Hands up who doesn’t feel like they should have taken George Orwell’s warnings a little more seriously when they first read Nineteen Eighty Four?
Cue the tumbleweed.
OK, so proposals to censor certain types of online content in the UK may not be quite the same as having a Ministry of Truth. But still, forcing users to opt out, or in other words declare themselves advocates of everything from the most depraved pornography to Far Right politics, simply to have open access to whatever they may (and may not) want to see, seems undemocratic and unfair.
Of course had this plan centred solely on questionable ends of the online spectrum then support would have been guaranteed. If you do want to see X-rated material online, then simply tick a box and consider it the same as any hotel’s dodgy channels; the billing department, just as the front desk, may know what has happened, but realistically providing it’s all technically within the law there’s really no problem. Just a sense of embarrassment when you pay the tab.
But it’s not quite that simple, and it’s a far more worrying prospect as a result. Not that we don’t trust the Coalition government’s good intentions. However, talk of including ‘extremist’ content in the sweeping move to remove all that could possibly offend is alarming when you start to ask who’s judgement this will be based on, and what kind of behaviour would fall under the rather loose term. Terrorism aside, should we throw activism, niche political parties, and anti-Westminster campaign groups into the melting pot too? And how will ‘inappropriate’ content be shortlisted? Through keywords?
As Wired so rightly quoted David Cameron as saying, circa 2011: “Governments must not use cybersecurity as an excuse for censorship or to deny people their opportunities that the internet represents”. But if this Open Rights Group article is anything to go by, you have to question whether he’s living up to the expectations such a quip led us to believe. As the piece points out, once data blocking is common practice it could be lights out for one of the last media platforms that genuinely puts people in charge of the information they receive.
Realistically it’s still a case of will they won’t they, but the ongoing controversy surrounding both America’s NSA, and Britain’s GCHQ (along with spy agencies in Australia, New Zealand and Canada), which have been monitoring data as it travels through the fibre optics, makes this kind of talk all the more startling. After all, we could think of better moments to announce the idea than amid a veritable moral panic about who’s watching who doing what online.
Unfortunately, it’s not really a question of what can be done. There’s plenty of opposition, but that hasn’t made any difference before when it comes to policy making, and so only time will really tell if the powers that be take heed of one ISP provider’s comments about ‘moving to North Korea’ if you want web censorship. As such, just in case the proposals do come to fruition, we thought it best to offer a few suggested items to add to the censored list, which will, if nothing else, make the Internet a less annoying place for us all. Simply tick the ‘opt in’ option if you want them to remain in place.
1. Pop-ups. Yes, every single one.
2. At least 30% of YouTube adverts. At the moment watching more than two videos can be an upsetting experience.
3. Bad grammar. We’ve all been online long enough to realise it doesn’t take long to check punctuation.
4. People who spend their entire working day sharing thoughts about how busy they are via Twitter. Unless their specific job is to share how busy they are via Twitter.
5. Sarcastically dismissive comments made on websites by ‘Anonymous’. At least have the decency to come up with a false name.
6. Any website that doesn’t provide contact details, and instead insists on visitors filling in an online form. Unless laws are introduced insisting on a response to the latter.
7. Trolls. Straight ban- what’s the point?
8. Rubbish ‘advice’ and ‘How to’ videos that fail to explain anything. We have no time for this.
10. Overly complicated required password combinations for websites that don’t store sensitive information. It’s just unnecessary.