HOW FREE IS THE FLOW OF INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET?
I have always been an advocate for freedom of speech and freedom of expression as these two fundamental rights are what allow us to gain an insight into different perceptions and openly debate issues that affect our daily lives.
People access vast amounts of information on a daily basis via the internet, some of which is deemed illegal for a number of reasons, including, but not restricted to, Libelous, Defamatory, Racist, Discriminatory and a whole array of other legal reasoning why certain information, according to the lawmakers, should not be available to the public domain.
We have all read instances where a celebrity has applied for a court injunction to prevent the publication of certain material, for privacy reasons. However a celebrity, by their very occupation, relies on the media in order to obtain and retain the celebrity status and therefore should they not be subjected to free and open press, providing that press is accurate?
Other subjects, such as pornography, are also highly restrictive and yet pornographic material, catering for any persons taste, is available online if you know how to obtain it. I think most of us are open enough to accept mainstream pornography, but once it goes beyond that, many feel that certain types of pornography should be eradicated from the internet. While the majority of us may feel this way, and I am one of them, should this really give us the right to dictate what other people view? Are we not supposed to be an open and enlightened society that is tolerant of others beliefs, persuasions and requirements?
OK, pornography is one of those subjects that can, and most undoubtedly, will be debated until the end of time, but it is a perfect example of core censorship.
As humans we thirst for knowledge in the pursuit of a better understanding of the world around us and those who inhabit this tiny ball in space. However, with the introduction of more legislation the information we are permitted to view is becoming more restrictive.
When it comes to what our governments call sensitive information, our thirst becomes even more insatiable. It is simply human nature to be inquisitive and none more so where we are told that a particular piece of information cannot be made available – all governments have some form Official Secrets Act that prevents the publication of certain documents and this may be understandable when the publication of such information would in fact be highly detrimental to the nations security and putting lives at risk.
There are organisations online that advocates that all information, regardless as to whether we find it acceptable or not, should be made available to the public domain – providing it is not detrimental to a nation’s security or puts lives in peril, such as WikiLeaks.com. On the other side of the fence are groups that feel that our governments provide a gross miscarriage of justice by preventing the free flow of information; or indeed persecuting those who seek to publish such information. Cast your minds back when MasterCard refused to process online payments to WikiLeaks.com, it was the online activist group Anonymous that took action by hacking into MasterCard that prevented their systems from processing other types of payments, resulting in a multi-million dollar loss for the company.
The Ying and the Yang to this is that there were many people who felt that the Anonymous Group acted wrongly, however there were others who felt the group should have taken their actions further. What your views are on this is also open for debate, but isn’t that the whole purpose of information – to create something that is debatable in the pursuit of finding equilibrium – even if we know such a thing really doesn’t exist?
One area of journalism that really irks me is the restrictive practice of ‘commenting’; that is where news websites, such as the Daily Mail, produce a piece and then close its comments board – you often see the line, “Comments are closed for legal reasons.”
This is one area that we at Meebal.com refuse to engage. Our view is that if an article is published by the editor, in order to inform, then it should be open for public debate. I am not talking about those who engage in what is referred to as ‘Trolling’ but rather informed debate, and if this cannot be allowed for ‘legal reasons’ then why bother to publish the article in the first place?
We now live in a world of information which is delivered at blistering speeds. A large media online site can discover a story at 10 o’clock and have it published, with all its images and or video, by 10.05 – that’s how fast the media is able to deliver information to the masses; but is the information you view being censored? The only honest answer I can give you is yes and that censorship on the free flow of information is becoming more of an issue as we see governments imposing legislative restrictions such as SOPA and PIPA, both of which are highly contentious subjects for those who believe government is simply enacting legislation in order to keep the free press quiet and allowing the public to freely spread such information.
For those of you who are regular readers of Meebal.com you will know that we published a number of articles on the tragic death of Aaron Swartz, a true pioneer for the freedom of information to the masses. You will also know our views that we feel, as did Aaron’s family that MIT and the U.S District Attorney’s Office is directly responsible due to their incessant hounding on Aaron over the publication and copyright theft of MIT journals. Yes, it almost seems incredulous that an educational system such as MIT, who are supposed to advocate education and knowledge, pursue Aaron to such a degree that he felt the only way out was to end his life.
We live in a sinister world, where more often than not, we never really get to read, hear or see the real truth and when a website or blog is developed for the purpose of providing untainted information, it is often persecuted by the authorities that do not want you to have this information.
I have to admit that I sometimes wonder how far Meebal.com will get before it reaches a position where some quarters take offense at that information we provide. Of course with governments so tightly entwined with Google Inc, it is possible to presume that direct action would never really be needed to take us down; just a quiet word in Google’s ear and we could quite easily see Meebal.com being removed from their index. Maybe I’m being overly cynical here but after Google got off in the recent investigation from the Federal Trade Commission for unfair trade practices – that was Google was manipulating its own search system in order to quash the competition for its own services, I often wonder why type of deal was hashed out behind closed doors – that is, could the U.S Government have asked, and Google accepted in order to avoid justice, that if it required Google to restrict or removed information from its index it would comply?
The conspiracy theories are abound with this one but as with all conspiracy theories there are always elements of truth, it’s just a case of disseminating information until the truth comes out and there is no doubt in my mind that Google, considering its size, could easily manipulate or conspire with governments in order to further its position without having too much opposition to its trade practices.
If you think I am way off the mark here, then consider Google’s Panda Algorithm. According to Google it is designed so that it does not index duplicate, farmed or scraped content – it wants each and every website to have unique quality content of its own and not something that can be found on a million other web pages. You might think that this is fair practice but for the user it often is of no consequence where the information resides as long as that information can be accessed.
Google, through its restrictive information practices, or Panda as it is called, now penalizes any website who engages in such activities and it is well documented that millions of websites have gone out of business due to these algorithmic implementations. However, it is interesting to note that Google’s very existence relies on farmed, scraped and duplicate content – without which it would not be able to deliver search results. Google’s practice is to use an automated system, known as a Spider or in this case Googlebot, that crawls through billions of web pages, farming content, which it delivers to the user as a search result.
Information on the web is continuously being restricted, whether it is by direct intervention by our governments through legislation or through co-operative practices via large information supplying entities such as Google.
Certainly the internet is not what was envisioned by the pioneers when first established and that is a free and open forum of information and debate.