I was very interested in Danah Boyd’s article, which explored the dichotomy of public and private in relation to the Internet and social networking sites. I was also struck by Professor Chun’s comment that to deny teenagers Facebook is to deny them democracy. The question has come up before, but this week I feel drawn again to the question of the Internet’s democratic qualities; in my opinion, there are many ways in which it might be, in actuality, more anarchic than democratic.
Internet-based applications like LimeWire are entirely anarchic: there are no rules, and everything is fair game. Even on websites such as MySpace or Facebook, in which there do exist some rules (general age requirements, prohibitions against profanity, etc.), these rules are easily worked around: neither site does much to verify age, nor are they likely to notice something “inappropriate” unless someone were to report it. Indeed, the only real rule for social networking sites, should you be moderately resourceful enough to work around the barely-enforced “rules,” is that you have a valid, working email address. Perhaps privacy options might be viewed as preventing the social networking site from being holistically anarchic, but such features only exist if you, the user, change them; while your profile might not initially be open to everyone on the networking site, it is likely viewable to everyone within your “network” (i.e. school, workplace, town, etc.) from the moment you make it, which almost certainly ensures that people you don’t know can see your profile and information from the second you click “Save Changes.”
Thusly I wonder where democracy ends and anarchy begins when it comes to the world of cyberspace. At what point does the democratic freedom that the Internet promises become too much freedom? If democracy (particularly the democratic-republic) is distinguished from anarchy by the role of representative authority, then do the networking sites themselves, as the mediators of public cyberspaces, assume the role of this authority (by setting down rules)? If so, then does the fact that these rules are not strictly enforced mean that the so-called democratic Internet has devolved into anarchy?