It’s A Jungle Out There

Miranda Ramnares

The internet is like a jungle. It is dense and dangerous, beautiful and wild,
richly populated by predators and prey alike. It is a total wilderness,
unregulated and unsecured. The lack of control over the internet has led to its
growth as the largest platform for free, unlimited and unrestricted content.
Because of the internet, music, movies and programs can be created, copied,
sold and sent around the world. Yet, this has not come without a price. Internet
pirates have made use of the internet to steal others’ creative work. Due to
the increasing popularity of stolen files on the internet, governments have
begun to draft laws in an attempt to control the internet by ending piracy and
protecting creative work. However, not everyone is pleased.

Since October, when the US government drafted the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA,
internet users across the globe have risen up in protest.  The bill was introduced with measures to prosecute internet pirates as well as any websites that support or host the content. The bill would have enabled corporations to reclaim stolen files and given the
government more power in investigating internet piracy.

While the bill was well intentioned, the wording was so broad that the bill would
have given corporations the ability to close down entire websites that had any
of their content. Blog sites like Tumblr or WordPress for instance, could be
completely shut down if any user posted pirated content.

Within a few months, websites began blacking themselves out in protest, petitions
sprung up across the web, and internet users across the globe were enraged. On
January 18th, Wikipedia posted a message on its front page declaring
its support for the SOPA protesters. That same day, 700 smaller websites also
blacked out, and Mozilla’s Firefox posted a banner across their homepage also
declaring support for the protest.

The protests were largely led by the “hacktivist” group, Anonymous. Anonymous is a
collective mass of people of all ages worldwide who together use the internet
to protest. They have been described as similar to a flock of crows, all flying
in nearly the same direction but with complete independence of one another,
able to break off and change course as they please. For this reason, the face
of Anonymous is a blurry one. Sometimes they appear heroic, such as when they
exposed secret neo-Nazi organizations in Canada a few weeks ago. Yet, they can
also be almost villainous, as shown when they hacked into an Epilepsy Hotline
website and replaced the front page with seizure inducing images.

Anonymous believes in a totally free internet, without laws restricting file sharing and
pirating, so that the internet can exist as a place for unlimited expression. Without
restrictions on file sharing, artist would be able to make use of any kind of
work posted on the internet. While this is an ambitious and admirable idea, the
means they use to achieve are somewhat less so.

They have gained notoriety for maliciously ahacking into
websites, often posting offensive and disgusting images. Due to the size of the
group, and lack of leadership, every single one of its members can be seen as a
representative. This has led to a negative image in popular media, with some
viewing them as bullies or terrorists.

With the battle for freedom of information on the internet being waged between
Anonymous and the government, it’s difficult to choose a side. Neither are
heroes nor villains, and either side cannot present a convincing argument in
their support.

Even though freedom of information is a relatively new idea, its existence on the internet is on its way to becoming one of the most important debates of our generation. It is a virtual tug of war between creative property rights and total unrestricted expression. In the coming months, a balance must be struck between them, if the internet is to continue to thrive.