Introducing…the Blog Police!

You doubt me? Check this out:

Internet users will be protected from abusive bloggers and malicious Facebook postings under proposals to set up an independent internet watchdog, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

The body, made up of industry representatives, would be responsible for drawing up guidelines that social networking sites, the blogosphere, website owners and search engines would be expected to follow.

And the authoritarianism of New Labour continues into virtual reality. Their belief that we must be controlled for our own good is now creeping ever further into our freedom of expression. The blogosphere is currently an unparalleled means of cutting through the institutional and editorial bias and control which pollutes mainstream media – for Iris Robinson for example to gain the power to gain the ability to complain about blog posts which attack her would be dangerous for many of our most fundamental freedoms. Public debate happens next to nowhere in modern society – our elected representatives certainly don’t do it on our behalf, so it’s hardly surprising to see the government trying to shut it down on the Internet. But why would they do such a thing, you ask?

The proposals follow a rash of complaints about malicious and inaccurate postings on Facebook and other social networking sites.

A British businessman was last week awarded £22,000 libel damages from a school friend who made false accusations against him on a fake Facebook profile.

Mathew Firscht launched the High Court action after inaccurate claims about his sexuality and political viewers were posted on the site.

A woman also recently claimed that her life had been destroyed by strangers who stole her identity and set up a Facebook profile describing her as a prostitute.

Kerry Harvey, 23, received unsolicited calls from “punters” who found her details, including her date of birth and mobile phone number, on the site.

Control, control, control. Should we have our freedom restricted because Ms Harvey was stupid enough to put personal details on a public site? As with all of New Labour’s other recent proposals, this ‘protection’ robs individuals of their responsibilities to themselves, whilst boosting a climate of mistrust and a presumption of anti-social, negative ulterior motives of everyone, thus missing the point and allowing the real problems in society and cyberspace to get off scot free. I’m bloody outraged by it, and the way it criminalises people who aren’t criminals. Is this merely about electoral advantage anymore?

The watchdog would not have any statutory powers to impose fines but would investigate complaints and most likely publish its decisions in instances when its guidelines have been breached.

It is understood that it would also be able to order bloggers and social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace to take down offensive messages or photographs.

How do they think they could force bloggers to take down ‘offensive messages’? Would they be able to force Flickr to take down ‘offensive photographs’? Who would this watchdog even be representing?

The body, made up of industry representatives, would be responsible for drawing up guidelines that social networking sites, the blogosphere, website owners and search engines would be expected to follow.

‘Industry representatives’ eh? So it really would be a case of formal corporate intrusion into cyberspace and the blogosphere. Disgusting. I automatically know the difference between causing offence, committing libel and where the line is which separates vital criticism from abuse. But New Labour yet again thinks that in forcing a meaningless, unified standard which they determine, down everyone’s throats, that they can solve what are genuine problems. Should government be telling sites like Flickr what are and aren’t acceptable photos? Unthinkable you might say, but this scenario has already happened in Germany, where in its haste to ‘protect’, the government encouraged outright (and pointless) censorship by Yahoo, eager not to get on their wrong side.

This is also an outcome of their target-setting obsession, which seems always to lead to unexpected, usually negative outcomes. We should be allowed to cause offence to people who are offensive, and readers have to start learning that choosing to take offence (something done on this blog a number of times) is not the fault of the writer. As I said, there is no arena left in the real world for uncontaminated public debate, and this proposal would begin the process of wiping out the essential freedom which cyberspace offers to say what needs to be said. It would only offer marginal real protection for children and young people, criminalise those who aren’t criminals (which the similarly themed Independent Safeguarding Authority is already being set up to do) and Amanda Andrews in the Times gets it about right when she says:

It may come as a surprise to some MPs that not all children want to watch gruesome footage and criminal offences. However there is no doubt that sites could do more – such as make the terms and conditions that guide consumers on unacceptable content more prominent, develop better controls to prevent children from accessing it and create one-click mechanisms for users to report offensive video directly to law enforcement and support organisations.

But there is only so much they can do. Already MySpace and Bebo, the social networking websites, employ several hundred people to review images and videos after they have been posted, although, according to the Select Committee report. Bebo says “it is impossible to find all inappropriate content”. YouTube has a response team that takes down material flagged up by users as offensive, usually within the hour.

On the positive side, some videos appearing on social networks that could be deemed offensive have helped to catch criminals. A man from Leeds, for instance, was recently convicted of a number of offences earlier this year after a court watched footage, shown on a social network, of him racing cars at 120mph on a public road and encouraging his viewers to street race while drunk. While there are some measures that need to be taken by social networks, surely the real job is for parents to monitor their children’s surfing habits.

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One response to “Introducing…the Blog Police!

  1. Yet another assault on our civil liberties by this wretched government – but totally consistent with Labour’s relentless anti-libertarian attacks.

    Good entry.

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