Monday, 16 April 2012

Untitled - [yes, that's the title] (Guest post from TheCompBlog)

Nicolas Weninger is the Author of TheCompBlog, a blog based on tech, but deviates into other issues, as seen below! He is one of our partnerships and we really enjoy what he writes about. We are happy to present a guest post which may not be what you are used to on this blog, but will hopefully make you think as much as anything we have written about, so, here it is!

Having been approached by the one and only Ned Summers, asking me to write a guest post for The Aftermatter, I immediately jumped at the offer. Getting the opportunity to write on a blog featured by Stephen Fry is great, and I intend to use it to the fullest extent through a series of shameless self-promotional links.

Fine, I am only joking, but for those readers used to meticulously researched posts and articles here, let me fill you in on my blogging style. I usually start my posts with a brief introduction, stating my current position and location where appropriate, followed by 1000 words of me going on and on about a set topic, often deviating and not keeping a fluid argument going, backed up with lots of ambiguous examples.

However, I am writing this post under slightly different circumstances. Such a post is usually written on a plane on the way to or from a holiday, but today our flight is delayed by two hours, so I accidentally drank too much coke from the lounge bar, got far too hyper, and decided to start writing now in the Zurich Airport lounge, waiting for my flight back to London.

In addition to this locational difference, I decided to do a bit of research into today's topic, one that many writers have written about before, including the Ratcritic. It's about freedom of speech in an age of the digital revolution. I had initially intended to write this for my blog, but the highly intelligent readers of The Aftermatter deserved a well-researched post, though to be honest, the extent of my research will be nothing compared to the monstrous amounts that my colleagues here do for their posts. Anyway, let's begin.

The Ratcritic started my pondering into this subject with a post detailing Yanna Richards (an aspiring singer) fiasco with her school demanding that she take down a video on her (very good) YouTube channel. From that, he wrote a very good post on how the British people were afraid of offending anyone, drawing a conclusion imploring the reader to "[not] take notice of other people being offended. Ignore them, [as] they are exactly the kind of people who screw up the whole system."

Now, I understand how he reached this conclusion, but I felt that it was not adequate for what I wanted, as with such information, I would have not met the same conclusion; however, he did bring up some important points that I would like to base my post on today.

After I read his post, I remained conscious of the topic, and shortly after, the UK government really went all 1984 on us. For those of you who do not understand the reference, 1984 was a book by George Orwell depicting a dystopian world, where everything one does is monitored. Anyway, the government proposed a plan to force telecom operators (so, BT and Virgin for example) to record and store all Internet and cellular (mobile phone) activity for two whole years. This would mean that if the police wanted to, they could easily get a warrant and search through all your data in real time! To be honest, this is not much different from what happens nowadays with sites like Facebook, Google and recently, Twitter, who will give governments permission to access the information its users post, but what scares me the most about these plans is a matter of storage, and how the telecom companies, who are lobbying against this pan by the way, are possibly going to keep this information safe from hackers "licking their lips (telegraph)," who intend to use the wealth of information on there for evil deeds.

Just think about that for a moment. Two years AND real time data available at the click of a finger. Not just Internet communications, but telephone calls as well! Scary stuff, no?

What hit me hard was the last sentence of that article. "The internet is not an open, free-for-all zone," with a link to this article, about the guy who was sentenced to 60 days in prison for tweeting something controversial about Fabrice Muamba. The Telegraph said, "Police were inundated with complaints as members of the public reported the student's comments." Does this not look like communism all over again: snitching on someone for expressing his or her own opinion? First off, let me say that the comments were not nice, especially considering the position he was in at the time, but in a country that prides itself on being liberal, freedom of religious beliefs, free to express an opinion, this sentence is abhorrent. The judge claimed that, "there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence." Why might this be the case, I ask him? You would prefer to ruin a 21 year-olds life by giving him a criminal record rather than keeping to the very law that created the wealth in Britain?  Never mind the fact that Britain has no constitution [the unwritten constitution], which in itself is a whole other post.

Back to the quote about the Internet not being free. That's a real shame. The Internet has evolved to be so much more than a simple one-way content distribution platform, like TV, as I have repeated many times before. The Internet is one of the panicles of the 21-century, and having it censored like this will destroy a platform that has been a catalyst of world change. I would understand monitoring for potential terrorist threats (although not on the scale mentioned beforehand), but censoring to make sure that someone's seemingly insignificant opinion can never reach the world. I am growing up in a time where the potential of a global network of networks has only just started to be tapped, and I would like to see that potential become reality sooner than later, to quote a song by Matt Kearney.

What's even more disturbing is that in the US, employers are asking potential candidates for their Facebook credentials so that they can screen them and determine whether they are good enough for the job. This story blew up to the extent that the administration had to outlaw this activity, but even in UK schools, says the Ratcritic, teachers are screening profiles to check whether there is anything that could damage the school's reputation. This is almost equally as bad, as first, Facebook and the likes are your personal lives. Business and personal lives have been separate for decades, why should the case be any different now? My ICT teacher gave a lesson, to which I came along during a free games period, where he talked about the mixture of these two, and said that anyone who does not accept it will find it really hard later in life. Well, I am not accepting it! It's astounding that we should be even discussing this: before the Internet, your boss was your boss and your friend was your friend. Why then should 2012 be the year your boss becomes your friend? I say it should not. Again, you should not be compelled to censor your opinions because of a stupid mindset we have built up.

This is going on for far longer than I had planned!

It gets worse. Much worse.

Arizona House Bill 2549 makes it a crime to use any digital device to communicate using obscene, lewd or profane language or to suggest a lewd or lascivious act if done with intent to annoy, offend, harass or terrify." This would be a class 1 misdemeanor or worse! Look at the language closely, very closely. When you think about it, this bill would make it illegal to say anything bad online.

Oh, but they say it's only for cyber bullying! Good, I'm completely fine with that, but we have seen over and over again that governments abuse these laws to the extent that they threw 21 year-olds in jail for a tweet! So now we are making an ingenious platform a sterile utopia? Reality check Arizona: humans are not perfect! I refer you to my rant paragraph about how the Internet is so great, and to that I add that the Internet is a diverse place to exchange views and opinions of all sorts, like the London Royal Exchange back in the Victorian Era. You cannot possibly even attempt to censor the Royal Exchange, and no one tried to, so why should the Internet be different.

The Ratcritic concluded, "If Martin Luther King had never said that black people should be treated equally to white people, then we may still be in the same terrible position of racial discrimination." I completely agree (plus, if I don't [I do though!] the government will throw me in jail and put a criminal record on my name). MLK was unfortunate in the sense that he did not have the Internet to help him, but the same principles apply. They tried to censor him, and look what happened. We now have the ability to spread messages like MLKs at an astounding rate, and trying to censor the voice of 3 billion people will backfire to an unimaginable degree. Look at World War One: it only took one spark to ignite the war that killed 16.5 million people. It will only take one small spark, like the tweeter in jail story, or the SOPA fiasco, to release the world on a rant, much like what I did here!

We hope you liked this guest post. TheCompBlog posts about technology, but as you have seen here, there is also many posts about current affairs. We would like to hear what your opinion is on this subject and both TheCompBlog and The Aftermatter are on twitter if you would like to get in touch.

Check out our last two posts:
What is the strong force? - How does the force that holds together the most fundamental parts of all the matter in the universe work?
What is φ, the 'Golden Ratio' - This ratio appears in everything from art to nature, but what is it? And why is it so special?

If you have ideas for posts we would love to heard them. Contact details are above.

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