Midterm Exam: Informatics

2. In article,  Rape in Cyberspace, Who was Dr. Bungle in the real world?  What are the implications of this discovery in online governance?

Dr. Bungle was actually a collection of students at New York University in a dormitory.

The problem with online governance is that there is no way to clearly hold someone in the real world accountable for actions in the virtual space. It is my opinion that it would amount to very weak legal case to even begin to prove that any particular person is responsible for an internet action. The only way to truly hold someone accountable would be to catch them physically in the act of typing or otherwise executing the commands.

Some people might argue that you could utilize IP addresses and enlist the cooperation of the Internet service providers and that would “prove” that a particular person in a particular location did commit such infractions on the human condition. However, the internet is both capable of anonymity and despite the capabilities of the IP address as a “digital fingerprint” it simply does not prove that anyone was at their computer chair committing an action. The nature of a wireless router despite security precautions allows a network to be shared, sometimes without the knowledge of the bill payer. It’s also possible that viruses sometimes known as bot-nets or other computer controlling devices that may send your entire contact list an email or do any number of other nasty deeds as if you had done them.

That’s governance of the online realm by external forces such as utilizing the law or police enforcement.

What about people governing themselves collectively within a realm, a game, or an online community? I imagine that this would work about as well as it does in the real world. We as humans and all our infinite wisdom prepacked with prejudice or preconceptions built into the way we view the world have made it nearly impossible to agree on anything. Is it any shock that LambdaMOO community failed to reach a consensus? No. Do I believe any other “large” group of diverse individuals would have done any better? No. It was this same problem that in some ways invented a need for democracy and representational government. You’ll always have the Royalists(or as in the article “Wizardists”), people who would rather have choices removed from their daily lives and that’s fine. However, the problem with living in governance by a Wizard or any other force capable of dictating policy is that eventually people get tired of being told how to exist. In LambdaMOO the beauty of the realm was that you could choose to be whomever, or whatever as was the case with the author of the article, that you chose to be. At some point, dictating policy about who, what, or actions comes down to defeating the purpose of the system. Online self-governance will likely only work in a small homogenous group with strong group ties. It is necessary to provide a means to change policy or at least argue policy with the developers of a realm.

World of Warcraft, for example, is an online realm that is in constant flux in both policy, balance, and governance. It has become apparent over the years of following the game that the monthly subscribers have a great deal of power when it comes to effecting change even if it doesn’t feel like it. Each new patch comes out and with each new patch a new group of groaning. If these groaning groups are loud enough, responded to enough, and followed by a large enough following. The lords of Blizzard change the item. They have done so, so much, and so often that World of Warcraft is a shadow of the game it came out as. The game has become ridiculously easy to play and items increasingly easier to get. World of Warcraft has become the Velveeta of the MMOrpg community a gooey melt of a once great game and an easy to play preschool version of an RPG. This unlike LambdaMOO is a case in which the community has far too much power and the developers/Wizards have very little control.

What’s the answer and what have we learned about online governance? I don’t believe we have a solid answer. I believe that despite our wish to impose rules and limitations on a global community, we simply do not have the knowledge, ability, or power to govern as diverse a world as the Internet is. The Internet transcends continents, countries, ideals, and beliefs. It is neutral, so why shouldn’t we be? We have the ability to be open to greater learning, be open, accept that with the good comes the bad. We have always had the option to close the window, log off, and walk away. Utilize it freely.