Who says the web is wild?

I recently received an invite to this event organised by the Westminster eForum – a group within the UK House of Parliament.  It describes its agenda thus:

This seminar will offer a platform for debate on how best to approach internet regulation.

Earlier this year the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP described the internet as ‘lawless’.

The internet is often over shadowed by its ‘darker side’. The ability of users to post content online has led to some of the most innovative and popular services such as Facebook, eBay and YouTube but also to inappropriate images, internet scams and illegal file-sharing. How can the UK protect internet users without stifling their creativity?

I want to challenge the fundamental assumption that lies behind this (and that frequently goes unchallenged) – that the internet is wild and lawless.  True – it is easy enough to encounter this at the extremes – but the median point of  ‘the internet’ is a very intelligent, reasoned and ordered place.  People who focus on the extremes and call for regulation often seem to miss this point.  The processes inherent in web2.0 (in particular) make this ordered median point increasingly easier to perceive and the act of trying to regulate and control tends to mitigate against its creation and visibility.  Any form of regulation going forwards has to be one rooted in encouragement of positive process, rather than the old-fashioned notion of institutional control.  Institutional control only works where the process of information sharing is itself institutionalised – not the case in social media / web2.0.

The great thing about web2.0 is that it contains no place to hide.  The lawless are clearly exposed as such.  The ranters are signposted – rather than operating under the spurious respectability of a ‘columnist’ or ‘commentator’ embedded within a supposedly credible media outlet.

This is an extremely important fact to recognise.  Regulation founded on process rather than control  needs to be the way forward – not just in ‘the internet’ but also in areas such financial regulation (as recent events highlight).

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