Tuesday 6 November 2018

Policing the web

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Englishman who invented the internet (it was not Al Gore), announced yesterday that he is devising a “Contract for the Web” that aims "to protect people’s rights and freedoms on the internet". 

In fact, you will not be surprised to learn that it aims to restrict rather than protect freedoms, although if it only restricts the freedom of businesses to misuse the data of internet users this will be a good thing. Certain freedoms should be restricted. I just don't like people restricting freedoms and then saying they are extending freedoms. The right to privacy is the egregious example.

The freedom with which the internet has most to do is freedom of speech. No-one, except a few evil right-wingers, seems to argue for freedom of speech. Nor does Sir Tim who complained yesterday to the Guardian
“Humanity connected by technology on the web is functioning in a dystopian way. We have online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken. This is a contract to make the web one which serves humanity, science, knowledge and democracy.”
The fact that Gordon Brown backs the idea tells you that it is a probably a bad one. Google has signed the contract too, but seems to be developing a censored version of its
search engine for the Chinese market.

Also in today's news, Facebook has said a human rights report it commissioned on its presence in Myanmar 

“concludes that, prior to this year, we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence. We agree that we can and should do more,” 
Facebook now has 99 Myanmar language specialists reviewing potentially questionable content. In addition, it has expanded use of automated tools to reduce distribution of "violent and dehumanising posts while they undergo review".

Inciting violence is very bad, of course, and illegal in every country in the world, but is it practical or desirable for Facebook to take on the role of policing its content, the role of publisher rather than platform? 

Restricting freedom of expression is very bad too. Democrats, after all, blame Donald Trump for fomenting division and violence. No doubt this is why Facebook refuses to show Donald Trump's 30-second Trump campaign advertisement linking the migrants in the so-called caravan to an illegal immigrant who killed two police officers. Many Democrats even blame him for the murder of several Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, even though the accused criticised the president online as a philo-Semite, which he surely is, and even the Israeli government has denied any link between the President and the massacre.

Of course, Facebook is a private company and can do as it pleases. Though it is hugely powerful, it is not a monopoly. 

Right-of-centre Fox News, which also refused to run the ad, can do as Mr. Murdoch pleases, but let's hear more about the media's political bias and the danger it poses to freedom of expression. Incitements to violence are worrying and dangerous, but they are the hard cases that make bad law.

Where speech is free, truth tends on the whole to drive out fake news, which flourishes under censorship. Censorship is what we have in Europe, Canada and most countries nowadays. The USA is lucky to have free speech guaranteed by its Constitution.

99 Burmese censors is nothing. Facebook has over 1,200 'content moderators' in Germany who are busy, inter alia, deleting speeches made by the leaders of the AfD, the largest German opposition party, in the Bundestag. 

Meanwhile the last British Conservative (sic) Home Secretary wanted a law to make reading 'extremist content' on the net punishable by up to 15 years' imprisonment.


  1. there is of course no connection between him and the caravan save for they all are Homo sapiens.The ad was pulled because at the best it was inaccurate, really it was a damed bare faced lie, but it's what he and you are good at. You, as he, are always right apparently ( the surest sign of a fool ), especially when you distort facts, or lie as we snowflakes here call it. I will vote this afternoon Democrat after thirty eight years of GOP, the man and his apologists like you turn my stomach.

    1. Agreed 100%

    2. I know nothing about the advert except that it used a murder by an illegal immigrant as an argument against allowing more illegal immigrants to enter the country. I suppose I was commenting on Facebook's policy rather then Donald Trump's campaign. I have not lied. I understand your revulsion from this odd man but I do think illegal immigration is a huge and important issue.

    3. For the US barely, but only barely, as the economic as well as social benefits outlay the cons, but for Europe and England illegal immigration including refugees is less than 10% of the total. With the WAS population demographic performing as it does on both sides of the Atlantic at current on replenishment ,without brown faces the society would also fail within a few decades , or turn into a giant understaffed rest home . other way the status quo is shifting massively

      Returning to your illegals argument, as the Yoga shooter was a white male , properly registered with the authorities , who made frequent mysoginistic comments online and constantly posted things that were right of centre , should we apply the same false attribution to you , the obvious potential killer that you are?

      and the polls are open


  2. The illegal alien murderer reentered the U.S. when George W. Bush was president. Both parties are to blame for tolerating illegal immigration so the ad was very misleading, but no more so than virtually any other campaign ads. The fact that these big Tech companies have the right to call the shots and censor the President of the United States is an insane situation. After the election unless the Republicans make internet de-censorship their No.1 priority they will never win an election again. They have to drop the (false) belief that because these are “private companies” they have the right to shut down people’s First Amendement rights.