The Mirror Cracked

By | August 29, 2007

Broken mirror by ~111Melody on deviantART

“… what we’re seeing on the net is a reflection of the society we live in. When you have a problem in the mirror you do not fix the mirror, you fix that which is reflected in the mirror.”

Vint Cerf on speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme 29 August 2007.

Cerf’s comments stem in no small part from calls by some politicians, groups and individuals to impose some form of censorship on the content of certain sites.

I have a great deal of respect for Cerf, his work in creating the TCP/IP protocol made the Internet possible and was carried out at a time when personal computers were just a sci-fi writer’s dream and before mobile phones, satellite navigation and mp3 players for just a few quid were decades away.

I could not agree more with his assertion that we must not blame the Internet for the ills, and let’s face it, plain sick-mindedness of certain members of society. The Internet simply affords the weirdoes and dangerously deluded members of our world an easy and too often anonymous medium by which to communicate and propagate their poisonous filth. Violence, hate and degrading acts can all be found out there if you’re minded to search for them.

But all of these things are a product of human minds, not TCP/IP, HTTP or a sentient and evil JavaScript program.

Free speech is a privilege, hard won with the blood of generations and should not be taken for granted. Ask bloggers who live under some of the more oppressive regimes around the globe. Oh, you can’t because their governments’ censor email and block them from seeing certain web sites. To remove the freedom to express oneself would be a crime against all of us and would throw a stifling blanket over the Internet. Bubbling cauldron of ideas and invention it is today into a pale and fettered echo of what it can be.

There’s an irony, Cerf’s current employer values free speech so much that it caved in to the Chinese government about filtering search results for Google’s Chinese search engine.

What I think must be emphasised is that while yes, the Internet is a mirror, it’s a mirror to those of us who stand in front of it. Some sections of our (world) population are unwilling, or unable to use the Web and we do not see them in our online community. Only 1 in 6 of the world population has web access so Cerf’s mirror is a little distorted.

Do I believe that we should censor the web, especially on social networking and self-broadcast sites like YouTube? Yes undoubtedly, if the content includes acts that depict, incite or encourage harm of, oppression of or violence toward another human being.

The current craze in the UK amongst the sick youth of the country is “Happy Slapping“. Sickening. It displays a lack of empathy for others that does not bode well for the perpetrator’s future conduct. Combine that with increased knife and gun carrying and it’ll not be long before snuff mobile phone videos come online.

The BDSM community tend to apply the rules “safe, sane and consenting”, for me that’s pretty much perfect as a measure of what should be allowed.

As for human rights and the right for free speech? I value the rights of children above those of adults, the rights of the weak over those of the strong who would try to control them and the rights of anyone without a voice over those who would seek to shout and drown them out.

How about you?

Tags: Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer, TCP/IP, HTTP, censorship, internet censorship, free speech, Internet porn, happy slapping, YouTube, Google, blogging, human rights, search engine, search engine results, search engine result filtering, BDSM