Virtual Inequality: Challenges for the Net's Lost Founding Value

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Internet, Netizens, Freedom, Liberty, Cyberspace, Internet Culture, Equality, Digital Divide, ICT Access, Connectivity, Security


Freedom, liberty, and autonomy are the ideals mainly associated with Internet's first generation of thinkers, writers and "netizens," those who helped forge the Internet and the early technological and intellectual foundations of the idea of “cyberspace.” These ideas were, says Lawrence Lessig, the “founding values of the Net” and inspired an entire generation of scholarship focused on preserving the free and open nature of the Internet’s culture and architecture. But what has anyone to say about equality? Few, if any, Internet scholars today focus on equality as a similar value to be promoted or achieved. Returning to some of the early influential Internet texts, this Article argues that equality was also heralded as another important value that the Internet could promote, but has since been largely neglected, including the ways that the Internet can actually promote or entrench inequality. It then offers reasons for this neglect -- such as the predominance and influence of libertarian oriented "cyber-utopian" works -- and provides an account of the different challenges for equality and distributive justice in relation to the Internet, including inequalities of ICT access, connectivity, security, and experience in online communities. It concludes with a discussion of measures to help address these digital divides.


© 2012 by Northwestern University School of Law, Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property