It Was Twenty(-odd) Years Ago Today When The Internet Looked Much Different Than It Does Now

from the time-machine dept

Last week, Mike and I were at a conference celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Reno v. ACLU, a seminal case that declared that the First Amendment applied online. What makes the case so worth a conference celebrating it is not just what it meant as a legal matter – it's a significant step forward in First Amendment jurisprudence – but also what it meant as a practical matter. This decision was hugely important in allowing the internet to develop into what it is today, and that evolution may not be something we adequately appreciate. It's easy to forget and pretend the internet we know today was always a ubiquitous presence, but that wasn't always so, and it wasn't so back then. Indeed, it's quite striking just how much has changed in just two decades.

So this seemed like a good occasion to look back at how things were then. The attached paper is a re-publication of the honors thesis I wrote in 1996 as a senior at the University of California at Berkeley. As the title indicates, it was designed to study internet adoption among my fellow students, who had not yet all started using it. Even those who had were largely dependent on the University to provide them their access, and that access had only recently started to be offered on any significant a campus-wide basis. And not all of the people who had started using the internet found it to be something their lives necessarily needed. (For instance, when asked if they would continue to use the internet after the University no longer provided their access, a notable number of people said no.) This study tried to look at what influences or reasons the decision to use, or not use, the internet pivoted upon.

I do of course have some pause, now a few decades further into my career, calling attention to work I did as a stressed-out undergraduate. However, I still decided to dig it up and publish it, because there aren't many snapshots documenting internet usage from that time. And that's a problem, because it's important to understand how the internet transitioned from being an esoteric technology used only by some into a much more pervasive one seemingly used by nearly everyone, and why that change happened, especially if we want to understand how it will continue to change, and how we might want to shape that change. All too often it seems tech policy is made with too little serious consideration of the sociology behind how people use the internet – the human decisions internet usage represents – and it really needs to be part of the conversation more. Hopefully studies like this one can help with that.

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Filed Under: cda 230, first amendment, free speech, history, intermediary liability, reno v. aclu


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  1. icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 6:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nice story

    "Why would the distribution company be held responsible rather than the creator of the magazine?"

    It's not either / or. In the real world, the distributor would face criminal responsibility for their part of the process, and the publisher their part.

    "Plus, one of the very simple concepts you remain wilfully ignorant of is very simple - a physical publication has an editorial staff who choose which content goes into the paper, leading to a final product which is approved by said staff. An online platform does not. "

    Why not? Seems like an abdication of responsibility.

    "Do you understand yet, or do I need to keep to single syllable words for your thick skull to accept the knowledge?"

    I understand you perfectly. You keep saying over and over again "because the internet". Yet you still have failed to explain why the internet distributor should have a different level of liability from one in the real world.

    "Ads for the rest of your bullshit, you're actually whining that sites like Wordpress won't just hand over your personal information to anyone who asks for it?"

    Not whining. I am pointing out the legal process. You said it's bullshit that you would go broke just trying to sue someone, and I showed you how it happens. You asked, I answered. No whining.

    "Explain to me the magic that gets it to anyone ho walks off the street into a brick & mortar premises. I doesn't, you need to have to have law enforcement and a warrant at the very least in most circumstances. Depending on where you live, that might even still be breaking data protection rules until certain procedures are followed.."

    You are correct, but you magically skipped a whole bunch of things. The business will generally know their customer. They will at least see their face, they might have a video recording. if the person paid with a credit card, that record exists. if they asked for a delivery, and so on.

    If someone came to you with a business proposal to distribute their magazine in your store, you would ask who they are, you would sign a contract or make an agreement, you would know how you are dealing with. In the case of an illegal act, a warrant could be issued and that information collected. If you had none (ie, cash deal) it would look very bad for you, as it would suggest you knew that you were getting into something illegal.

    "You, again, are making shit up and basing your comments on a fever dream."

    I keep answering your questions, and you keep ignoring the answers. I keep asking your the simple question why you think online distributors should have MORE protections than real world ones, and you keep not answering.

    It's always the same with you. You can't accept that you are wrong.

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