Online Anarchy Optional

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

This is part of an editorial in Thursday's Times.

Online Anarchy Optional

YouTube added a black ribbon to its logo this week as a mark of respect to those killed and maimed in Monday’s gruesome attack.  Yet as the site mourns today’s victims, it aids tomorrow’s terrorists.  The Times reveals that YouTube, which is owned by Google, is publishing how-to guides for mass murderers, including video manuals for bomb-makers.  Facebook publishes similar content. With every week that the internet giants continue to shirk their moral and legal responsibilities as publishers, the case for robust regulation grows stronger.

One Facebook page contains an 11,000-word guide to making bombs.  The guide explains how to maximise devastation with household items.  Another page tells readers how to manufacture explosives with a highly unstable chemical compound.  YouTube publishes video guides on how to make an explosive belt, weave incendiary devices into clothing and make ball-bearing bombs. “Our blood is a fuel for Sharia,” one video says.

This is only the latest in a string of investigations which show social media companies publishing and profiting from hateful and sometimes illegal content.  This newspaper has found child abuse images on Facebook, terrorist propaganda on Twitter, genocidal rants on YouTube and much else.

After months of prevarication, social media companies are inching towards a response.  Facebook has hired 3,000 extra staff to respond to reports of hate speech and child abuse.  They are still doing too little, however.  This content is not difficult to find, a simple search is often enough, but the companies refuse to look for it. Instead they remain passive.  They do not even consider whether hateful or dangerous content should be taken down until a user has reported it.  In any case the guidelines that frame moderators’ decisions are often perverse. Facebook’s internal rulebook, recently leaked, says that staff should remove some death threats, but not others.  ...

It is a scandal that these companies should be able to disseminate bomb-making guides with impunity.  No normal publisher could get away with this.  The internet companies must seek this content out and take it down.  If not, the authorities should intervene.

I have not verified any of this by doing my own searches — being rather fearful of having my collar felt by the Wiltshire police, but also because I have no need to know any of it, so I left my curiosity at the door.  It seems to me that none of this is covered by a free speech defence (something that I'm normally keen on), and all is inimical to a sustainable society.  What to do?

Well I gave up using Google as a search engine about 2 years ago as there are more benign ones out there that are just as good (if not better), but I still do use YouTube occasionally and am a passive user of Facebook.  Perhaps I should give up both (and Google maps!) as a token of respect to the families of those butchered in Manchester and elsewhere.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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