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

32 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2012 Last revised: 27 Aug 2014

See all articles by Jon Penney

Jon Penney

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute; Citizen Lab, University of Toronto; Princeton University - Center for Information Technology Policy; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Dalhousie University - Schulich School of Law

Date Written: February 28, 2011

Abstract

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.

Keywords: Internet, law, equality, property, virtual equality, virtual law, virtual worlds, virtual economies, digital divide

JEL Classification: H11, K1, K3, L51, O17

Suggested Citation

Penney, Jonathon, Virtual Inequality: Challenges for the Net's Lost Founding Value (February 28, 2011). Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property, Vol. 10, No. 3, January 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2028987

Jonathon Penney (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Citizen Lab, University of Toronto ( email )

Munk School of Global Affairs
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3K7
Canada

Princeton University - Center for Information Technology Policy ( email )

C231A E-Quad
Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA Nova Scotia 02138
Canada

Dalhousie University - Schulich School of Law ( email )

6061 University Avenue
PO Box 15000
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2
Canada

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