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(6) Access and Power

Aims and objectives

The aim of this section is to explore the issues of access and power and their relation to the use of various forms of Computer Meditated Communication. In the previous section, we addressed the issues of access to sources of information and their relationship to inequality. In this section, we will look at the issue of "access to information" in more detail, in particular the relationship between access and power.


"Knowledge is power" is a phrase attributed to Francis Bacon, the British philosopher, essayist, and political figure. When Bacon first used the phrase (in 1597) he was calling for empirical and practical emphasis in science, however in the information age the phrase has taken on a new resonance.

The Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace contains statements such as "We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity. Legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us." The authors of such documents hold the view that "the net interprets censorship as damage and works around it" (for examples of this see Net Censorship Backfires). However, others hold different views about the desirability of unfettered access to all and any information. For a more academic discussion of the difficulty of controlling the Internet, see David Post's essay on Law-Making in Cyberspace.

The issue of pornography is one that most often acts as a focus point for these divergent views. For example, a study Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway by an undergraduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, Marty Rimm, lead to an article in Time Magazine on July 3, 1995 and spawned a whole debate - see Would-be Censors Base Arguments on Bogus Research and More porn on news-stands than on the Internet. Subsequently, the issue of "porn on the Internet" has led to attempts by parents in the US to control their children's access to "inappropriate" material see The Summary of the Internet Family Empowerment White Paper.

The issues of fascism and terrorism provide a similar focus for debate with some arguing that the Internet should not provide a platform for fascist/racist views and/or the views of terrorists.

Terrorism is a particularly difficult topic as, to quote the cliché, one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter (See, for example Terrorism label is US media propaganda) and many differing definitions of terrorism can be found. The Testimony of Jerry Berman to the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information argues that the Internet is haven for bomb-makers, militia members, racists, and purveyors of child pornography. In contrast, Giancarlo Livraghi, a journalist from Italy, believes that the real motives of government and business attempts to censor 'objectionable' material is to control the Internet as a means of communication and exchange of information.




  1. EE - Chap 1, 8, 10 in The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society: Computers and Social Control in Context, Lyon. D. Polity Press, 1994.
  2. CE - Computer Ethics. Forrester. T. and Morrison. P. Basil Blackwell, 1994.
  3. IT(1) - Information Technology: Social Issues - A Reader, A Reader. Ed. Finnegan. R, Salaman. G and Thompson. K., The Open University/Hodder and Stoughton., 1994.
  4. SIC - Chap 6 in Social Issues in Computing, Huff. C and Finholt. T, McGraw Hill, 1994, pp 193 - 226
  5. PandC - Chap 9 in People and Chips: Human Implications of Information Technology, Rowe. C and Thompson. J, Mcgraw Hill, 1996, pp 167 - 192.
  6. GoF - A Gift of Fire, Base. S., Prentice Hall, 1997.

Some Additional Reading (in library)

  1. John Shattuck and Muriel Morisey Spence, "The Dangers of Information Control," in Tom Forrester, ed., Computers in the Human Context: Information, Technology, Productivity, and People, Cambridge, 1989.
  2. Finlay Marike. Powermatics: a discursive critique of new communications technology., Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987.
  3. Law John. A sociology of monsters: essays on power, technology and domination, Routledge, 1991.

Web links

The following may be of interest:

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