Tobold's Blog
Friday, October 12, 2012
 
A more polite internet?

In the UK a young man was jailed for 12 weeks for making grossly offensive Facebook posts. In Germany a court rules that a company had the right to fire another young man, after he put "slave drivers" in the section who he was working for on Facebook. In short: The law is catching up with the internet, and insults and libel on the internet will be treated like they are treated elsewhere.

Why did these cases all involve Facebook? Not because Facebook is a less polite place than other internet forums, but because Facebook doesn't offer anonymity. Right now you still have a good chance to get away with anything, as long as you post it anonymously. But that won't last. It is just a question of time until law enforcement will be able to find out the real name of everybody on the internet. Blizzard failed with their RealID plan, but increasingly that is what we will get. China is ahead of the west with a Real Name System, but the US has already shown interest in a similar system.

Now on the one side the free speech brigade will cite the dangers to dissidents from totalitarian regimes by this. But is that really a good argument against having such a system in a western democracy? If libel of the US government was a crime, the whole Republican party would be in jail right now. I wouldn't mind a system in which people could still use pseudonyms, but it was guaranteed that law enforcement could always find the real person behind that ID. Because the internet should not offer protection from prosecution of crimes. If the trolls couldn't hide behind their anonymity any more, maybe the internet would become a more polite place.

Comments:
If the trolls couldn't hide behind their anonymity any more, maybe the internet would become a more polite place.

Again:

1) Because knowing someone's name prevent bad behavior in real life?
2) Because knowing the guy who is being a jerk to you is named John Smith means anything?
3) Because China is a good example of what it leads to?

No thanks.
 
Now on the one side the free speech brigade will cite the dangers to dissidents from totalitarian regimes by this. But is that really a good argument against having such a system in a western democracy?

Yes, it is a good argument. The Internet is global and, like it or not, oppressive regimens will abuse any lack of anonymity. Do I worry that my government (UK) will abuse this? Yes, actually I do.

Take the case you mentioned about the chap jailed for 12 weeks. From memory his comments on FB were lacking in taste and style but were not directed at anyone who should have been grossly offended until someone else screen-shotted them and posted them elsewhere. They were then cross-posted to a forum when locals and family members were organising the search. Sadly the media feeding-frenzy surrounding the disappearance dictated the course of his trial.

Let's leave the dis-proportionality of the sentence aside - 12 weeks for a low-class joke? Burglars and muggers get less.

We had another similar case where a bloke made a joke about blowing up an airport (actually it was more oblique than that) who was arrested and convicted under the same piece of legislation. It eventually got thrown out at appeal with the judge passing comment about the ridiculous nature of taking the case to court at all.


What about the, hopefully unlikely, scenario where you're involved in raising awareness of rights violations in another country, maybe the unlawful execution of people because they don't believe in the same sky-fairy as their government. How do you protect yourself from that government when they press for you to be extradited to face blasphemy charges and potential beheading?
 
12 days for bad-wording on Facebook is way too much. Does UK kill pedophiles and assassins?
 
Yeah China is ahead of the West in being able to persecute political dissidents even when they try to operate anonymously on blogs.
 
Like it or not, I think Tobold observes a trend that is true: As the Internet becomes a standard part of our lives, governments that are more social will try to protect its citizens in that space. The Internet reminds me of the Wild West era of the United States. Eventually, California too was tamed and brought into the United States fold. Interestingly, in this example too, the East tamed the West.
 
I wish I could say I lived in a world where my supposedly fundamental right to freedom of expression wasn't trumped by some right to not have one's feelings hurt.
 
The right to anonymity if one so chooses is one of the cornerstones of free speech, at least in the systems I have come across.

Anonymity is not something that was invented by the internet: it is just way simpler to be anonymous there. I don't see any benefit for the freedom of expression in making anonymity harder to come by on the internet than on printed paper.

Having said that, I equally don't see any reason to apply less strict standards on the internet than elsewhere. A named publisher who is personally responsible for what is printed on paper or website alike is a good start, although the inherent internationalism of the digital word is of course a complicating factor!

Weekend time!
 
Your comfort with sending people to jail for trolling is a bit creepy.

Aside of course from the fact that millions of people are not in a position to speak freely on the internet as it is, everyone has the right to free speech.

The thing with rights is that if someone isn't abusing it, it isn't much of a right. Tolerance of douchebaggery goes with freedom. For the most part trolling is a controllable and ignorable phenomenon, and it's not like we're really anonymous right now; it just takes a bit of effort to ferret out our identities if there has actually been a serious crime that requires police attention.

Not to mention that any realID system would be either be incredibly easily to fake or incredibly draconian. I mean, what would prevent you from waiting for people to forget to log out at a computer lab and then using the computer to do permanent damage to that person's reputation, or reporting that you are dead or something?




 
It sounds like a good idea until you imagine a guy going to a drug-addiction/alcoholism/whatever support forum and deciding not to post because he's worried his boss might find out about it.

Or a kid struggling with depression/suicidal-ideation afraid to seek out help because he might one day want to run for office.
 
I don't even by into your more basic premise here... that lack of anonymity would improve civility. To the best of my knowledge, what few studies have been done on the topic actually show the opposite.

 
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d8/Free-speech-flag.svg/225px-Free-speech-flag.svg.png

The Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 was the first major attempt by the United States Congress to regulate pornographic material on the Internet. In 1997, in the landmark cyberlaw case of Reno v. ACLU, the U.S. Supreme Court partially overturned the law.[citation needed] Judge Stewart R. Dalzell, one of the three federal judges who in June 1996 declared parts of the CDA unconstitutional, in his opinion stated the following:[45]

"The Internet is a far more speech-enhancing medium than print, the village green, or the mails. Because it would necessarily affect the Internet itself, the CDA would necessarily reduce the speech available for adults on the medium. This is a constitutionally intolerable result. Some of the dialogue on the Internet surely tests the limits of conventional discourse. Speech on the Internet can be unfiltered, unpolished, and unconventional, even emotionally charged, sexually explicit, and vulgar – in a word, "indecent" in many communities. But we should expect such speech to occur in a medium in which citizens from all walks of life have a voice. We should also protect the autonomy that such a medium confers to ordinary people as well as media magnates. [...] My analysis does not deprive the Government of all means of protecting children from the dangers of Internet communication. The Government can continue to protect children from pornography on the Internet through vigorous enforcement of existing laws criminalizing obscenity and child pornography. [...] As we learned at the hearing, there is also a compelling need for public educations about the benefits and dangers of this new medium, and the Government can fill that role as well. In my view, our action today should only mean that Government’s permissible supervision of Internet contents stops at the traditional line of unprotected speech. [...] The absence of governmental regulation of Internet content has unquestionably produced a kind of chaos, but as one of the plaintiff’s experts put it with such resonance at the hearing: "What achieved success was the very chaos that the Internet is. The strength of the Internet is chaos." Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so that strength of our liberty depends upon the chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech the First Amendment protects."[45]

 
Anonymity is a protected element of free speech in America. MyIntyre vs Ohio Elections Committee in 1995 in one of the most recent Supreme Court cases on it. Given language like this from the highest court, it's not likely to go away soon:

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

That's really what it comes down to. Popular speech doesn't need protection -- unpopular speech does. Part of that protection is anonymity. American philosophy is big on giving people the tools they need to prophylactically protect themselves, rather than beg the authorities for protection after the fact. This is part of that.
 
Instead of removing anonymity I would like to see social media sources do a better job of enforcing their 'terms of use'. Almost all of them have rules regarding abusive language, they just don't put much resources into making sure the rules are followed.

Where I live here in Vancouver, Canada there is a current news story of a young girl who committed suicide after being repeatedly harrassed on Facebook. A young man got her to flash her breasts and then used the photos to blackmail her endlessly. The guy even used her breasts as his Facebook profile picture. Facebook never did anything to prevent this until it was too late.
 
You disprove your own premise. The guy said terrible things on Facebook, using his real identity. Your premise of politeness when identified is false. It's been disproven over and over.

Also, only the American Republican party would be in jail? Really? You're going partisan on this? As if the American Democratic party is completely squeaky clean? No, sir. All politicians would be in jail.

Frankly, I'm disgusted this post.
 
I started to defend Tobold, thinking he said Republicans because it looks like the Democrats control the Executive for the next few months.

Rereading it, I see that he said libel. In that case, he's utterly wrong, because truth is an absolute defense to libel in America.
 
"If libel of the US government was a crime, the whole Republican party would be in jail right now."

Tobold:

I really want to hear you defend that statement after the next 3.5 years when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are in the White House.

Remember Hillary? "I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you're not patriotic. We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJxmpTMGhU0

It's so easy to shut down free speech when your party is in power, not so much when you're on the outside looking in. If you want a country that shuts down a citizen's opinion, anonymous or not, I'll gladly show you the door to Iran or North Korea. Just stay the hell away from the USA.
 
Probably worth pointing out that the prevailing feeling in the UK legislature appears to be that the judiciary is setting far too low a bar for criminal prosecutions such as the one you mention. It's likely that either judicial guidelines or legislation will soon make it far less likely that anyone goes to jail for similar "crimes" in the future.

 
::eyeroll:: at the Republican comment. Try to come up with something at least original.
 
Anonymity is the most important part of free speech. Writers throughout history have used pen names to conceal their identity -to speak out against oppression- for fear of persecution. Not being able to speak anonymously would be the worst suppression of free speech imaginable. Or freedom in general for that matter.

Why don't we just put an implant in everyone's brain so we can read their thoughts. This way if they even think for a second that the government is corrupt we can locate them via gps and set them straight. Based on our current technological development this technology cant be more than 100 years off. Think if the (insert oppressive regime here) had this tech?

Also to think that a democracy cannot revert back into something less mature would be naive.
 
Rereading it, I see that he said libel. In that case, he's utterly wrong, because truth is an absolute defense to libel in America.

Are you saying that everything the Republicans say in this election about their opponents in government is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? And all the fact-finding sites that say otherwise are lying?
 
"Are you saying that everything the Republicans say in this election about their opponents in government is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? And all the fact-finding sites that say otherwise are lying?"

No, he's saying that the way to combat "libel" is to use counter it with truth, not shut them up.
 
The vast majority of "fact-finding sites" are anything but. They are effectively DNC surrogates. In any event, there is a large gap between "wrong" and "lie."

In fact, when dealing with public figures, libel in America requires both foreknowledge (you had to know what you were saying was untrue) and you have to prove actual malice (in that that only reason it was said was to harm the person it was being said about.) America puts a high, high bar on libel, and the more public the figure gets, the higher the bar. For the president, it is essentially impossible to libel them (which I think has been aptly shown by the claims right at our founding that President Jefferson was pimping his own daughters out in France.)
 
They are effectively DNC surrogates. In any event, there is a large gap between "wrong" and "lie."

So you say there is no intent of malice when rumors are spread that Obama is 1) a Muslim and 2) not born in the USA? Or that Obamacare would introduce "Death Panels" where the government decided to let granny die? You Americans have a way of running politics which is incomprehensible to Europeans.

And it is funny how those "DNC surrogate" sites point out all the instances of the Democrats lying about the Republicans.

I just read a story about CNN. They try to be fair and show an unbiased view of the truth. As a result their viewer numbers are slipping, because people prefer biased news sites like Fox.
 
No. Just no. We shall fight them on the internet, in the voting booths, we shall deploy layer upon layer of encryption and virtual networks, we shall educate the populace, we shall subvert the laws and we will always be one step ahead of the regulations. We will fight with fervor and protect your rights even from yourself. Speech should never be crime. The moment event the smallest amount is - then we have a system for abuse. And in charge will always come some monster like me that will know what it can achieve.

The laws are made by mentally old people. And most of them are technological ignoramuses. And always will be. So we will always have an edge there.
 
"So you say there is no intent of malice when rumors are spread that Obama is 1) a Muslim and 2) not born in the USA? Or that Obamacare would introduce "Death Panels" where the government decided to let granny die? You Americans have a way of running politics which is incomprehensible to Europeans."

1) Never been a claim of the Republican party.
2) Never been a claim of the Republican party.
3) True. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_Payment_Advisory_Board

"And it is funny how those "DNC surrogate" sites point out all the instances of the Democrats lying about the Republicans."

They don't. They acknowledge the most egregious, and then spin them as best they can.

Here's an example. They rate this as 100% false. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/oct/12/paul-ryan/paul-ryan-said-obama-was-nyc-same-say-bibi-dissed-/

Why is it supposedly false? Because Obama recorded something a day before it airs. They ignore that Ryan was talking about what America's enemies see, in which case the days that they air matter.

On the other hand, they rate this as a toss-up: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/oct/11/joe-biden/says-mitt-romney-paul-ryan-would-eliminate-guarant/

Why is it a toss-up? Because they doubt every word of Ryan and given Biden the benefit of every doubt.

That's how the bias works. Hold Republicans to the highest bar possible, and give the Democrats the most lee-way that they can do without the bias being obvious even to the head-injured and mentally incompetent (i.e. journalists.)

CNN tries to fair, and fails, because they are both biased and incompetent. Fox has ratings because they actually show both sides of the argument. Fox doesn't draw its viewers just from the right side of the aisle. It draws from both sides. It employs liberals like Juan Williams and Alan Colmes as pundits. It quotes both sides of an argument accurately. Can you name one real conservative pundit on CNN?

In America, we have an actual debate. (The big debate, not the presidential pageants.) The People want information. Fox gives it to them. CNN et al does not. CNN and the others try to tell them how to think, and that offends Americans. You don't even get what our debate is about, because you are fed nothing but biased advocates from one side of it.
 
No, he's saying that the way to combat "libel" is to use counter it with truth, not shut them up.

So turn it into a he-said she-said game?

Speech should never be crime. The moment event the smallest amount is - then we have a system for abuse.

Speech is not globally protected, some of it is already a crime.
 
The law is catching up with the internet, and insults and libel on the internet will be treated like they are treated elsewhere.

The law handles insults these days?

And the stupidity of treating words on the web that are read by dozen people the same as words that are read by thousands or millions is incredibly unlawful. It's charging someone with an event that did not occur.

Tobold, I think your imagining it all working out just perfectly in your favour.
 
RE: Azuriel:

1. Not in real life, over the internet. But it may extend to real life as well, who knows...

2. Not to you no, but it means that the police can find him easier if he breaks a law.

3. China isn't all bad. Quite a lot of what they started has willingly been adopted by the western countries.
 
Tell these folks that China's not so bad.

http://cecc.gov/pages/victims/20121010_PPD.pdf

Oh, right, you can't, because they are being held incommunicado (if they haven't already been executed).
 
China is a horrible country which incarcerates 121 out of each 100,000 of its inhabitants. In the USA it is 730 out of each 100,000. A world record. At some point in the future we will see Chinese delegates wanting to talk to the USA about the US human rights records, and the USA trying to avoid those talks. :)
 
And China gives out accurate statistics at the drop of a hat. You can google them any time.

USA just needs to have more folks working in rice paddies and things will be fine.
 
China doesn't have to worry about as many prisoners when they are executing more than 3500 a year.

And then billing their families for the bullet. (Apparently, socialism only goes so far.)
 
That would nearly sound reasonable if the USA didn't also have the death penalty. I find it hard to argue that the number of people killed or the cost of the bullet makes a moral difference. State-sanctioned murder remains state-sanctioned murder.
 
The US executes less than 50 people a year. The list of capital crimes in America is very short, murder and child rape. (Things like treason are on the list, but there is no one on death row for any other offenses.)

China executes more than 3500 a year, for things like arson, counterfeiting, and robbery.

There is no comparison. And those are just the OFFICIAL capital crimes in China, not counting the political prisoners who are executed extrajudicially and the people who are framed of a capital crime for organ harvest.

Seriously, when you are holding up CHINA as your defense, you are morally bankrupt.
 
So you are saying that somebody who kills 50 people is morally superior to somebody who kills 3,500? I would say that makes YOU morally bankrupt. My country kills nobody.
 
Sure they do. They just do it more slowly.
 
Sorry to disappoint you, but we don't jail people for "99 years" either.
 
So instead you kill your innocent citizens by letting psychotics back out onto the street?
 
So you justify killing by simply deciding that anybody who receives the death penalty is a psychotic? I'm sure that if I had a Chinese commenter, he would argue exactly the same.
 
I'm not justifying anything. You were bragging about how your country doesn't do long prison sentences.

Your view of America is just wrong. It's very much like the South Park view of WoW. It has the right look, but as far as how things actually work, none of it is accurate.
 
Your view of America is just downright insulting to everybody else. You say it is America, and only America, who by their special genius found EXACTLY the right number of people to kill. Everybody who kills less is stupid, and everybody who kills more is morally corrupt.

Sorry, but morals work in absolutes. Either you are for murder by the state, or you are against it. You can't just say that a little bit of murder is morally superior to none or too much.

And the incarceration rate is a direct sign of the moral bankruptcy of the US economic system. You drive people into poverty, and then lock them up, over 2 million of them. Your claim that China has a similar incarceration rate, only hidden, is laughable, as that would mean 8 million prisoners nobody knows about in China.

Simply put: The US has one of the worst legal systems in the world. And one of the worst health systems. And one of the worst social systems. That is not South Park, it is fact and figures. How proud of those achievements you are only shows how deluded you are.
 
You've got us.

And we've got your best and brightest as our immigrants.

Figure that one out.
 
Sorry, you don't have immigrants any more either. You're kicking out the illegal ones, and you can't get into the country with a student visa any more either. Facts and figures again: Legal immigration to the USA is at an all-time low.
 
Not sure where you get your "facts and figures". It's is most certainly not an all time low. It's not even a four year low.

http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2011/ois_yb_2011.pdf
 
http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/net-migration-from-mexico-falls-to-zero-and-perhaps-less/

By the way, you DO realize that I'm just demonstrating to you that your defense of unlimited free speech means that I can attack whatever it is that you value?
 
That's where you are wrong -- it's the free speech I value.

And I said we get YOUR best and brightest. (We get mexico's too, which are not the illegals.)
 
Oh great, because you can't measure what "best and brightest" is, you finally found a claim I can't dispute with facts and figures, because it is completely subjective.

How do we know that the "best and brightest" of the USA aren't those 6 million non-military US citizens that emigrated to other countries?
 
Oh great, because you can't measure what "best and brightest" is, you finally found a claim I can't dispute with facts and figures, because it is completely subjective.

How do we know that the "best and brightest" of the USA aren't those 6 million non-military US citizens that emigrated to other countries?
 
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