Blown To Bits

Movie-style ratings for British Web sites?

Saturday, December 27th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

The UK “Culture Secretary” is planning a “crackdown on offensive and harmful online activity,” according to the Telegraph. This would include a rating system like that now in place for movies. The Secretary, Andy Burnham, says,

There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.

As examples of successful rating systems he cites the systems for broadcast television (limiting what can be shown before 9pm) and video games.

I’ve already gone on a bit about Australian Internet censorship plans, and their failings. Such ideas are plainly catching on as legitimate.

But the particular way this is put shows that it emerges out of a metaphor failure. The Internet is no more like a movie theater than it is like a library. No more like a video game than it is like an encyclopedia. No more like a TV screen than it is like the postal service. Try to control one aspect of the Internet and you’ll fail. Try to control the core of the Internet and you’ll break it.

And here is a chilling passage in the Telegraph story:

Mr Burnham admits that his plans may be interpreted by some as “heavy-handed” but says the new standards drive is “utterly crucial”. Mr Burnham also believes that the inauguration of Barack Obama, the President-Elect, presents an opportunity to implement the major changes necessary for the web.

“The change of administration is a big moment. We have got a real opportunity to make common cause,” he says. “The more we seek international solutions to this stuff – the UK and the US working together – the more that an international norm will set an industry norm.”

Aux armes, cityoens! Stop these assaults. Mr. Obama, tell our British friends to leave the U.S. out of their plans.

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