The conflict of upper case Internet versus lowercase net, which till now turned into in large part fought quietly among factions of copy editors, has discovered its manner to the Supreme Court. The philosophies are roughly divided between “net as a place” (capitalized, as with a right noun) and “internet as generic” (lowercase)—a few argue that using “net” reflects its use a medium, like a tv or radio or newspapers; others claim that “Internet” refers to a particular, singular worldwide network. (The A.V. Club’s style modified from higher- to lowercase a few years ago, and AP Style made the change just remaining year. Chicago Manual Of Style still uppercases the Internet and, God assist us, World Wide Web.)
Today, Vice’s Motherboard reports at the Supreme Court case Packingham v. North Carolina, which was argued in February and decided the day before this. The case is ostensibly about the First Amendment and whether a convicted sex offender’s right to a social media presence is constitutionally protected; however, Motherboard points out a “low-key battle” in the written opinions: Justice Kennedy capitalizes the internet, and Justice Alito lowercases it. This isn’t only meaningless combat over a single letter. Still, something that could shape the future of virtual law, as upcoming instances ought to flip “on whether the justices see the Internet as ‘the present-day public square,’ as Kennedy stated in Packingham, or simply as a ‘tool’ consistent with Alito.”
It’s possible, as Motherboard says, that this is all an awful lot ado about nothing and that Kennedy and Alito’s capitalization patterns were just happenstance. But the selection to capitalize (or no longer) is not anything new. Katherine Connor Martin wrote for the Oxford English Dictionary blog final year:
Why did the Internet grow to be capitalized inside the first location? In reality, the earliest use of the word, noted in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1974, turned into a lowercase i. Initially, there were many internets—the word became used to consult any computer community comprising or connecting several smaller networks; it later got here to refer particularly to the global network we realize these days, which became distinguished as “the Internet” in place of “the web.”
Merriam-Webster capitalizes it, so we reached out to M-W science editor Daniel Brandon, who instructed us through email: I count on that if the cutting-edge developments continue, the modern-day utilization [internet] will soon outweigh the importance of the historical usage [Internet], and we can formally begin impacting the decrease case form as the principal headword.
But most importantly, when we dug into the court docket critiques to peer just how internet-savvy the justices are, we found this gem in Justice Kennedy’s opinion (emphasis ours):
The court docket additionally held that the regulation leaves open ok opportunity way of communique as it allows a petitioner to advantage get right of entry to websites that the court docket believed perform the “equal or similar” functions as social media, which include the Paula Deen Network and the website for the local NBC associate.
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