Anti-Hierarchical Tendencies of Electronic Networks

The unrestricted flow of information on the Internet inevitably raises issues of regulation by the state. But free speech is protected under the 1st Amendment, and although attempts at censorship (such as the implementation of the controversial 'v-chip') have raised outcries from various groups, the fact remains that much of the discourse on the Internet proceeds unchecked.

While mass media like print, radio and television have shown their abilities to support and subvert traditional institutions of power, electronic networks offer a most comprehensive means for upsetting societal hierarchies. No longer does the public have to rely on media or government for information. Almost any group or individual with a computer, modem and a small amount of money can express their viewpoints to the world. Granted, the quality of data on the Internet is often circumspect, but information provided by institutions also carries at least some sort of bias.

Moreover, the participation in self-governance which electronic technologies fosters can lessen the public's reliance on legislators and bureaucrats in democracy. As people become better informed and are given the capability to organize outside of institutions on a grassroots level, the need for strong central control by the state dwindles.

In addition, the constant manipulation and reformulation of texts in the electronic medium calls into question the notion of 'authority'. Who owns or is responsible for a cultural product- the original author or a reader who has, for example, altered a text with her own comments and then sent out the new text to ten of her friends? Because "scholarly authority is challenged and reformed by the location and dissemination of texts on the Internet," Mark Poster notes, "it is possible that political authorities will be subject to a similar fate (Cyberdemocracy 8)." If, as postmodernists claim, identities are fluid, what new political relationships are possible? On the other hand, in a decentered world, what type of restrictions might be placed on cyberdiscourse to maintain the stability of the state apparatus?