carpet and into the cupboard through strict regulation, relax the regulation and let’s talk. They based this on several principles, as far as I surmised:
1) People need to build social immunity – the idea that the more we keep silent the more sick we get when the next bout of “illness” hits us. So instead of putting us on antibiotics, let the body deal with it through its defence mechanisms. For instance, in the case of race and racial incitement, if something happens like the seditious bloggers of 2006, instead of sending them to jail, let the community deal with it and condemn such behaviour. That way, talking about it would spur further discussion and let Singaporeans know that racism is no accepted.
2) People can handle race and religious slurs without resorting to violence – I believe it was Arun who pointed this out. He noted that racial slurs are commonplace in private discussion. In other words, in the words of Avenue Q’s Kate Monster – all of us are a little bit racist, it’s true.
3) Sometimes, people just need to know that other people disavow such actions – It was a point raised by Cherian who wondered if those people who made police reports of the racist incidents really wanted the police to act or whether they just wanted to voice displeasure. Maybe there was no other mechanism and that people still generally looked to the government to act?
I agree with all these principles, but I wonder: What would other Singaporeans think? Bearing in mind that their proposal is to the government, I’m not sure they are, by any means, representative of the blogosphere, much less of the population of Singapore. I know of people who have very deep-seated racism within them, without even being aware of it. Many automatically think of Chinese as moneygrubbers, Malays as lazy and Indians as smelly and Eurasians as playboys. I suppose the next question to ask is no one really knows, so shouldn’t we talk about them? The question I would pose back is: What are the limits, if any? Can people hold a discussion without feeling wounded if their religion, race or sexuality is painted in a stereotype that maybe what was outlined earlier, or even in worse terms? Do we then ban these people from the conversation or do we include them because they are society and they deserve a place in the discussion?
Obviously, I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I sure hope the group of 13 has and that when they put their theories into action, we can see the results. In fact, I hope this IC3 can be formed as quickly as possible. You’d be amazed at some of the racist crap that’s being spewed online right now.
As for the second interesting thing, I think I’d save that for another post. Didn’t realise I’ve written a blooming essay! 😛