Why the “Cyber Commons” could never be conquered #Commons

18 Apr

There is a lot of debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet as a global ‘common ground,’ and whether it has the potential to be destroyed.

Unlike (as Andrew addressed at the start of lecture 6) the ‘traditional’ commons of the 17th, 18th and 19th Century like pasture, piscary, turbary and pannage..the ‘cyber commons’ is a much wider and diverse creative use of space that is essentially ‘unlimited.’ It can be argued that because it is such a wide common ground, it is much more open to abuse that cannot easily be regulated. It’s not just a case of poisoning or throwing some of your pigs off the common land because you’ve got too many and they’re eating all the grass, it’s a case much more subtle that can have personally damaging effects. The cyber commons can unfortunately be place for bullying, child porn, piracy, “trolling,” “astroturfing,” and just cruel amusement. George MonBiot, an environmental activist who has worked as radio producer of BBC wildlife programs, a current affairs producer for World Service, is an author of several books and currently a writer for the Guardian addresses the issue of “astroturfing” on his website; www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/12/13/reclaim-the-cyber-commons. Monbiot believes these people/entities take advantage of the Internet’s ‘common ground,’ and as a result destroy the quality of work produced by both respected individuals and large corporations. He speaks of the effects of ‘austroturfing’ by a particular PR company.

“I first came across online astroturfing in 2002, when the investigators Andy Rowell and Jonathan Matthews looked into a series of comments made by two people calling themselves Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek. They had launched ferocious attacks, across several Internet forums, against a scientist whose research suggested that Mexican corn had been widely contaminated by GM pollen.”

He also speaks about his concern that abusive comments and discussions only tend to come up when there’s money at stake.

“..discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.”

Although the “cyber commons” may be taken advantage of by certain users, certain laws have been formed to help regulate this abuse such as the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010 and Australian Copyright Act 1968. With these regulations in mind, Monbiot firmly still believes that “We’re in danger of losing this global commons as it comes under assault from an army of trolls and flacks, many of them covertly organised or trained.” Now, I think Mobiot’s argument is completely out of proportion. Unlike 18th Century commons, the Internet is a resource that is not scarce. The commons of the Internet is so huge, so diverse, and forever growing through different networks that we could never be in danger of losing it completely.

The digital commons has the authority of giving any ordinary person a chance to have their profiles, opinions, books, artworks, movies, photos, essentially any creative works published. Yes, there is a chance of abusive comments, trolling or copyright, but these issues can both be ignored or dealt with legally is necessary. Quality work that is viewed, shared, and appreciated by thousands globally cannot be crushed by ‘an army of trolls’ or ‘abusive opinions,’ as they are just not strong enough to hold their ground.

Take a look at the creative commons formed by Kickstarter. This is a network that has clear creative and legal authority, and this is forever expanding globally.


When I think about my own and my friend’s experiences with the Internet’s ‘commons,’ it has always been positive (apart from the odd spam mail my email sometimes sends out..) I am a member of ‘the loop’ website which enables members to create an online profile (publishing a CV, interests, and hobbies) as well as ongoing creative works/portfolios. I am also able to surf the loop as a common ground to look at other people’s profiles, as-well-as apply for jobs. I managed to score an Internship last summer by applying to PR companies that were able to instantly access my profile and see my qualifications, skills, interests, and contact details. I also use the Internet as a common ground to look at restaurant, bar and movie ratings. From websites like Timeout and IMDb I have hardly ever been let down on their ratings and reviews.

So..is the “cyber commons” really in danger of being destroyed by the minority “army of trolls and flacks”… I think not. I think it will continue to grow as a common ground that will be shared, regulated and enjoyed by the majority of users.


Monbiot, George (2010) ‘Reclaim the Cyber-Commons’, Monbiot.com, accessed 17th April 2013, <http:// http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/12/13/reclaim-the-cyber-commons&gt;

Wikimedia Foundation (2013), ‘Copyright law of Australia,’ accessed 18th April 2013, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_land&gt;



One Response to “Why the “Cyber Commons” could never be conquered #Commons”

  1. James April 18, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    great read 🙂

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