Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

Sharrona Pearl

Abstract

Cyberlibertarianism is a dominant ideology in the technology industry. Internet markets represent cyberlibertarianism ideals put into practice. According to cyberlibertarianism, internet markets should be self-regulating, but problems of fraud nevertheless emerge. On internet markets, fraud occurs through the manipulation of platform protocols that are designed to replace regulations. Actors take various steps to mitigate concerns of fraud and control the commercial process. These steps rely on website infrastructure, platform culture, and state, commercial, and domestic institutions — factors that are supposed to be external to electronic commerce. Users develop social customs that rely on website infrastructure, platform culture, and state institutions. Vendors perform practices that are also connected to website infrastructure, platform culture, and state institutions, but in ways that reflect their goal of selling goods. State, commercial, and domestic institutions figure centrally in the circulation of market objects, which often enter digital exchange in places where institutional control falls short. Far from being a story of self-regulation, exchange on internet markets is a story of regulatory endeavors, as individual and institutional actors aim (and sometimes fail) to control the process of electronic commerce. This tells us that cyberlibertarianism overlooks the role of regulations and institutions on the internet. As venues that embody cyberlibertarian principles, internet markets are among the most productive case studies of the digital ideology. By meeting the radical conditions demanded by cyberlibertarianism, internet markets are experiments in the digital ideology that decisively disprove its hypotheses. If the predictions of cyberlibertarianism cannot be realized in the free digital market, then they likely cannot be realized anywhere. Moving forward, they may serve as a counterpoint to the claim that an internet equilibrium is just one regulatory removal away.

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