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Jakarta post

by Jennie S. Bev 

We all live as avatars. The term “avatar” refers to the projection of one’s personality, particularly over the Internet. While in Hinduism, an “avatar” is a reincarnation of Vishnu, in today’s society, it is nothing more than an image of ourselves that we wish to convey to the world. “Avatarism” is probably an appropriate term to refer to the practice of using a particular persona in a particular circumstance.

Most people wish to be recognized by at least one of their strong qualities, be they artistic, intellectual, musical or inspirational qualities. However, not all of them are fully aware of “packaging” their avatar.

Media personalities, for instance, are aware of their overall position and projection. We might see Paris Hilton as a “dumb, blonde, poor little rich girl,” but is that really the case?

In 2009, Paris Hilton’s perfume line alone totaled US$200 million (Rp 1.856 trillion) in revenue. What an impressive achievement for a “dumb blonde” who couldn’t even boil water in one episode of her Simple Life TV series. An insider claims that Paris is, in fact, an impressive chef whose recipes are admired and enjoyed by close friends and relatives. The “dumb blonde” is her avatar.

Another classic example of a successful avatar personality is the amazingly dumb Mr. Bean character played by Rowan Atkinson, who is in fact an electrical engineer by by training, and a graduate from Oxford University. He has been so successful in projecting an image of a “super dumb” individual that people have forgotten that he studied at the most prestigious university in the world.

Millions of Internet users also have their own avatars. In online interactions, an “avatar” is simply the part of the projected personality that we wish the public to see, symbolized by a tiny snapshot of the Internet user.

Interestingly, Internet avatarism comes with pros and cons. One obvious advantage is the anonymity that generates honest and blunt comments essential for increasing civic participation.

One of the cons of broadcasting one’s self over the Internet is the chance for being censored. China’s infamously tight Internet censorship laws and its 30,000 Internet police is an extreme example of the lengths authorities can go to to control information.

Whether the need for such stringent censorship is genuinely required remains a topic of discussion as it would violate the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. What is more urgent, on the other hand, is securing the public from electronic transaction crimes and securing the safety of children online.

In China, country-wide content filters have been in place since 1991. Nine years later, a government regulation set forth the first content restrictions on ICPs (Internet Content Providers) regulating China-based sites, forcing them to be independent and not linked to overseas websites carrying news information without prior consent from the government.

Such a draconian approach in filtering information is in direct opposition to China’s flourishing economy, as the government is showing a lack of civic and political maturity.

Indonesians should not want to follow in China’s footsteps toward any level of content censorship. While avatarism is somewhat harmless in the online world, a mechanism geared to pump up pop culture, it can become a real concern when it causes real damage, such as crimes pertaining to fraudulent financial transactions, consumer information security and privacy, child pornography, and intellectual property rights infringement.

In these areas, cyber law principles must be adhered to as a way to ensure legal basis for prosecution. Because in an anonymous world, anybody can use a masquerade or simply project a different image when preying on others.

First things first, while the Internet is global, three jurisdictions must be taken into account when an Internet transaction occurs. In this case “transaction” does not solely refer to financial transactions, but to any activity involving the content provider, domain hosting, transaction channeling, intermediary and end user.

Those three jurisdictions that must be taken into account are the laws of the nation and the state where the user resides, the laws of the server where the Internet site is hosted and the laws applying to the business transaction.

In a nutshell, any cyber-related regulations must seriously consider the international playing field, regardless of the Internet’s current state of mimicking the “international waters” concept. Any cyber law issued by a nation or a state will not be the only law used in handling legal issues that occur.

Indonesian regulators, thus, should not confuse Internet content that is protected by law, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, with fraudulent and criminal intentions. Let me reiterate the four major Internet crimes are: fraudulent financial transactions, consumer information security and privacy, child pornography, and intellectual property rights infringement. These four areas must be given priority.

Avatarism is in action and we must protect our businesses, intellectual properties, consumers, and children. But let free speech finds its own equilibrium.[]

The Jakarta Post, February 25, 2010

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