Last Friday night in a bar1 after a couple of Mojitos. A friend and I got to debating the perils of allowing this new-fangled internet to continue to grow out of control and exist, largely uncensored. I can't believe this debate still needs to be had. Our debate was prompted by news of teenagers in Hyde Park doing something which started out fun and ended up ruined by some participants who were being stupid, really stupid, and the suggestion by some in the media that this was internet's - or more specifically - Facebook's fault2. In the end, there were two prongs to our discussion. The first was about content filtering or censorship and the second was about the internet as an enabler of bad behaviour by groups of people in the real world. The main points of difference related to:
- who (if anyone) and how (if at all) the internet should be censored/monitored for bad3 content
- who should be held accountable for content on the internet which is bad, and
- who should be held accountable for bad behaviour somehow enabled by or amplified by the internet.
I find the idea that Facebook (or Myspace, or web hosts4, or web chat, or the internet, or the telephone, or <insert new technology of the day here>) should be held in anyway responsible for the bad behavior of its users simply unbelieveable. It seem to me that a good analogy for such a situation would be holding a building's owner responsible for the independent actions - say, selling drugs or some other bad stuff - of their tentants. Landlords do not, as far as I'm aware, have any responsibility to monitor the activities of their tenants, and in just the same way, web hosts - the internet's landlords - should have no responsibility to monitor the activities of their tenants, the site owners/operators.
It is, of course, possible that a landlord, of their own accord or at the request of some authority, spots something they are suspicious of, or know to be bad. If there was a compelling reason to report this suspected bad behaviour or some obligation to provide further information about the suspected perpetrators which they refused or neglected to do, then there may be some cause to hold the landlord to account for that. But not because they've simply rented some space to someone who turned out to be the kind of person who would fail at their run on the egg-dicator5 should landlords be held responsible.
Censoring the internet on a large scale at some central point(s) is increadibly hard, and is generally a really bad idea. I don't think there's much disagreement that Chinas continued crippling of the internet is a bad thing. Why exactly the Australian Government6 (or any government for that matter) persists in making attempts to censor or filter the internet, despite clear evidence that it doesn't work technically and no evidence that it does work as a tool for desireable7 social change is beyond me.
And worse than that, Stephen Conroy, the Communications Minister seems to be following in the steps of the previous, horribly technically ignorant Minister, Helen Coonan. As pointed out by tigtog at Hoyden About Town Senator Conroy has completely misrepresented a recent report into proposed ISP level internet filtering [PDF 2.8MB] representing it as 'encouraging'. Get a more realistic analysis of the report courtesy of Crikey - Internet filters a success if success = failure.
It turns out this post has an unfortunate lack of focus, but I just had to get that off my chest.
- The best time and place for a debate. [↩]
- The implication being, of course, that any similar 'social networking' style site could be substituted. [↩]
- The term 'bad' used throughout this post is obviously ridiculously subjective. Lets assume, for the sake of argument that something bad is that which will almost certainly result in personal harm (psychological or physical) to someone somewhere. [↩]
- As opposed to site owners/operators. [↩]
- In the golden goose room, what is the name of the device that tells the good eggs from the bad eggs? [↩]
- Both the previous Liberal Government and the current Labor Governement. [↩]
- Desirable by who anyway? [↩]