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Authors: Chapolard, Noé
Advisors: Centeno, Miguel
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2014
Abstract: This thesis has several objectives. It seeks first of all to challenge the current assumptions held over the social structure of the Internet, and to offer new approaches to the field. It seeks to demonstrate the importance of this analysis along with the current purely technology-related approach to public and international policy. It finally seeks to paint a portrait of the Internet as a plurality of spheres with essential ties to the real world, rather than the image we often have of a single worldwide social structure bypassing borders. In order both to illustrate these ideas and to address a strong case of policy concern in this domain, this thesis uses Russia as an example and as a foil to both preconceptions and the American Internet model. It first addresses the current models and assumptions used in describing the Internet from a social perspective: homogeneous diffusion, universality, one-way influence, real-virtual divide. Touching on the evidence and the data involved in drawing these conclusions, this thesis outlines the gap in knowledge produced and the lack of attention paid to the social structuring of the Internet, as well as the consequences these attitudes have on Internet policymaking for the United States. This thesis then offers approach paths more suited to the evidence unearthed. It ties the Internet to a number of social principles necessary to its understanding, which are commonly thought to be obsolete to the Internet: language, geographic proximity, cultural heritage, physical needs. Through the example of Russia, it creates a vision of the way in which this change in approach reveals the importance of these social factors in creating different Internets: there are an American sphere and a Russian sphere on the Internet, whose behaviors, social organization, needs and developmental paths are radically different, even though they are in contact with each other and are able to reach through at a larger rate than off-line. With this in mind, this thesis paints a portrait of both spheres as foils to each other, addressing point-by-point questions of economics, politics, and security. This panorama hopes to outline how differences in perceptions have influenced policy, and how they could modify our future decisions. It stressed the elements which matter (boundaries, the power of jurisdiction, or the social architecture of web-spaces) and those, considered harmful, which may in fact be largely irrelevant to international policy (industrial and copyright infringement, financial fraud, censorship). This thesis is a starting point for the development of a new policy outlook on the importance of the study of the development of social structure on the Internet. It does not claim to answer all the questions and uncertainties and stresses the fact that the observer and analyst work from within the midst of a constantly changing environment. This thesis hopes to change our approaches as policymakers from that standpoint: the Internet is an inherently social object; it takes all forms in each case we find, and can hardly be generalized – it is our awareness of this fact and our attention to creating intellectually significant dichotomies that help us produce knowledge and devise efficient policy.
Extent: 110 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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