Dave Bartelli Senior Honors Program Thesis, 1996  

(Modern day note from Dave: obviously a lot has changed with the Internet since 1996, so it is interesting to look back at thoughts of the Internet in 1996)

Chapter 1:  Internet Origin and History

Purpose of Chapter

The history of the Internet, although brief, is essential to understanding today’s amorphous Internet structure, anarchic environment, and libertarian mentality.

The Quest for Nuke-proof Communications

In the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Baran of the RAND Corporation and others researched and developed a communication system in the United States that would allow government and military communication to continue uninterrupted in a post-nuclear-war environment.  Because a nuclear attack could destroy essential central communication sources in a hierarchical system, the project’s main objective was to create a decentralized communication system with no one node serving as the central broadcasting or receiving site.  With a decentralized system such as this, one or more nodes could be damaged or destroyed without communication being terminated.

ARPA’s Project

Beginning in 1968, this communication networking project was funded by the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).  ARPA planned to use telephone cables to connect the government’s supercomputers across the nation in a network that would communicate using a process  called packet-switching.  Packet-switching, which was invented and developed in secret research during the 1950s by the RAND Corporation, was designed to “chop all the communications into small packets of data, and then precede the message data in each packet with information about where it originated and where it is going and which other packets it connects with when it gets there” (Rheingold 74).  These packets of information are sent through the phone lines following different routes over the network’s connecting lines to the other computers where the packets are then electronically assembled according to the included instructions.  These information packets keep each node aware of the status of the other nodes so that if one node is not functioning, the information can be rerouted through the network to maintain the communication link.  To be able to reroute the information and allow each node to send and receive information, ARPANET was structured non-hierarchically.  This is important because ARPANET provided the crude beginning of the Internet that exists today and hence, directly influenced the structure of today’s Internet.  Moreover, this early project to connect geographically distant computers for information sharing and real-time interaction was the springboard for modern computer-mediated communications (CMC).

Early Evolution

This new network, named ARPANET after its creator, had its first node installed in the autumn of 1969.  Following its creation, the network quickly grew in size and popularity in government and academic circles.  That December, there were four nodes; in 1971, there were fifteen nodes; in 1972, there were thirty-seven (Sterling).  During the early 1970’s, “on average, a new computer was connected to the ARPANET every twenty day—and hundreds or thousands of people might be sharing that one computer” (“1972 The ARPANET”).

In the beginning, the three initial forces influencing the evolution of ARPANET were the military, the government, and the research universities.  These three groups could use the ARPANET’s initial three services:  “access to remote computers and other devices as a terminal user-remote login (known today as telnet); information sharing through file transfer; and access to other remote devices through remote printing” (“1972 The ARPANET”).  Researchers for the military, government, and universities used these services to share general research information and specific findings among themselves.  ARPANET successfully connected many of the top supercomputer facilities, research institutions, and education communities, making it a valuable information obtaining tool.  As a result, the embryonic network, which later became the Internet, was funded by and influenced by the government but had an academic and research-driven atmosphere.

Internet Relay Chat

Researchers on ARPANET communicated through Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or chat.  IRC which enables ”one to send typed words directly to the screen of another person who is logged onto the same system date[s] back to the first time-sharing computers of the 1960s.  In this regard, they are probably the oldest form of CMC, predating electronic mail” (Rheingold 178).  IRC allows real-time many-to-many conversations with people all over the world.  IRC involves virtual rooms where people electronically go to meet and communicate with others by typing on keyboards.  While email allows people to communicate asynchronously, IRC links people synchronously.

Most chat areas are solely text-based, but with the improvements in modem speed and Internet technologies, more are becoming graphic-based.  Programs such as Virtual Places, Microsoft Comic Chat, and Worlds Chat offer graphical means to converse simultaneously with multiple people on the Internet.  In these programs, the user chooses a name as a handle, something usually humorous or clever, and a graphical avatar, which can be an image of a human, animal, or inanimate object, to represent him or her in the virtual world.  Worlds Chat offers a three-dimensional (3D) world through which the user maneuvers about with mouse movements and keyboard arrow keys.  The user can see the 3D avatars of other users and can approach them to communicate with them individually or in groups of up to six.  Moving in the program’s 3D world and interacting with other humans gives people the feeling that they are in another land quite distinct from reality, yet equally, if not more attractive because everything is created by humans for humans.  Although the roughness of the real world can be considered beautiful, the virtual world can be designed to be visually stimulating.  Moreover, one’s avatar looks the way one wants it to look , never having a bad hair day.  Sherry Turkle terms the attempt to make artificial experiences seem real the Disneyland effect (236).  Similarly, she defines the artificial crocodile effect as the attempt to create an artificial world more compelling than the real one because fake animals are created to be more exciting than real ones in the wild (237).  The virtual world can be more attractive because the graphics and the environment can be more exciting than reality.  Moreover, it is attractive because humans have control over this environment.  A virtual environment with green skies and pink grass with simulated wind and gravity can be programmed.  If this is not pleasant, the programs can be altered to meet desires; the real world is not always this flexible.

Chat programs, whether textual or graphical, offer a common virtual ground for people to meet and converse both intellectually and facetiously.  This supranational virtual land, Cyberspace, provides people all over the world with the common ground to create mini, although somewhat ephemeral, sharing communities.  Some people simply enjoy chatting in these communities while others become addicted to them.  Howard Rheingold writes that “despite the anonymity and ephemeral nature of their communications, IRC habituees become addicted, form close friendships, fall in love” (178).


After about a year, the first electronic mail (email) message was sent over the network (“1972 The ARPANET”).  Although it was not one of ARPANET’s original services, the connection of these computers in an information sharing network, the development of time-sharing technology which allowed multiple users to simultaneously interact with a central computer, and intelligent people using this new medium allowed the quick development of email for direct and individual message delivery.

Email is essentially the same as physical mail in that a person composes a message and sends it to another person’s address.  The significant difference is electronic mail does not need to be printed and stamped to be physically transported across the country or the world in two or more days to its destination by human mail carriers.  Instead, it is sent cheaply, electronically, and immediately through the lines connecting the computer networks.

Email was initially designed to exchange research notes, but it quickly evolved into a medium for the exchange of personal, non-work related messages.  From email developed electronic mailing lists that allow a person to send an email message on the list’s topic to all the people who subscribe to that list.  The first email list on the ARPANET was SF-LOVERS which focused discussion on science fiction (Rheingold 77).  Today, there are thousands of email lists on almost every conceivable topic.  An individual who is interested in a certain topic can subscribe to the list, download posted messages from other people, and upload messages of his or her own.  A person can become a member of a single-topic proto-community by sending and receiving messages along with giving and taking information in an email list.

While ARPANET made distant information easily available, email made distant people easily reachable.  Computers, networks, and email brought people together who probably never would have met in the real world to share thoughts, ideas, and gossip.


Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) originated at the University of Essex, England in 1979 (Rheingold 69).  A MUD is a virtual world, usually text-based, that is a game and a social exercise all rolled into one.  A person enters the world and moves about by typing commands.  Each scene the user enters is described through detailed prose.  This might sound boring in itself, but the thrill of MUDs is in the interaction with other human characters who are logged on the MUD.  Users talk to each other by typing messages.  Similarly, users can emote or move by typing the appropriate commands.

MUDs have social structures that are based on experience: the longer a person has a character on a MUD, the more experience points he or she has, and thus the more virtual power and respect he or she has.  Wizards, the people with the most experience points, have the power to create or modify parts of the virtual world.

MUDing can be quite addictive to those who enjoy the alternate reality MUDs provide and the God-like power of manipulating the environment MUDs offer.  Some people spend hours a day in MUDs, becoming virtual citizens of those worlds.  Often, a person can get so involved in a MUD that his or her real marriage, job, or life in general suffers.  Essentially, these people prefer the world of a MUD to the world of reality.

The Network of Networks is Born

Other research groups besides ARPA created their own networks, but because of different communication protocols, the problem arose that these networks were unable to connect to and communicate with other networks and with ARPANET.  To resolve this problem, ARPA developed Transmission Control Protocol/ Internetwork Protocol (TCP/IP) which “was a set of protocols and interfaces that allowed the different networks to connect” (“1983 TCP/IP”).  ARPANET switched to TCP/IP on January 1, 1983, when the military broke off into its own network called MILNET (Sterling).  This is considered the official birthday of the Internet because, although many other research networks were already using TCP/IP and were connected with each other before this date, the addition of the ARPANET and the Defense Data Network made the Internet official (“1983 TCP/IP”).  The name for this agglomeration came to be the Internet (with a capital “I”) because it was now a large, amorphous network connecting smaller, individual networks.

Infrastructure Upgrades

The Internet continued to evolve during the years following its creation through network hardware additions and subtractions.  For example, in 1986, the United States National Science Foundation created NSFNET, NASA created NSINET, and the United States Department of Energy created ESNET, all of which still provide high speed systems that are major backbones for the Internet (Cerf).  However, there were also subtractions.  The original ARPANET was removed in 1990 (“1990 R.I.P. ARPANET”) because the military was no longer part of it.  Most of what it was connecting was connected by other networks, and increasing numbers of businesses were establishing sites and networks on the Internet (“1990 R.I.P. ARPANET”).  ARPANET’s removal did not significantly harm the Internet's speed and access with, but removing it was symbolically significant because it was the origin of the Internet and had been a part of it for twenty-two years.  Removing the obsolete ARPANET signified that the Internet was evolving.

World Wide Web

Another major improvement in computer-mediated communication was the development of the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) in 1992.  Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in Geneva, Switzerland, to organize his physics research into interlinking pages of information.  This system of organization based on hypertext, which provides links to other specific areas of the WWW, made finding information on the Internet much easier (“1992 Spinning the Web”).  A Web browser, software designed to display Web pages, was developed to enable a person to take advantage of hypertext which had links to addresses of other Web sites, termed Universal Resource Locators (URLs), embedded within them.  Although Berners-Lee had physics in mind when he created the Web, other groups adopted it and used it to view online information (“1990 R.I.P. ARPANET”).

In 1993, a major development in Web navigation software made it even easier to find information on the World Wide Web.  Marc Andreessen and others at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign created Mosaic, a graphical Web browser that could also access gopher, File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Usenet, and email.  Moreover, it did all this in a much easier-to-use fashion by using text, graphics, and sounds (“1993 Mosaic”).  Mosaic’s ability to use text, hypertext, and graphics transformed the previously all-text world to a more appealing, exciting, and friendly world where information was far easier to access.

Many similar software programs designed for “surfing” the Web spun off of Andreessen’s Mosaic.  Currently, two of the best known and most successful Web browsers are  Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer.  These graphical browsers that accept commands from computer mouse buttons and keyboard keys are capable of displaying fully colored and animated text, graphics, and video with sound and music.  Moreover, these browsers’ integrated programs can receive and send email and newsgroup messages.

These advances in WWW navigation, display, speed, and ease-of-use are important because they allow for faster and easier access of the information on the Internet with fewer computer skills required to successfully use the Internet.  As a result, these browsers help make the Internet a medium usable by more people than just the computer elite.

Internet Growth

Technology and software advancements have helped the Internet is grow at exponential rates.  The Internet has existed for nearly three decades, but it was not widely known by the general public until recent years.  With the advent of the WWW and graphical Web browsers, more people are using the Internet.  Now, it is nearly impossible to watch the news, read the newspaper, or view a commercial without seeing some reference to the general Internet or to a specific URL.  In fact, “the Internet's pace of growth in the early 1990s is spectacular, almost ferocious.  It is spreading faster than cellular phones, faster than fax machines.  Last year [1992] the Internet was growing at a rate of twenty percent a month.  The number of ‘host’ machines with direct connection to TCP/IP has been doubling every year since 1988” (Sterling).  The Internet’s growth has been compared to that of mold growth because it is rapid and random:

The headless, anarchic, million-limbed Internet is spreading like bread-mold.  Any computer of sufficient power is a potential spore for the Internet, and today such computers sell for less than $2,000 and are in the hands of people all over the world.  ARPA's network, designed to assure control of a ravaged society after a nuclear holocaust, has been superseded by its mutant child the Internet, which is thoroughly out of control, and spreading exponentially through the post-Cold War electronic global village. (Sterling)

As the Internet grows in size and popularity, the number of studies attempting to measure the demographics of the Internet have also increased.  One study conducted by Network Wizards, an Internet researching company, showed that “the Internet has doubled in size from 6.6 million hosts in mid-1995 to 12.8 million hosts in mid-1996 (A host is defined as a domain name that has an IP address record associated with it—for example,” (Kantor and Neubarth 46).  This study measured only the number of hosts; the number of users is much harder, if not impossible, to measure.  Network Wizards can determine the number of hosts, but cannot determine the number of visitors to hosts (46).

It can be said without much doubt that the Internet is increasing in size, but it is difficult to obtain concrete numbers showing the total number of users and the rate of user growth.  It is hard to derive a concrete and accurate number of Internet users or the rate of growth because so many people establish Internet accounts across the world every day and because there is no universal list containing all email addresses.  There are approximations of the number of users, but by the time results are published, they are already outdated.  Although it appears clear that the Internet has millions of users and is expanding exponentially every day, the approximations vary widely, not only for worldwide user numbers but also for US user numbers.  For worldwide users, “International Data Corp. found 23.5 million users while Matrix Information and Directory Services found 26.4 million users” (47).  A domestic study by “Morgan Stanely says there are 9 million users in the United States, while Intelliquent found 35 million U.S. users” (46).  There are several reasons for this expansion, including improving Internet user-friendliness, expanding corporate presence, and increasing numbers of affordable local Internet Services Providers (ISPs).

Increasing Internet popularity with non-technical people is due largely to advances in computer and Internet user-friendliness.  Making computers more usable for people who are not technical geniuses has helped increase the computer and Internet using population; “changes in the way computers were designed and used led to the expansion of the computer-using population from a priesthood in the 1950s to an elite in the 1960s, to a subculture in the 1970s, and to a significant, still-growing part of the population in the 1990s” (Rheingold 67-68).  Moreover, marketing aimed at drawing people onto the Internet has increased the number of users.  Major Internet access providers, such as America Online (AOL), CompuServe, Prodigy, and Microsoft have drawn many people to the Internet.

Another reason for the Internet’s growth is the mad rush by businesses to establish sites on the Internet.  Part of the large growth during the 1980s is attributed to the increased commercial presence on the Internet (Cerf).  As more people get access to the Internet in the 1990s, more businesses want a presence on the World Wide Web.  Although Internet users still make up a minority of the world’s population, millions of people surf the Internet every day.  In response to this growing market, businesses want Web pages to advertise and give information on their products, to offer a way to contact them, and to get feedback from product users.

Not only have businesses scurried onto the Internet with the hope of expanding their markets and increasing their profits, but many businesses have also formed because of the Internet.  A prime example of a business brought about by this newly popular medium focuses on Web page design and creation.  Because exciting multimedia Web pages are in demand by organizations and individuals, Web page creation businesses were formed by young and creative people to meet the demand.  World Wide Web search engines are another type of business that exists exclusively online.  They are designed to offer Internet wanderers a way to sift through the millions of Web pages and Usenet groups on the Internet to what they seek.  Most search engines are free for people to use but make a profit by selling advertisement space on their pages, much like radios make money by selling advertising time.  Businesses such as these have increased the quantity and quality of the Internet by providing information and services, making the Internet a more useful and exciting medium.

Underlying the Internet’s increasing ease of use and increasing online business presence is the Internet’s grass-roots structure (Elmer-Dewitt).  This is one of the most influential factors of the Internet’s rapid expansion.  There is no one place where additional users can connect; the Internet’s ameba-like structure allows networks to link to the Internet anywhere there is access to phone cables.  People in cities across the world create computer networks, linking computers with telephone cables or fiber optic lines from their surrounding areas to central and local mainframes.  They then connect these mainframes to the Internet, giving their network users access to all the other Internet-linked networks in the world.  These ISPs provide the launching platform to connect to the Internet, allowing people to “surf” the World Wide Web and send and receive electronic mail.  Moreover, people can design their own Web sites and post them on the Internet through their ISP.  The Internet has rapidly grown because decentralized and privatized Internet providers allow easy access for not only viewing existing information on the Internet but also for contributing new information by publishing Web pages and posting messages.


The Internet originated and developed as a decentralized entity with no node being inherently superior to any other in terms the “right” to broadcast and receive information.  It expanded in the quantity and quality of services as well as in the quantity of users and databases.  Increasing numbers of users drawn to the Internet by an increasingly interactive and user-friendly atmosphere have brought about a new online community and culture.  The next chapter deals with the Cyberspace community which is developing with growing numbers of people, from all backgrounds, willing and able to connect to the Internet and navigate through the millions of pages, use email, participate in chats, and contribute to newsgroups and mailing lists.


Chapter 2:  The Internet as a Community

Purpose of Chapter

William Mitchell writes that “the Oxford definition of a community as a ‘body of people living in one place, district, or country’—is eroding; a community may now find its place in Cyberspace” (160).  With the aid of computers, people are coming together to exchange feelings, facts, opinions, and ideas.  Some people claim that this interaction is creating a virtual community in a virtual world.  This chapter examines whether the Internet is truly a community.


The term Cyberspace describes the virtual world that exists within the Internet.  The word originates in William Gibson’s book, Neuromancer, and is used to describe the “conceptual space where words, human relationships, data, wealth, and power are manifested by people using CMC technology” (Rheingold 5).  Similar to C.S. Lewis’s magical land of Narnia, which could be entered through the closet door, the equally magical world of Cyberspace can be entered though a virtual door opened by a modem and viewed though a monitor screen.  Cyberspace is “the sense of being ‘in the same room’ . . . . It is about people using the new technology to do what they are genetically programmed to do: communicate with one another” (Elmer-Dewitt).

People gather from all over the physical world in this virtual land to share information, trade stories, meet people, play games, download programs, read news, discuss gossip, and even have virtual sex.  Although participants may physically be in different cities or in opposite hemispheres, they are able to meet each other in the common land of Cyberspace, which is a plane that is accessible to anyone who has a modem, a phone line, and an ISP.  It is true that much of the world is not yet connected to the Internet, but this technology gap is narrowing.  As more people around the world obtain access, Cyberspace becomes more diverse.  People from nearly all belief systems and backgrounds can come into contact through this interactive medium and increasing numbers of people with their unique backgrounds, thoughts, and beliefs enter this world every day.

Cultural and ideological differences can sometimes result in conflict and flaming arguments, but they can also result in sharing and supporting groups; the Internet provides people with an easy way of finding others who share similar attitudes, feelings, and beliefs.  It seems as if all viewpoints are represented on the Internet no matter how strange they might appear.  Consequently, many supportive communities based on an issue or belief form in chat groups, through newsgroups, and in mailing lists.  Some of these proto-communities, such as abuse support sites and intellectual chat groups, could be considered beneficial and productive, whereas some, such as sites for the Ku Klux Klan, and the neo-nazis, could be considered socially harmful and destructive.  Sites such as these can and do exist on the Internet, forming communities around specific interests.  Participants bond together in these communities through their common support of something they deem important.  Community on the Internet is currently found more in small virtual gatherings than in the larger, overall Cyberspace world.

A Libertarian/Anarchic Environment

The decentralized and amorphous structure of the Internet has lent itself to an environment that has tones of libertarianism and anarchy.  As Bruce Sterling points out that “the Internet is a rare example of a true, modern, functional anarchy” (Sterling).  Any computer connected to the Internet is capable of publishing Web pages containing articles, books, pictures, sounds, and links to other related sites.  The Web’s structure creates a sense of equality for all sites, meaning that any individual has as much “right” as any other to post information.  It is true that each site will not be equal in terms of quantity, quality, and veracity of information, but they all have the right to be seen and/or heard because there is no universally accepted authority to grant or deny this right.  This extends to and includes email, newsgroups, and email lists; if a person has an opinion, then he or she has a right to post it as others have a right not to view it.

The lack of corporeality influences the egalitarianism of the Internet.  Given this, judgments of people on the Internet are usually not based on race, gender, or wealth because these characteristics are not known on the Internet unless someone chooses to disclose that information.  Consequently, the Internet community places much value and worth on ideas and the ability to articulate those ideas in a precise, concise, and, often witty manner.  Rheingold writes that “quick wit is necessary because rapidity of response becomes important in this written medium” (177).  Anybody can express his or her opinion on the Internet and expect to be judged on the articulation, quality, and relevance of his or her ideas:

All these “spaces” have one thing in common: they are egalitarian to a fault.  Anybody can play (provided he or she has the requisite equipment and access), and everybody is afforded the same level of respect (which is to say little or none).  Stripped of the external trappings of wealth, power, beauty and social status, people tend to be judged in the Cyberspace of the Internet only by their ideas and their ability to get them across in terse, vigorous prose. (Elmer-Dewitt)

The Internet provides freedom to say what one wants to say and to believe what one wants to believe without worrying about the disapproval of others or the consequences of such beliefs.  People may be offended or may disagree with the specific content on the Internet, but the offended person has no authority or power to make the provider of such material remove it from the Internet.  As a result, a person may get many email messages recommending that the offensive material be removed, but that person does not have to remove it if he or she does not wish to.  This freedom to post what one wishes almost guarantees some people will be offended by something on the Internet, but if a person disagrees with a site, picture, or article, then he or she can direct his or her browser to another site that is more agreeable.  That is the beauty of the Internet; while there undoubtedly is material on the Internet that could be considered offensive, a person sees only what he or she seeks because all the information is hidden in Cyberspace until someone electronically summons it.  People seek the sites they desire to see; when they want it, they can get it.  As a result, people are free to post and view what they want.

The Internet Community?

Even though the environment is anarchic, it does not host the “war of all against all,” making virtual life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” as Thomas Hobbes thought would occur with the absence of a controlling government.  Although people sometimes verbally rip each other apart in this virtual state of nature, the Internet does not necessarily need a Leviathan.  The Internet’s users enjoy its broad freedoms and many would not like to exchange these freedoms for a central authority.  Some of the hard-core users and free speech advocates go further by demanding complete freedom from all government regulation.

Now the question arises, if individual freedom is so highly regarded in the Internet’s anarchic environment, then could the Internet be considered a community?  Is the Internet a nation bound by a sense of community in Cyberspace, or is it only a collection of fragmented groups and individuals?  Donald Heath answers that “it has been the former; it's becoming somewhat more of the latter, but with a strong feel for community” (Heath).  It is important to note that the current Internet is not one unified community.  It is more of a collection of smaller communities that are very loosely joined in a larger but weaker overall Internet community based on the common virtual environment of Cyberspace and, for some, the general support for free speech and a free Internet.  The Internet being a collection of small communities is not necessarily bad:  “CMC brings us a form of efficient social contact . . . . [because] CMC allows us to customize our social contacts from fragmented communities” (Jones 16).  Because the Internet is rather fragmented, it is more accurate to say that the Internet is a collection of communities than to say that the general Internet is a community.

Small Internet communities form around special interests that groups of people have in common.  Communities form in newsgroups, email lists, MUDs, and chat rooms devoted to something that the participants value, whether it is educating, entertaining, or something else.  Explaining what these communities are, Howard Rheingold quotes J.C.R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, former research directors for ARPA:  “In most fields they will consist of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped in small clusters and sometimes working individually.  They will be communities not of common location, but of common interest . . . “ (Rheingold 24).  These groups form because they have something in common, whether it is a love, hate, or fear of something.  Like minded people who have a common interest form groups or communities.  “Every cooperative group of people exists in the face of a competitive world because that group of people recognizes there is something valuable that they can gain only by banding together” (13).  They band together to protect their collective goods.

The Internet, for some, has become the medium of choice for meeting other people to discuss whatever is on their minds.  People in ancient Greece would congregate in the central plaza of their city, called the agora, to discuss politics and exchange gossip.  Now the Internet provides a virtual agora for the same purpose.  “The vision of a citizen-designed, citizen-controlled worldwide communications network is a version of technological utopianism that could be called the vision of  ‘the electronic agora’” (Rheingold 14, Mitchell 8).  Here, people can go at any time they please to converse with other Netizens.  However, whereas the ancient Greek agora was one central place to meet and talk, the supposed electronic agora on the Internet exists in many forms and places; there are many places on the Internet to congregate and converse as in an agora, such as the various topic-related chat rooms, newsgroups, and email lists.  The decentralization and of meeting places and their specific topic nature also support the idea that the Internet is more of a collection of communities than an all-encompassing community.


The supranational land of Cyberspace has provided the environment for people who agree on certain topics to meet and communicate.  This congregation and communication has led to the creation and development of tens of thousands of small, focused communities.  Whether these communities will ever unite in an overall community or nation is the discussion of the next chapter.


Chapter 3:  The Internet as a Nation

Purpose of Chapter

Although there is a debate as to how much overall unity and community there is on the Internet, some Internet users and activists believe that the Internet is enough of a whole to be termed a nation.  Because some believe the Internet is nation, this chapter seeks to provide the definition and characteristics of a nation in development and apply it to evolution of Cyberspace.

Netizens as a People

It can be argued that the “Netizens” (from Net citizens), who are frequent and dedicated users of the Internet who, for the most part, believe in free speech and expression on the Internet, are becoming a people, defined by Deutsch as “a group of persons with complementary communications habits” (“Growth of Nations” 169).  Hermann Weilenmann, former director of the People’s University of the Canton of Zurich, notes that “the basic common characteristics needed to turn the members of a population into a people are, first, the need to live in their own way and in accord with their own ideas and, second, a common environment” (38).  Applying this to the Internet, people are currently given the liberty to live and act on the Internet in their own way and the common environment of Cyberspace.  Hence, according to Deutsch and Weilenmann, Netizens are a people.

Deutsch writes that “a people is a group of individuals who have some objective characteristics in common.  These characteristics usually then are said to include language, territorial residence, traditions, habits, historical memories, and the like” (“Nationalism” 17).  Although a group does not need all these characteristics to be considered a people, the people of the Internet have them in varying degrees.  The first characteristic of language is probably the weakest because there are many languages spoken by people from all over the world on the Internet.  However, because of the strong presence of American individuals, businesses, software companies, and news services, much of the communication on the Internet is in English.  The survey conducted by Network Wizards in April 1996, showed that 73.4 percent of respondents were from the United States and 10.8 percent were from Europe (Kantor and Neubarth 47).  For those who do not understand English, Web pages and software exist that translates pages into other languages.  Moreover, certain computer and Internet terms are universal.  Because the Internet and the software for it developed largely in the United States, the terms created for the new medium were in English.  As the Internet expanded into other regions and countries, people accepted and used these words.  Also helping convey the meaning of messages are sound, graphics, animation, and symbols.

The second characteristic of a people, territorial residence, is Cyberspace.  Although there are different parts of Cyberspace, such as different chat rooms and email lists, they are all accessible within the same virtual world.  In other words, while there are many different areas of Cyberspace, they are all immediately accessible.  Thirdly, although there may not be any universal Internet traditions or habits, there is an evolving Internet culture and netiquette that emphasizes individual freedom of expression and free creation and flow of information.  Fourthly, some people on the Internet may not be aware of the historical memories of the Internet, but events and stories are increasing as the Internet develops, and those who use the Internet often are aware of them.  There are some negative memories such as major virus attacks, hacker rampages, and government crackdowns, but there are also the positive memories of great Internet firsts such as the creation of the World Wide Web and Mosaic along with the memories of Internet protests, such as the global Internet protest day against censorship bills on December 12, 1995, and initial victory against the Communications Decency Act.

Setbacks to Unity

Computer scientists and academics used the initial ARPANET and the young Internet.  There was a more closely-knit group overall than the users of today’s Internet because ARPANET users’ purposes for using the network were more homogenized, being mainly for discussing research and science fiction.  Today, with more people on the Internet, there is a much wider range of motivations and purposes for Internet use.  These differences cause some separatism.  Moreover, the Internet was more innocent then: there were no disagreements about the existence of pornography and terrorist information, because most of the information that was not professional dealt with science fiction or the Grateful Dead.  Compared to today, the original small group of users included a higher percentage of users who were dedicated to Internet communication and knowledgeable of the Internet’s capabilities.  With the rapidly increasing population of the Internet, an increasing number of Internet users lack understanding of Internet technology and culture.  Without much experience or knowledge of the Internet, people are not likely to feel any strong attachment to it; they would most likely not consider themselves Netizens.  Moreover, the increase in Internet popularity has brought many businesses to the Internet who are in search of broader markets and bigger profits.  These businesses are less concerned with the community of the Internet than with appealing to Internet users in order to make a profit.  Knowledge and experience of the Internet are important to unity because they enhance the Cyberspace experience by giving users a better understanding of what they are doing while allowing them to do more.  If a person knows the Internet well, then he or she will more effectively and efficiently find what he or she wants.  Moreover, experience and knowledge will allow an individual to better find and participate in the different parts of the Internet; if one does not know how to find MUDs, Chat rooms, or newsgroups, then he or she will be unable to participate.  Similarly, if one does not know proper netiquette, then he or she may have problems with other participants once in these areas.  Community can develop only if people can find these places and communicate in them.  Because experience and knowledge are important to community building, only true Netizens, those dedicated users who are both experienced with and knowledgeable of the Internet, can be accurately called members of the Internet people.  Those who use the Internet infrequently are only visiting Cyberspace and are not a real part of the community.

Differentiating between real Netizens and Internet visitors may initially appear to contradict the idea that the Internet is egalitarian.  Any person on the Internet, whether a Netizen or a visitor, has the right to state his or her opinion.  In this sense, all people in Cyberspace are equal.  However, the more experienced Netizens may not respect the opinion of the visitor, who does not have much Internet experience.  Although they might not respect the opinion, the Netizens have no authority to prevent the visitor from saying what he or she wants.  In other words, everyone has equal posting rights, but Netizens judge statements not only on the argumentation, but also according to the author's ties to the Internet and experience.  This is a type of “MUD mentality” because, on the Internet, as on MUDs, the people with the most online experience demand the most respect.  As a result, the hard-core Netizens will demand much respect from all and give little to others they deem to be disruptive visitors logging on to post complaints.

There are varying levels of citizenship on the Internet just as in real-world nations.  In the United States, as in many countries, the law states that all citizens are equal under the law, but, in fact, citizen participation is a matter of degree.  First, there are the extremely patriotic, hard-core American citizens who vote, belong to special interest groups, participate in voter drives, campaign for people, or even run in elections.  Second, there are the moderate citizens who do not do much else besides faithfully paying taxes and regularly voting in elections.  Finally, there are the peripheral citizens who live in the country without fulfilling the responsibilities of citizenship; they are usually apathetic about politics and government.  Because some believe they cannot make a difference, they do not even try to help the system by participating.  Although they are all legally equal, the hard-core citizens do not always respect the opinions and complaints of the peripheral citizens.

The Internet may have varying levels of Netizenship and lack a central government, but these different groups may still be united by their common communication experience, their love of the computer-mediated medium, and their commitment to freedom of thought and expression.

Towards a Nation?

Having examined Internet users as a people, we should now consider the issue of Internet nation development.  A nation is similar to a people but is a step further in social development.  In order to investigate whether the Internet resembles an emerging nation, we must first define the term.  Deutsch wrote that a “nation is then a people which has gained control over some institutions of social coercion” (“Growth of Nations” 169).  The American Heritage Dictionary defines a nation as “a people who share common customs, origins, history, and frequently language; nationality” (“nation” 831).  This appears to be a slightly modified version of the definition of a people given above, but it is different in that a nation has political goals.  The definition of nation could also be confused with the definition of a state because they are often used interchangeably, but it is important to note that this section is describing the Internet nation as a united people with political aims, not as a state.  While a nation is typically associated with a state, they are not necessarily the same things and one does not necessarily rely on the other for existence.  The essential difference between nation and nation-state is that a nation-state has a government.  While a nation somewhat implies a corresponding state government, a state “more specifically indicates political (governmental) organization, generally on a sovereign basis and pertaining to a well-defined area” (“nation” 831).  In other words, states necessarily have governments, but nations do not.

Just as there are characterizing traits of people, there are characterizing traits of nations.  According to Weilenmann, “the basis of every nation is its population, recognizable by certain common characteristics, the most important of which is a sense of belonging to some distinct portion of land” (33).  For Netizens, this distinct portion of land, which for them is not physical, but virtual, is Cyberspace.  Cyberspace provides people with common ground from which a community, people, and nation can form:  “The segment of reality experienced by several people from the same vantage point forms their common environment.  This, too, links them to one another” (39).  This link to others from a common environment is essential to the formation of a nation.

Reasons for Nation Creation

As alluded to before, “a nation is the result of the transformation of a people, or of several ethnic elements, in the process of social mobilization” (Deutsch “Growth of Nations 169-71).  People come together to form nations for reasons such as need and fear.

Nations and states form and develop for a number of reasons, a major one being human need:  “Weilenmann suggests that men choose groups and nations in answer to their needs and groups and nations derive their strength from their ability to attract and consolidate such choices” (“Some Problems” 13).n  Real world societies and nations often form because humans have basic, paramount needs for food, water, clothing, and shelter.  People form nations because cooperation, specialization, and trade, which are possible with nation status, improve the fulfillment of these needs.  After caring for the basic physiological needs, humans act on their psychological needs of communication, expression, support, and entertainment.  Thomas Spragens, Jr., writes that besides the physical human needs, humans form political societies because “they also need, though perhaps less immediately, means for expression of their more distinctively human qualities—ways of achieving identity and companionship” (2).  Cooperation with other humans is the best way to satisfy these needs.  As a result, humans form societies, nations, and states to obtain what they need and then to protect what they have obtained.

Although the Internet does not provide people with food, clothing, or shelter, it does appeal to the higher human needs of communication and human interaction.  People who tend to be naturally gregarious bond together in Cyberspace in the common interest of communication.  One of the common goods of the Internet that acts as a unifying force is the desire and need for information.  Rupert Emerson, former professor of government at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, writes that “a prime need for the building of a sense of national community in the new states is that at least a substantial segment of the people come to feel that their vital interests are linked with the state and that their well-being is enhanced by membership in it” (115).  A real-world nation cares more for a person’s physiological needs while a virtual nation can satisfy some of his or her psychological needs.

Another factor in nation creation is the threat of losing what a group's values.  People bond together out of fear of losing something they regard highly and in hope of protecting whatever they deem valuable: These “common interests grow more intense when they are threatened.  Acute danger unifies people more than does the undisputed enjoyment of the things they or their forebears achieved” (Weilenmann 41).  Some Netizens come together through fear.  Although some Netizens see increased commercialization of the Internet as negative, many consider government intervention to be the greatest threat to the Internet.  Regulation and censorship threaten to hinder the Netizens’ cherished libertarianism and anarchism of the Internet.  As a result, people might bond together out of fear of losing what they value and love, attempting to preserve their Internet freedoms.  Government regulation and censorship might bring more unity to the Internet.

Perhaps the greatest gift of this crisis [censorship] is that it is bringing us together.  Even though there has been camaraderie between individuals on the net, this very challenge has the potential to unite our whole community in mutual support of each other.  I have no doubt that if any of us were threatened as a result of this law, many, many of us would immediately come to their aid, probably in a wide range of ways.  (Morrison)

With the Internet becoming increasingly the information source of choice for news, sports, business, and financial matters as well as being a medium of entertainment, more people are becoming dependent on the Internet.  The more dependent they become on the Internet as an educational, informational, and entertainment source and the more time they spend in Cyberspace, the more likely it is that they will feel interconnected with this virtual world and dependent on it.

Strength of the Internet as a Nation

Although the Internet has characteristics of a nation, it is not unified under a hierarchical system of government to guide and control it.  Even without this unifying social force, the individuals who consider themselves part of the Internet community and nation can feel strong ties to it because “the more freely a man decides where he belongs and what he needs, the more unreservedly he gives himself to the organization and the more strongly he feels himself to be a part of the greater whole.  Only the freedom to choose one’s group—a freedom encompassing all other freedoms—makes suprapersonal unity a reality” (Weilenmann 46).  This applies because the Internet is a world in which entry is voluntary.  No one forces anyone to surf the Internet or to be part of a newsgroup, chat group, or email list.  Rather, one must actively seek out this world in order to be part of it.  This is different from the real world where people are born into certain geographical areas, societies, and nations.  Although an individual can later move within the country or immigrate to another one, a person has no real say about his or her origins.  Because the Internet is a voluntary world, people who chose to spend much time there often have stronger ties to it.  It is similar to purchasing a car.  If a person—call him Jim—has not experienced or driven any car other than a Pinto, then Jim might think that Pintos are a better than other automobiles.  Thinking this, Jim wants his new car to be a Pinto.  He will most likely enjoy it because a Pinto is the only car he knows and, from his frame of reference, it is a good car.  However, if he gets to experience other cars, such as a Dodge Viper, then he will have to make an informed choice, now having information on both automobiles.  True, Jim’s decision in each hypothetical is voluntary, but his decision based on comparison facts and experience is the better: having reasons based on facts makes it a stronger and more meaningful decision.  Making the voluntary choice to participate with the knowledge of alternatives makes the decision and the desire stronger because it is a choice.  A person feels better about participating willingly in something than participating unwillingly.

The strength of the community also depends not only how people feel about the Internet, but also to what degree:  “The strength of community consciousness in a people depends on how intensely its members feel concern for their common interests and, therefore, also on the intensity of their common needs and relationships to the environment” (Weilenmann 41).  The common interests of Netizens include, privacy, access to all types of information, and freedom of speech and expression.  The stronger the Netizens feel the Internet is an essential part of their life, the stronger their bond with the Internet community.


It can be argued that the Netizens are part of an emerging nation, formed because of social, communicative, and political needs.  Although this nation may exist in a primitive state, the Internet is not currently a unified whole with one government and one political voice: it is a collection of small communities in Cyberspace.  The strength of this collection of communities, forming a loose nation or commonwealth, is dependent on the participants’ desire to be part of it as well as their dependence on the Internet.  In fact, the Internet nation could be in decline before it is fully formed because of increasing numbers of people using the Internet who do not necessarily believe in unrestricted free speech on the Internet and other issues that serve as bonding elements in the general Internet community.  Realizing this, several organizations formed to create more community and cohesiveness on the Internet as discussed in the next chapter.


Chapter 4:  Forces for Unity and Independence

Purpose of Chapter

Although the Internet is not a unified whole or a complete community, people, or nation, there are forces at work that could help unify the Internet and preserve free speech.  Organizations which serve as catalysts for Internet unification and Internet nation-building are the main focus of this chapter.

TCP/IP and Software as Forces

The earliest unification of the Internet concerned hardware.  As mentioned before, the creation of TCP/IP brought all the networks together by allowing each network to communicate with the others and with ARPANET.  Similarly, the creation of the World Wide Web and software to browse or surf it have drawn the information on the Internet together in a common virtual world by making it easier to access.

Organizations as Forces

TCP/IP and various software packages have helped bring networks and information together, but certain organizations have pushed to unify the Internet people with the hope of creating more of an Internet nation.  There are several organizations whose function and goals are to make the dream of a unified and independent Internet more of a reality.  These organizations include the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC), and Project I.

These groups focus mainly on bringing Netizens together to fight Internet censorship, to protect privacy, and to protect other actions they consider to be rights on the Internet, such as the use of encryption technology without having to give the government the encryption key.  The Blue Ribbon Campaign, started by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is major effort to combat the government’s desire to regulate the Internet.  It asks Web sites to post a graphic of a blue ribbon that was “chosen as the symbol for the preservation of basic civil rights in the electronic world” (“Blue Ribbon”).  This is “to show support for the essential human right of free speech” because “this fundamental building block of free society, affirmed by the U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791, and by the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, has been sacrificed in the 1996 Telecom Bill” (“Blue Ribbon”).  The dark clouds on the horizon signifying government censorship worried Netizens fearful of losing complete freedom of speech and expression on the Internet.  Because of this fear, many have backed the Blue Ribbon Campaign and the EFF in its fight to prevent government intervention.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

The EFF “is a non-profit civil liberties organization working in the public interest to protect privacy, free expression, and access to public resources and information online, as well as to promote responsibility in new media” (“The Electronic Frontier Foundation”).  It was co-founded by John Perry Barlow, former Grateful Dead lyricist, and Mitchell Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corp., on July 10, 1990.  After the FBI and the Secret Service investigated each of them for the possible illegal use of computers and after they learned about government action against computer users, they decided to create this organization.  They thought there was a need for an organization to keep an eye on the government’s actions against computer and Internet users to prevent abuse by the government.  When they formed it, they wrote, “We hope the Electronic Frontier Foundation can function as a focal point for the many people of good will who wish to settle in a future as abundant and free as the present” (Kapor and Barlow).

The EFF’s function is not only to protect free speech and expression on the Internet, but also to provide assistance to people for Internet legal questions as well as Internet hardware and software questions.  Rheingold writes in the introduction to Godwin’s article that the “EFF has been established to help civilize the electronic frontier, to make it truly useful and beneficial to everyone, not just an elite; and to do this in a way that is in keeping with our society’s highest traditions of the free and open flow of information and communication” (Godwin).  To do this, the EFF provides massive amounts of information and hyperlinks on Internet issues such as government action, personal privacy, freedom of expression, and encryption.

The EFF is a prominent presence on the Internet that people recognize if they pay attention on the Internet.  The EFF proudly states that “as of September 16, 1996, GNN's Internet search index, WebCrawler, ranked EFF's Blue Ribbon Campaign page the 6th most-linked-to web page in the world, based on their formidable statistics” (“Blue Ribbon Page Ranked”).  In being visible and informative, the EFF can bring people to its site to inform them and rally them around certain Internet issues, creating common interests of free speech and expression through informing people of what they now have on the Internet and what they stand to lose and the consequences of such losses.  Giving Internet users incentives to work together for a common goal of preventing government intervention can bring them together and provide the base for community and nation building.

By providing information and answering questions, the EFF does much to create community and unity on the Internet.  Mike Godwin believes “the Electronic Frontier Foundation is living proof of the existence and effectiveness of virtual digital communities.”  He thinks this is so because he finds it “clear that EFF is not only the product of electronic communities, but has also produced some new communities while continuing to contribute to old ones.”  Finally, he supports his claim that the EFF has created a community by writing, “You’ll often read comments from Usenet folks who think the most appropriate pronouns when talking about the EFF are ‘we,’ ‘us,’ and ‘our.’  And if that neighborly sense of belonging doesn’t prove the existence of a community, I don’t know what does” (Godwin).  Also contributing to this claim is the fact that the EFF has branched out throughout the United States as well as the world; it has mirror EFF organizations in several countries, with branches in Texas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Australia, Spain, France, and Italy, and elsewhere.  Having a broad national and international organizational base helps in uniting people across the world in the common effort to protect and improve the Internet for Netizens.

The Global Internet Liberty Campaign

A second organization pushing for a free and independent Internet is the Global Internet Liberty Campaign.  This organization is part of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and is dedicated to promoting and protecting free speech on the Internet.  "It was formed at the annual meeting of the Internet Society in Montreal.  Members of the coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Human Rights Watch, the Internet Society, Privacy International, the Association des Utilisateurs d'Internet, and other civil liberties and human rights organizations” (“GILC”).  Its purpose is based in the belief that the “users of the Global Internet must work together to protect freedom of speech and the right of privacy” (“GLIC”).  Below is a copy of GILC’s statement of principles:

The Global Internet Liberty Campaign advocates...

The GILC does not provide as much information as does the EFF, but like the EFF, it has member organizations across the world.  Some of the member organizations are the EFF national and international organizations, the Association des Utilisateurs d'Internet (AUI), the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Cyber Rights Working Group of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

Although the GILC’s main purpose is not specifically to promote Internet community or nation building, it does set attempt to provide an environment in which this process would be possible.  If every government of the world places its own restrictions on the Internet, then it will never be able to evolve on its own into a separate entity.  The GILC wants to end government regulation of the Internet, which would then allow the Internet to become what it wants and not what other countries want.

Project I

A third group is Project I which attempts to unify Netizens under the issue of free speech; it helps the nation-building effort by informing people that they should fear external government control of the Internet and should protect their freedoms by declaring the Internet and independent nation.  Without providing information, answering questions, or having international branches, it directly promotes the Independence of the Internet because of “problematic legal issues concerning Internet [which] have been discussed in the media lately” (“Project I”).  To do this, Project I has created and posted a brief declaration of independence on the Internet.  Nearly 1,500 people have electronically signed with their email addresses.  Below is a copy of that document:

To the nations of the world:

We, the people of Internet hereby declare ourselves independent.  We are a nation of individuals with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  In this capacity we hereby seek recognition as a nation among other nations.

We consider every individual in Internet to be created equal, in the respect that we all have equal rights to express our opinions. We hold the promotion of international understanding and goodwill among nations to be one of our foremost goals. Hence, it shall be the inalienable right of every individual in Internet to gather in a group with any number of others at any point of time and freely discuss any topic.

We ensure that our only desires are undisturbed freedom of expression of opinions among ourselves and peaceful coexistence with other nations and that we have no intentions of aggression towards any other nation.  We also ensure that we, as a civilized society, are willing and able to uphold the Charter of the United Nations as well as the International Declaration of Human Rights.

We are a society based on democracy.  Everyone in Internet represents himself, herself or itself as an individual.  Therefore, with our signatures at these dates we hereby affirm this Declaration of Independence.  (“Declaration”)

This document is essentially a formal statement of some Netizens’ libertarian desire for unrestricted speech and expression on the Internet.  Its main assumption is that completely free speech and expression in an inalienable right.  The document does not discuss the cliché that “a person’s right to swing his or her fist ends where another person’s face begins.”  The creators of this document are concerned only with the absolute freedom to say what one wants to say, regardless of the consequences.  While it may be missing support for its assertions, it does make the point clearly that it wants the Internet independent of government control and it calls on the Netizens to come together in a more unified effort to make this desire a reality.

This organization helps with Internet nation building by trying to declare the Internet as an independent entity that deserves freedom and autonomy.  For the Internet to develop as a nation, it will need to be independent of real world governments that are trying to restrict it.  Realizing this, Project I tries to rally Internet users to support an independent Internet.


Because of the governments’ attention to the legalities of the Internet, several people and groups have taken action by creating organizations to fight against this movement which seeks to end some of the Internet’s freedoms.  These organizations are essentially calling for the Internet to become more like a nation that can deal with its own problem without the help of external government.  To further Internet unification and nation-building most of the groups provide information on the real-world’s actions against the Internet and the resulting impacts, while some call for action to try to prevent or reverse such intervention.  Although one can argue whether these groups have had an impact, it can be noted that the large amount of information they provide is a step in the direction of informing people about the Internet and pushing for Internet nationhood and independence.  In order to motivate people to take action, they must first know what they have that is at stake along with who is threatening to take these things away and for what reasons.  The people must be informed before they will take action, otherwise they may take the freedoms of the Internet for granted until the day they wake up and realize that they are gone.  As a result, these organizations may have an impact simply by providing information.  The next chapter focuses on the efforts of an individual, John Perry Barlow, to inform and rally Netizens to support what he believes is the Internet nation and to help declare its autonomy by electronically signing his “Cyberspace Declaration of Independence.”  The next chapter critically evaluates this document.


Chapter 5:  Declaring Independence

Purpose of Chapter

Some Netizens believe the Internet should be an independent nation, free of real world government control.  One of the most formal and forceful arguments for Internet independence is John Perry Barlow’s “Cyberspace Declaration of Independence.”  To examine some of the arguments attempting to justify independence, this chapter’s focus is a critical analysis of Barlow’s document.

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

John Perry Barlow, a well-known Internet activist and the cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, created a declaration of independence for what he considers the Internet nation in response to the legislation United States that called for the regulation of indecent and obscene material on the Internet.  Barlow posted it electronically on February 8, 1996, asking those who read the document and supported his views to sign it electronically.  As of July 3, 1996, over 5,000 people have signed the declaration (“The Declaration Pages”).  This is significant because the document was not distributed to everyone on the Internet, nor has there been an effort to petition people for signatures.  Instead, people found the document themselves and voluntarily signed it.  This number may appear small given the millions of Internet users, but there is only one site where people can sign the declaration.  Although there is only one site, the document has mirror sites, copies of the Web page at different physical and Web locations, around the world which post the document, but do not allow users to sign it.  Finally, the current number of signatures on the document may be small because the electronic form to sign it has not worked for several months.  As a result, the number of signatures is not an accurate representation of how many people support it.  Regardless, the document has many mirrors and has translated versions in thirteen different languages, but the people who read and sign it did so of their own will.

This document is significant not because someone is protesting the government’s attempts to pass censorship laws—there is plenty of that on the Internet—but rather, because an Internet celebrity wrote it, it has been mirrored and linked by many sites, it represents a general feeling of Netizens that it should be free of most government controls, and it has been signed by thousands of people.  Before analyzing the document, we must first read it.  Barlow’s Cyberspace declaration of independence follows:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind.  On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone.  You are not welcome among us.  You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks.  I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.  You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.  You have neither solicited nor received ours.  We did not invite you.  You do not know us, nor do you know our world.  Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.  Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project.  You cannot.  It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces.  You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve.  You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts.  Many of these problems don't exist.  Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means.  We are forming our own Social Contract.  This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours.  Our world is different.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications.  Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us.  They are based on matter, There is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion.  We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge.  Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions.  The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule.  We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis.  But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis.  These dreams must now be born anew in us.

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world.  These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron.  In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost.  The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers.  We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies.  We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.

We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace.  May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.

Davos, Switzerland February 8, 1996 John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident Co-Founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation

It is error alone which needs the support of government.  Truth can stand by itself.

--Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia  (Barlow “A Declaration”)

Point by Point Analysis

It appears that there are six basic reasons behind Barlow’s call for an Internet free of outside government intervention.  Each of these reasons will be dealt with individually by examining the assumptions, definitions, subreasons, and impacts.  The purpose of this analysis is to determine if the call for the Internet to unify and declare itself a nation independent of government control is justified and feasible.

Before getting into the specific reasons contained within the document, it is important to examine Barlow’s motivations for writing and posting it.  This document is essentially his response to the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act and the Communications Decency Act that were forged in an attempt to clean up the Internet by outlawing indecent words, messages, pictures, and Web sites.  Barlow, who is very much for free expression on the Internet, found this law to be abusive and wrong.  As a result, he wrote the Cyberspace declaration of independence in protest, believing that the Internet could act as an independent nation and solve its own problems.

The first reason he gives for Internet independence is that the Internet is “naturally independent of the tyrannies you [governments] seek to impose on us” (Barlow “A Declaration”).  The first question that must be addressed is what exactly Barlow believes “naturally independent” to mean.  He restates this thought in an email message by writing, “I believe the Internet is inherently, and, with any luck, unalterably independent” (Barlow <>).  This is an interesting thought in light of Internet’s origin.  As mentioned in chapter one, the Department of Defense’s ARPA, a government entity, was the program that funded and created the Internet.  Because of this, the Internet was never independent of the government; it was a product of it.  Although the Internet is now commercialized, the US government is still funding much of the infrastructure by funding the installation of high-speed backbones and fiber optic lines.  Moreover, all nodes for the Internet reside within the borders of one country or another, all of which have a government that makes and enforces laws for people and things that exist within its borders.

It is important to note that although the Internet began as a government funded project, it has evolved into something different.  The government created the Internet, called ARPANET at the time, for a government purpose—government and military communication in a post-nuclear war world.  However, the Internet grew and evolved away from this, incorporating other government agencies and academic institutions, and later, individuals and businesses.  It moved beyond its government role to one that is much more commercial and social.  The military distanced itself by removing itself from ARPANET and forming its own network in 1983; the government removed the original ARPANET in 1990.  Accompanying these removals was increased activity from individuals and corporations.  The activities of these individuals had nothing to do with the government’s original purpose or intent of the Internet, yet they contributed greatly to the Internet culture and community.  The Internet today, being a community composed of mostly non-government people for non-government purposes makes the Internet much different from a normal government agency or project that is composed of government people, is part of the government, and performs government functions.

The Internet can almost be compared to a colony.  The government's agency created the Internet and it was originally under the creating government, but it eventually and naturally evolved into something bigger.  The Internet, like a colony, has grown up and away from its government parent and some of its most devoted users are now calling to be free of its paternalistic hegemony.  Governments, such as Singapore, China, and Germany, object to the idea of Internet independence as imperialistic countries object to their colonies declaring independence.  A few organizations and individuals are trying to rally Internet user support to obtain recognition of autonomy.  This appears to be an important purpose of Barlow’s document.

Another analogy to describe the “natural independence” of the Internet, based on some of John Locke’s writings, is a child’s inherent independence.  A child is born to his or her parents who have the duty to take care of the child until he or she is capable of reason and self-sufficiency and is able to live according to his or her own decisions (many countries have laws that determine at what age this is).  Although this may sound somewhat far-fetched, it is similar to the birth and growth of the Internet.  The Internet’s parent was the government, which cared for it and nurtured it in its infancy.  Now, the Internet is proclaiming its self-awareness and ability to govern itself by declaring it is of age and maturity to be independent of its parent.

However reasonable these arguments may initially appear, the Internet is different from a colony and a child because it has a more direct impact on its parent after becoming independent.  The relationship between government parent and Internet child is too convoluted to be independent of each other.  First, the world’s governments still have a part in the activities and functions of the Internet.  They exist on the Internet as much as or more than does any other entity.  It is difficult to say that the Internet as a whole should be independent of government if the government is not only its creator, but is also a part of it.  It is not a simple matter of the governments stepping in to rule something in which they would otherwise not be involved.  Moreover, the Internet has an impact on the governments of the real world.  The Internet is a medium by which, among other things, good and bad, computer geniuses can crack into government and business computers, buisness people can conduct commerce, rebels can form movements, and terrorists can plan illegal activities.  Actions on the Internet, more times than not, affect the real world.  It is not easy to declare the Internet autonomous because of its real world implications.

Secondly and similarly, Barlow claims that governments have “no moral right to rule” the Internet because, for a government to be legitimate, it must have the consent of the governed; those who are to be governed, the Netizens, gave no such consent.  If the government creates an organization, such as the Department of Energy, does the organization have to give its consent to be under the government that created it?  The answer is no because it is, from the beginning, a part of the government that performs government functions.  However, as discussed above, the Internet is more than a government organization or project; it is now a commercialized supranational social structure, involving much more than the government.  Opposing this reason is the fact that the Internet does not affect only itself.  It affects the entire real world, with some of these effects being potentially negative.  People consent to government rule in the real world because it protects their interests, property, and lives.  Governments stepping in to control the Internet are, most of the time, trying to uphold their end of the contract by attempting to outlaw defamatory and hate speech, child pornography, and terrorist plotting.  Legislators creating government regulations usually have good intentions, such as the protection of children from Internet stalkers and pornography.

The third reason Barlow gives for Internet nation independence is that the real world governments do not “possess any methods of enforcement.”  Enforcement is a large problem for governments wishing to control the information flow on the Internet.  They can and do pass censorship laws only to find that it is nearly impossible to enforce them.  The problem lies in the fact that the Internet does not exist in one place because it is a global medium.  Consequently, one government finds it hard to justify jurisdiction over something that is supranational.

Aside from trying to justify enforcement philosophically, there are two main problems with enforcing these laws, both dealing with the inability to prevent data from reaching and staying on the Internet.  The first problem involves the difficulty in actually catching the transgressors.  Anyone can access the Internet from any point in the world if one is willing to pay the long distance bills to log onto an ISP.  As a result, the person uploading files to the Internet could be anywhere in the world.  In Chiapas, Mexico, the leader of the Zapatista movement uploaded information about the rebel movement using his laptop computer and a cellular phone.  Because of the flexibility of this technology, governments find it difficult to catch anyone in the act, making it difficult to prosecute anyone.

The second problem for governments stems from the supranational nature of the Internet.  A government can arrest someone who has a computer that is a host site on the Internet for something such as pornography that is accessible to minors so long as that person and that computer are within that government’s borders.  But, if the government decides to punish the owner of a computer that is located within its borders, then the entire Web site can and often is uploaded to another location to become a mirror site.  Once the page is mirrored in another country that does not have the same censorship laws, the original country can do nothing more.  Thus, it can arrest the person originally responsible, but it cannot as easily stop the information from remaining on the Internet.

Getting back to Barlow’s reasons, stating that governments should not interfere with the Internet because they cannot effectively enforce anything is a weak reason.  This assumes that just because they cannot presently enforce a law, they have no right to make that law.  However, the ability to enforce a law is not the criterion for judging the right to govern.  It is true that governments will need to examine the difficulty of enforcing new laws regulating the Internet, and hopefully this will be done as new laws are debated and voted on, but not being able to enforce a law does not mean it cannot or should not be passed.

According to Barlow, the fourth reason that governments of the real world should not intervene is that they do not understand the communities of the virtual world.  Even if it is true that many legislators know little about the Internet, technically as well as socially, that does not mean they have no right to make laws concerning the Internet.  Knowledge of what is being regulated is not the basis for jurisdiction.  It is wrong for legislators to pass laws on something they do not understand, but that does not mean they have no right to make them.  It means that the legislators need to act more responsibly by getting the background information before voting one way or the other, but it does not mean that government has no right to pass legislation regulating the Internet.

The fifth reason Barlow gives is that the Internet does not lie within the borders of any one country.  It is almost a cliché that the Internet exists nowhere yet is present everywhere.  Barlow is thus advancing the point that no government can claim the right to rule the Internet if it exists in none of them exclusively.  First, the Internet’s nodes are physically located within the borders of many countries.  A particular country can claim legislative power over the computers that host sites within its physical borders, but this gets a little tricky because although the purpose of these laws is to keep certain types of information off of the Internet and away from innocent children, not all countries agree on what types of information should be censored or whether they should be censored at all.  The existence of differing laws on Internet censorship around the world makes the enforcement of any of these laws more difficult to enforce.  Moreover, just because the Internet does not exist entirely in one country does not mean that the Internet should be free of all government control.  Rather, there needs to be some debate on what degree of legislative authority countries should have over the international Internet.  Barlow and others would say none, but because of the real world impacts of the Internet, governments, as well as many individuals, disagree.

Developing the idea of Internet self rule, Barlow’s sixth reason is if the Internet has any problems, the people on the Internet will take care of them by themselves without outside intervention.  The best example of this occurred after the recent uproar over pornography on the Internet and the risk of children viewing such material.  Several governments wanted to pass censorship laws to ban pornography and other offensive and indecent material, but segments of the Internet community rebelled and said that the governments should stay out of the Internet’s business and let it deal with its own problems.  To deal with this social problem, software companies began advertising software that would scan Web sites for certain words that might be considered offensive.  Finding any of these words would prompt the browser not to load the page.  The target market for this software was parents who did not want their children surfing the Internet unrestricted.  Parents who bought this software could set and lock with a password the standards by which the software would judge the pages.  Although companies sell this software, Microsoft includes it in its free Web browser, Explorer.  As a result, parents don’t even have to pay for Internet self-censoring software.  This shows that the software makers, realizing the problem and the resulting concern of parents, acted to allow people access to censoring software.  Adam Smith would have attributed this to the Invisible Hand: demand for software to censor indecent sites prompted companies to provide it.  They were probably not doing it for moral reasons; they were doing it out of self-interest and profit.  Nevertheless, companies acting out of self-interest met the demand.  This is how some people believe the Internet should and could operate.  They believe the governments should take a liassez faire attitude towards the Internet to allow self-interest and the natural market pressures to govern the Internet.  Instead of pushing for the abolition of sites that judged offensive to some people and indecent for children, the Internet community pushed for self-censorship.  In other words, if you do not like a site, then do not go there.  If you do not want your children to go there and you do not trust that their upbringing will be enough to prevent them from visiting obscene sites, then install the software that will prevent them from going to certain types of pages.

The main difficulty with arguing that the Internet should and can deal with its own problems is deciding who is to determine what exactly is a problem.  Barlow wants no real world government to do this and there is not much chance of getting a consensus from the Netizens on what are the main problems.  As a result, it boils down to individual responsibility.  Barlow believes the worth and decency of this information depends on one’s personal values.  One person may find something offensive or indecent, such as information on and descriptions of abortion processes, while the next person considers it informative and important.  Moreover, no one forces anyone to view a Web site; any viewing on the Internet is voluntary.  Hence, the individual determines the type and amount of exposure.

Finally, Barlow believes that because Cyberspace is not itself a physical world, it is not subject to any of the laws of the physical world.  To analyze this reason, what constitutes matter must first be determined.  Secondly, there is the question whether Cyberspace is completely void of matter.  Third, we must examine whether laws are only for matter-based things and if laws therefore apply to Cyberspace.

Matter, according to The American Heritage Dictionary can be “something that occupies space and can be perceived by one or more senses” (“matter”).  This is probably the definition Barlow is using in his argument.  He believes that the Internet is completely void of matter because it is all thought.  However, for something to be matter does not necessarily mean that it must be able to be affected by gravity or other natural forces: matter is also defined as “the actual substance of thought or expression as distinguished from the manner in which it is stated or conveyed” (“matter”).  Thoughts, ideas, and information on the Internet are matter in a sense because they exist and a person can view, read, and/or hear them.  Moreover, someone took the time and energy to create everything that is on the Internet.  People do not create something that is nothing.  The information, essays, pictures, sounds, video, etc. on the Internet are the result of human labor.  The creators deserve credit for their intellectual property and law should protect this type of property.  Asserting that Internet material is not matter just because information can flow rapidly and cheaply on the Internet does not make it any easier to create in the first place or any less valuable.

Feasibility of Independence

Considering the feasibility of an independent Internet nation, Barlow’s ideas are quite optimistic about the potential of the Internet and its ability to rule itself.  However, others are equally optimistic.  Donald Heath, President and CEO of the Internet Society, wrote that it is “indeed, feasible . . ..  There are those who would have the Internet under some centralized governance.  They cannot find a way to do so.  One might consider the question, ‘Can there ever be anything but an 'independent' Internet?'” (Heath).  Similarly, Stanton McCandlish of the EFF replied “I think that in one sense it's flatly inevitable, but I also think that as long as anything that looks like the current nation-state exists, it will attempt (and fail) to assert control over the net, and harm a lot of people in the process” (McCandlish).

McCandlish mentions that current nation-states will fail in attempts to control the Internet.  This seems quite optimistic if not a little naïve because several countries that have Internet connections, such as Singapore, China, and Germany, have passed laws restricting the Internet or, as is the case with the United States, are in the process of passing such laws:

Singapore requires its few Internet service providers to place strict controls on the content they admit into the country.  Would-be Internet users in China must register with the government.  German prosecutors challenge sites that carry hate speech.  And in the United States, a new law would regulate computer networks for indecency, if it survives a Supreme Court challenge.  (Mendels)

Countries with large numbers of Internet users that pass laws restricting the Internet are casting a shadow on the sunny optimism of the most enthusiastic Netizens.  A few countries with regulations would not significantly harm the Internet because violators could post the banned information in countries that do not have such legislation.  However, the trend of countries legislating restrictions does not seem to be faltering because “a report issued in May by Human Rights Watch, a New York City-based group that monitors human rights around the world, found that at least 20 countries had already enacted restrictions on Internet use” (Mendels).  As a result, the Internet’s autonomy is decreasing as the number of restrictions increase.

While the Netizens may be fighting for Internet independence and believing one day it will be independent of government control, increasing regulations across the world makes this prospect somewhat grim for the immediate future.  Barry Steinhardt, a founder of the GILC, “a new group that advocates for Internet freedom around the world, voiced a second concern: Because the Internet is a worldwide system, the rules of one government restrict not just its own citizens but Internet users everywhere, thereby undermining the freedom of the entire network” (Mendels).  If he believes one country passing restrictive legislation hurts the freedom and autonomy of the Internet, then the twenty countries, which now have their own set of restrictions, must collectively limit Internet freedom to a large degree.  Noting this and the fact that the amount of restrictive legislation is rising not falling, an independent Internet does not appear to be immediately feasible.


Barlow notes in his declaration of independence that the Internet is a nation that should be autonomous.  His basic reasons are that the Internet is naturally independent and capable of solving its own problems, real world governments do not have a right or ability to regulate the Internet, and current laws based on matter do not apply to the virtual world.  By declaring the Internet to be an autonomous nation, Barlow’s document is essentially a symbol for the free speech and the anti-government regulation movements.


Should the Internet be Independent?

Although the Internet has some characteristics of a nation in development, such as a large number of people in a common environment who communicate and interact, the Internet, as a whole, it appears highly unlikely that the Internet will be able to develop into an independent and autonomous nation.  To be independent and autonomous, the developing Internet nation would need to be able to exist on its own without real world land and determine its own fate without real world Intervention.  However, the Internet cannot exist without the physical world and real world governments are passing more legislation on Internet regulation.  The fact is that the Internet is rooted in and dependent on the real world, as is explained below.

First, the Internet cannot be truly independent because it needs real-world governments and physical nations to support its existence.  Its lines, nodes, computers, and even participants exist in the real world within the boarders of physical countries.  As a result, without the real world, the Internet would cease to exist.  While the Internet’s hardware must be on physical ground for Cyberspace to exist, people’s physical bodies must also be in the physical world, even while they are in Cyberspace.  Although a character in the movie The Lawnmower Man existed completely in Cyberspace, real people cannot currently shed their bodies and become pure energy to enter and exist in Cyberspace.  Until Cyberspace can exist without requiring supportive hardware in real world countries and until humans can exist completely in Cyberspace, the Internet will remain dependent on the physical world for its existence.

Not only is the real world’s physical structure necessary for the virtual world’s existence, but the real world’s governments are also necessary for Cyberspace to prosper.  The US government not only created the Internet, but its agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the US Department of Energy, own and maintain some of the major high-speed backbones that allow the Internet to exist and function.  The Internet’s dependence on the real world governments providing some of its infrastructure has received increased attention recently.  As the Internet’s size rapidly increases, so does the discussion concerning the Internet crashing from too many people doing too much with not enough bandwidth.  To prevent this crash, the Internet needs faster extensions of the existing backbones.  The problem is that because no one owns the Internet, no one will be willing to pay for these needed backbones.  Private entities are reluctant to make such large investments because upgrading the Internet to improve service for their customers will benefit their competitors.  Moreover, there is no assurance of gaining a net profit from this investment.  Thus, the responsibility will most likely fall on the US government to pay the cost.  Without real world efforts to improve the Internet’s infrastructure continually, the Internet’s growth could slow from bottlenecks or even stop from a major hardware crash.

Real world governments that maintain peace and society and help fund research projects are also needed for the Internet’s existence.  If the real world’s political structures collapsed with anarchy replacing civil society, then the Internet’s virtual world would also collapse.  The existence of something as complex and widespread as the Internet depends on a stable real world.  Moreover, a world without government would have no publicly funded research.  No more publicly funded research might seem insignificant at first, but is important to note that the US Department of Defense funded the Internet’s origin, ARPANET.  If the US government did not fund the project, ARPA would never have created the Internet.

The Internet needs the real world because although many real world governments may put restrictions on Internet, most governments are not against the existence of the Internet.  Many governments, such as the United States, promote the Internet as an excellent technology for communication and education.  For example, US President Bill Clinton often speaks about the benefits of the rapidly advancing communication technologies, vowing to have all schools in the United States connected to the Internet by the year 2000.  Although government restrictions on the Internet may somewhat hinder free speech, governments, in general, are helping the Internet grow and prosper.  It is hard to justify severing ties with the entities that provide needed help with infrastructure.  It is true that the Internet could grow without governments connecting schools, but without governments, many more people would be considered “have-nots” and be excluded from the communication and educational benefits of the Internet.  As a result, the Internet population would most likely continue to grow without government promotion and funding, but not as fast as it does with government assistance.

Because Cyberspace is rooted in the real world, it does not appear feasible for the Internet to be completely independent of current governments and the real world.  Barlow may claim that the Internet is naturally independent and has a right to its autonomy, but the fact is that the Internet is currently an international medium that is dependent on the real world.  The impact of the Internet’s dependency on the real world and the control the real world has on Cyberspace is discussed in the next section.

The Real World’s Impact on the Internet

If the Internet is doomed real world dependency, what are the impacts?  The main impact is that as the quantity and breadth of government regulations on the Internet increase, the ability of the Internet to develop on its own as a naturally evolving social entity will decrease.  Instead of a free-flowing evolution, the Internet will be artificially formed and molded according to the limits of the regulating legislation and the mercy of the real world governments.  Allowing governments to shape this medium has serious effects that should not be understated because a dependent Internet means that real world governments around the world determine what is legal and illegal to post and view on the Internet.  As mentioned before, over 20 countries have passed regulations on the Internet and the United States is in the process of reviewing the Communications Decency Act which would make obscene and indecent material on the Internet illegal.  Current legislation shows that it is not the virtual world participants determining the Internet’s fate, but is the real world’s legislators determining the course of the Internet.  Real world legislators taking control of the Internet is frightening because many legislators are unfamiliar with the Internet technologies and culture.  Many US legislators have not personally used email and many have never been on the Internet.  The legislators, who have not used the Internet, must base their votes on second-hand information.  The media’s horror stories of the Internet being a cesspool of pornography paint a grim picture of the Internet.  To intelligently support or refute these stories and then make an informed vote, a legislator should personally understand on a basic level how the Internet works technically and socially.  Otherwise, legislators could pass laws that are unenforceble, ineffective, or counterproductive by severely reducing the benefits of Internet.

Governments banning certain types of information that is considered obscene or indecent does not mean that this information will automatically cease to exist on the Internet: all types of information, legal and illegal, will most likely continue exist on the Internet because computer and Internet technology is amazingly flexible and the users are extremely creative.  If there is a barrier, then someone can find the way around it.  For example, if necessary, a person could secretly store information on a computer acting as a server, allowing access only to those who know the specific URL.  Even if software that blocks banned data becomes available and government mandated, computer hackers could still find a way around it by cracking the program or developing another program that bypasses the blocking software.  Information will continue to be posted because of the differing strictness of censorship laws around the world, the difficulty of enforcing these laws, and ability of computer hackers to find ways around real world laws and technology barricades.

Although Netizens can circumvent most regulations, these laws still have implications.  A dependent Internet with governments increasing legislation and decreasing freedom will not affect all groups in the same way.  First, those new users who begin using the Internet only after widespread the enactment of legislation will not have as clear an idea of what they are missing as those have been on the Internet since its creation.  New users will most likely accept the current state of the Internet as it is because they have never known a different Internet.  Accepting the regulated Internet as they find it will hurt the Netizen movement to free the Internet of government control.  New users will not be as willing as the old Netizens to spend time pushing for complete free speech and expression on the Internet because they have not experienced it and because people are usually more comfortable with keeping the status quo than spending time trying to drastically change the current system.  Current Netizens are the ones who feel the impact the hardest because they know what the Internet was like before countries began legislating on the Internet, and the amount of Internet regulating legislation is increasing rapidly.  As mentioned before, the US is still debating the CDA which would make all material that is considered indecent and obscene by community standards illegal; Germany is censoring racist and pornographic messages on the Internet; France is working on legislation partially in response to the electronic posting of a banned book; Pakistan is limiting Internet availability; Thailand requires its ISPs to police the sites they host; Australia has had Internet restrictions since 1994.  (Human Rights Watch).  Recent regulation of the Internet is similar to the US Prohibition: because people were accustomed to being able to buy alcohol, there was great difficulty in enforcing the ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol.  Many people continued to produce, sell, and consume alcohol because many thought that the government was wrong to ban it.  The Netizens who are used to complete freedoms of the young Internet are now suffering under increasing regulations.  However, they will many Netizens will likely continue to push for free speech and expression, as Barlow is doing, and even continue using the Internet, although more carefully and secretly, in ways that are now considered illegal.

The impacts the real world will have on the Internet is being decided right now even though the Internet is growing and developing faster than governments can figure out what to do with it.  The US Supreme Court is deciding on the Communications Decency Act while other countries that are increasing their Internet usage are deciding on their own legislation regarding the Internet.  As a result, the current growth and regulation of the Internet are deciding the future of this rapidly expanding and developing medium.

Closing Remarks and General Significance

As the Internet becomes more of a part of daily work and play, it receives more attention.  Governments are clamoring to regulate the Internet by correcting what they view as bad and preventing future problems that they fear to be worse.  At the same time, certain individuals and organizations on the Internet are pushing to free it from what they perceive to be government oppression by trying to create and promote an autonomous Internet nation.  The success or failure of this movement and the corresponding future of the Internet are important because the Internet is a medium where there is significant freedom of thought and expression and the free flow of information.  Moreover, increasing regulations on Internet information sacrifice part of the greatness and uniqueness of the libertarian and anarchic Internet along with the valuable banned information and opinions.  If the free speech and independence movements are not successful, freedom of expression on the Internet could be severely harmed, resulting in a loss of the individual and societal benefits that are part of this freedom.  Analyzing the Internet as a nation and the forces pushing the Internet slowly towards nationhood are important because it shows how and why many Netizens despise the idea of government intervention and why they want to prevent government control and censorship.  Although not all Internet users are involved in this free speech and nation-building movement, it affects all users because the Internet and the information on it are playing an increasing role in human society.  The freedom or lack of freedom of Internet users and the development of an Internet nation will determine what sort of role computer-mediated communications will play in everyone’s life.  Richard Stands, a virtual candidate for the virtual N.E.T. party in the 1996 US presidential election, provides good advice promoting protection of online freedoms through action:  “Fight on for all the things we hold dear.  And remember always, that if you truly love the Net, and if you want to protect it so that it might grow and flourish, you've got to be more than a Web surfer... you've got to be a WAVE MAKER!!!” (“N.E.T. Party '96”).  Barlow is one of those who is trying to be a wave maker by proclaiming the Internet to be a nation and declaring its independence from the real world.