Internet not a Nobel feat for mankind, undeserving of award

By Luke Wilusz

In November 2009, Wired Magazine of Italy nominated the Internet as a candidate for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. I first heard about this when the idea was mocked on humor site, and I thought it was just another one of their jokes.

As it turns out, this is a legitimate campaign for a Nobel, and it has some pretty noteworthy backers. The campaign, called Internet for Peace, lists some well-known people as ambassadors on its Web site, including 2003 Peace Prize recipient Shirin Ebadi, fashion designer Giorgio Armani and the editors of Wired Magazine Italy, United States and United Kingdom.

At first glance, the whole notion of giving any sort of award to the Internet, much less a Nobel Prize, seems preposterous. After all, this is a communications system, not a person. On a practical level, there isn’t a single person or group to physically receive the award. There’s no single inventor of the Internet (regardless of what Al Gore might have said), and there is no representative group to speak or act on its behalf.

The Internet is a Wild West-like lawless wasteland of human interaction. People get full anonymity and the chance to say whatever they want to a seemingly infinite audience. The result is often the sort of cesspool of bigotry, hate, intolerance and downright idiocy that you so often see in, say, the comments on YouTube videos. Looking at rage-fueled and hateful conversations, I’d say that the Internet doesn’t come close to deserving an award recognizing innovators in world peace, nonviolent conflict resolution and global tolerance.

However, it’s important to recognize that the Internet isn’t all bad. It has brought some incredible innovations to the world, and Internet for Peace has a few valid points.

The Internet allows citizens under oppressive regimes to speak out in ways that the mainstream, government-controlled media would never allow otherwise. The widespread use of Twitter in Iran to speak out against last summer’s election and the free online media in some African nations are wonderful examples of the positive social change that Internet technology can achieve.

The Internet is one of the last remaining bastions of completely unfiltered free speech. Traditional media such as television, film, radio, newspapers, magazines and books are all subject to editors. While editorial supervision is not the same as censorship, it does limit what is acceptable in any given publication or broadcast. The vicious, vitriolic comments I mentioned earlier—as offensive, off-putting and crass as they may be—are an example of free expression without fear of reproach or persecution.

The Internet allows people to publish their thoughts, no matter how radical, and that level of free speech is necessary for democratic societies to function, so Internet for Peace has a strong point there. However, I just don’t think that’s enough to warrant a Nobel Peace Prize.

Instead of awarding such a prestigious honor to an intangible, vague network of social connections, the Nobel Committee should focus on recognizing the efforts of specific people or groups that have worked for the benefit of humanity and an end to violence and oppression worldwide.

Wired should have looked at Internet activists and people who have used the medium for social improvement as potential nominees instead of trying to honor the tools those people use. Free speech in the face of oppression is an undoubtedly noble endeavor, but there are people to honor and recognize for that. You don’t put a medal on a microphone for a prolific speech, and you don’t honor paper for the brilliant novel printed on it. The whole point of the Nobel is to recognize the people that can make a difference in the world, and I think that’s a goal Internet for Peace has lost sight of.