Censors think evil can’t work without a Net
In early March a Kentucky lawmaker introduced a bill that would make all anonymous Web comments illegal, punishable by fines of up to $1,000 for each offense.
Two weeks ago it was reported that a 17-year-old girl in Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit after she was disciplined by her school for using off-color words to describe administrators on her own blog written on her own time from her own home.
Last week, Japan's four major Internet service providers agreed in principle to ban all file-sharers from the Web.
Also, news broke that New Jersey is conducting a consumer fraud investigation against juicycampus.com, a Web site that allows anonymous posters to upload derogatory gossip about students on the nation's many college campuses.
And just days ago, China cut off access to YouTube in an effort to restrict access to video from the ongoing violence in Tibet.
It seems the Internet has become flooded with the free flow of information about the need to dam the free flow of information.
Of course, it's easy for any sane person to pick and choose which of the above restrictions sound reasonable. What's crazy is to think that any two sane people would have an identical list.
First, let's boil down the shut-them-up point of view for each item: After the suicide of St. Louis teen Megan Meier, who was called names on MySpace by someone she thought was a cute boy (but allegedly was the mother of another girl who lived down the street), shouldn't something be done to stop predators so parents can sleep at night?
That outspoken teen blogger in Connecticut wasn't expelled or suspended -- just kept off the student council and not allowed to speak at graduation. Isn't it a good lesson to learn that words have consequences?
Japan knows most file-sharers are up to no good. Why not cut off piracy at the source?
Juicycampus.com claims it will take down really nasty comments, but rarely does. Would you want a scandalous lie about you sitting forever on the Net in 18-point Helvetica?
And as for China, a country run by civil engineers, it only makes basic plumbing sense to first turn off the media main line before fixing the cracked pipes spewing dissent all over the place.
And now, for the free-speech point of view: WHAT THE %@*& (redacted)!?
Bullying, slandering, thieving, conniving and inciting insurrection all predate the Internet, as do the motivations, cowardly or noble, to hide such deeds from plain view. If you don't think even the worst of the above activities can serve a higher purpose, consider that in the 1770s many Bostonians were routinely doing all five to King George (and his representatives) before lunch.
Thus, the balance between free speech and the public good has always been delicate -- more rickety still now that it's swept up in the Digital Age's furious winds of change.
So, what should be done? Well, it would be the height of gall to think this Digital Slob could solve all these intricate issues in one tiny column.
But two should do it.
Next week: The search for an online free-speech compromise (assuming my ISP doesn't shut me down).