Should the Internet Be Regulated?

It’s a trick question. The internet is already regulated, except poorly and by coders rather than lawyers. Author Douglas Rushkoff makes this point in a long read by Charles Arthur in The Guardian. This is exactly the point that inspired Netopia. I first started this project in Sweden more than seven years ago. Back then I wrote an opinion in Dagens Nyheter – the #1 morning paper in Sweden – which said that it’s not the presence of government online that is the threat to fundamental rights online, but the absence. To keep up the name-dropping: I owe this insight to law professor Larry Lessig (though he would disagree with some of my conclusions) who says Code is Law. In my interpretation, that means that there is always regulation online except not by democratic process but by code developed by private companies. In order to have rule of law and democracy online, therefore the government institutions that protect our rights in the offline world must also do so online and the only way is to demand responsibility of those making the code.

This was a controversial point back then. The general attitude was that any government presence online would be the first step on an inevitable slide down the slippery slope to a Chinese state of oppression. The internet is a precious and special thing that must be left alone, was the idea. But since then, we’ve seen our privacy been sold out to advertisers, monopolies growing more powerful, cyberattacks on businesses and even democratic elections, fake news manufactured by for profit “farmers”, illegal surveillance by the security services, terrorist propaganda including beheading videos and then some. It is clear to most now that the thought of the-internet-as-a-place-where-good-people-do-good-things-and-the-government­-can-only-destroy-the-magic was naïve at best. A nostalgic dream of a place and time that never really was. A beautiful vision that reality got in the way of.

Reading the survey at the tail of Arthur’s Guardian-piece, the change is clear. All respondents agree that regulation is necessary online. Nobody talks about China. Probably not because they read Netopia, but at least Netopia was an early adopter of this new way of thinking of the internet. Now, if there is support for the idea that regulation helps online, just as offline, the next question is execution. How can we make this happen? This is what the question-mark in the Netopia-logo symbolizes. How can we make this happen? Discuss with your neighbor.