Friday, May 22, 2009

"Neutrality" of the speaker -- that's an issue, too

One aspect of the network neutrality debate seems particularly important to me now: While there is a lot of attention as to whether traffic will be treated equally according to its source or origin, an equally important issue in practice is how content posted by speakers is viewed when found randomly by the public.

When a “professional” journalist reports on a particular sensitivity (for example, “gossip” websites, which are though to provoke a lot of problems for school systems) the public generally understands that the report was generated as part of the journalist’s job, for pay. An individual “amateur” who originates posts exactly the same content (presumably without copyright infringement, and presumably material that is true so that it is not libelous or of questionable legality for some other reason) might be viewed in many cases as trying to provoke others into some kind of undesirable activity. Why? Because many people see “self interest” in terms of social structures (and the monetary incentives that go with these structures), and do not grasp the value of speech for its own sake.

Search engines are, in actual practice, and without regulation, neutral as to the content they find (I haven’t find that paid placement makes any real difference in practice) and amateur content often places well because it has more static files and often loads faster. The visitor is likely to judge the credibility of an item by the source, sometimes. Some TLD’s indicate that the item could only have come from a “professional” source. Other features of web addresses do not, however (www2 for example has little significance, as explained here.)

All of this should be borne in mind during the network neutrality debate.

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