In many ways the Internet has succeeded in remaking us as inhabitants of a small village. No one is a stranger either in the village or on the Internet; in both settings the savvy citizen knows how to process information. The Internet may be offensive to some, as the title of this book warns, but it benefits far more than it offends the well-informed.
In the days when one’s reach could extend no farther than one’s own village, gossip and experience protected, or at least covered, the terrain. Social norms and some legal rules worked to create an atmosphere, or market of sorts, in which one could operate reasonably well. In a more cosmopolitan world, the Internet helps re-create the world of the village, where one learned to trust here and avoid there. If one needed shoes to be repaired, there was good information about the village shoemakers; if one needs a camere today, there is excellent information on the Internet. In both places, self-promotion and misleading information can be overcome. The key tool in the village was personal experience, or what we might call repeat-play, whole on the Internet it is the fact of numerous, communicative players.
In the absence of personal experience, it is especially difficult to become well-informed about people. In the village and on the Internet one can ask about a shoemaker or a camera, and in both cases a great deal of information will be forthcoming from people who have experiences those services or that item. But information about the shoemaker’s character is somewhat more difficult to obtain because reputations are often deservedly – or undeservedly – made or broken by one or two important events. If one frauds another or heroically rescues someone from a fire, life in the village will be far worse or much better, as this episode comes to be known. If honor is claimed where it is underserved, or honesty is misreported as fraud by a competitor, our hero must hope that the truth will win out because or repeat or multiple play. If one does evil, one must try to recover by doing good, and eventually reputations cam be redeemed. But the tendency of some humans to harass others, and even to inflict emotional harm, casts some doubt on the reliability of reputations. If one tries to escape the past by moving to another village, it is likely that the newcomer will be mistrusted. In the village, every longtime resident knows whom to ask about a third party, but in the cosmopolitan world it is rare to find but one degree of separation between an employer and na applicant, or a landlord and prospective tenant.
‘Googling ‘ a target is therefore the best one can do, though that is more like asking a randomly chosen person for reference. In contrast, a village elder or other known source likely has a personal knowledge of the target and also some reputation of his or her own.
Saul Levmore, Martha C. Nussbaum
(Introduction în The Offensive Internet: Speech, Privacy and Reputation (coord. S. Levmore, M. Nussbaum), Harvard University Press, 2010, la pp.1-2)