The Settling of the (Internets) Wild West
We are slowly seeing the jaws of legislation clamp down on the previously wild reaches of the internet.
In 1890, the Superintendent of the Census had written “up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line…it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports” -Frontier Thesis (Turner). This line marked the not-quite official end of the Wild West, and the halt of the colonization of the United States. While states would continue to be incorporated up to 1959, there would no longer be that same fervor to push westwards.
In many ways, we are slowly seeing that same colonization creep into the Internet now, as this wonderful, maddening mess that is the online system is slowly regulated by bodies that have no idea what to do with it. In many ways, we have a lack of expertise on how to act with the Internet.
The bodies aiming to regulate them so far, the United States Congress and the European Parliament have attempted to do so with a lack of understanding that has often made them seem out of touch with the realities of the Internet. The widely derided Article 11 and 13 bill, the so-called “link tax and meme ban” have passed through the European Parliament, the first act meaning sites have to pay journalists for using their work, but it as yet unclear as to how much of an article needs to be used before they have to pay them, and the controversial Article 13, meaning that the onus is placed on sites to police themselves for copyrightable content, with no method specified on how sites are meant to do this (Reynolds).
These laws lack the specificity needed to police the complex interactions of the internet, and are indicative of the governments lack of understanding of these issues.
This however reflects merely one aspect of a larger attempt to regulate and restrict the Internet, which many platforms are trying to resist. As broken as the copyright-systems on YouTube and other content sharing sites are, they rely on user-generated content to continue, and this law seems to place severe restrictions on what may be allowed to exist on the internet. It is likely though, whatever the fate of this bill in particular, that we will see continuing attempts to encroach on the free-sharing possible on the Internet. It is therefore likely, that, like the American West, we will soon see the final settling of the digital frontier as governments and international regulatory bodies start to take notice of all that goes on within. Our only hope then is to exercise as much of our democratic rights as possible to preserve whatever we can of the spirit of the Internet. As many issues as the Internet has now, a series of governmental regulations that will be outdated upon their inception is no way to improving it
Turner, Frederick J. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” National Humanities Center.
Reynolds, Matt. “What Is Article 13? The EU's Divisive New Copyright Plan Explained.” WIRED, WIRED UK, 5 Oct. 2018,