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Globalization and the Internet

Globalization and the Internet


Kerby Anderson


 


 


More than one billion people use the Internet and benefit from the vast amount of information that is available to anyone who connects. But any assessment of the Internet will show that it has provided both surprising virtues and unavoidable vices.


 


The Internet has certainly changed our lives. Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat, talks about some of these changes.[1] For example, we used to go to the post office to send mail, now most of us also send digitized mail over the Internet known as e-mail. We used to go to bookstores to browse and buy books, now we also browse digitally. We used to buy a CD to listen to music, now many of us obtain our digitized music off the Internet and download it to a MP3 player.


 


Friedman also talks about how the Internet has been the great equalizer. A good example of that is Google. Whether you are a university professor with a high speed Internet connection or a poor kid in Asia with access to an Internet café, you have the same basic access to research information. The Internet puts an enormous amount of information at our fingertips. Essentially, all of the information on the Internet is available to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.


 


But the information superhighway also has many dark back alleys. Which has led many to ask, Who will regulate the Internet? In the early day of the Internet, proponents saw it as the cyber-frontier that would be self-regulating. The Internet was to liberate us forever from government, borders, and even our physical selves. One writer said we should, "look without illusion upon the present possibilities for building, in the on-line spaces of this world, societies more decent and free than those mapped onto dirt and concrete and capital."[2]


 


And for a time, the self-government of the Internet worked fairly well. Internet pioneers were even successful in fighting off the Communications Decency Act which punished the transmission of "indecent" sexual communications or images on the Internet.[3] But soon national governments began to exercise their authority.


 


Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu in their book, Who Controls the Internet, describe the various ways foreign governments have exercised their authority.[4]


 


• France requires Yahoo to block Internet surfers from France so they cannot purchase Nazi memorabilia.[5]


 


• The People's Republic of China requires Yahoo to filter materials that might be harmful or threatening to Party rule. Yahoo is essentially an Internet censor for the Communist party.[6]


 


• The Chinese version of Google is much slower than the American version because the company cooperates with the Chinese government by blocking search words the Party finds offensive (words like Tibet or democracy).


 


Even more disturbing is the revelation that Yahoo provided information to the Chinese government that led to the imprisonment of Chinese journalists and pro-democracy leaders. Reporters Without Borders found that Yahoo has been implicated in most of the people they were defending.[7]


 


Columnist Clarence Page points out that, "Microsoft cooperates in censoring or deleting blogs that offend the Chinese government's sensibilities. Cisco provides the hardware that gives China the best Internet-blocking and user-tracking technology on the planet."[8]


 


All of this censorship and cooperation with foreign governments is disturbing, but it also underscores an important point. For years, proponents of the Internet have argued that we can't (or shouldn't) block Internet pornography or that we can't regulate what pedophiles do on the Internet. These recent revelations about Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft show that they can and do block information.


 


Those who address the issue of globalization also believe that it diminishes the relevance of borders, territorial governments, and geography. Thomas Friedman believes that the Internet and other technologies are flattening the world "without regard to geography, distance, or, in the near future, even language."[9]


 


In one sense, this is true. The lower costs of moving information and the sheer amount of information exchanged on the Internet have made it more difficult for governments to suppress information they do not like. The explosive growth of blogs and webpages have provided a necessary outlet for opinion and information.


 


It is also true that there has been some self-governing behavior on the Internet. Friedman, for example, describes eBay as a "self-governing nation-state-the V.R.e., the Virtual Republic of eBay." The CEO of eBay even says, "People will say that eBay restored my faith in humanity-contrary to a world where people are cheating and don't give people the benefit of the doubt."[10]


 


But it also true that territorial governments work with eBay to arrest and prosecute those who are cheaters or who use the website in illegal ways. And it also relies on a banking system and the potential of governmental prosecution of fraud.


 


We have also seen this week that governments have also been able to exert their influence and authority over the Internet. They have been able to use the political process to alter or block information coming into their country and have been able to shape the Internet in ways that the early pioneers of the Internet did not foresee.


 


Goldsmith and Wu believe that those talking about the force of globalization often naively believe that countries will be powerless in the face of globalization and the Internet. "When globalization enthusiasts miss these points, it is usually because they are in the grips of a strange technological determinism that views the Internet as an unstoppable juggernaut that will overrun the old and outdated determinants of human organization."[11]


 


There is still a legitimate function for government (Romans 13:1-7) even in this new world of cyberspace. Contrary to the perceived assumption that the Internet will shape governments and move us quickly toward globalization, there is good evidence to suggest that governments will in many ways shape the Internet.


 








[1] Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).



[2] Julian Dibbell, "A Rape in Cyberspace," Village Voice, 23 Dec. 1993, 37.



[3] Communications Decency Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-104, ti.t. v, 110 Stat. 56, 133-143.



[4] Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu, Who Controls the Internet? (NY: OxfordUniversity Press, 2006).



[5] Troy Wolverton and Jeff Pelline, "Yahoo to charge auction fees, ban hate materials," CNet News.com, 2 Jan. 2001, http://news.com.com/2100-1017-25-452.html?legacy=cnet.



[6] Goldsmith and Wu, Who Controls the Internet?, 9.



[7] "Yahoo accused of helping jail China Internet writer," Reuters News Service, 19 Apr. 2006, http://reuters.myway.com/article/20060419/2006-04-19T135510Z_01_PEK23834....



[8] Clarence Page, "Google caves to China's censors," Chicago Tribune, 16 Apr. 2006,   http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-0604160321apr16,0,4616158.column



[9] Friedman, The World is Flat, 176.



[10] Ibid., 455.



[11] Goldsmith and Wu, Who Controls the Internet?, 183.