Can the Internet Ever Really Be Policed?

Can The Internet Ever Really Be Policed?

On 9 May 2016, a report appeared on Gizmodo revealing that Facebook employees were “curating” the trending feed by removing content that would be appealing for politically conservative members of the site. Later the same month, major players in the tech industry agreed voluntarily to enforce the EU’s hate speech rules.

Attempting to police the Internet is no longer a phenomenon that occurs in a country far away from the North American/European bubble. While many consider these actions the diminution of an individual’s freedom of expression, this is a discussion best held in another context at another time. The question I am setting out to answer is whether it is practical to attempt to police speech on the Internet, whatever form this kind of action may take.

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Radio band-based broadcasting, both on television and radio, was the key form of entertainment and information during the period where the majority of the Eastern Bloc fell under various forms of authoritarian regimes. They were relatively easy to police due to the fact that each channel would broadcast all of its content in one single steady stream (Romania, for example, broadcast its content through Televiziunea Român for only two hours of the day during the 80s). Of course, there were attempts (with various measures of success) to break into the Iron Curtain through projects such as Radio Free Europe which would broadcast Western content through various frequencies in different nations. But, for the most part, the regimes of Eastern Europe kept a relatively ironclad grip on broadcast content until the civil unrest of the late 80s and early 90s.

The Internet – in contrast to these forms of “infotainment” – has a vast array of websites, a mind-numbing amount of networks, and vast oceans of information out of the reach of conventional search engines. Attempts to police the Web in various countries have failed mostly because there are many ways people could easily circumvent the political barriers that prevent them from reaching the outside world. I’m not saying that it is impossible to police the Web, but it certainly carries an immense cost and would never be able to account for the constant stream of new workarounds developed by an army of programmers dispersed across various continents. It was easier to police content when all it took was a skilled graphologist to catch a journalist using a registered typewriter.

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Although it is theoretically possible to compare Facebook’s news curating and the EU’s latest move to curb what it defines as hate speech to other national attempts to curb free expression on the Web, there’s an important distinguishing factor between the two. On one hand we have private companies signing into a massive effort to eliminate certain types of speech and curate content. On the other there’s a state entity cracking down on individual expression in a top-down manner. The reason it’s important to make this distinction is because Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Twitter are all private entities entering into an agreement without the force of the law. There are alternatives to all of these companies, however unpopular they may be.

Curbing and policing speech isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been tried back in the days when radio and television were the only widely-used mediums for broadcast information and entertainment. Even in simpler days when policing telecommunications was easier, it still required some effort to suppress external sources (especially on FM/AM radio). In an era when the Internet – with its countless arrays of cliques, discussion forums, online publications, and an entire planet of spectators – is the intermédiaire du jour for communication, policing its content and what people see (i.e. attempting to cartelize media) is a near-impossible task.

Let us know what your thoughts are on this. Is the Internet worth policing? Should it be policed? Tell us in a comment!

6 comments

  1. Hate, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It has gotten to the point that if you disagree with someone’s opinion, that is construed as hate speech.

  2. Censorship has always been about Control and Never about Protection but they usually always give you the Protection Argument.

  3. Facebook is not the only guilty party…You Tube removed the video at the beginning of this article because they considered it “hate speech.” But what’s new? Most, if not all, social and news sites censor their content for political reasons.

    • I posted an image at the beginning of the article. It’s a representative image that I thought would be fitting. It wasn’t a video that YouTube truly removed. As far as I know, YouTube (and, by extension, Google) actually tends to be the most liberal with political freedoms.

  4. Should it be policed? Does not matter what we think but no it should not, however it is a control thing and while I cannot speak for all countries I can tell you that here in my country (the USA) control is, has been and probably always will be the number one target of this government. They will stop at nothing until every citizen yields to their all mighty masters. Plus given the fact that the US is addicted to incarceration this is just one more vehicle for them to use in order to imprison more people.

    Can it be policed? It can be to a minimal degree and in some areas it is already happening. The cost in time and energy to do this though is high and I think the more entities that try and police (control) those on the web, the less of it that will remain free and open. There is already talk about creating multiple, private or pay to subscribe Internets and while those that want it such as our ISPs are being held at bay, they are still doing it to a certain extent and putting in place the mechanisms in order to create it just as soon as some worthless politician like Obama or Clinton push that mighty pen and make it our new reality.

    The bottom line is if the powers that be want this it is going to happen regardless what the people want. The title of this article asks if it can be policed and all you have to do in order to answer the question is look at North Korea and China and it is easy to see why the answer is yes, absolutely it can be policed!

  5. Can it be policed ? Yes of course it can.! In fact it can be done really easily..!!!
    First of all the governments can control any service provider which is using the cable in your country .! The cables are installed by companies which they can be policed by any government.
    The governments can pass laws against these service providers prohibit them from doing anything they want …for example to deny access to some porn pages or some other sites as well ..!! Nobody can do anything about it because all customers are using the services from the Internet Providers , they cannot get into the Internet without them of course.
    Even satellite internet companies are obeying the law in each country so they can be policed too.

    In my opinion the question is not if the internet can by policed or not… the question should be if it is e legal or not to policed !!!!

Comments are closed.

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