Give gossip on the Internet its own domain
Last week we examined the double-edged sword of free speech, or rather, the double-edged Swiss army knife of the Internet.
From the corkscrew of anonymous Web postings to the tweezers of YouTube censorship in China to the screwdriver of teenage cyberbullying to the tortured, nonsensical metaphors of tech columns, the Internet is filled with weirdness that both enlightens with one click and makes you ashamed to be human with the next.
The question is, Can anything be done to quell the bad stuff without muting the good stuff?
One reader commented with a brilliant solution that, unfortunately, could never work because it makes too much sense: Why not restrict Web access to those 18 years old or older?
After all, in the wrong hands, the power to post can pack the same destructive wallop as cigarettes, alcohol and R-rated movies, and all of those are age restricted, at least on paper.
This might've worked, if our politicians had the keen technological expertise to implement such limits 25 years ago.
But it's too late. You can't password-protect the toothpaste after it's already been squeezed out of the series of tubes.
Now, trying to restrict Net access is like playing smut whack-a-mole, especially when it comes to kids. In a pinch, most could rig their counter-top toasters to download JPEG images of 2007's Playboy Playmate of the Year.
So my rather pie-in-the-sky solution is to create a new Internet domain that both denounces all crass keystrokes while defending the right to stroke them.
Back in the waning days of the analog era, a rumor spread in my high school that a freshman got caught doing something to himself in the honors bathroom that would be frowned upon by most major religions.
His name escapes me at the moment, and that's my point. This is what nature intended. Innuendo should have the structural integrity of a sand castle; facts should be Mount Rushmore.
In its organic state, vile gossip's destructive ripples fade with time. But the Internet turns it all into stone like everything else. Humans are designed to believe what they read, especially if they can come back tomorrow or 20 years from now and read the same thing.
What we need is a new Web domain for gossip-related content that mimics the natural life cycle of all other misguided hearsay -- instead of ".com," it would exist in ".bs" for content you'd "better suspect."
Everything from "britney.bs" to "freelaptop.bs" to "ObamaLovesHummus.bs" would operate in all ways identical to the regular Web, with one exception: Once posted, the type and graphics would fade 10 percent every day until they disappear.
Like all bullies, cyber ones are generally lazy creatures who commit mischief of opportunity. Cyberbullies might blog "Rosie is a fat loser" once, but few have the determination to re-post it every 10 days for the rest of their lives. Donald Trump could pay someone to do it, but even he'd eventually agree it would be a waste of money.
So can ".bs" happen? Probably not. But until it does, it might be a good idea to assume it's part of every site on the Web.