[Air-l] query about commercial regulation of internet chat

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Mon Aug 1 20:32:57 PDT 2005

Thank you Eric, Chris and Carolyn,

Sorry about the delay in acknowledgment, i had a rather sharp deadline.  

But what has suprised me in a way, is the shortage of descriptive or sociological articles on this issue.  Most of the accounts of what i guess we could call 'commerical moderation' such as AOL's patrolling and 'censoring' of its message boards and chatrooms seems largely to be covered by disconnected personal anecdote, as kept in the archives of groups like alt.aol-sucks (which may or may not be reliable) or in a few newspaper stories (most of which i've found only by references in that newsgroup).  Partly this difficulty *might* arise because of the legal agreements binding AOL Moderators which restrict their open discussion of these issues, and which make discussion from all sides difficult.  

On the whole, with the exception of legal writers arguing about whether such control is good or bad, academics seem to have steered away from the issues involved of how these things actually work.  I'm not for example able, at this moment, to do more than posit that things are less controlled than they used to be (most of the complaints seem to arise between 1994 and 1997), however this may not be the case. 

In a way, this is where i have slight doubts about Eric's argument, if i may be excused.  As i understand Eric is arguing, from a legal point of view, that corporate monitoring and control of discussion sites, or of virtual worlds, really has little effect on free speech issues in general, and that there is no need to panic.  

There is, however, a plausible argument that more and more public space is being sold off to corporations, that media ownership is shrinking and getting less open to different views (ask anyone who has non-mainstream pro-cororate views if such views are accurately represented in the media and the chances are they will say no), that the way broadband is being regulated removes 'open access', or that even the actions of government are becoming protected by commerical inconfidence deals, or commercial secrecy.  

Now, if it is the case that more and more places in which one can discuss issues are coming under corporate control, then the question arises as to whether access to significant public areas, in which access to a large public is possible, is potentialy being lessened.  And if the answer to that question is 'yes', then allowing continuing, unrestricted and increasing corporate regulation of the space they provide for discussion, or allowing corporations to regulate discussion about that space, becomes more and more problematic.  

ie. if there are plenty of alternatives to corporately provided discussion sites then complete corporate control of those sites is not such a bad thing, but the less such alternatives exist or are able to allow access to any wider 'public sphere', then less democratic and open society will become. 


----- Original Message -----
From: Eric Goldman <egoldman at gmail.com>
Date: Tuesday, July 26, 2005 10:47 pm
Subject: Fwd: [Air-l] query about commercial regulation of internet chat

> A lot has been written on this topic, depending on how broadly you define 
> your inquiry. Consider, for example, the recent short paper I wrote 
> http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=755884 
> Regards. Eric. 
> ---------- Forwarded message ---------- 
> From: Jonathan Marshall <Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au> 
> Date: Jul 26, 2005 12:56 AM 
> Subject: [Air-l] query about commercial regulation of internet chat 
> To: air-l at listserv.aoir.org 
> I wonder if anyone knows of any academic writings on the commercial 
> regulation of chatrooms, mailing lists etc. 
> I remember and can find heaps of annecdotal evidence of AOL regulating the 
> use of posts with 'vulgar' terms in them. This has supposedly lead to the 
> discontinuance of serious discussion on homosexuality, breast 
> cancer and so 
> on. However i've not yet found any academic discussion of this, or articles 
> which put this in historical context. For example, does AOL still behave in 
> this kind of way, if it ever did. 
> I also remember that Prodigy was accused of obliterating 
> complaints against itself. 
> In one book i saw mention that one supplier simply replaced any word it did 
> not like with a series of #s, but the source does not mention either where 
> or when this occured. 
> I've also heard of companies attempting regulate comment about them in 
> internet groups by threatening legal action over the use of trade  marks, but 
> cannot remember any details, and again don't know anything about the 
> historical trajectory. 
> thanks for any help with this. 
> jon 

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