THE INTERNET IS A SERIES OF ANALOGIES: COMPARATIVE LANGUAGE AS POWER IN ONLINE GOVERNANCE
In 2006, Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens became a laughingstock and enduring meme for arguing during legislative deliberations that the Internet could be understood as "a series of tubes" and “not a big truck" (Belson 2006). The unintended humor of his analogies was ridiculed as evidence that this older lawmaker was too out of touch with modern communications technology to effectively govern them. Yet the episode itself can be understood as evidence of a larger truth—one that both exculpates Stevens somewhat and underlines a broader challenge for internet governance: Namely, that nearly all internet laws and regulations necessarily rely on imperfect metaphor and analogy to keep them in accordance with pre-digital law and constitutional principles, and that even lawmakers and judges with considerable expertise in the field must also rely upon such figurative language. Furthermore, because rhetorical comparisons are fundamentally interpretive, rather than indexical reflections of the things they describe, their use in internet governance amplifies the risk that the prevailing laws and regulations will benefit some users over others, and some uses over others. The internet, in other words, is like a series of analogies. In this article, we catalog many of these analogies and metaphors, document their use in internet governance and policy, and critically investigate how the choice of comparative rhetoric to render the internet knowable introduces hidden bias into the governance process, benefiting some stakeholders over others.