James Boyle, “Foucault in Cyberspace: Surveillance, Sovereignty, and Hardwired Censors”

Jeez, I thought the last article I read was too old. This 1997 article applies a somewhat Foucauldian framework to thinking about the “Holy Trinity” of the internet in its adolescence–three ideas which have had a profound impact and may be seen as foundational to today’s internet culture:

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

“In Cyberspace, the First Amendment is a local ordinance.”

“Information Wants to be Free.”

Moving through these, they start to sound more and more like aphorisms from The CircleUsing Foucault’s ideas about sovereign power–and its main work happening through daily surveillance and social policing rather than explicit, after-the-fact laws and control (negative power)–Boyle looks at legislation and technology that has sought to censor explicit or offensive content on the internet. Explicit legislative action has been largely unsuccessful, because of the difficulty of watching the whole internet, but “quotidian shaping and surveillance of activity”–I would add, beyond the government level–have infiltrated even that Holy Trinity.

Here I want to point out the ways in which that Holy Trinity, like Foucault’s confessional, have encouraged the expressing, sharing, putting-into-language of ideas online as a social good. Censorship is Theft; You Have the Right to Freedom of Expression Online; Information Wants to be Free. If we put our experiences and ideas into the hegemonic discourse–if we post online, if we write our poem or our digital story–we are allowing it to be watched, shaped, and policed by, not only legal norms, but social ones. This is a good source for discussing the culture of openness and sharing on the internet for me.


Boyle, James. “Foucault in Cyberspace: Surveillance, Sovereignty, and Hardwired Censors.” University of Cincinnati Law Review: Corporate Law Symposium 66 (1997). 177-204. PDF File.


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1 Response to James Boyle, “Foucault in Cyberspace: Surveillance, Sovereignty, and Hardwired Censors”

  1. Pingback: Social Media & The Digital Confessional: Full Outline | Digital A-Rae

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