Do you trust China to run the Internet any better than the USA?

Do read the news cover on the recent Internet Governance Forum. For example “China says scrap Internet Governance Forum” versus “US stil has Internet in its grip” and “Business leaders warn agains demise of Internet Governance Forum“. The US grip over the current english language Internet is slipping, albeit more slowly than some might think. But do you want China to similarly dominate the visual, multi-lingual Internet of the future? 

The inhabitants of mainland China are more homogeneous than those of the United States and their attitudes are even more insular. Less than 15% of Americans have ever been outside North America, even including those whose overseas experience was with the military. China’s understanding of the outside world is reinforced by a larger and more peaceful cadre of “overseas chinese” but most of its leaders have attitudes towards foreigners that area as  well-informed as those of the leaders sent by middle-America to Washington.

Now apply such attitudes to the global melting pot that the Internet enthusiasts envisaged. We are more likely to see structures that will lead, at best, to a network of self-reinforcing on-line ghettoes. Leaders who genuinely believe in co-existance and tolerance rather than cultural domination, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, are howled down when they look at the implications of such beleifs in a multi-cultural world.

Hence the importance of initiatives like the Internet Governance Forum. Its very lack of power is its most important asset – provided it can prevent others from taking powers with which they cannot be trusted. And that includes most, if not all, Governments.

When I was at University I liked the slogans of the Spanish Anarchists, including “the only good government is a dead government”.

Growing old is compulsory. Growing up is not.

I still believe Government is a “necessary evil” – necessary – but the less we have of it the better. I also believe that the more a government (or management)  needs to exercise compulsion over its citizens (or staff) the more likely its policies (or orders) are to be muddled, wrong, counter-productive and/or unprofitable. 

I accept the need for leaders with visions that inspire but abhore the doctrine of “Mein Fuhrer, right or wrong”.

That said, unless the Internet communities do indeed exercise effective self-policing to look after the interests of the vulnerable by controlling malpractice – then governments will do it for them – far less well.

One of the traditional methods of community control is exile: the e-death penalty that results from withdrawal of on-line identity, credit and access. As I mentioned recently, this is already the fate of those unfortunate (or greedy/foolish) enough to reply to one of the current space of job (mule) recruitment e-mails.

So perhaps there is nothing more for governments to do. But persuading governments to do nothing, and leave it to the community, is the hardest of all political messages. And is community justice, as in Salem, really any better?     

The one thing that it certain is: the silent majority gets what it deserves – ignored. So if you believe in good Internet governance – join ICANN and Nominet and put your time and money where your mouth is. 

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