Technopanics, Threat Inflation, and the Danger of an Information Technology Precautionary Principle

Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2013

George Mason University Mercatus Center Working Paper No. 12-09

78 Pages Posted: 29 Feb 2012 Last revised: 18 Feb 2013

Adam D. Thierer

George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: February 28, 2012

Abstract

Fear is an extremely powerful motivating force, especially in public policy debates where it is used in an attempt to sway opinion or bolster the case for action. Often, this action involves preemptive regulation based on false assumptions and evidence. Such fears are frequently on display in the Internet policy arena and take the form of full-blown 'technopanic,' or real-world manifestations of this illogical fear. While it’s true that cyberspace has its fair share of troublemakers, there is no evidence that the Internet is leading to greater problems for society.

This paper considers the structure of fear appeal arguments in technology policy debates and then outlines how those arguments can be deconstructed and refuted in both cultural and economic contexts. Several examples of fear appeal arguments are offered with a particular focus on online child safety, digital privacy, and cybersecurity. The  various  factors  contributing  to  'fear  cycles'  in these policy areas are documented.

To the extent that these concerns are valid, they are best addressed by ongoing societal learning, experimentation, resiliency, and coping strategies rather than by regulation. If steps must be taken to address these concerns, education and empowerment-based solutions represent superior approaches to dealing with them compared to a precautionary principle approach, which would limit beneficial learning opportunities and retard technological progress.

Keywords: technopanics, panic, precautionary, principle, privacy, child, safety, online, digital, internet, reguation, third-person effect, media, news, generational, nostalgia, risk, market power, technology, digital, cyberlaw, pessimism

Suggested Citation

Thierer, Adam D., Technopanics, Threat Inflation, and the Danger of an Information Technology Precautionary Principle (February 28, 2012). Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2013; George Mason University Mercatus Center Working Paper No. 12-09. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2012494 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2012494

Adam D. Thierer (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3351 Fairfax Drive
4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201-4433
United States

Paper statistics

Downloads
233
Rank
107,392
Abstract Views
2,858