FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, November 19, 2004

Warning: Content Under Pressure

There's nothing new about blaming the Internet for society's ills. The sad thing is, the Web continues serving as a scapegoat, long after it has entered the mainstream.

In England, a young man took his own life after frequenting a Dutch-based website that advocated suicide. Said the coroner who was on the case of the site in question, "It is the height of irresponsibility to publish a site which could encourage someone to be tipped over the edge. The internet is there to educate and improve life, not destroy it."

Meanwhile, back in the States, a group of researchers is calling on Congress to investigate online pornography, which they call "more addictive than heroin." And of course, Congressional conservatives are only too happy to oblige. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on science, organized the hearings.

The question in both cases is not whether the Net is inherently "bad" -- an argument made in the mid-'90's when many were new to cyberspace -- but whether content creators are responsible for the actions of those who read or view their content. Also, is the Net being treated differently than other media in this regard?

To be sure, there's a lot of ignorant, antisocial and downright disturbing content out on the Net. But blaming these sites for other people's actions, in my view, is a cop-out. If we are going to hold individuals accountable for their actions, we can't allow ourselves to fall back on the argument that "the devil made them do it." If we're going to ban content that might encourage people to harm themselves, let's repeal the Second Amendment and confiscate all the guns. Or bring back Prohibition so we can save all those alcoholics.

In the case of politics, the Net is an attractive target. Congressfolk will pontificate and criticize online porn till their tongues fall out of their heads, and they'll look like proactive leaders, and no one in their right minds will challenge them for fear of being branded "pro-porn."

Netizens who have been online any length of time are no strangers to this kind of controversy. The best we can do is to educate others about the way the Net works, and the tools available to filter content where appropriate. And yes, there are disturbed individuals out there who need help. Let's focus on getting them the help they need, rather than painting an entire community with a broad brush.

Source: Techdirt