Home
 » ISP News » 
Sponsored

Can the UK Government Prevent Abusive or Threatening Comments Online

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 (9:58 am) - Score 3,692

Only weeks after the government put in place a stricter policy to nudge big broadband ISPs into censoring access to “adult” internet content (here) and it’s now positioning for a fight against the online worlds next biggest perceived evil.. swearing and trolls. Easier said than done.

Few could have overlooked the sad and shocking news that a young 14-year-old girl, Hannah Smith, recently took her own life after a vile campaign of internet bullying was directed against her on the Ask.fm website. Shortly after that it was revealed that her 16-year-old sister had also suffered torrents of abuse on Facebook.

Quite understandably her parents then called upon the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to “make sure these sites are properly regulated so bullying of vulnerable people like my daughter cannot take place“. Last week the government duly responded by launching a new Inquiry into Online Safety that curiously lumped clearly legal, albeit sometimes undesirable, content in with hardened criminal and illegal material.

Remit for the Inquiry into Online Safety

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has decided to investigate a number of aspects of online safety that are currently raising concerns, in particular:

* How best to protect minors from accessing adult content;
* Filtering out extremist material, including images of child abuse and material intended to promote terrorism or other acts of violence;
* Preventing abusive or threatening comments on social media.

Casual observers will immediately note that the government has already spent the best part of the last two years working on new measures to tackle nearly all of the areas that the inquiry is set to cover (except of course the third point) and has only recently unveiled stricter measures for ISPs and online content providers, which haven’t even been fully introduced yet.

The inquiry is thus perhaps more of a political exercise to fend off any criticism of perceived inaction but this doesn’t mean to say that it won’t result in new legislation. The threat of mission creep, through an abuse of censorship, which many have been warning about, has suddenly started to become very real.

What is Threatening and Abusive Content?

Admittedly it would be nice if the Internet as a whole was a cleaner place where everybody behaved more within the social norms and conventions of real-life, except arguably on Friday and Saturday nights where many people sadly turn a blind eye to the drunken violence and abuse on some of our streets.

In fact people, both old and young alike, can be tremendously obnoxious and rude when they choose to be. Sadly the internet often makes this worse by affording an almost unavoidable cloak of anonymity that sometimes encourages the darker side in all of us – both in the online and offline world alike.

The situation is particularly relevant to trolls, which is generally used to describe truly abusive people who lack restraint and instead revel in creating discord by starting arguments, upsetting other people or generally posting extreme / inflammatory remarks. Experienced net users learn to simply ignore and block such individuals but others will inevitably be sucked into an ultimately emotional and fruitless land of drivel. Sometimes such things happen accidentally but a true troll simply has nothing better to do than behave this way all the time.

Thankfully most people have long since learnt some control, usually through a mix of good parenting or schooling, and have thus developed a respect for the fine art of polite restraint and constructive communication. But occasionally even this can be broken and, at some point or another, we’ve all said silly, outlandish or possibly even illegal things to another person; words that we usually, but not always, regret.

The difference with the online world is that such words can be recorded, shared and often end up being published within the public domain. Say the wrong thing today and you could get arrested, even when what you say is just meant as a joke (e.g. when Paul Chambers threatened to blow Robin Hood airport up on Twitter). Real life has rules and so does the Internet but sometimes people forget that and as a result common sense, both within the law and human nature, can be briefly lost.

On the other hand bad language is still language; it is a tool of communication and doesn’t always have to be spoken in jest. Comedians swear as part of jokes and friends jostle and mock each other. But, for a third-party observer, the context isn’t always clear and mistakes can be made. One man’s troll is another’s journalist. The government does at least recognise this.

Statement from the Inquiry into Online Safety

These dangers are the correlation of the immense benefits provided by unimpeded communication and free speech, so any attempts to mitigate harms have to be proportionate and, where possible, avoid disadvantageous consequences“.

At the end of the day, like it or not, the vast majority of people swear and sometimes say the wrong things; especially children and ironically they’re usually the worst because they’ve often yet to learn how to communicate properly.

Others, such as trolls, take this to an extreme. But from the perspective of an outside observer it’s not always easy to tell the difference, without taking due time to consider the context. Everything can look bad even when it’s not intended to be that way.

Can it be stopped?

It is the nature and economics of the online world that a website or social media service can be home to a community of millions and yet it may only be governed by a handful of individuals, which is clearly never going to be enough to conduct proper moderation of every single piece of visitor posted content. But this is how millions of websites around the world work.

Admittedly filters can be added to remove swearing, much as we use on our forum and review system, but even those are little use against multiple variations of masked vulgarity (e.g. replacing a letter in a swear word with a number or special character that looks the same) and people can still bully or cause offense without even swearing once (e.g. calling somebody ugly or fat).

On top of that there’s the fact that nobody, not government’s, not computers.. NOBODY, can accurately censor content before it’s been written. Mercifully time travel and mind reading are still tools that we haven’t quite managed to develop yet. Except for Uri Geller of course, perhaps the government could employ him to solve this?

As a result the government could never produce any legislation that would truly be able to “prevent” abusive or threatening content on the Internet. If they did then it would simply end up being unworkable, much like the ill-conceived cookie law that merely resulted in a whole mass of UK and EU websites being forced to display ugly privacy pop-ups that annoy visitors and ignore how most sites need cookies to help manage basic processes (login sessions, analytics, sales etc.).

None of this is to say that the security forces and perhaps the law shouldn’t be tightened to better target the ugliest of online behaviour, or that websites shouldn’t work to tackle such content when made aware of it. However a better focus on helping parents and school to educate their children about online behaviour might not be a bad start.

But at the same time there’s human nature involved, the threat to free speech that must always be considered and the fact that websites by nature can be huge but will often only be managed by a small team on a tiny or sometimes even non-existent budget. It’s easy to forget that most websites are FREE and thus we should not be expecting the same level of prompt response as a service that you actually pay to receive.

In the meantime it’s worth remembering that, in the online world, if somebody says something you don’t like then you can often either block / ignore them (if the feature exists) or simply scroll past the content. Nine times out of ten you only fuel a troll by validating it with a response.

The inquiry will be open for submissions between 27th August 2013 and Monday 30th September 2013.

Share with Twitter
Share with Linkedin
Share with Facebook
Share with Reddit
Share with Pinterest
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
9 Responses

Comments are closed.

Comments RSS Feed

Javascript must be enabled to post (most browsers do this automatically)

Privacy Notice: Please note that news comments are anonymous, which means that we do NOT require you to enter any real personal details to post a message. By clicking to submit a post you agree to storing your comment content, display name, IP, email and / or website details in our database, for as long as the post remains live.

Only the submitted name and comment will be displayed in public, while the rest will be kept private (we will never share this outside of ISPreview, regardless of whether the data is real or fake). This comment system uses submitted IP, email and website address data to spot abuse and spammers. All data is transferred via an encrypted (https secure) session.

NOTE 1: Sometimes your comment might not appear immediately due to site cache (this is cleared every few hours) or it may be caught by automated moderation / anti-spam.

NOTE 2: Comments that break our rules, spam, troll or post via known fake IP/proxy servers may be blocked or removed.
Cheapest Ultrafast ISPs
  • Gigaclear £17.00
    Speed: 200Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Community Fibre £20.00
    Speed: 150Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Hyperoptic £22.00
    Speed: 158Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Virgin Media £24.00
    Speed: 108Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Vodafone £25.00
    Speed: 100Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
Large Availability | View All
Cheapest Superfast ISPs
  • Hyperoptic £17.99
    Speed 33Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Shell Energy £19.99
    Speed 35Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • NOW £20.00
    Speed 36Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Virgin Media £20.00
    Speed 54Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Vodafone £22.00
    Speed 38Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
Large Availability | View All
The Top 20 Category Tags
  1. FTTP (4114)
  2. BT (3151)
  3. Politics (2117)
  4. Building Digital UK (2026)
  5. Openreach (1969)
  6. FTTC (1922)
  7. Business (1833)
  8. Mobile Broadband (1605)
  9. Statistics (1510)
  10. 4G (1378)
  11. FTTH (1371)
  12. Virgin Media (1277)
  13. Ofcom Regulation (1241)
  14. Fibre Optic (1234)
  15. Wireless Internet (1233)
  16. Vodafone (926)
  17. EE (905)
  18. 5G (898)
  19. TalkTalk (821)
  20. Sky Broadband (787)
Promotion
Helpful ISP Guides and Tips
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
Sponsored

Copyright © 1999 to Present - ISPreview.co.uk - All Rights Reserved - Terms , Privacy and Cookie Policy , Links , Website Rules , Contact