Playing the Devils Advocate - Censorship on the web

The cries the moans the outrage, "dont take away my internet, not MY internet PLEEEAAASEEEE!!!!", the sentiment is ringing in my ears before i have even stated my case. But I beg of the reader of this potentially lengthy (and perhaps overwrought) post, stick with me on this because i believe there is more to this issue than meets the eye or tickles the impulse. We, meaning in my mind, heavy internet users and often gamers, are currently on hair-trigger-finger-explode response level for anything that threatens our freedom on the internet, many of you reading this will likely remember the difference between a dial up handshake that would fail, from one which would get that hallowed 56.6kb connection, and rightly you have made the web your second home. You covet it in all its excess and subversion. You stalk from virtual saloon to virtual saloon, clanking your heels, this is your town, "aint no body gunna take it, not no bu-ddy!"

But there is a new man in town, the twitterverse has exploded, spewing the bowels of humanity onto the streets of your fair city. It used to be easy to avoid the places of ill repute, sickipedia, something awful, and the like, but now its everywhere its in your phone, on your TV its popping up on your games console while you play kinect disneyland adventures, its piped directly into your brain on Xbox Live and PSN, Dear god its even fed to your children! Well ok maybe that is a little sensationalist but i think you all get my point.

When it comes to a sick joke or two im about the sickest of the lot, Baby in a microwave? Check. Non-white race doing something stereotypical? Check. Woman at the sink? Check. Humour is humour, it has no bounds, no addendums, no qualifiers. You do not asterisk the joke and say "oh but some of my best friends are colored/female/gay/dead/monkeys/all of these", no you joke and people laugh, because people do, like it or not we love to be shocked. The human brain is programmed to reward stimuli and nothing is more stimulating than something we didnt expect. Like it or not, the little machine that you call your body is constantly predicting and pre empting the likely set of events about to play out. This is why we derive so much pleasure from entertaining media, things outside of our personal experience. We cant possibly know what John McClean will do with a santa costume, a body and an elevator, this is why we love entertainment, and why we love jokes.

When a joke is offensive it is only offensive before being funny when it is not funny, whilst being offensive for offensiveness' sake can in itself be a multi layered form of humour, in 99% of cases it is merely a tool of aggression. I doubt there is a single one of you out there who hasnt internally spewed violent and disgusting vitriol, internally, toward another human being, maybe a school bully, maybe a local thug or a rapist whose horrendous deeds you read about in the paper, i know i have. But a lot of the time and for many ALL of the time, these things are not verbalised. We fear reprisal, perhaps a physical confrontation or a legal implication, or, more likely the base human fear of breaking from the crowd and expressing individuality. When we are accountable, when we stand there and say "This is me and this is my opinion!" our brain does some self censorship, we account for our company, our family perhaps, our position in the group, or society. We do many natural, instant, rewrites of our opinion to fit the context of our surroundings and associations, online this feature becomes a grayed out checkbox in the options screen of life. We have no true accountability online, no one can point a finger and say "it was him!" and this double edged sword has been secretly sharpening on one side.

When the talk of humour and the censorship of humour is raised, a common defense is to cite those comedians who tickle the nipples of the darker side during their shows, in the UK we have the spectacular Frankie Boyle a most disturbingly funny scotsman, in the US the late great Bill Hicks said a great many things considered bleeding edge in his time, more recently the wonderful George Carlin is enough to turn the pope to suicide or aethiesm in one fell swoop (he is also most triumphant at guitar), the list could be as long as any arm, but the fact is these people are not only accountable faces but they are accredited artists with a track record of bringing humour to a large enough demographics as to make the content of their material beyond reproach, whether it tickles you or not. On the web humour is not rated, is not judged or accredited and much is unfunny and juvenile even by very liberal standards, a shocking statement may elicit a laugh because its shocking, but it is not necessarily funny. Sometimes it is not even intended to be.

A recent case in the UK involved a young sportsman, Fabrice Muamba, a 23 year old professional black soccer player. You should understand that racism has recently been a prominent issue in the world of soccer in the UK but with these events it hit a new all time low. During a crucial Cup match, Muamba collapsed on the pitch, paramedics found him unresponsive and not breathing. He underwent CPR and defibrilator resuccitation on the pitch, the match was abandoned and he was taken to a specialist hospital in London. Of course the tributes poured in on twitter and trends formed fast. Suddenly a few accounts popped up sending the most aggressively racist tweets and poor jokes into all the get well feeds, all while this poor chap is fighting for his life on a hospital bed. The argument for humor here is almost impossible to defend because whilst i think it is ok to poke fun at someone recently deceased, tweeting, and i quote "£"$"£ that AIDS ridden $"$"£$$ he can die like the dog he is" on get well chats is a litte distasteful even to me, especially as i dont believe there is any evidence whatsoever that Muamba has AIDS or is in fact a dog. Thankfully it seems the fella will pull through his ordeal, although his professional sports career is likely over. The main offender on twitter has recieved a jail sentence of 56days, but more on that later.

Another recent case i recall, where i again felt my opinion on this whole topic being challenged, was the case of Sean Duffy, again in the UK, who posted jokes which i actually thought funny. However they were posted on the facebook page of a 15 year old girl who had jumped in front of a train, she was the subject of the jokes. In this case i was conflicted by the fact that i agreed somewhat with the humor but the implementation and usage of it was atrocious and deliberately hurtful, this fellow too recieved a short jail term.

Both of these cases highlight, in my opinion, the need for censorship and monitoring of public internet usage, but the ungainly methods being employed by authorities right now are flawed. It is only the lack of reprisal that allows people to cross that line from humorous to hurtful, and by its nature the web infrastructure already contains the perfect toolset to deal with this censorship. I will now propose my ideal method for dealing with content censorship on the web and would be most interested if this was debated in the thread (on the proviso that no one is mean to anyone else....that is a joke). My proposal is this, first we make the ISP responsible for tracking users by their hardware MAC codes, no identity needs to be established as i am not championing breaches of privacy or policemen kicking in doors to catch spammers, i just ask that MAC codes become accountable for the actions of their users. Then i ask that all websites allowing user generated content tie their users to these unique ID's, thus anything i write, globally on the web will be tagged with my token (obviously only the commercial web will abide these rules but if say google accepts to only index sites utilizing this policy then there wont be many legitimate places without it). Then allow users to filter global content by this token, and i do not mean any kind of voting system allowing a user to be victimized i mean PER USER filtering so if YOU find my dead baby jokes offensive you will never see me again, this gives the user the power and ultimately the great comedians of our time will survive (although be blocked almost entirely in middle america) and the trolls will find themselves increasingly lonely, its no fun to offend when no one is listening.

You see im not proposing a censorship institution, a government big brother telling us what we think and whats right, im totally against that idea, i propose we censor ourselves, we all have different opinions and different senses of humour. The web empowers us to receive any and all information but currently little choice of what we dontwant to see. As i said earlier, avoiding 2 girls one cup is easy, but when someone smears their bum gravy all over your twitter and facebook it isnt fair, it is not their place to distress your life and invade your world. But also i do not believe we need to go around imprisoning potty mouths with gestappo policing that wastes tax payers money and will inevitably attack the wrong people at some time. The system i proposed in a single paragraph would no doubt change the web forever, ushering in an age of moderation and self moderation to the wild west web. Where once the gun was the law, maybe the people could take their lives back through civility and diplomacy. We dont live in a world anymore where you must obey and fear the man with the biggest gun or sword, we live in a world supposedly free, and i say our freedom of choice and freedom of expression is best exercised in what we choose to accept personally, not what some choose for everyone to accept. So whilst some would claim any moderation of the internet is an affront to freedom of speech, i say that moderation in this manner is the biggest act of free thought we can enact on the new world, this town needs a new sheriff, and its YOU!