In a discussion the other day, it was suggested to me that the internet should be regulated and that all sites, posts, entries and content should be overseen, edited if you like, before being cast into the public domain. “Are you crazy, I never realised that you aligned your politics with that of a fascist dictator!!”, was my response. The person that I was having the conversation with (the names have been withheld to protect the innocent) looked rather crestfallen at this as they considered themselves to be quite a liberal and enlightened individual who self-edited themselves for political correctness before speaking whilst at the same time read two broadsheet newspapers to ensure that they were constantly “up” with current affairs.
“So, you’re quite happy for your children to accidentally stumble across some of the filth and trash that is currently out there?”, was his response in an effort to parry my outburst. After reminding him that my children are now both in their twenties, not to mention that my youngest has a degree in journalism, I decided to also throw the old “freedom-of-speech” gambit into the pot. Now I must confess, this is a bit of a double-edged sword for the recipient, as you can either claim to not believe in free speech and thus confirm yourself to indeed be a fascist dictator, or you can utter the words, “Of course I believe in the freedom of speech….”, which is then usually followed by that small three lettered innocuous word that says oh so much……..BUT!!
What this really means is, of course you believe in the freedom of speech, but only if it agrees with your own ideology and sensibilities. Only if it appears on your own moral compass and most importantly, only if it falls within the confines of what society deems to be acceptable. But, surely speech is only truly free when you can say anything you like, no matter who you upset or disagree with. I make no apologies for paraphrasing Orwell, or was it Wells, as the sentiment of this statement rings as true now as when it was first uttered. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that should you say anything that is so defamatory, or derisory that it oversteps the boundaries of the law, then there should be consequences. But lets leave the police force, legal eagles and the judiciary to decide what is in and what is outside of the law.
I can’t deny, there is a lot of unsavory stuff on the internet and that’s putting it mildly, but I have always believed that the power of censorship lies with the individual. If I don’t like the look of something, I won’t click on it and if I disagree with something that I read, then I won’t visit that site again. I don’t need someone else to tell me what is and what isn’t suitable for me. Surely, the only people that are going to be looking at pictures of individuals with questionable morality in dubious poses with various farmyard livestock are those people who are actively seeking out these images. I can’t imagine that I will type, “release date of next Bond movie” into my preferred search engine, only to be directed to a number of sites that will show me how to make an explosive device out of kitchen foil, baking soda and a rolled up copy of the Radio Times.
Sure, I have thought how nice it would be to have an internet where there aren’t adverts popping up indiscriminately every three seconds. Or where you can get relevant results for a search that doesn’t require you filtering through umpteen pages of completely irrelevant sites that are just trying to flog you their wares or services. My concern is that this Utopian vision, will come at a cost, literally and that cost will probably be in the region of £19.99 per month, but the first three months are half-price! Another subscription!!! Arrrghhhhh!!! Add that to my phone tariff, broadband service, satellite television, Now-Flix, What TV and up- the-Amazon-without-a-paddle and I’m actually going to need to get a proper job to pay for it all. I can also see it leading to a two tiered internet service whereby all the nice shiny and relevant stuff is available to those who pay for it and all the dregs and gutter-slop are left for everyone else. I can see a virtual world akin to that represented in the film Demolition Man – a squeaky-clean, polite and clinical internet on the surface, but scratch a bit deeper and what lies beneath is a stinking pit of grime and squalor.
But, do you know what, I’ll take that dark and dank underworld because it will be my choice. The ethics and morals that guide me will remain, but more importantly they will be ones that I have chosen for myself and not ones that have been given to me. Surely, freedom of choice and freedom of speech are not separate issues. but things that are intrinsically linked like the two sides of a coin. If you only have one side, you no longer have a coin.
So for me the choice is clear, no censorship, no overseers, no regulators, leave it as it is and let us judge for ourselves.