Thursday 20 June 2013

The Good Fairy of the Internet and her Magic Wand

Last week I attended the Index on Censorship ‘Caught in the Web’ event.  I asked a question from the floor and was put on the spot by chair David Aaronovitch about David Cameron's call for the big players to do more about child porn on the internet.  Answered along the lines of not really understanding what more Cameron thought they could do, given that the Internet Watch Foundation runs a list already; and needing to examine any proposals to see if they carry too high a price in terms of interference with freedom of expression. 

OK as far as it went, but this is what I should have said.  When politicians demand that the most visible targets (ISPs, search engines, social media platforms) should do more to stop whatever abomination is hitting today’s headlines, really they just want a good fairy of the internet to wave a magic wand and make the nastiness go away.  The trouble is that the good fairy is a myth, the magic wand rubs out good stuff and the bigger the magic wand the more of the good stuff it rubs out.  And the nastiness still doesn’t go away.

Worst of all, when each has had its turn at waving the magic wand - the child protectionists, the responsible speakers, the cultural preservationists, the extreme speech purgers, the adcensors, the promoters of the public interest, the filth filterers, the religious reverents, the porn exterminators, the benevolent regulators, the upholders of community standards, the real namers, the guardians of the general good, the copyright cops, the internet safety inspectors, the privacy protectors, the departments of public harmony, the joke jailers, the moral champions, the speech cleaners and scrubbers and all the clamouring crew of prohibitionists – what then is left?
If the fundamental human right of free speech means anything, it is that we can build search engines without fear that the State will make us convert them into suppression engines.