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Policing the Ether

In the wake of a prosecution in the British courts last week the question of controlling the internet has arisen again. The drastic measures called for by some control freak oreganisations are not necessary. All we need is a measure to make us show the kind of restraint we do in real life.
Ether in the title bar is not right. In Greek Æther means dark, unseen but Triond’s “not fit for purpose” text editor can’t handle special characters in the title bar.

Hunting the Trolls

Image sourced from copyright free library

Last week a young British man, Sean Duffy from Reading near London was jailed for posting abusive messages on Facebook tribute pages for teenagers who had died.

The posting of abusive or intentionally hurtful messages by trolls is not the worst crime to be facilitated by the internet however. The web has been used by paedophiles to ‘groom’ children and by coincidence tricksters to prey on vulnerable and lonely people. There are instances of internet bullying, while not technically a crime, pushing some people to commit suicide, of murderers and rapists presenting an entirely false picture of themselves in order to persuade unworldly people to enter into relationships and of many financial scams which have left people with massive debts and their confidence shattered. When horrific crimes are found to have had an online element, there is always a clamour for regulation but no progress ever seems to be made.

One of the mistakes made by those demanding some form of regulation is that they demand control of content. For sure, looking at extreme pornographic images can plant in some minds the seed of a plan to do something similar, but we cannot prosecute people for what they think. Similarly we have to take care not to put too much power in the hands of groups pushing an agenda. One forum I used to contribute to was hijacked by a group of people who had decided the only reason anyone would criticise the political actions of Barack Obama was his colour.

Thus any commenter critical of Obama were being driven away from the site because their reasoned criticisms of the way President Obama was running the U.S. economy, his plans to reform healthcare, various aspects of foreign policy and his aloof, faux-intellectual style when addressing domestic issues were deleted by moderators responding unthinkingly to claims the comments were motivated by racism.

The complexity of the issues involved in pleas for content control cannot be underestimated. Censorship of some content may be desirable but who decides where the line is drawn? Then there is the obstacle of American attitudes to free speech. While the clause in the constitution refers to the right to express political or religious beliefs that questioned government or established church without fear of retribution that clause is now interpreted as guaranteeing the freedom to insult and abuse people, campaign to promote sexual deviations the law prohibits, incite people to overthrow the legitimate government (the crime of sedition) and the right to trash people’s reputations.

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