Free speech vs… the Internet

I’ve periodically waxed poetic about my love affair with the internet. I view it as a new version of the printing press, giving unprecedented access to both information and speech to millions of people who would otherwise never even glimpse the leaps and bounds made in the last 100 years. This level of access will ultimately have a stabilizing effect on the world, as ideas will spread, and issues will no longer be bound by physical or political borders.

However, this level of access has negative repercussions as well:

The sharp growth in extremist websites is making recruitment much easier for al-Qaeda, according to Interpol head Ronald Noble. “The threat is global, it is virtual and it is on our doorsteps,” he said. Mr Noble told a conference of police chiefs in Paris there were 12 sites in 1998 and 4,500 by 2006.

This is the ugly side of free speech. Allowing all people access to a tool like the internet means that everyone will, eventually, use it. Sadly, the reality is that ‘everyone’ includes a bunch of assholes who think that violence is a reasonable and justifiable way of spreading ideas.

So what are lawful societies supposed to do? Block the information? They may pursue that, but thanks to teh G00gle, they may not be able to do it with impunity any longer:

Earlier this year, Google released details about how often countries around the world ask it to hand over user data or to censor information. The new map and tools follows on from that and allows users to click an individual country to see how many removal requests were fully or partially complied with, as well as which Google services were affected.

Of course, this is only one server (albeit a major one), but it may point in the direction of what will happen to freedom of information in the future. There will be a struggle between civilian governments and large corporations over who has access to and control over the series of tubes that make up the internet. The tool is really not altogether that useful yet. I was able to learn that Canada has fewer than 10 requests to remove Google-based data (YouTube, Blogger, etc.) Somewhat encouraging, I suppose.

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