The Web is a distinct society

It just came to me lately that the Web forms a world of its own, with its own political views. It always strike me how little government presence there is on the Web. In most Western economies, the government account for a large share of the economy (certainly above 20%). On the Web, I would say that official government sites account for less of 2% of all Web sites I visit (anyone has numbers to back this up?).

I pay taxes to Quebec and Canada. I carry a Canadian passport. I have to live by the local laws. Whenever I do anything, I can see the influence of the rule of law. I have to stop my car at every street corner. I see police cars drive by almost weekly. Shops are strictly limited in what they can do. If someone steals from me, I will walk to a police station and fill in some paperwork.

However, my Web persona is very different. My server ( is hosted somewhere in the USA. I rarely think about the local laws. They are pretty much irrelevant. If were to cheat me, the first thing I would do, is to search the Web for similar cases using Google, not call the cops.

The economy on the Web is very different from the economy off-the-grid.

In a brick-and-mortar shops, a great deal of time is spent on having to deal with rules and obligations. If you want to improve your neighborhood, you probably should chat with a local politician. Starting a shop or a factory requires months of work and lots of paperwork.

The Web (or the Internet at large) is very different. If you want to stop SPAM, the last thing you want to do is go to your local politician. There are rules, but the most important ones are not enforced by governments. There are no prisons, but people can setup filters to ignore you. Starting a shop or a web service can only take days. You can also tear down a service or an online shop in seconds.

My point is that the Web is a distinct society, one that is far more libertarian than anything seen in the physical world. It is something of a wild west.

If the libertarians are right, then the Web should see great economic and cultural growth. We always need a frontier were forward-thinking people can express themselves.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

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