Free Speech Online Blueribbon Campaign

The World Wide Web: Politics, Capitalism, and Censorship in Cyberspace

An Essay By Trevor Stone

November 1995, Sophomore Year, New Vista High School

It's a sparkling idea, the latest of the information superhighway, a new and easier way to get information. As the World Wide Web, the latest trend in cyberspace, grows at a phenomenal speed, it has become a high tech money making game that has greatly contributed to the downgrading of the Internet at large. The web is a wonderful tool for any information hunter. It can access all of the previous information systems--gopher, FTP, telnet, archie, etc., and its own system of information gathering, HTML. HTML allows for textual information and graphics, but its most impressive strength lies in its linking ability. An HTML document can have a highlighted word or phrase that, when clicked on, takes the viewer to a related page. Due to HTML's ease of programming, almost anybody can have their own page, creating the potential for a truly free, easy, and virtually anarchical information network.

This opportunity, however, has not fully met its potential. Many web sites take the view that just because they can do something, they should. This has caused many sites to become high-tech toys rather than informational tools. They use large, unnecessary image maps that take eons to load instead of a simple list of links which loads in seconds. They take the view that higher tech is better quality, thus convincing web surfers to buy more expensive equipment. But sale of high quality equipment is not the major capitalist interest on the web. More and more advertisements creep onto the pages and services that once were truly free. Worse yet, entire web sites are devoted to advertisement. It is ten times easier to find out what movies will be playing and exactly why we should see them than it is to find useful information on say, biochemistry. But the biggest threat to the net posed by the web is not over-commercialization, but the dumbing down of the users of the Internet.

The web's ease of use means that virtually anybody can use it to access information, but it also has a down side. Since it is so easy to use, people are signing up for on-line service providers in droves. Providers like America On-Line, CompuServe, and a host of others are providing easy-to-use Internet interfaces, eliminating the need for people to learn about the net. People can just "get on and go," creating a potentially a useful way to inform the masses. This, however, combined with the fact that the web is one of the easiest tools to use since, say, the fork, results in the fact that anyone, even six year old kids, can view "inappropriate material," i.e. pornography. This has caused "Big Brother" to attempt to censor the Internet. If some members of the 104th Congress have their way, the web and the rest of cyberspace will go the way of Socialism--all but eliminated.

In short, the United States has done to cyberspace what they have done to most of the rest of society. They took a wonderful idea and made it a high-tech, money-making political tool: useful for many, but turning huge profits for the rich.


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