We must regulate the internet because, well, because, you see?

One of the great joys of this internet upon which you are reading this is that it is regulated. Regulated in exactly and only the manner in which it needs to be regulated. There are certain rules that you must obey to be able to get onto it: asking us to explain the technical bits would be a bit of a stretch but we believe that acronyms like TCP/IP might be involved. But it is regulated only in that manner: aside from the usual civilisational rules like no incitement to murder and so on the regulations extend only to those technical matters of how the thing works. What you do when you reach those intertubes is entirely up to you.

This is something that profoundly irritates people of a certain type of course. What? People just getting on with it? Without guidance? But they must be told what to do!

Which brings us to Richard Watson in The Guardian:

But underneath the rhetoric of modernity, openness and progress there’s a problem that technology can’t fix. Relatively young white males overwhelmingly run Silicon Valley firms and they are stealing the future from everyone else.

The recent Facebook furor over its “trending topics” is a case in point. It was alleged that the supposedly impartial algorithms used to curate its list of trending news stories were being softly manipulated by people with a left-leaning libertarian agenda.

“So what?” you might say, but Facebook is more than a social hub. It has become an important centralising authority for news. More than 40% of Americans adults now rely on the social network to stay on top of the news according to PEW research. With great power comes great responsibility, so Facebook, and other large technology companies like Google, Amazon and Netflix need to be watched, critiqued and regulated if necessary, just like any other corporation or petulant adolescent.

Another example of Silicon Valley bias is the almost complete absence of the female perspective. The same might be said of other genders, geographies, races, income brackets, or ages.

Watson has entirely missed two things. The first being the purpose of regulation. It is not, as he seems to think, in order to make good things happen, good things according to whatever lights the regulator might see by. It is also not to prevent potentially bad outcomes. It is to prevent known to be bad outcomes. That is, we must know exactly what it is that we are regulating against in order to be able to regulate. For, quite obviously, if we don't know what we're doing then we can't write the rules to do it, can we?

The second thing he's missed is that this is just all too knew for us to be able to regulate it. One of the reasons that free markets work is that they explore the available technological space far faster than any other organisational method. Technology does change (these intertubes being a good example) and somehow we need a method of exploring what is possible with these new abilities. Markets do that vastly better than anything anyone has ever come up with. Thus it is precisely the new that we don't want to regulate out of such experimentation.

There is of course a third point, which is that this just isn't the way that free people govern themselves. You must not do that because some random bloke says so isn't quite the thing. But then that argument is going to be difficult to get across to someone writing a Guardian column, isn't it?