Sep 23, 2011
There are (at least) two worlds.
There is the physical world, the “real” world, where spatial distance makes a big difference. For example, depending on which side of the United States’ border with Mexico you live, you may actually find trucks filled with corpses blocking a major thoroughfare or disemboweled social media activists hanging from an overpass, or just read about it.
There is also the Web world, in which every point is equidistant from any other point (just a click away). This world is more like a shamanic spirit world that you can enter from any point in the physical world and always wind up in the same place.
Of course, a spirit world is a blessing and a curse. As Andres Monroy-Hernandez points on in this essay, the rise of social media and its promise (or at least appearance) of anonymity, can be very powerful when you are operating in and against a murderously dangerous environment. It allows people to speak out virtually and anonymously when they are too terrified to do so actually and in person.
But since this “speaking out” bursts into the real world wherever the internet can be accessed, it poses a real threat to the terrorizers, who then lash out, when they are not able to strike back directly.
The question that Monroy-Hernandez raises is this: What obligation do the private wardens of the Web have to protect the anonymity of its users/inhabitants?
This is a slightly different take on the question of “net neutrality.” While the current debate focuses on whether or not the owners of the “pipes” should be able, or not, to control the flow of information through them based on who owns the information, there is a broader, more political debate to be had about whether the pipe overseers should or should not take sides when the content flow is woven into a potentially or actually violent conflict.
If the overseers reveal identities, they are inevitably taking one side. If they refuse to do so, they are taking the other.
Does this mean that, in this world, there is no truly neutral space, but, instead, only the decision that each individual or corporate entity makes to take one side or another?