Saturday, 16 June 2012
My thoughts on anti-troll proposals
Here is my latest article from the English Democrats website...
Defamation Bill Threatens Internet Freedom
It's a sign of the times that the issue of internet 'trolling' has emerged from the relative obscurity of chat rooms on the world wide web to the point where it is deemed worthy of inclusion in legislation drawn up by the House of Commons.
The issue arose in this week's debate on the Defamation Bill (which can be viewed here), and several media outlets have picked up on the fact that as part of the proposals contained in the bill, internet companies and social network sites, such as Facebook, would be under new obligations to hand over the details of those posting defamatory statements anonymously online - the details of so-called 'trolls'.
A number of high-profile web-based attacks on various individuals (e.g. Louise Mensch MP) have been cited as need for such legislation, and at first glance it is hard to argue why anyone should be given the opportunity to defame people online in a way which would simply not be feasible in any other arena.
And it would be wholly understandable for anyone who has been the victim of internet trolling to support any and all legislation which would help to eradicate this thoroughly unpleasant business.
Yet before throwing support behind such proposals, it is worth taking a step back and reflecting on the effect which the internet has had on our world, and on our politics in particular, over the past decade and a half or so, in order that context be given to the proposals currently under discussion.
I first got involved in politics in 1995. Back then the barriers to entry for smaller political parties in the UK, especially patriotic ones, were huge. The internet was in existence, albeit in nascent form, and practically nobody had access to it at home. In those days, successfully making contact with a nationalist party could require a relatively herculean effort. If you didn't know anyone who was involved, and the party in question wasn't in the phone book (which it rarely was), and there was no active unit in your town who held activities and from whom you could obtain any publicity material through which to make contact (which there often wasn't), how would a young person wanting to get involved even know where to start?
Such a state of affairs will be so thoroughly incomprehensible to today's teenagers that we might as well be discussing what life was like two hundred years ago, so different is the situation today, where it is taken for granted that the vast majority of the world's information, and certainly the contact details for political parties, are just a few clicks away.
The internet has revolutionised our world and the free exchange of information through the internet continues to bring untold benefits to humanity. A world without the internet would be as unthinkable to us now as would a world without the printing press.
The internet has also done more to break down the barriers for smaller political parties in the UK, as elsewhere, than anything else in living memory.
Clearly there is a downside to the growth of the internet and it is undeniable that the web can also be harmful to society and can be used to the benefit of child molesters, terrorists, and all manner of criminals, though existing legislation is used in respect of these problems, which lies outside the scope of the Defamation Bill.
The growth of the internet has also provided a breeding ground for the aforementioned trolls, who seem very much to be in the crosshairs of the bill's drafters. Wherever action is taken to force internet service providers and websites to hand over the details of internet posters, freedom of speech inevitably takes a hit. For this reason, it must be considered very carefully whether this trade-off is worth it.
As free-thinking Englishmen and women I believe our default position will always be on the side of free speech as opposed to censorship, and despite my own personal contempt for those worthless beings of such low moral character who spend their days attacking people anonymously on the internet, 'trolling' is a phenomenon which is not worth eradicating if this comes at the price of limiting the freedom of speech of the rest of society.
This is not to say that people should be able to get away with threatening people with violence or suchlike. Existing legislation can be used to address this. The distinctions between this and the wider subject of trolling appear to have been blurred during the coverage of this parliamentary debate, either deliberately or through ignorance (or a combination of both, perhaps).
Rather than compromising our freedom of speech, what our politics and our society as a whole needs is for the right-thinking majority of our people to engage with one another through the internet and to take a grown-up approach to this revolutionary medium. Those hiding behind pseudonyms from which they attack others online should simply be ignored and treated with the derision that they deserve. When nobody pays attention to the smear of anonymous internet posters, the trolling will cease.
The internet should not be left to society's lowest common denominator. If used correctly it can be a tool for the betterment of humanity through which the creation of the kind of society in which seek to live can be facilitated. The prospect of censoring the internet will always be regarded as tempting by those in power, and this should be opposed by all those who value freedom of speech.
And for those of you who have been attacked by trolls and were shocked to have been identified as an enemy and targeted in this way, I offer you the following words from Winston Churchill;
"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."
Enemies who are so powerless that they cannot even attack you openly and under their own names are not worthy of your attention and certainly do not merit the passing of legislation which might adversely affect our freedom of speech.
See also: The Libel Reform Campaign and What goes around comes around