Law in the Internet Society
-- SunYoungJang? , 30 Nov 2008

Power of the Net


In this Note, I'd like to briefly discuss the power of the net over news production, authority and economy. As I am an LL.M student and more familiar with examples of my home country, Korea, which I guess has most active net culture, I refer to some cases in Korea and seek your understanding for that.

Power of the net over creation of news

Net enables production of more various and reliable news.

News production used to exclusively belong to major media organizations such as newspaper, radio and television and be based on professional reporters' works. Under such mainstream media, news was usually edited and controlled by media organization owner's or sponsor's intention and communication was unilateral. Even if people knew that, they had no alternatives.

However, on the net, not only media organizations which own licenses and huge capital, but also individuals have access to report various events. Reliability of news on the net is checked by other dispersed individuals rather than specific entity and communication is no more unilateral. Every issue has conflict of interests and subsequently various interested parties. Various sources of information channel and views employed and represented by such interested parties work as a self control system in news production. While rough and defamatory expression can more frequently happen during reciprocal communication process between non-professional reporters, news produced through such process is likely to be more accurate, less manipulated and less delayed, though somewhat confusing because there are so many voices requiring attention. To say the least, even if news on the net cannot entirely replace mainstream media news, it contributes to checking and controlling inaccuracy and biased views of mainstream media.

In Korea, "_Oh My News_" adopted a business model which utilizes on-line news production and feedback made by non-professional people. Although many people do not think all the news covered on Oh My News is true or unbiased, they regard it as sort of counter argument to news covered by mainstream media and they have a chance to rethink the mainstream media news.

Power of the net over creation of authority

The net creates new authority and reputation whenever new issues arise. In the past, authority and reputation was exclu-sive to persons with official title such as public officials, some elite professionals, etc. and was recognized by people through official communication channel. But on the net, official titles or forms do not matter so much. Simply the per-son who knows an issue best gains authority and enjoys reputation. Who has the authority is determined not by his or her official career or specific person, but by various people's evaluation on his ability revealed. This does not mean that a person with glamorous title cannot have authority any more, but that even if such a person needs to show his ability to various people requiring his help to win or maintain reputation and that even if a person without such armor can win reputation when he can do so vice versa. Problem-solving is the source of authority.

For example, these days an anonymous voluntary writer (nickname "_Minerva_") emerged as a great authority for ana-lyzing economic crisis which Korea is currently suffering. He has provided excellent analyses of and foresight into Ko-rean economy on the net since this summer. He has keenly criticized the current government economic policy and ad-vised people to prepare for upcoming crisis when no one in the government warned the crisis. He gained incomparable reputation not only because his expectation came true, but also because he explained complex economic concepts and phenomena in plain language on the part of ordinary people so that they can easily understand his words and think how such crisis will affect them. Experts admit that he has a greater insight and expertise on Korean economy on the whole than any other people and his analyses are based on top class information. They guess he must be somebody if his real name is revealed. His words were very aggressive, defamatory (which I guess hallmark of arguments made on the net) and against the government and the president. Many people value his advice and wonder who he is. Some say he should serve as a minister in charge of economy. It is clear that he currently has more reputation and authority than any one else in Korea so long as the current Korean economic crisis is concerned.

Power of the net over economy: attention economy

Mr. Goldhaber says that having people's attention means having the power to bend their minds and bodies to attention winner's will and attention itself is property. He says that material goods and the acts of producing them are only sec-ondary in an attention economy in that if one has enough attention he can get anything he wants. He emphasizes money follows attention.

On the other hand, Mr. Aigrain says that attention has "potential" value which can translate in economical value through process of exchange, but that such operation of exchange from potential value to value is a non-transparent one which depends on the organization of exchanges and markets, and on their relation to monetisation or barter. Further, he says that the net itself is a medium which features user pro-actively accesse to contents, no large complexity barrier to the production and posting of contents and continuum between attention grabbing and attention giving, and also a meta medium-access mode and promotional layer for other media and exchange process by which net surfers switches to ordering and paying for physical goods, delivered by a completely different infrastructure.

Mr. Aigrain's explanation seems more detailed and realistic. I agree on that winning attention gives a chance for the attention winner to make money (proxy for physical goods and services). However, monetization of attention or what physical goods or services the attention winner can get in exchange would depend much on other factors, e.g. the attention winner's ability to negotiate with people who want to take advantage of the attention gained. Further, I doubt if he could have gained or can maintain so much attention if it is known that his motive was to get economic benefit.

Pending issues related to power of the net

As noted above, defamatory expressions became hallmark of discussion on the net because of anonymity. Some of en-tertainers in Korea, who were hurt by people's harsh criticism on the net, committed suicide. To what extent freedom of expression can be guaranteed on the net became a more serious problem than ever. How can a sound culture of the net be established? Automatically through self checking by interested parties on the net, by governmental interference, or by blind tolerance by the person who is concerned?

Further, isn't it also possible that attention follows money? For example, making a star requires lots of capital investment such as expensive advertising or preview to get attention and it is also plausible that an on-line seller pays people for writing favorable comments on his sales items and criticizing comments on competing items, or a politician pays people for writing supporting comments on him and criticizing comments on his competitors.


Michael H. Goldhaber, The Attention Economy: The Natural Economy of the Net, First Monday, April 1997 Philippe Aigrain, Attention, Media, Value and Economics, First Monday, September 1997

  • Several interesting issues are raised here, or at least named, but there isn't coherent structure of discussion: we jump around from topic to topic without any apparent plan. An outline, contained within the essay's headings so the reader could follow it as well as the author, might well produce the structure that a rewrite could take advantage of.


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r2 - 08 Feb 2009 - 19:12:52 - EbenMoglen
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