My mom has been having trouble with internet pop-ups ads so just this morning, I recommended installing ad-block plus for her browser. I used it for years, stopped for some reason, and then just reinstalled it. But my best friend is skeptical of ad blocking. She claims that if advertisements bring websites the necessary money to exist, then users should allow them. (This is a version of the free rider problem, or the problem of the commons.) Furthermore, now that I run the institute and pay for online ads — the Art & Democracy film series, for example, incurs a lot of costs every month — I know personally how blocking ads can impact an endeavor.
So, I am, once again, faced with a dilemma. At first I asked myself whether the question for this post should be whether blocking ads is immoral, but immoral is too strong a word. I do not think preventing ads from coming on one’s screen is akin to stealing. (If you do, let us know why… I think it would be an interesting conversation.) But it may very well be something like not voting, or not filling-out the census, or strolling on grass one is forbidden to walk on. It is part of the citizenship of the internet, and so I ask: does using ad-block make me a bad internet citizen?
Does the concept of “citizenship” even make sense in an internet context? I don’t know that being an internet user is like being the member of a nation (or city, or state). Sure there are rights and responsibilities, but these come from the land that houses the server (or your terminal) and not from the internet itself. Also, there is no common governance of all the sites I visit. Each one is its own region with its own expectations. So, should I find a different word, or does citizenship apply in this case?