The Internet has recently become the object of detailed research. This research is being conducted in numerous areas of science, including politics. The claims that Internet threatens the power of government are becoming too frequent to ignore them; this is why it will be interesting to address these issues once again, and to objectively evaluate whether such claims have any grounds. Thesis statement: the power of the Internet does not challenge the power of government, but on the contrary, creates favorable conditions for promoting the governmental policies and political positions.
The question of the Internet power and its possible impact on the power of physical governments is directly connected with the definition of Internet, its current functions, development, and opportunities which it provides to its users. The direct connection of Internet and globalization processes is viewed as the major challenge to the power of governments all over the world. This political position may seem correct and grounded at first glance. Going deeper into the issue, one will find certain misunderstandings and misconceptions, which relate to what real role Internet plays today.
Lessig (2000) writes about Internet as the structure of norms, the power of which can be strengthened or disabled by its users. He emphasizes the fact that “Cyberspace is an architecture first. It is a platform that gets designed. It is constituted by a set of code – by software and hardware that makes cyberspace as it is” (Lessig 4). First, if the Cyberspace is a mere architecture, governed by the software and hardware, why do politicians raise the issue of Internet challenging the power of governments? It is hardly possible to imagine, that any hardware could challenge the power of any government in the world.
Simultaneously, if the issue is relevant, the Internet cannot be called “mere architecture” (Lessig 4). It means that the current state of the Internet is something more than architecture. Possibly, it is the set of communicational, social, and other norms which allow the Internet users impact (or not impact) the power of government and other political structures. Thus, Lessig’s statement contradicts itself but deserves attention within the framework of the current discussion. Farrel (2006) discussed the issues of the Internet political impact in connection with the globalization processes.
“Globalization, and in particular the rapid increase in the flows of financial resources and information across the borders, has important consequences both for policy interdependence and for the role of the state” (p. 354). While did the dissemination of cross-borders in the Cyberspace lead to the uncontrolled spreading of gambling, pornography, extremist political material, about which Farrell wrote, and how did this relate to the power of government? If the dissemination of cross-borders in the Cyberspace has become uncontrollable, does it mean that government is too weak to invent effective measures of such control?
I would assume that the physical weakness of state governments and state policies to put the Cyberspace under control is more relevant in this discussion; there is no challenge to the power of government. Moreover, it is only partially a challenge to government’s power; those who view the Internet as the challenge to the political power of the government tend to admit its weakness. However, the situation is better to be described as follows: the power of the Cyberspace creates new conditions for the world governments to exercise their power and to invent new instruments of power.
The only problem is that governments do not yet understand, how the Cyberspace issues should be addressed, but hopefully, it is the matter of time. The challenge, about which cyber libertarians tend to speak, should not be addressed as the striving to neutralize the power of government. This challenge should be equaled to the opportunity, which government should properly address in order to retain its power and to spread its control onto the Cyberspace, too. The Internet has initially been designed “as a technology that would be resistant to centralized control” (Boas 8).
The absence of the centralized control was always connected with the already mentioned dissemination of the cross-borders in the Cyberspace (Farrell 354). This is why cyber libertarians try to convince the public that the Internet challenges the power of government. Let’s view the issue through a different prism. “In our transnationally linked and globally integrated world, both borders, and the attendant sharp distinction between the domestic and the foreign, are again losing meaning. In an interdependent global economy, basic issues such as unemployment and income inequality are no longer domestic problems subject to domestic solutions.
Once more, it is far from clear, who is independent and who is not” (Kobrin 10). The argument to which cyber libertarians relate in their argument is rather weak in the light of the numerous international agreements, which regulate the globalization processes in the physical world. The bright examples of the international agreements (the GATT, the WTO, and the EU) create favorable conditions to assume that the Cyberspace can also be subjected to such agreements and regulations, if properly addressed by governments and other international organizations.
Obviously, there is no challenge to the power of government but again, it is the vast area of opportunities to create a powerful set of political and legal norms to control the Cyberspace users’ behavior. The issue of territory and the elimination of geographical borders in the Internet can easily be compromised by the creation of international agreements and regulatory bodies. Such step will only prove the power of international governments. Stating that the Internet challenges the power of the Government is rather weak due to the inherent ambiguity of the power in general (Kobrin 15).
In order to speak how and why the Cyberspace challenges the power of government, one should primarily determine what he (she) means under the word “power” – does it imply the possibility to tax the operations taking place within the e-commerce space, or the possibility to regulate and control the spreading of the extremist political information in the Cyberspace? “The Ukraine experience demonstrates that, under certain circumstances, online activists can affect politics in regimes where there us no thriving independent media sector.
For starters, activist websites can become an alternative source of news and commentary in countries where traditional media are under state control”. (Drezner 3) Evidently, the discussion of the Internet creating challenges to the power of government can be held only within the environment, where the public trusts the blogs more than it trusts its own government. The political events in Ukraine, Georgia and other countries are the evidence of the government’s weakness and public mistrust.
In these conditions not only the Internet, but any other instrument may serve the means of changing the political regime or challenging the government’s power. The Internet in these states challenges the power of the government due to the fact, that the government itself is incapable of governing numerous issues in the nation’s civil reality. The Cyberspace is viewed as the attempt to change the existing social conditions, but again, challenging the power which does not exist or is underdeveloped in the state is hardly possible.
In the developed states, the self-regulation of the Cyberspace is far from being a challenge to the power of government. On the contrary, it is the means of aligning the needs and goals of the nation with its technological advancement. It has been mentioned, that the Internet is the vast area of opportunities for the national governments to create a set of norms and regulations, similar to the WTO and the GATT in the physical world.
It is difficult not to agree to Farrell, that “private actors are increasingly serving the channels of influence, or the proxies for states. In other words, private actors are not creating self-regulatory realms that are outside the reach of states. Instead, they are increasingly coming to serve as vectors of state influence” (p. 16). In the countries, where the power of government is sufficient for the public to trust it and to respect it, the Internet cannot but serve the means of promoting the state political, social, cultural and economic positions.
Moreover, the level of self-regulation in these states is surprisingly aligned with the high degree of governmental control towards the Cyberspace users’ behavior. The U. S. policy was initially aimed at providing the Internet users with the opportunities for self-regulation. This opportunity was never anticipated to challenge any state authority and was a purposeful step of the governmental structures. When the governmental authority is supposed to be challenged by the Cyberspace, such claims are at least misleading.
As long as they are connected with the self-regulation of the Internet, they are easily denied; the self-regulation of the Cyberspace is gradually disappearing and is being replaced by the limits both democratic and non-democratic governments set onto the private actors and the objects they try to access (Farrell 16). This is why, the current political conditions and the current (surely, powerful) position of the Internet does not allow stating that the Cyberspace challenges the power of government.
Conclusion The issue of the Cyberspace challenging the power of the Government should be objectively considered. At first glance, these claims may seem relevant, but obviously, the Cyberspace cannot challenge the power of Government for the following reasons: 1. In powerful developed democratic societies the Government possesses efficient methods of regulating the Cyberspace individuals; the Internet is viewed as the means of promoting the influence of the Government, and not challenging it. 2.
In underdeveloped and young states the Internet seems to challenge the centralized power, when population views it as an alternative and more reliable source of information. However, such situation is the proof of the government’s weakness and the underdevelopment of the state power as such; definitely, the Internet cannot challenge something that does not exist or is at the initial stage of its development. Works cited Boas, T. C. Weaving the Authoritarian Web: The Control of Internet Use in Non-Democratic Regimes. University of California, Berkeley, 2005.
Drezner, D. W. Weighing the Scales: the Internet’s Effect on State-Society Relations. University of Chicago, 2005. Farrell, H. “Regulating Information Flows: States, Private Actors, and E-Commerce”. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 9 (2006): 353-74. Farrel, H. The Political Economy of the Internet and E-Commerce. Draft Book Chapter. Kobrin, S. J. “Neomedivalism and the Postmodern Digital World Economy”. The Journal of International Affairs, Spring (1998): 361-86. Lessig, L. Architecting for Control. Lecture Given at the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna, AS, 2000.