Welcome to THE BIG TECH QUESTION, a new monthly feature where we ask members of the H+K Technology team to debate the latest issues in tech and beyond.
Up first is: SHOULD THE INTERNET BE CENSORED? In the “Yes” camp is Joe McNamara:
Let me start by saying that I’m broadly against censorship of any description. Censorship is often oppressive, totalitarian and propagandist. Quite frankly, the Internet is too. They’re welcome to each other.
Earlier this year, Facebook Live was used to broadcast a live beheading. If the BBC or Sky News broadcast a live beheading, before or after the watershed, there would be a public outcry. The fact is that Facebook is a staple part of your average media consumers’ diet these days – on figures alone it’s right up there. Two billion monthly active users; 50% of 18-24 year olds look at Facebook when they wake up; so what is the difference?
As a consumer, you have as little control over what is broadcast to you live on television as you do live on Facebook. The difference is that broadcasters adhere to certain standards where some content is acceptable and some isn’t. It’s nothing to do with freedom of expression. It’s common sense and decency.
A throne of judgmental views
I mean, I say that. There are, of course, some compelling arguments against censorship. The first would be that nobody can claim ownership of the World Wide Web as a metaphysical concept. So, who decides what is acceptable and what isn’t? Unless Tim Berners-Lee sits on a throne of judgmental views before humble satyrs bring him “edgy” tweets and Instagram posts for his seal of approval… No, it’ll never work.
You must also ask the question: how far do we take this? Does it start with making sure live beheadings and fake news websites are sniffed out by AI algorithms and taken down, but end with certain words and phrases blacklisted from the Internet? You can’t police views, movements or even content. One person’s offensive content is another person’s cry for help, call to arms or personal political view. On the other hand, if a glitch means somebody accidentally watches something that scars them for life, that’s a strong argument for using more automated regulation tools.
The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google do have a say over what their channels are used for. I’m not asking them to make a political judgement. I have no issue with people sharing unsavoury political views, taking banter too far or even properly going at it. To an extent, while we’d all like to see more being done to tackle trolling and online bullying, that falls under “policing” the Internet rather than censoring it.
Censorship or self-regulation?
I do, however, think the fact that someone can upload a video which shows the murder of a fellow human is unacceptable. I also think that fake news is a dangerous animal that could be stopped with Google-like AI algorithms. Google has been ranking pages for a long time, which is essentially a way of measuring how much to trust one website over another. So when people are voting based on fake news that has been churned out and gone viral, that’s where we need the Internet to self-regulate.
Anyone who knows me would tell you I’m more liberal-minded than most and that censorship isn’t my bag. I use Facebook and Twitter (and now this blog, apparently) to share my dislike of West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City as well as our elected government and think it’s my right to do so.
I do believe though that we must stop treating the Internet as some rogue platform that isn’t required to adhere to the same standards as more traditional media distributors have had to for decades. You’re as likely to get your news from Facebook as the BBC or a newspaper – people might trust it less but they still see it. So when it’s fake or involves content that nobody in their right mind wants to view themselves, let alone have their children see, it’s time to wake up.