In 1996, John Perry Barlow wrote A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace where he outlined a cyberutopia where they were “creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth” (Barlow 1996). But what he did not see coming, were trolls.
The speech was written for an era where computers and technology were developing rapidly as well as the freedom of the Internet vastly expanding. Previously, new technologies – such as the telegraph – were significantly controlled by state institutions. One can draw interesting parallels between a new technology and the rise in totalitarian states due to the technologies demanding centralised control. However, cyberspace did revolutionise this paradigm. It became a place where individuals could transcend the barriers that were set by state institutions. It was a place of freedom, community and shared experiences.
But this whimsical tale of an entire population coming together to share harmonious stories and find a place of equality was somewhat naïve. The freedom that cyberspace provides have never been seen before enabling trolling. Trolling is where you systematically follow someone and pretty much ‘hate’ on their work or attack the individual for reasons that are seemingly pathetic. Whilst this flaw could have not been avoided nor foreseen in the early stages of the utopian view of what the internet would enable, it is something that dramatically contradicts why cyberspace was created.
Barlow wrote, “We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity” (Barlow 1996). To examine this comment from the utopian view of social networking, one can understand that due to the vast size of the Internet, that one can freely and easily express his or her opinions wherever and whenever he or she feels. A broad ocean of communication, understanding, tolerance and education. Conversely, examine this same comment with a dystopian view of cyberspace. Trolls are able to do the exact same thing – expressing opinions and so forth – yet never get caught.
So, if the cyber space truly is how Barlow described as being a place without prejudice against “race, economic power, military force” then why are we still experiencing it? Why are trolls still able to do what they do and get away with it? Maybe, I’m just being negative or maybe we have a serious issue on our hands that needs to be resolved before we move further.
Gorenflo, N 2013, ‘Better than Cyber Utopia: How the Internet Helped Us Create the Sharing Economy’, Yes Magazine, 3 June, viewed 16 August, http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/better-than-cyber-utopia-how-the-internet-helped-us-create-sharing-economy