As I'm sure you noticed, no one "owns" the Internet. We all have a stake in it and it's time for all of us to take some personal responsibility when it comes to how we manage what we do on the net.
Sure, there are companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay that own important Internet services. But these are like islands in a vast ocean. The people who govern the island can make rules to cover what's happening onshore, but they can't -- all by themselves -- govern what floats in the seas that surround them.
There are bodies that govern certain parts of the net. ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) governs top level domains like .com, .biz and now even .xxx and there are procedures for resolving disputed domain names. But once someone has a domain (like LarrysWorld.com) it's up to the site owner to determine how to operate it.
We also have laws, depending on where we live, that govern some aspects of the Internet. The Kingdom of Bahrain, for example, prohibits pornography, Russia can shut down sites that the government brands as "extremist." Most countries ban child pornography -- images depicting the sexual abuse of children. There have been all sorts of proposals to create international regulations, including some that surfaced at a recent United Nations World Conference on International Telecommunications, (WCIT) where some countries advocated increased governmental and international control, which Ambassador Terry Kramer, the U.S.'s top representative, called an "invasive approach of governments in managing the internet, in managing the content that goes via the internet, what people are looking at, what they're saying, et cetera."
Despite efforts to exert control, the Internet, in most parts of the world, remains pretty free and open and a lot of people, -- myself included -- want to keep it that way.
But that doesn't mean that stakeholders -- individuals, groups, companies and governments too -- shouldn't take responsibility over their own behavior. There are things that we can do to help assure a safer, more secure and just plain better Internet.
Companies can shore up their security, privacy and transparency standards. Governments can promote openness and fairness and we can all, for example, make a resolution to use good Internet security in 2013. Failing to protect your device against malicious software and hacks not only affects you, but others as well, since insecure device can be used to spread malware to other people's devices. Making sure that your financial transactions are secure protects others too. The cost of fraud and theft is reflected in the prices of everything we buy.
Verify before forwarding
One of my biggest pet peeves is getting people to be responsible for the accuracy of what they post or forward. There are too many false stories spread online. Some are deliberate campaigns to defame politicians or others -- we saw a lot of that during the recent presidential campaign. Others are just urban myths like the rumor that the post office is considering a 5 cent tax on email, which has been circulating for years. Some false information is the result of people posting things hastily in an attempt to be first with the "news." Even some professional journalists wound up identifying the wrong man as the alleged shooter at Sandy Hook elementary school last month. Some media outlets even linked to Ryan Lanza's Facebook page (the shooter was Adam Lanza) prompting Ryan to post, "It wasn't me. I was at work. It wasn't me."
Even people who have never actually written anything incorrect may be guilty of spreading false rumors. I regularly receive emails and see Facebook and Twitter posts that simply pass-on false information generated by others. Whenever I see anything that seems odd or untrue, I try to verify it or see if it's a known hoax. If it's a hoax spread by someone I know, I notify them that they've fallen for a scam and suggest they do a little research the next time they're tempted to forward something they come across It's not hard. You can search sites like Snopes.com or UrbanLegends.com or you can simply copy string of text that seem suspicious and paste it in a search engine to see if others have reported it as false. (Some browsers let you do that easily by highlighting the text and right clicking.)
How we behave online affects others too, which is why it's so important to think about what you post and how it might affect other people and your own reputation.
I could fill this entire column with rules and guidelines, but most can be summarized in four words, "Think Before You Post."