This Register article, Don’t let etopians define net literacy, is based upon a larger paper, Influence and Control: Getting Citizens to Behave in a Digital Society, part of Manifesto for a Digital Britain from the Institute for Public Policy Research. While the Register article is something of a muddle, the paper has a clearer, albeit surprisingly disturbing, message:
The current state of the Internet is often characterised as being in the midst of a battle between anarchy and control: a fight between proprietary models and the open source movement, consumers and producers, rights-holders and the “copyleft,” and moral guardians against misbehaving users. The outcomes of these battles do have important public policy ramifications, especially for the intellectual property regime and the mere conduit status of ISPs, which should be taken seriously. It is important the Government consider in the long term the choices we are currently facing and that, should either side win outright, the public is likely to be the loser.
For the majority of the public, the battles go unnoticed, and bear no direct relevance to the every day workings of their lives and we should not lose sight of this. In so far as it is the role of regulation to protect the public, we need to find a policy approach which navigates a way through anarchy and control, does not compromise the functionality of the Internet for all but only provides choice where choice is needed. [...]
[...] If media literacy is about empowering consumers and enabling them to go online with confidence then providing so much choice will lead to failure. Instead there is a strong argument for limiting choice, in Internet terms the number of available sites to visit, with a focus on fitting the services to the citizen. This is not to recommend the World Wide Web as a whole be filtered to provide only government-endorsed services citizens feel safe with, but instead to recommend the provision of a ‘walled garden’ service aimed at adults, and with a non-commercial bias that can provide access to functional services –– e-banking, local government information, news etc. –– limit choice and empower citizens to use the Internet in a way which works for them, rather than being forced to consider the ‘battles’ that may rage in the wider Internet world. [...]
[...] A ‘‘limited’’ World Wide Web in the sense suggested above, combined with an eBay-like rating system, would provide a guarantee of safety and validity of content accessible within the walled garden. It would thus reduce chances of individuals accessing harmful or undesirable content accidentally and could limit calls to the government to further censor the Internet using ‘cleanfeed’’ technology.
Of course this system may not meet all of the future challenges the entirety of the Internet poses. However it limits the panic that suddenly people will have no idea what and when to watch programmes with the absence of a watershed. Even in the absence of such a longstanding regulatory tool it is likely that people will continue to stick with known brands, such as the BBC, Channel 4 etc. and watch output created by them. They may do it at times more convenient to them, and powerful brands may not remain the BBC and Channel 4 for long, but nonetheless consumers will not be thrown into a frightening wilderness without assistance.
“Panic?” And here I thought that the perception was that the US policy paradigm was too paternalistic. This is spooky stuff, arguing that we need to regulate the internet for the good of the mass consumer.
And, although she asserts that the copyright/control fight is somehow beside the point for the majority of online users, I would argue that a large number of the agents responsible for the “panic” among online users are acting specifically to advance their position in the fight between copyright and information anarchy.