I read on the Telegraph website a couple of days ago that David Cameron is planning for videos on Youtube and 'other' (all?) sites which involve user generated video content to have material rated as suitable or not for different age groups and to have the ratings linked to web filters.
The details of how this will be done are rather vague. However, I understand that the method will involve a combination of the author giving a rating and then crowd sourced ratings of the public whom can get to vote using buttons on the web site to rate the content. The system is to be designed by the British Board of Film Classification a body which currently rates (for a price) all DVDs Blu Rays and video games before they are released.
At first sight there are some things to commend this proposal. It is the public whom are doing the rating, not a faceless Whitehall body and there is a certain amount of democracy of access.
However, dig a bit deeper and think about the imlications of it and it begins to look much less attractive.
Here are the reasons why I think it is a bad idea;
1. It is completely unnecessary. There are already ways of reporting and having inappropriate content taken off Youtube. If you find something on Youtube like a child being bullied then you want it removed quickly- not rated.
2.It is highly unlikely that there will be much consensus on what is inappropriate for different ages of children beyond what is completely unsuitable. Some parents will want music videos with suggestive dancing rated for adults. Some parents will want sexist attitudes towards women taken down or made adults only. Pacifists will want to give anything which glorifies war or weapons given an adults only rating. Some parents will want anything to do with homosexuality made adults only and UKIP supporters will probably want anything taken down that promotes culture which they don't think is British. Pro-lifers will want anyhting that gives information about abortion screened from young people.There are many readers of both the Guardian and Daily Mail who want censorship on the web but they so not have shared motivations or views about what they want censored. One thing is for sure. Youtube will have a new audience of people who never looked at it before but now spend all day rating videos according to their political inclinations.
3. It represents mission creep for Cameron from blocking sites to censoring content. When internet filtering was first discussed I said that it would graduate to censorship of individual items of content. This is in fact what is happening and it will only be one more stage on the way to full scale censorship of the internet.
4. The current proposals don't represent the full extent of Cameron's censorship ambitions and his ultimate objectives will adversely affect the development of the internet. The Telegraph piece states that Ministers 'accept ' that it is impossible to use a body like the BBFC to rate content before it is put on the internet due to the sheer volume of material that is up there. The unstated implication of that statement is that if there was much less material on the internet then they would institute compulsory certification.
It is very important to note that there is only a huge volume of material on sites like Youtube and Videojug because there is not compulsory rating. Hundreds of thousands of people put up helpful videos on all sorts of topics from how to prepare for a job interview to how to build a self assembly bookcase. People put these videos up for no financial gain and many of the people who put videos up have little or no money. Some people who post videos are victims of war or injustice. How could they afford the BBFC charge of £75 plus £6 per minute? That's £110 ($172) for a 5 minute video. Would you be inclined to put up a video of footage from your holiday for that price? What if you wanted to get footage out quickly to alert people to a crisis. Any system which involves people having to pre-submit something will make on the hoof citizen journalism impossible.
Just imagine Cameron had been around to propose this type of censorship in the early days of the internet. Most of the content you enjoy now would not be there and you would not even realise that it could have been there. What future developments in the democratization of media will be stymied by starting on the slippery slope of a controlled internet.
5. What about sites which won't or can't co-operate with Cameron's rating proposals? The internet is (at the moment) a global and relatively free to access phenomenon. However, Cameron seems to want file sharing sites other than Youtube to adopt his proposals. If small file sharing sites are ordered to install ratings programmes then are they going to be able to afford to do so and if they cant then will their access to U.K. homes be blocked. What about sites which are hosted in other countries- are they going to be forced to institute ratings just to get access to British homes? What if other countries all start having their own ratings systems? It will be impractical to simultaneously respond to all sorts of different ratings systems. The result will be that the internet will cease to be international with sites being blocked from all sorts of countries because they don't correspond to their ratings system. What about videos posted by individual users in other countries. Will someone posting a video in the U.S.A. have to complete Cameron's self assessment questionnaire before their video can be seen by U.K. viewers? The odds are that they won't want to bother and as a result U.K. homes will not be able to watch their content. The end result will be balkanisation of the internet- a situation which will be very inconvenient for most people but a boon for MEDIA BARONS, CORRUPT POLITICIANS WITH THINGS TO HIDE AND CENSORSHIP BUREAUCRATS.
6. Who is going to Police the effectiveness of this self-censorship process?
Cameron will want to ensure that all video sharing sites are operating according to his policies and are operatin g a ratings system 'effectively'. He will need someone to police this.
ENTER THE BBFC.
Have a look at at the BBFC website. They have a category of charges on their charging listing called 'Digital Platforms' with fees starting at £500 per year for sites with 100+ videos. A logical extension of Camerons proposals will be fora public body to audit what video sharing sites are displaying with fines for people who don't co-operate or deal with 'inappropriate' material quickly or efficiently. This will be policed by the BBFC who will charge fees (eventually much higher than quoted above) for auditing sites. The result will be that sites will have eventually feel that they have to pre-approve material before they put it on. They will charge people who want to upload material so that they can recover the cost of having someone watch it and to cover BBFC fees.
7. Who are going to be the new Publishers and distributors of material on the web?
Answer: The old publishers of CDs and DVDs and satellite TV. A highly regulated media only offers access to big players and those who will dance to their tune
Since it will eventually be impossible to view uploaded material from other countries and ordinary citizens will not be able to afford to pay censorship fees there will be a new role for publishers. Companies like Virgina and New International will pick the 'best of the web' from other countries and package it in a pre-censored way with all controversial political material extracted according to U.K. Government requirements. New bands and performers who want to get their work seen by the public will have to pay media companies to get exposure for their work who will probably also want to get exclusive rights to selling their music. The ability to bypass big business to sell your work direct to the public will cease. Rupert Murdoch will once again control media in the U.K. and be able to influence political opinion.
Big media lobbyists are involved in moves to implement internet censorship around the world. These companies do not care about protection of children - they want to retake the control of media which has been lost to them. They want once again to control what people see and hear and be able to exploit producers and consumers in the ways they used to.
Notably Cameron does not have anything to say about the large numbers of soft porn channels available on Sky and he has explicitly said that he does not have a problem with page 3. Answer- he is still afraid of standing up to big media interests. He will undoubtedly have discussed his current plans with Rupert Murdoch who is currently rubbing his hands in glee at how he or is sun is going to control the new U.K. local internet which we will have in a few years.
In summary- my doomsday scenario involves some extrapolation for Cameron's proposals but they are in my opinion logical extrapolations.
If you trust David Cameron to control the media then I urge you to read the brilliant book Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson M.P. and then see if you still feel the same way.
If you are a feminist like Deborah Orr who believes that Cameron's proposals will stop children seeing material which is sexist or offensive to women then you are very naive. Cameron is a Conservative, not a feminist.
If you think Cameron's proposals will reduce access to pornography of any kind then you are also very naive.
Power of Big media Concerns = Billions of Dollars
Power of pornography industry = Billions of Dollars
Power of self help groups +
civil rights groups+
musicians who sell their music through the internet+
and bloggers who want to talk to the world about what concerns them+
people that want to upload their holiday and hobby videos
= Maybe enough dollars for a pizza if they all chip in.
All these groups have equal access to the internet at the moment but they won't once the internet becomes regulated.
All Camerons proposals are the thin edge of a very fat wedge which will destroy the internet as we know it.
Oppose him now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!