The Internet is big. It is very big. It is, in fact, on par with any other created organization on the face of the planet. The latest 2007 user estimates for the Internet number around 1.14 billion people. It directly touches almost as many people as the largest government in the world, China, which governs 1.3 billion citizens. Its decentralized structure includes as many, or possibly more, participants than Islam, which includes approximately 1.1 billion adherents. The most popular language in the world is Mandarin, with approximately 1 billion speakers, but more people are online.
There are, of course, a number of farreaching consequences of such a large decentralized network, but the most important one is that such a large thing is entirely impossible to control. Despite the best efforts of governments great and small, the Internet is still a largely unregulated body.
One recent example involves a symphony of Web 2.0 technologies used by a million different Internet users to spread information about hexadecimal number sequence. The hexadecimal number 09-F9-11-02-9D-74-E3-5B-D8-41-56-C5- 63-56-88-C0 was posted on an innocuous blog which explained how to use it to decrypt and watch HD-DVD movies when using Linux. It seemed to be used to bypass the inherent copy protection on all HD-DVD disks.
The blog post was submitted to digg.com, another Web 2.0 phenomenon which shares interesting links across the Internet with other users, where it quickly gained popularity enough to show up on the front page. However, the story was soon deleted from digg.com, when stories are not usually deleted, without any explanation.
The next morning the number was all over digg.com as users submitted stories about the number again and again.
The administrators of the popular web site were unable to delete the articles fast enough. In a mob frenzy, thousands or perhaps millions of people were posting the sequence all over the Internet in a virtual protest.
In time it came to light that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had contacted digg.com and claimed a copyright on the number, and asked them to remove it. However, they were unable to delete stories about the number before someone made a t-shirt with the number on it.
When trying to block the spread of one number sequence is so difficult for a large and very well connected corporate association to control, it is difficult to think that individual governments would have more success in controlling Internet content. The Korean government, while admirable in its desire to protect Korean children from dangerous Internet information, will probably also meet with limited, and ultimately futile, success. It should stop trying to be like its northern neighbors China and North Korea and stop the hopeless act of trying to control the Internet.