Politics 2.0 Conference: Misplaced Optimism?

In all the panels I have thus far attended at the Politics 2.0 conference in London, the majority of presenters have expressed their optimism regarding the democratizing and liberalizing impact of the information revolution. I’m still uncomfortable with this position. Panelists at this conference are scholars, not state officials from repressive regimes. This necessarily means there is only of side of the debate being represented at the conference.

I have noted my concern regarding this unchallenged optimism at several Q & A sessions, referring to the increasing ability of governments to monitor and censor information on the Web. To this end, I have repeatedly cited the Berkman Center‘s excellent empirical study on internet filtering: “Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering.” For some reason, many scholars at the conference assume that civil society and social networks are the only beneficiaries of the information revolution.

This is simply not the case. Governments also benefit from the dramatic decline in communication and associated technologies that the information revolution has spurred. The costs of monitoring and the technical difficulty of censorship are declining, not increasing. Again, I would refer any optimists to read the Berkman’s study.

In conclusion, I am concerned about the widespread interchangeable use of the terms Web 2.0 and Social Web. Using the latter, which seems to be the more popular term among panelists at this conference, implies a Web free of government influence; the Social Web is too easily perceived as the “People’s Web”, which is particularly misleading. Web 2.0 is also referred to the “Read/Write Web”; this is an improvement vis-a-vis terminology since it doesn’t imply social ownership over government ownership. At the same time, however, I would modify the term as follows: Read/Write/Edit/Delete/Censor Web.

Patrick Philippe Meier

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