Though the four nations we’ve examined have vastly different histories and legal systems, all four of them are experiencing many of the same “growing pains” as the United States in the transition to a world united by the Internet. Some characteristics are shared – for instance, China, Italy, Pakistan, and the UK have struggled with the restriction of speech on the Internet. China’s “Great Firewall” has censored Internet searches for years. In Italy and Pakistan, recent leaders have attempted to control online criticism of their administrations. Finally, the UK has taken a very aggressive stance on taking down defamatory or copyrighted material.

What does this mean for the US? One of our classroom’s most contentious debates centered on a case at Yale, where female students at the law school were harassed by commentators on an anonymous forum. Some of the comments made were genuinely horrific; we wondered whether the US should be more aggressive about limiting the freedom of speech online and thus preventing future incidents like this one. However, after reading through the attempts of these four other nations to limit speech online, we’d caution the US government against being too heavy-handed. Even the best of intentions can lead to disastrous effects on the freedom of speech, one of the foundations of our government.

Initially, it may seem unfair that the students at Yale Law were unable to take down clearly slanderous statements about themselves. However, if people are granted that right, they can use it for much more malicious purposes.  Political leaders could take down criticism of their administrations, or corporate leaders criticism of their companies. These practices hamper the development and adoption of new technologies, which in turn restrict the ability of the citizens of these nations to have full participation in the contemporary world.

A final note of caution: we tried to research these issues without having the United States as the focus, as we understand that many of the cultural values we feel innate are not held by other nations. However, this quickly proved impossible. Looking at how other nations handle issues provides a natural point of comparison for how America should approach the same issues. In addition, it’s undeniable that the US is the major force in shaping global patterns of interaction with the Internet. Finally, it’s important to note that the Internet is not divided off between countries. Instead, it’s a vast structure that allows instantaneous communication on a global scale, and its sheer size is the reason it’s such an influential technology. The policy decisions of each nation are not made in a vacuum; each has the potential to influence the Internet worldwide. Because of this, it is essential that the United States bear other nations’ stances on cyberspace in mind as it seeks to make sense of its own digital landscape.