The Private Actor

After President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debated over the future of nation’s economy, healthcare and domestic policies, user TheDailyConversation? ? posted the 1.5 hour long video on Youtube. While many of the comments regarding the video focused on the personal and political attributes of the candidates, there were also some less relevant remarks. Joh2628, for instance wrote, presumably in regards to the President, “People are mad because that half-black motherf*cker doesn’t know what he is doing!” Roshg1 contributed, apparently in reference to Mitt Romney, “Mormons are just as f*cked up as Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The commentary is a potent reminder that the internet, while arguably ranking as one of the most remarkable of human inventions, is also commonly host to inflammatory speech, controversial opinions and antisocial behavior. This has caused some observers have to suggest that more action- such as tracking user information- be taken to regulate online activity. In the United States, freedom of speech, for instance, is generally protected by the First Amendment and the government is limited in its abilities to infringe on that right. In the current American regime, however, private actors arguably chaperone the internet far more than the government. Should these entities, therefore, be allowed to regulate where the government cannot?

Why would anybody be regulating the stupid commentary on YouTube? We don't regulate the speech of the street either. That's called having a free society, around here.

Where the Government Has Gone

Both in the US and abroad, local and state governments have attempted to take actions towards limiting users' behavior online. In New York, a legislator in the State Assembly proposed the Internet Protection Act, which allows for web site administrators to remove comments by posters who do not have a verifiable name, IP address and home address.

So? A legislator proposed a silly law that won't be passed and couldn't be enforced. Why is this illustration here?

Despite concern from some human rights activists that similar measures could endanger the rights of political dissidents, some foreign nations have also called for more universal system of identifying online users. This is particularly the case in the Arab world, where the number of internet users has steadily risen, but where political dissent is still generally discouraged.

Even in the more liberal political environments of the West, however, governments have identified online behavior that they would at least like to curtail. In the UK for instance, one well- known case involved a Welsh student in his young twenties who was jailed for making racist tweets against Fabrice Muamba, an athlete who had a heart attack and collapsed during a soccer match. The student, Liam Stacey, who had been drinking while watching the match, was sentenced to 56 days for a “racially aggravated public order offense.” While the type of speech referred to in the UK context can arguably be said to differ from the "speech of the streets," that can generally be said to occupy much internet commentary, such measures evidence that there are areas of internet activity where even the most liberal of governments have attempted to intervene and engage in some degree of regulation of internet speech.

We are agreed that the First Amendment is special and important.

The Private Sector

Of course, regulation of the internet does not only, or even mostly, involve governmental actors. In 2012 during a Dubai summit, nations across the globe considered the possibility of giving a United Nations body- the International Telecommunications Unit some central oversight powers over the internet. This lead to some concern that freedom of access, particularly in terms of freedom of speech might be more limited under such a model. In light of the possibility of more governmental oversight, Google joined other private parties and asked users to "pledge their support for a free and open internet" in the midst of the United Nations proposal. In light of such a move, it would appear that these private entities have, at least in theory, also aligned themselves on the side of a free and open internet.

The ones for whom a "free and open Internet" is important to their profitability, of course have done so. And?

However, are private actors really better positioned to engage in regulation of the internet where necessary? Indeed, where one of the benefits of the internet is that it is agile, dynamic and constantly evolving, federal regulations tend to take considerable time, effort and money to enact. By the time the legislation has been passed, the issue might be moot, or a new, more pressing issue may have surfaced on the public radar. In contrast, private actors can act swiftly and often unilaterally to take action towards remedying undesirable activity on their platforms and, indeed, much regulation is produced and implemented by private parties. In addition, one of the main differences between government and private control is that users typically can escape the latter. Indeed, no one is forced to use Google or the services of any other entity and one can always switch if they disagree with that entity's privacy policies, for instance. They can also engage in alternative, although onerous, ways of preventing the entity from collecting their information, such as having multiple accounts. On the other hand, government regulation is typically more comprehensive and leaves users with fewer options.

I don't understand this paragraph. Is this supposed to be summing up a case on both sides?

Are we more comfortable with regulation that comes from a private entity than the government? Possibly, but this is perhaps also assuming that private entities are ethical in their behavior. Since private entities are also commercial enterprises, however, it is often the case that they engage in behavior- such as the collection and dispersal of user information- that is profit seeking rather than rights and freedom-protecting. Indeed, while users may tacitly agree to a change in an entity’s privacy policy, how many actually read and understand the implications of doing so? If not, how real is the freedom and how true are the options?

Why is "regulation" being used where "power" is intended?


While we may balk at government regulation of the internet, it is not clear that private parties can engage in regulatory activity that is more free or open without citizenry that is more aware and informed as to their choices and vulnerabilities. As Americans hone into the political debate to choose their next leader, perhaps there is another choice that we should be researching, such as the privacy policies of their search engine or the information sharing capabilities of their email provider.

I don't understand what this means or about what it represents a conclusion.