Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Net Responsibility in Democracies

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Net Responsibility in Democracies

Comment by: Christopher Wolf

PLSC 2009

Published version available here:

Workshop draft abstract

The Internet’s design and raison d’être are complete freedom, but soon enough people began to exploit the Net’s massive potential to enhance partisan interests, some of which are harmful and anti-social. As can be expected, given that the Internet has been a part of our lives for a relatively short time, the discussions concentrate on the social production, technological, architectural, geographical aspects of the Net. The discussions about the costs and harms of the Internet, and how to address them, are – on the other hand – in their infancy. The transnational nature of the World-Wide-Web and its vast content make regulation very difficult, some say virtually impossible.

In this paper I wish to address the ethical, social and legal problems rooted in technology in response to potential risks on the Internet. The Internet is not the problem. The problem arises where it is utilized to undermine our well-being as autonomous beings living in free societies. This study focuses on articulating possible solutions to specific problems and on providing a framework within which these problems can be addressed and resolved. It strives to suggest an approach informed by the experiences of democratic societies with different norms and legal cultures; one that harnesses the capacities of the public and private sectors in reaching viable, practical solutions.

In the focus of my discussion are the neglected concepts of moral responsibility and of social responsibility, adopting them to the Internet realm. I will discuss and explain the concepts and their implications on people and society. I then address the issue of moral and social responsibilities of Net users (agents), focusing, inter alia, on the tragic story of Megan Meier. Next I move on to discuss the responsibilities of ISPs and web-host companies. Should they take effort to monitor their sites for such information or are they relieved of any responsibility? This is arguably the most intriguing and complex issue of Net responsibility. I argue that ISPs and web-hosting companies should aspire to take responsibility for content, and that they should respect and abide by the laws of the countries in which they operate. The dream of a medium that transcends geographical borders and facilitates unlimited and inexpensive access to consumers without any regulatory restrictions is over.  A case in point is LICRA v. Yahoo! Inc. and Yahoo! France (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, 22 May 2000). Next I turn to the issue of readers’ moral and social responsibilities: Responsibility of people who encounter malicious postings on the Internet, some of which might be damaging and harmful. Should they simply read the postings and move on or do something about it? Then I discuss state responsibility and finally reflect on the responsibility of the international community. I argue for international cooperation to address international concerns.: