Free Speech Online: Where Is the Line Drawn?1 | 2 |
Hughes would like to see the same standards of decency for broadcast applied to the Internet.
“The Internet shouldn’t get a free pass,” she said. “Since it has become the M.O. of how we communicate, then shouldn’t we have some rules for the road?
“If you could turn on the television and see people having sex, women having sex with dogs, people urinating in sexual ways, then that would be the same as the Internet. With television, if you want to get something that’s adult, you have to opt in to get it. When you turn on the Internet, you’ve got everything.”
But Hughes doesn’t believe this will change, as evidenced by what happened to the CDA and COPA.
“To go in and shift the paradigm to where everything’s locked down, and if you want free access to everything you’ve got to start opting out of the safe zone, that’s a huge jump from where we are. I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said.
Enough Is Enough has developed a three-pronged solution to provide a safe environment for children.
First, end users — especially those responsible for children — need to be educated on the dangers that exist on the Internet and implement safety measures to protect kids. Second, the technology industry must implement IT solutions and develop family-friendly policies. Third, there must be aggressive enforcement of existing laws and enactment of new laws to stop “the sexual exploitation and victimization of children using the Internet,” according to the organization’s Web site.
“You can’t expect parents and the public to enforce the law, and you can’t expect government to parent kids,” Hughes said. “Everybody’s got a unique role, and if everyone’s doing their part, then you’ve got a very strong chance that kids are going to be much safer online. But we’ve still got a long way to go in each of those areas.”
How Do Other Countries Tackle This Issue?
Not every country is as tolerant of free speech as the U.S. According to the 2007 OpenNet Initiative study, 25 out of 41 countries surveyed engaged in Internet censorship, and that number is on the rise, Palfrey said.
The most basic form of censorship can be found in Saudi Arabia, where there is a single gateway that everyone has to go through.
“Whenever somebody tries to access the Internet from Saudi Arabia, it goes through this proxy system,” Palfrey said. “The request from the user is judged against a blacklist, which says, ‘Is this site acceptable material or not?’ If it’s on the blacklist, they do not return the page.”
In direct contrast to that is China’s filtering system, which is a complicated multi-level strategy with a gateway at every possible level, and many people share the responsibility of filtering the Internet.
“They [effectively] erected the Great Firewall of China around the edge of the country, [which] turned out to be porous,” Palfrey said. “So at the Internet service provider level, there are blocks for material that [is] deemed to be harmful; there are blocks on search engines, including Google and others based in the United States; there are blocks through blog servers; there are blocks at the university level; there are blocks at the cybercafe level; and so forth.”
China is one of the most repressive filtering regimes. Anything that is a threat to its form of government or way of life is censored, Meeks said.
“Let’s look, for example, at the big earthquake that happened in China,” he explained. “People got all upset because there [were] a lot of schools that crumbled and children died. People got on the Internet criticizing the way the government handled that construction. The Chinese government stepped in and started to shut down access to information about construction and arrested people who were speaking out against the government.”
But Meeks doesn’t believe the Internet can be censored effectively even in China.
“[China has] their hand on the information pipe, and they squeeze it pretty tight,” he said. “There are ways to get around that, and people are finding ways to circumvent the Chinese censors all the time. But it’s kind of like escalating warfare. The Chinese clamp down harder, and then new tools spring up and find better and faster ways of circumventing that censorship. The Chinese government [then] retaliates by finding out what those are and clamping down even harder — so it goes back and forth.”
One might argue that any type of censorship runs contrary to the nature of the Internet, which is inherently about the free flow of information.
“One of the great advantages of being able to use the Internet is that people feel empowered to say things that they may not say face-to-face,” Meeks said. “If you are being censored, it chills the way you speak; it chills the way you use the Internet. It drops to the lowest common denominator, so things become no more useful than the dialogue taking place in an elementary school classroom.”
– Lindsay Edmonds Wickman, email@example.com | 2 |