June 27, 2008


(a) Are They Screwing The Right Hole With ‘Community Moderation?’

In studying the Internet or indeed any profound technological medium where free and hate speech features. There’s always the risk of running aground, if we begin our enquiry by demanding what is genuinely new?

For almost every ‘change’ has some precedent in human history.

In my view this observation is significant from a legal planning POV as it allows stakeholders to fashion an optic to view this whole matter of hate speech and incitement in the internet in it’s proper perspective.

What we need to understand here from the onset is neither hate speech or racial incitement is a problem that is specific and unique to only the internet. Hate speech and incitement has been around since the beginning of recorded history – it’s hardly novel.

This brings into stark focus; the impetus for ‘change’ can never be based on ‘novelty’ but rather ‘salience’ when we decide on the issue of whether hate and racist speech should be subject to “community moderation” i.e what elements of social behavior does a new technology make particularly ‘salient’ that went relatively unnoticed before?

Identifying the salient allows us to focus on the relevant instead of falling into the hyperbole trap of getting distracted by the usual litany of ‘noise’ that so often features in a debate concerning hate and racist speech.

I feel it’s vitally important to re-state the need for scale and perspective here by reaffirming the ‘novelty’ and ‘salient’ bench mark.

Allow me to give you a real case study which I was directly involved in to illustrate the importance of differentiating between the ‘salient’ and the ‘novel.’

Glue sniffing was identified by criminologist in the UK during the early 80’s as a relatively new problem which posed a challenge to the British Penal Code.

There policy lawyers i.e lawyers who formulate enablong acts were confronted with a veritable hubris; do we create another law to deal with this new menace? Perhaps we should uutsource this to the social services? Ammend the law; or even create a committee run by the minors court?

When the ‘salient’ i.e causation was eventually identified by the social studies group based in Tyne i.e the predominant cause was identified as the easy supply of glue to minors; this led to a very clever way of curbing further abuse of this new hallucinogenic which posed a great social challenge to the social services.

Till this day, glue sniffing itself is NOT against the law, but it is an offence, under the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 (UK) to supply a solvent to a young person under 18 if there is reasonable cause to believe that the fumes might be inhaled.

What we see here is the onus or what one calls in layman’s language the ‘gate keepers’ role shifts from consumer to the supplier; in the long run profiling such laws based on the ‘salient’ as opposed to the ‘novelty’ factor creates laws which effectively protects minors and offers ample room for rehabilitation instead of resorting to strict liability and punitive measures which would otherwise victimize them.

What we see here is not only a very effective way of resolving a social conundrum at ‘source point,’ by accurately appraising the ‘novelty’ and ‘salient’ drivers; but also a very clever usage of the law that proposes to set punitive measures directly on those who are most responsible for this menace.

Now if we juxtapose this case study on what the blogger 15 are trying to accomplish by attempting to set up a ‘consultative committee.’

We may need to examine whether the substantive reasons behind their motivations to do so is based on either the ‘salient’ or ‘novelty?’ – what disturbs me is hardly any effort is made to draw the nexus between causation and solution forming / this in my view is a serious lapse – if it’s the latter i.e hate and racist speech is novel, then we may rightly draw the logical conclusion, this committee will have absolutely no bearing on alleviating the problem associated with hate speech and incitement in the net.

Central to the whole debate is does the advent of the internet emphasise and problematise a new or a old problem? i.e is hate speech and incitement a new phenomenon?

I don’t wish to embellish the outcome; so I will reserve final comment for the time being and leave this to the reader to decide.

(b) Is Hate and Racist Speech an Old Problem Dressed Up As New?

My second point is paraphrased as a caveat and it’s a corollary of the whole ‘salient’ and ‘novelty’ formulation that I have just elucidated; in this area, the thematic questions would take the shape of: Q: Are these negative aspects we are increasingly registering in the internet more pervasive, or more central than it was before? Or is there another reason accounting for these spikes? Can perhaps the visibility, trackability and traceability of the internet medium account for these sudden increases in what we term as racist and hate speech? 

This prompts us to consider the asymmetrical question: whether those less desirable features of internet culture such as hate speech and incitement may well have always been present? Is it conceivable only now they appear to us with a special sense of importance or urgency?

This caveat needs to be underscored as the phenomenon of all technological change modifies and disrupts social relations. It foregrounds certain elements and aspects of social life, making them more central, more salient, more important than they were before.

That caveat also helps us critique the emerging direction of what this committee proposed by these 15 bloggers are trying to accomplish.

I see two disturbing trends in the ongoing debate concerning the issue of “community moderation.”

The first is the increasing assumption that reliance on law is somehow equatable to some thing less desirable or perhaps a manifestation of state inspired heavy handedness – I don’t agree with this simplistic assumption.

As Missy Dotty mentioned in the first segment of this series; far from regressing sedition laws are increasingly being used to tension the ties within society. Her illustration points to the recent anti holocaust legislation which makes denial a criminal offence in the EU – I would go further and cite an Australian precedent where in 2005 the Federal Government argued that the reasons for revitalising the sedition offences were to: (a) prevent terrorism; (b) protect the integrity of the electoral process; (c) protect public order from threats posed by inter-group violence; and (d) prevent seditious or treasonous speech in the classic sense. Now what’s worth emphasizing here these new reforms replace the old sedition laws with five new offences!

Why is this observation worth underscoring? It harks back to my second point concerning the caveat, I presented earlier : “whether those less desirable features of internet culture such as hate speech and incitement may well have always been present, but now they appear to us with a special sense of importance or urgency?”

My view is it’s important to ascribe a sense of scale to this whole issue of using laws to manage speech not only in the net but also out of it. I am not forwarding for one moment the notion if 27 countries in the EU and the Australians are extending their sedition laws; then we should follow suit; but what I am saying is Singapore is certainly not North Korea! And no where near the level of unreasonableness that would confront the typical challenge of any society in this age!

If you examine the text, tone and measured discourses of the blogger 15, you will find that at no time to the even attempt to scale our sedition and even section 33 Films Act with this glaring reality – the reality is simply this; we are living in complex times which exerts tremendous pressures on society and the law; the law simply needs to reinvent itself to accommodate these changes; this is very far from the dystopian landscape which they have painted; its inaccurate and a misrepresentation of fact to say that our reliance on laws to manage hate and racist speech is inconsistent with the reality that’s often played out in the international scene.

(c) Will This Committee Proposed By The 15 Bloggers Prove Relevant And Effective?

My third and final point relates to the efficacy of this committee which has been proposed by the blogger 15.

It would appear based on a cursory examination, the only reason why they (the blogger 15) have proposed the formation of such a committee is the wide held belief digital technologies foster a type of interactivity that’s all together unique and cannot be effectively regulated by the law.

How robust is that assumption?

Granted, the internet certainly allows ordinary people to route around traditional media gatekeepers and offer new ways of appropriating and transforming what people usually find in newspapers and magazines.

But here is the catch. These same features of the new technologies that empower ordinary individuals also creates a very old problem dressed up as new; social conflict.

That should not be surprising. We often think of new technology as something that liberates us, if we are optimists, or threatens us, if we are pessimists. Technology produces either utopia or dystopia. But what technology more often does is create social conflicts which are no different from those that once took place in the age of sail or when people had to manage with candlelight.

Conflict be in the internet or even the jungle is one of the same and this is where one needs to ask which instrument serves the imperative of freedom of speech better; is it the ruminations of a committee that can only seem to agree to disagree on so many key points? Or is it the crystal clear ark light of the unambiguous law with its historical precedence, text, history and reason?

Which one would you rather trust if you’re standing in the dock facing a sedition charge?

At the end of the day that’s what it really boils down too; the smallest common denominator; the small man; in my view, if what’s on the table can’t even give him a level running fieldt; then you don’t even have such a thing as a right, as no comparative system even exist – it’s time to stop and think.

[This is article has been brought to you courtesy of the newly created Free Internet Library Board – 2008 / The participants are Catherine The Great, the site owner of “JUST STUFF” Missy Dotty, Montburan and Prima Delli .This message from Darkness:  this article was generated by a N-95 program courtesy of the Mercantile Guild – FILB 2008]

Are You Getting Only One Version From The Online Citizen? Never Fear, The Free Internet Library Service Is Always Glad To Be of Service – Read & Learn Abt “Community Regulation”


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