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Moderate the Internet? Best of luck on that one

Submitted by on Tuesday, 2 November 2010 No Comment

I’ve never tried to moderate the entire Internet, though I once took a stab at sorting out spats on one small corner of it.

My days were filled with complaints about “inaccurate opinions,” and my nights were jammed with “but he’s attacking me!”

That’s why I’m laughing uproariously about an idea in Britain that would create an agency in charge of policing the Web. Really, my sides are aching.

Under the proposal, Internet service providers would be forced to create a mediation service that would allow people who “have legitimate concerns that their privacy has been breached or that online information about them is inaccurate or constitutes a gross invasion of their privacy” to ask the “mediator” to remove it.

Note to self: Do not apply for that job. Ever.

You’d be busy 26 hours a day just dealing with piddly “he said/she saids” on Facebook without having a chance to get to real complaints

Those do happen once in a while. I’ve removed photos of people’s homes and automobile license plates that were posted online, as well as their addresses. Not that posting an address is necessarily an invasion of privacy. Most of them are printed in the phone book, which has a much wider distribution than this particular site had membership. The address in question, however, was not in the phone book so letting it remain on the site was problematic.

It was an address complaint, in fact, that inspired a British official to propose the ISP moderating cooperative. The location of a women’s shelter was published online, in Google Streetview – that’s a legitimate complaint and a big problem. I’m sure it was a frustrating, particularly life-threatening one, for the shelter, which said it was unable to get help in getting it removed.

I’m chuckling, though, that the British minister of culture thinks an ISP collaborative in his country is going to be able to force Google to take it down. What are they going to do, yank the company’s broadband account?

Yes, valid complaints should be taken care of immediately. Most sites, though, have mechanisms to do that. ISPs have nothing to do with overseeing everything from blogs to media sites to commercial enterprises, nor should they. Most countries have libel laws under which those wronged can seek damages. But most complaints about Internet content are not valid. They’re simply good old-fashioned hissing matches writ large.

It’s not the first time England Britain’s cultural secretary has tried to regulate the Internet. Fortunately, the first effort appears to have gone down in flames.

But for the fact that the proposal would cost the ISPs and their customers money, it would almost be worth the amusement to see someone give this one a go. I put my money on no one remaining in the job for longer than a week.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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