The ‘law of the jungle’ for a free internet: policing, trolls, and free speech

POLICING

The internet, far from being the rebel space it once was, is now policed far more than real life. You now get three months in jail for joking about child abduction (Matthew Woods) and three weeks in jail for making racist comments about a footballer suffering an injury. (Though I would’ve thought that second one would have merited the longer sentence.) A couple of weeks ago, police were looking for a 15 year old for racist tweeting.

I think this is counterproductive. First of all, I’ve seen many racist comments on news stories that never even get reported to the police. So why arrest and jail teenagers while many others go free? And honestly it just feels like paying lip service to combating racism – especially when racist bullying at school is often tolerated by teachers and racist verbal abuse in real life is treated much less seriously. And that’s real-life racism, not just a tweet on your screen. Throughout my school life from nursery class onwards I was subjected to racist bullying, and a lot of it was more shocking than the tweets people are being arrested for. Arresting teens for tweeting while all this goes on in real life is just paying lip service without tackling the structural problem of racism. The internet is therefore being policed more strictly than real life, which is not right.

Secondly, every country has different laws. So the people being jailed for hate speech here are seeing others get away with much worse hate speech simply because they’re tweeting, blogging or hosting websites in other countries. This is very unfair, and also pointless – what’s the use of jailing Brits when we can see and be corrupted by others’ hate? There should be an international internet law to make things fair and so that everyone knows the law and won’t be jailed for something they didn’t know was a crime (I’m referring to Matthew Woods here, who was only joking. How was he to know that joking is a crime on the internet but not a crime in real life?).

Thirdly, there is the issue of who gets policed. Journalists who say terrible things about victims of abduction, murder and rape don’t get jailed. Jessica Valenti cites journalists victim-blaming a PhD student who was abducted, tortured and murdered. I wrote a post about individuals slut-shaming Megan Stammers (a 15 year old abducted by her teacher to France) as a “prostitute” and “whore” – neatly combining whorephobia with their victim blaming. Not to mention all the hate against the LGBTQ community drifting around the internet. Columnist Julie Burchill recently caused controversy in this regard. But none of these people will be jailed, because journalists and columnists are educated, middle class and priveleged. And many people who comment on news stories are anonymous. We do not know who they are. If only Matthew Woods had joked on one of these comment threads instead.

So policing disproportionately affects those who are not priveleged and not anonymous.

I think the internet should be policed less than real life so that we have a space to freely express ourselves. Obviously, things like online newspapers will have to follow the same rules as paper newspapers, and we need to police paedophiles etc. But with speech the internet should be oliced less or at least the same as real life, but not policed more.

ANONYMITY

Everyone should consider anonymity, because there are no laws to protect you from being fired unless it’s related to political opinion. However, all an employer has to do if they don’t like your opinion is make up another reason why they are firing you. After the Matthew Woods fiasco I personally would not say anything on the internet in my own full name (unless you’re a journalist/columnist or famous. Because journos get away with everything short of actually hacking phones, and even mildly famous people get away with everything).

Personally I tend to classify anonymity into two types: pseudonymity and anonymity. Pseudonymity is what I’m doing. I am not anonymous. It’s been a while since I Googled ‘Slutocracy’ but I’m sure that my identity is only one or two clicks away. This blog posts to my Facebook (which I keep private) and the photos I post or use as my Twitter avi are real photos of me. Now that I’m advertising my writing services on this blog, anyone who wants to find out my identity only has to offer me work (or pretend to). The email address that Slutocrat uses for this blog and Twitter etc is only for that identity. So I do maintain Slutocrat as a ‘separate’ identity and maintain some privacy – but at the same time Slutocrat is all of me rather than a persona. It is more of a pen name and I’m always aware that I’m not anonymous and can be found very easily by anybody. I always blog under the assumption that some people have doxed me already (not that I would mind being doxed – if I minded, I would be anonymous).

Anonymity, for me, is when you really don’t want to be found. Most people start out by just not saying their real name. That’s fine if nobody tries to find you, but you’re not going to remain anonymous if they do. Great tools for anonymity are Ghostery, a free browser add on that stops websites collecting data about you. VPNs 9virtual private networks). Hacktivists and hackers use these, but they can be hard to set up. You can also use proxy servers to hide your IP address if Tor (a free service that hides your IP address) doesn’t work for your blogging platform. (Some articles on how to blog anonymously are at the bottom of this post). Even if you’re not anonymous, you may want to use the free Firefox browser which allows you to browse faster, gives you more privacy and stops viruses.

OUTING TROLLS

Outing isn’t always done for the right reasons, and I’m the worst hypocrite about this stuff. What’s right or wrong is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. But I think we have the right to out people, because journalists do. And they’re just propelled by capitalism and the desire for promotion, fame or a pay rise. The media outlets which publish these stories often target people who aren’t trolling, for example anonymous bloggers and authors. So, if these multinational corporations can legally do this to ordinary joes for money – no matter the damage to free speech when would-be bloggers get put off by the threat of being revealed, why can’t regular people out other regular people who are trolling?

Yeah, it’s preventing trolls using their freedom of speech. And yes, how do you even define a troll – someone who disagrees with you? But if we are going to entrust corporations and unscrupulous journalists with this kind of power, we shouldn’t be that afraid of wielding it ourselves I used to think the media shouldn’t be allowed to out bloggers and writers who are doing no harm (unless they’re politicians, public figures or top level government employees). But such a law might backfire and make society less democratic; it might also cause a lot of case law about who’s protected and who isn’t. Successful authors may also count as public figures anyway; more and more public figures start their journey to fame by writing a book, and though some seem to think this is a new phenomenon,  this has been going on for decades (for example Richard Dawkins, JK Rowling, etc).

THE LAW OF THE JUNGLE

For a free internet, the internet should follow the ‘law of the jungle’ – basically, if you can get away with it, you can. And if you can’t, then too bad. So everyone is free to be anonymous and free to troll as much as they like. And likewise everyone is free to dox and out anyone else without being sued. This sounds scary but actually it was only until very recently that you can bring a civil case against someone for outing you, and that is actually pretty useless because you’ve already been outed. And the international internet law should apply to any hate speech that would fall within that law. The internet should be as un-policed and as free as possible.

LINKS ON HOW TO BLOG ANONYMOUSLY

http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/projects/guide/

https://www.eff.org/wp/blog-safely

http://sexonomics-uk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/how-to-blog-anonymously-and-how-not-to.html

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