Championship 10-is

As a stamp collecting teenager (oh come on, it’s obvious), I risked the wrath of philatelists by barely caring about the packets of definitives bought from WH Smith each week while taking care to count each stamp from every country or even totting up the face value of every stamp, and compiling charts and lists. Borderline autism or generally bloke-ish behaviour? A little from column A and list B….and chart C….and all the rest of them.

At one time, “news aggregators” were the unassuming corner of the Internet, functional and a bit boring. What happened next appears to be contamination with whatever icky fluid comes out when the ‘net starts leaking; aggregating news and affairs is all very well, but what people really like are MEMES and GIFs and KITTENS. And lo did come website brands mixing snappy images and quirky copy, and now the laziest trick in print journalism has come to the Internet for good – and by the heavens does cyberspace love it when laziness from print actually works out for them. “Time Sink” websites, those created to promote their own writers’ versions of comedians snarking “What’s THAT about?” over two pages, now make up most Facebook and Twitter feeds, hitting all the usual buttons for general consumption on a lazy office day or dull commute.

From the bog-book to the browser, “time sink” websites have made the Top 10 list their own, and just as they’re the product of mixing education with entertainment, they’re proving successful in making waves in news reporting too. Well, not “reporting” per se, but both US and UK politics exist with a parallel commentary on-line fuelled by BuzzFeed and the like running gifs and video clips of politicians and protests, feeding an on-line audience with the highlights of a political issue without having to bother with all the formality of television news or newspaper copy. Add to that video accounts, such as WatchMojo, and it appears the fastest growing market on-line is chart countdowns.

BuzzFeed aims to become more involved with news and current affairs in the coming years, which bodes well for British politicos preparing for 2015. It has already spread far from listing ten funny pictures of cats into such Facebook favourites as inspirational quotes and modified National Geographic style photographs. It can, and will, only grow bigger as the power of the easily consumed, rapidly forgotten list site stretches beyond the boundaries of the Internet. Watch how the tabloid press adopts the practices of BuzzFeed – and how the broadsheets ape Wired or Mashable with “click along for the next photo, what do you mean advertising revenue?” model of article construction.

The growing popularity of the list article and the “time sink” sites that use them may fade, if the internal battle between informative article and Internet feature is won by the latter. Sites such as Mental Floss and Cracked have amazing engagement figures from merely placing a link on Facebook, such ‘lazy clicks’ as happen in their thousands whenever people browse on their phones or tablets. What interests me is not so much the reduction of so much information into chunks, but how American sites have cornered the market so rapidly. All the main players – from Mashable to Cracked – are American, and ‘news aggregators’, where this all started, are mostly American too. Is the trivia gene dying out in the UK or are Americans more tuned-in to the ‘net’s opportunities to make advertising revenue out of the instant attraction to top 10 lists and collated video clips?

Memo to self – draft ‘Top Ten Differences Between US and UK websites by tomorrow’

Trolling away…

Is this sort of behaviour from Nadine Dorries (MP for Mid-Bedfordshire) an example of trolling?

What about this tweet from Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan?

I ask because in Ye Olde Days ‘to troll’ meant to post provocative content, often repeatedly, to fish for reactions. What Dorries and Hannan are doing above matches my understanding of “troll” in the early days of messageboards and chat-rooms. Neither example fits into what I understand to be the “new” definition, which could be leading us into trouble.

I appreciate language moves on and develops on-line and off, which is why we say “apps” and “ghost town” rather than “programmes” and “Google +”. But how has troll been adapted and adopted so much that it appears to have become the go-to buzzword for any kind of negative behaviour? Or for that matter any kind of perceived bad behaviour? I don’t remember the day when the definition flipped from ‘mild irritant’ to ‘anybody swearing on the Internet’, and I don’t believe it’s particularly helpful for debate to have the new definition continue unchecked.

As with David Cameron’s attempt to tackle on-line porn with a belief that everything from a thirty-second wanking video to a full three-hour HD clusterfruitcake is the same thing (and therefore MUST BE BANNED *pitchfork*), I fear some people are confusing and conflating all manner of different Internet character traits into one big blob of negativity for the sake of advancing a cause they don’t fully understand. Indeed there’s a danger that those shouting “TROLL” are guilty of trolling themselves, refusing to countenance debate and blocking anybody who questions their logic. It’s a very difficult task to balance defiance with diligence and often those who refuse to enter conversations can be those who shout loudest about fairness, freedom of expression, and the right to free speech.

Let’s be honest about the level of debate on-line, particularly Twitter. It’s not great. This is not quite how the Greeks would have imagined democratic discourse. People get very angry behind keyboards for all manner of reasons – they think the laptop screen is a defense shield, they think the keyboard gives them special powers, they think the Internet is a “leveller”, making celebs, MPs and the like fair game for talking to like anybody else. It’s another “fine line” argument; to what extent to we allow people to swear, insult and flail about and what is the acceptable cut-off point between acceptable responses and unacceptable content?

Calling David Cameron a “cock”, a “cunt”, and a “ham-faced wanker” each and every time he posts a tweet has swiftly become a national hobby. It’s rude and crude and all the rest of it, but it’s generally harmless. It’s not trolling to automatically reach for the f-word, in my opinion, even if it’s right to call it rather childish and unproductive. If you want to discuss the rights and wrongs of D-Cam there are other places to do so on-line, and often with the space to fully express your opinions. The race to be first in an Internet argument has created an unfortunate situation whereby detailed responses are becoming increasingly rare, reducing many discussions into “bad verses good”, “yes verses no”, “right verses wrong” slanging matches. It’s little wonder that the insult “troll” has become just as easy to reach for as “wanker” in places such as Twitter where every letter counts.

But shutting down a conversation/debate/argument with “Whatever, you’re just a troll, bye” is insolence and childishness. The conflation and confusion in the changing definition of “troll” means that it’s all too easy for those idiots who threaten sexual abuse to innocent women to become associated with harmless people who just want an proper debate. It’s much harder to access politicians and celebrities if they use ‘troll’ to mean anybody who dares question their opinion. The Internet would not last long as a place to share ideas and opinions if the high-ups conclude that anyone who tries to debate is piss-taker or potential abuser.

It can mean the act of willingly taking the mickey for fun, just being silly, or poking the hornet’s nest. This is why we have to be careful about using it to justify policing the net.

What Caroline Criado-Perez has gone through just because she lobbied the Bank of England to accept Jane Austen on a banknote is the worst example of abuse. To be threatened with rape because of her campaign is basement level idiocy, grotesque and gruesome. Nobody should have to suffer such an onslaught of knuckle-dragging cuckoo-bananas lunacy. I have no doubt that many of her critics are idiots and trouble-makers without a genuine point to make if they had 1,000 days to think of one. Idiots of the highest order are acting like keyboard warriors, sending bomb threats to journalists for a cheap laugh, much in the same child-like manner that people make prank calls to the police. It’s not a “cheap laugh” at all for the people who have to suffer the constant flow of sludge into their inboxes.

All this said this is where my default position kicks in. I have always felt uneasy whenever I hear about added regulations against free speech. There’s a very serious argument to be had about the future policing of the Internet, whether or not it ends up led by a highly committed group of female rights campaigners with Parliamentary support. I cherish the freedom of speech and right to reply which the Internet allows, just as I cherish the need to fight back against abusive behaviour. This debate may redefine the Internet in the UK forever, which is why I hope we can agree on what exactly “trolling” is before everybody gets the Internet they wished for…

Pornhuff

If you visit one of the plentiful Adult Entertainment websites around the Internet, you may find yourself looking at dozens of small screens providing a preview of the delights on the other side of the link beneath them. Now I understand that people don’t visit Adult Entertainment websites all the time, so to provide a clue to their layout, here’s some clips.

Oh sorry, that appears to be the Daily Mail. Whoops. Slap my *innocent face*, how could I make that mistake?

There’s been an ongoing Puritan streak through 2013 in the UK, something I’ve blogged about before in similar circumstances to where we are this week. The Independent newspaper has slumped around the “dark web” to pour yet more ‘evidence’ against the safety of the Internet in general and David Cameron maintains that the battle between Google and the Government can only go in one way.

The oh-so-moral Daily Mail has preached about its “success” in pushing David Cameron to stick an pornography opt-in for each and every ISP in the land. And we all say, “Oh for the love of the 21st Century….”

Right at the core of this argument is misunderstanding, a confusion of what is meant by “porn”. Feminists arguing against Page 3, child protection campaigners and tabloid hacks have all been squeezed and squashed and thrust together to make a single clusterfruitcake of chaos. It’s not a coherent argument to say “ALL PORN IS BAD”, nor “WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN”. Neither is it a moral victory to block porn in the UK at the same time as championing the breasts, legs, buttocks and stomachs of every A- B- C- D- E- F- G- H- I- J- K- L- M- N- O- P- Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y and Z- list celebrity woman who dares walk out  of home, work or nursery with(out) make-up. The very last breaths of a dying mainstream media stinks of puritanical hysteria, and such a combination of contradictory stances can only come from a source confused about the target of its protests.

I’m not here to demand freedom for everyone to access anything they want. It’s sensible for companies to restrict what can be accessed through free wi-fi such as The Cloud or through public libraries, etc. Parents of young children are completely within their rights to restrict or reduce Internet access on their own terms. Of course material which goes beyond the definition of extreme into criminal harm or abuse or violence must be stopped; but that’s what existing computer misuse laws exist to catch.

Crowing about blocking access to porn is the most backwards of all regressive steps, and Lord above knows how many strides into antiquity this country takes with each passing year. It’s bad enough living in a 19th century state with regards to drug law, attitudes to sexuality/gender politics and electoral administration/democracy, without having to add private use of personal computers to the list. I remember that crass and ignorant maxim – “If we change our way of life, the terrorists have won” – and now wonder whether every Cabinet Minister chose to run with it as a general daily slogan. This isn’t just “Yes Minister” levels of administrative hell, this is “The Day Today” gone feral.

What exactly is the “porn” which scares the Daily Mail so much? Do they appreciate the small percentage of extreme material which exists amongst the thousands of fuzzy, out-of-focus, barely entertaining amateur material uploaded to XTube every day? Have they checked out PornHub to audit an accurate ratio of 30-second wanking clips to subscription site previews? Is this the end of Cam4 as we know it?

As with drink, drug and sexuality policy, this country needs a grown up discussion on pornography. It’s beyond pathetic to live in a 21st Century democracy on the eve of the Prime Minister announcing the curtailing of personal freedom and choice on the back of a blind, quasi-religious freakout. The entire issue has been conflated and confused into a breathless crusade against sex, ignoring genuine problems (female body issues, much ignored male body issues, sex worker health and safety) for the sake of a quick thrill at the dispatch box. It’s bad enough living in a state where the ‘great sins’ are considered fair game in the race to the panic button, I’m not sure exactly how we can show our faces if the right to watch sex on a screen is robbed by here today gone tomorrow politicians.

I don’t care about “Won’t somebody think of the children?” I’m bothered by  “Won’t somebody think of the adults?!”

Game Over

The new video game sensation is ‘The Last of Us’, and for the Guardian’s Stuart Heritage, it’s bringing to clear focus just how hopeless he is playing them.

And you know what, Stuart, me too.

As a child of the 80s and 90s, my game memories begin with the beige box of dreams that was the Commodore64, cassette tapes and all. And whilst “New Zealand Story” and “Paddington’s Garden Game” passed off without incident, and the most basic of basic racing games attracted my borderline autistic tendencies, anything beyond “point, click, shoot” made my heart sink.

Upgrading to the Mastersystem and latterly SNES didn’t help. I could do Mario, I loved Mario, and Prince of Persia, all 2-D scrolling platforms and minor difficulty curves. Sometime between the SNES and not having anything at all, I had a brief relationship with the original PlayStation, though only for the aerial-shot “Grand Theft Auto”. And then…nothing. For about 20 years, give or take.

As expected, the subsequent years without anything more taxing than matching coloured shapes to each other to pass the time has not been without moments of computer game awkwardness. I’m the trainee judge, the clueless grandfather, the nervous first-date, politely taking a controller only to have it taken off me with barely hidden pity. Football classics such as “ProEvo” become lessons in advance mathematics, my eyes forever focused on a player unable to move, or unwilling to join his teammates, or just more interested in dancing around the touchline than touching the ball. “That one, that one to shoot!”, “SHORT! Just needs to be SHORT!” and all other manner of spirited instructions come my way for no great benefit.

A few months ago a friend asked if I wanted to join in as a third player in some crazy looking multiplayer first-person shooter effort. It soon came to an end; he and another player ran ahead shooting, killing, jumping, crouching, attacking. I was stuck. “Is that the sky?” I asked. “Yes, Liam, press that to run, run over here, we’ll wait.”

Oh, “We’ll wait”, how often I heard that. They would clear a room of enemies whilst I banged into doors, walls, or had my lower half cut to shreds by an unseen assailant. “We’ll wait ahead,” he’d say, watching me spinning around confused. Sometimes literally.

People I know are left bemused. Me, of all people, should be up to my elbows in computer games, eager to throw myself into words of warcraft and such. No, alas, not. I lose all my concentration, understanding of basic functions and sense of normality. Heat rises, confusion reigns, sense drips away like a badly coded Health Bar. I watch others play, say, “Red Dead Redemption” and think it would be possible to learn that sort of thing pretty easily. Then I have a go, and there’s more “dead” than “redemption”. Whoops, there goes my guns/horse/legs. Oh dear, I’m face to face with a leopard and all I can do is scroll through music options or pause-restart-pause-restart like a jumpy teenager worried about an XTube video has woken his parents.

Now games are growing more complex and complicated, not to mention components of multitudes of add-ons, downloads and the like, I’m left on the casual gamer island watching the Good Ship Video Game sailing off into the horizon. Where once I worried my mum with my inability to leave the Commodore 64 loading screen, I’m now sat at the back of the living room whilst everybody else crowds round the flat screen. I’m a regular visitor to ZeroPunctuation, only for the laughs rather than first hand knowledge of the latest installments of Shooter-Season 2011 or whatever the trend is at the moment.

Whether I like it or not, I have to accept that video games fell from my grasp at the first sign of advancing into what they are now today, leaving me with regular psychological check-ups for addiction to WordsWithFriends. Maybe “The Last of Us” truly is the newest high-point in a good few years in gaming, I really wouldn’t know. I’d spend too long fathoming out how to stand up straight before crashing into a wall. And then maybe I’d try to turn the game on….

MSN Messenger RIP

And lo, another piece of the “old internet” is said to be coming to a close on March 15

In a part of the distant far-aways which seems almost unthinkable to us now, the use of MSN Messenger to keep in touch with people was ubiquitous. Amongst one of the first clients of its kind, MSN grew in size and popularity as one of the first ‘hits’ of the Internet, in an age where the predominate ways to meet and greet people were not examples of ‘social media’.

MSN launched in 1999,  a stand-alone programme which more often that not would pop-up or even automatically sign-in at start up. In its earliest days it was prone to some technical fubars – most infamously allowing people to look at other conversations to which they weren’t invited – and whilst it carried on using the same interface for its entire life, the rest of the ‘net began to run off to explore greater and more advanced services. Whilst the Internet started to lose interest in message-boards, chat rooms and the like, MSN Messenger was a slice of retro charm which began to struggle for relevance.

And it didn’t take long for the relevance issue to stomp its foot against the life support machine’s wires and tubes. It wasn’t just the launch of MySpace in 2003 or Facebook in 2004 which made the ‘real time chat’ elements of MSN seem unnecessary. It wasn’t just the availability of free texts on readily available, cheap mobile phones. The ‘core audience’ for MSN – and by Jove I was one of them- was not being replaced by enough younger people. Those who had grown up with the service, however were drifting off without being fought for by Microsoft or anybody else that matter. Those who liked to sit down to connect with friends (or indeed, back in the very, very early days, people picked up through the long-since killed off MSN Chat rooms, a/s/l and all) could see more than enough ways to stay in touch without having to converse through a small, squat pop-up box.

Attempts to keep dwindling users attracted inevitably meant using tie-ins to services which were killing it off, a sort of double-deal which would have made Shakespeare drool. Statuses could be linked to Facebook or Twitter, and dozens of colour-match games were added as well as links to Bing (!) related searches and showbiz stories. It had grown larger, but less useful, and on the Internet that’s no good at all.

The passing of MSN closes one of the oldest doors in the dusty annexe which is Web 1.0. It reminds us that we’re all getting older, the Internet is moving ever forward, and there’s never been as many options to sort out how to procrastinate. But it’s legacy does live on – Facebook chat uses the device “X is typing….”.

Google minus, feeling unlucky

So, how’s that ‘sharing information around your circles’ going?

Google ran adverts in the UK asking people to subscribe to the ideal whereby a well-to-do family of SEO copyrighters and Haggerston vintage shop owners watch the birth, life and death of someone (presumably related, perhaps adopted) inbetween sessions of eating spag-bol with red wine whilst watching Werner Herzog films. 

This advert was supposed to sell Google+, its social media service that’s not a social media service, and sell it as a place where you can involve yourself in the goings on of the day without feeling like you’re wasting time (Facebook), wasting effort (Twitter), or bandwidth (Pinterest). everywhere. 

These screengrabs were taken from across various sites at moments across the day, from new and old stories. “Share buttons” are ubiquitous footnotes across the Internet now, and without much poking or encouragement people use them to take pages from one site to across their friends lists even if they don’t necessarily agree with the content. In fact it’s often better to share something you don’t agree with to encourage discussion (no, this isn’t trolling. Well not under the current definition.)


If these examples are any guide – and they’re as representative as any – the Google+ success rate is right down there with the LibDems in Rotherham. Even at the most popular at the top, Google is running in three figures compared to Facebook at over 21,000.  Above you see from the Guardian – the target audience for the spag-bol-with-red-wine advert family – Google is closer to LinkedIn than Facebook, and that’s by no measure a social network.

AH!, you say, well Google+ isn’t a social network either, don’t you know. Well I do know, or at least I was told this by advocates of the service with whom I discussed this some months ago. They assured me that the big day for G+ was coming – once people realised you can read news on Google News, share it on Google+, and talk about it through Google Hangouts, then the drain from Twitter alone would be like a displacement of hipsters from an indie club when the music started. But if these advocates are accurate, and G+ just needs everything else Google provides to work in unison, then what’s the point of staying in the walled garden? Twitter is where most people seem to share news, never mind discuss it and create the odd headline themselves here and there. Facebook might be the most democratic of all, allowing people from the SPORT ARE TROOPS reactionary wing to raise awareness of the latest developments of day alongside those who know where to find BBC Four on the television guide.

Google+ has none of the attraction that these two established services enjoy, which for something with the name “Google” attached is pretty bad going. My newsfeed on Google+ is predominately taken up by  Mark Elgan, who I don’t know, and spam feeds labelled “What’s Hot”.  My friends list, whilst full of people, is active with just one person, photographer Ian Hex, who seems to speak the language better than I do.

Crucially though, Ian’s content is other Google+ posts re-shared, and not outside material brought in. Unlike Facebook, then, this is a highly insular network, a view underlined by the pitiful numbers of the “Share Button” scoreboards.

“Walled Gardens” aren’t rare on-line, though they are out of fashion somewhat. Google loves its son as any parent might, but any kid which is ordered to only play with itself won’t live to be a developed or popular individual.

very angry internet

“The Internet does not create social outcasts,” started the line I first heard in the mid-1990s. “It collects  them.”

It’s been quite a week for reeling out the wise old sayings and maxims, from “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” to “Never trust a moose to buy a round of drinks”. Or something. To dust off another tired old phrase – “he’s the kind of person who could have an argument in an empty room” – and there’s no more larger collection of empty rooms that the internet outside abandoned building projects in the greater Dublin area. As long as there’s been message-boards and chatrooms there’s been Internet users ready and willing to flame a debate in a flurry of pedantry, insults, defamation and ‘your mom’ jibes. You’re not likely to be more than three clicks of a mouse away from a choice Anglo-Saxon swear word or twelve, be it within the swamps of YouTube comment sections, newspaper story reaction threads or  Twitter.

It’s the microblogging tweeters which have attracted the most attention from the mainstream media this year, to the extent that it appears the BBC and Daily Mail consider themselves to have coined the word “troll”. With trolling becoming the issue of the day for the guardians of good taste and decency, misunderstanding of the realities of everyday Internet use will doubtlessly grow, and from there comes bad law and reactionary mistakes.

With millions of people reacting in real time to every event happening around the world, be it waiting at a bus stop or watching the men’s 100m final (spoiler alert, Americans, Usain Bolt wins), Twitter never stops displaying the thoughts of everyone and anyone within easy reach of a keyboard. It should be obvious to anyone that little corners of Twitter will therefore get testy and tetchy, especially when dealing with those parts of the real world which seems so far away and distant – namely politics and celebrity. People always feel a buzz of starlight and success in the presence of celebrity or power, which is why so many Twitter users rush to get a reply, re-tweet or just a mere mention from someone whose face appears in the newspapers every so often. The Press can examine this as much as they exploit – themselves trolling the search function for enough insults and criticisms to fill a page of orchestrated outrage.

As anyone who’s ever worked in an office will tell you, email and the Internet are considered “great levellers”, enabling people with a slight grievance to email the head of department or supervisors in real time about (and I’m using real examples from my own office life here), the choice of music on a CD player brought in for the Christmas period, the eating of paté at lunch, and requests to take time off for “boyfriend problems”. The consequence of this can be a lack of common sense to the point of sheer lunacy, seen sporadically in message-board rants, seen almost by the minute in foul mouthed, racist or generally violent tweets to celebrities, television presenters or the like. I can see both sides – if a celebrity joins Twitter they should expect both fans and foes, but how does the ‘leveller’ of the Internet justify specifically targeting a presenter for being, say, fat, or boring, or ugly, or too Asian, and how many idiots do we allow to act this way before acting ourselves?

Britain already has laws against malicious behaviour on-line, some of it going back decades to an age when the Internet was talked about without the definite article and nobody had ever considered it likely that the computer in the corner of the room would be used at 2am for watching repeats of QI on YouTube. There’s no real need for additional laws against trolling to be drafted, though it’s tempting to risk it just to see how legalese translates ‘trolling’ into parliamentary language. “Trolls” can encompass all manner of on-line behaviour, not just wishing Tom Daley would be drowned or calling a British Muslim television presenter pub-chant insults. I’m sure some people will gladly call those users who type “FIRST!” underneath newspaper articles “trolls” just to see them woken up at 5am by the finest members of Inspector Knacker’s Computer Corps. Additionally, it could be worth a quick call to the Malicious Computer Behaviour Advisory Group (see, I’m already guessing how parliament might have to transliterate these sorts of things) every time an American calls a Briton “douchebag” in the YouTube comments sections underneath sporting highlight clips.

The fact is – we don’t need additional laws curbing Internet use, Twitter behaviour or blog opinions. By focussing on Twitter, the media are in danger of allowing the rest of the Internet to fester all the more than it already is, and that’s the very definition of the law of unintended consequences. Stretch the net further and you’ll find 4chan (and we all know about that, don’t we), the Daily Mail (ditto, for the same reasons by and large) and Facebook’s campaigning groups division, for which there’s no moral outrage too trivial that can’t be turned into a mawkish flag of life changing importance. There’s no feasible way, short of closing the Internet completely, for every page and every comment to be policed, not least because so little can be easily captured or searched, and as I said before, the ‘great leveller’ of the Internet provokes the most enthused argumenter to waft around “freedom of speech” justification at every turn. Arresting a student for insulting an Olympic diver whilst approximately a hypergazillion people wish death by cancer on approximately an additional hypergazillion in YouTube comments sections seems a little like trophy hunting to me.

I’m not being fatalistic; the Internet can be polices, and despite being a fence-sitting free-speech loving treehugger I accept that some frameworks must be erected to catch the worst forms of insulting or violent behaviour. But from this must come reason and restraint – is it ‘malicious’ that some sites host videos of alleged shooting massacres in Iraq or Syria, shared by some people who campaign for justice in the Middle East and shared by others who just like watching gore and extreme violence? How much legalese do we want to slalom around the distinction between “genuine” and “fake” reasons for sharing around violent videos of this kind? If we learned anything from the ‘Twitter joke trail’, the written word can be redefined howsoever an unintended audience member wishes. Will there be a legal definition drafted for sarcasm, irony, insult? What becomes of a joke when a barrister-turned-MP decides to analyse the definition for the purposes of statute law? If you watch a video in which a Libyan market trader is shot in the neck, do you watch it for pleasure, curiosity or research? What about porn?

The Internet can be a very angry place. You’re never too far away from people ‘swearing down’ that another person, or an institution, or an entire country, is going to feel his/her/their wrath. If we allow the current breed of Twitter trolls to lead the redefinition of on-line behaviour, we could end up with restrictions far beyond any feared by SOPA campaigners. I’m more angered that my mobile phone provider demands I ‘opt in’ to material it considers to be adult, and that this appears to have been largely accepted, than I am bothered by knowing that a celebrity television presenter is being called an ugly slut on Twitter. He/she/they can probably deal with that in their own way, or just stop using Twitter. There’s little chance of fighting back against censorship or state control if there’s restricted access to the very tools to carry out the job. Let’s treat all trolls as we would most permanently angry. I’d rather have an Internet with a few old man’s pubs occupied by barflies and world weary know-it-alls than one with minimal furnished see-and-be-seen bars where you walk around with fixed smiles and bitten tongues.

Gangbanged

Following a Daily Mail witch-hunt/campaign and the Conservative MP Claire Perry’s “Independent Inquiry” into online child protection (see the very good post from Ministry of Truth about defining the words ‘independent’ and ‘inquiry’ in this context), the UK is one step closer to State approved Internet censorship. The proposed law is now available to view, with its innocuous enough title of the “Online Safety Bill”.

I was born in the distant 1980s, making my relationship with adult material follow the usual path of “blissful ignorance”, “Late night Channel 4”, “dog eared copies of Whitehouse”, “copied VHS passed on from a friend of a friend’s friend” and then “Internet access” somewhere around early teenage-dom. If you don’t know ‘Eurotrash’ with the sound turned down and a quilt underneath the door, you don’t know the eagerness with which boys of a certain age wanted to see subtitled naughtiness.

That level of smut is a world removed from the Internet age, in which people of all ages are one Google search away from seeing all manner of explicit bits, bops and fiddling about. There is almost no taste or fetish for which a website exists, and the popularity of YouTube-style amateur upload sites makes it all the easier for a couple (or a lone bloke feeling a bit frisky) to show the world how they’re feeling for about…five minutes (three if, you know, it’s been a hard day at work and I’m tired and this bed isn’t very comfortable and…anyway…..).

As we all know, the Internet cannot be censored, making every innocent search for the latest news headlines or an amusing cat picture one click away from Roxxie Thrust-McKenzie having her way with two garage mechanics….

…No, sorry, the Internet can be censored to a degree already, with parental controls and filters. As with most things in life, forbidden fruit is thought to taste better, which is how most teenagers end up smoking, trying weed, drinking cider in a park or trying to view naughty images on line. Forget to change Google’s image search to “safe” is enough to reveal Page 3 models showing their assets, after all. “Opt in” systems for any kind of assumed adult material has all the practicality of attempting to stop office workers from playing Minesweeper. The point being – if grown adults decide to filter/control Internet access under their own roofs, they can do.

Suggesting that the Internet should be censored or blocked in some way often comes from those “in the know” who choose to ignore that ‘temptations’ can also incorporate video footage of hostage beheading, graphic CCTV footage of car crashes or the 9/11 attacks. Graphic footage of Premier League footballers having their legs broken during play can be on YouTube or Daily Motion within fifteen minutes of it happening. These graphic examples are often dismissed or ignored by advocates of Internet policing, an attitude which differentiates between violence and sex, but not between different kinds of erotica. The lie – “It’s about making the Internet safe for children” – is retold enough times to suggest that no middle ground possibly exists between “free for all” and “State approved content”. Are certain lobby groups unable to suggest out loud that parents might be to blame for children searching for XTube? Or are MPs ignorant to how the Internet is navigated beyond blogs and Twitter?

Of all the worrying/facepalm inducing sentences in Perry’s report is the recommendation that – ” The Government should also seek backstop legal powers to intervene should the 
ISPs fail to implement an appropriate solution. ” If private companies won’t deal with Internet access, then the State is going to have to haul them to court! That’ll teach them to know their own customers, control mechanisms and processes! It’s almost as though there’s wilful blindness going on…

There is much to debate about the pornography industry itself – from what viewing explicit material might do to a person over a long-period to safeguarding the wellbeing of those who choose to participate in the industry. Parents have a responsibility to educate their children to whatever extent they feel comfortable doing, a stance which might put me on the opposite side of the room to Harriet Harman. (If there’s any view I hold which puts me with Harman, I might have to consider medication). As user generated content websites prove, there’s only so much of a moral crusade pressure groups can inflict across cyberspace to defeat the great Porn Demon – humans will always feel sexual urges and some will feel comfortable in sharing their acts amongst an audience. The all encompassing “opt in” will do nothing to stop shadier/un-registered parts of the industry from exploiting the vulnerable or abused, it will only make the Morality Police feel better about themselves. That rush of self-congratulation might soon fade if the “opt in” accidentally blocks ordinary material (as some mobile phone blocks incorporate Facebook and Twitter) or accidentally ignores potentially arousing images (such as tabloid newspaper’s favoured roll call of flashed knickers, bikini beach shots and the like).

“Opt in” adult content will not make the Internet cleaner, or teenagers less likely to share dirty photos through text messages or BBM/MSN. Whilst it’s easier to deny freedom of thought than it is to research why sexual content is so popular to view/share/experience, the State is much more comfortable getting its groove on, and for that, we’re all left drowning in a deeply unsatisfactory wet-patch.