Myth 1: What People Do On The Internet Can’t Be Regulated

Internet - cfamedia

Last time, an article on the most common internet most common myths was introduced.

In case you missed the article, here is it, An Introduction: The Truth About The Most Common Internet Myths.

This week, we start the series as discussed by Nikolas Guggenberger.


The internet cannot be regulated. Human behavior on the internet resists all or at least meaningful regulation.

Laws either do not apply or, if they apply and are broken, cannot be enforced by the state because of the architecture of the infrastructure and the nature of online communication.


There is ample evidence to the contrary, on the myth that behavior on the internet cannot be regulated. It has prevailed in principle and resurrected in new clothes with every cycle of innovation.

The myth builds on the misconception of nature of regulation and misunderstanding of the networks infrastructure.

Thirty years of scholarship, legislation, and enforcement actions have debunked this myth, nevertheless, with every new phenomenon from search engines to social media and blockchain technology, the myth re-emerges.

Starting with the misconception of the nature of regulations, it addresses persons, natural or legal persons to be precise.

Regulations do not directly regulate things, including networks, spaces or highways, but at best relationships between persons and things.

Asking whether the internet itself can be regulated directly, appears to be the wrong question to ask.

Rather, the question to ask is whether persons communicating or transacting via the internet can be addressed by regulations that in turn shape the gestalt of the internet.

Persons can be punished for online fraud, held accountable for copyright violations and for distributing illegal content.

Note that;

  • Electronic contracts are legally binding just as their analogue equivalents
  • Consumer protection rights have shaped the practice of ecommerce
  • GDPR has defined the boundaries of processing personal data

Concerning misunderstanding of the networks infrastructure, no doubt in certain ways the anonymous environment online promotes certain crimes and eases the circumvention of local rules by lowering transaction costs for such practices.

None of these challenges to law enforcement would, however, undermine the ability to regulate online conduct.

The competent authorities have developed approaches to investigate crimes and enforce rules online

The internet as a network depends on physical infrastructure, which can be easily be targeted by enforcement actions

The internet is by no means an environment in which supervision, for systematic reasons, is substantially more difficult than elsewhere.


Behavior on the internet can be subjected to regulation just as any other behavior.

Laws and regulations apply and breaches trigger enforcement actions.

Though the speed of communication and technical prowess of criminals challenge the effectiveness of law enforcement, this does not change the simple fact that online just as offline, our lives are subjected to regulation.

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