Monday, 27 April 2009

The anarchistic social experiment that is the internet

There's an interesting story here of a family in America who were very upset to find that photos of their daughter's death were available online. The girl had died in a car crash and some cops had taken photos as a cautionary tale which then escaped online.

I think there are a lot of interesting aspects to this story: firstly the wonderful way that pretty much all censorship attempts online eventually fail (google search for the images they're trying to ban they're still readily available), secondly how pretty much all legal systems fail online and finally how depressing how anarchistic (and deprived) the internet can be.

The first point I think is most simply shown here, a very daft woman on LBC radio said some very poorly thought out things about how taking MMR jab was optional because no one ever got those diseases any more. Ben Goldacre responded by posting the radio debate online as an example of truly poor science and got asked to removed it. Soon after the radio clip was available and talked about on more than 150 other blogs either in bits or as a whole. The internet doesn't like censorship - stop trying it on.

The legal aspect is interesting. Privacy is a right, but online you only have as much privacy as you protect yourself and that's not easy. This is especially true when something like /b/ decides to come after you (I won't link there its easy enough to find). Well I say 'decides'....

This comes down to something that pretty much all governments, people and organisations don't seem to have realised: the internet is anarchy. There is no law in any way, not yet and so sites like /b/ proliferate, not because people are suddenly worse online - just that they can relax and these sites become the ultimate games of dare - you can do what ever you can think of and type. Just every now and then someone is stupid and actually does it. The internet has brought out some truly nasty sides of people; but I hope this will fade.

The internet is still socially very young - people are still adapting to it in a social way and the anarchy is to be expected - sooner or later some form of law will emerge as will more of a social ethos, and no just because Facebook is a social site doesn't mean the internet has a social code or ethic - this will take a while to evolve.

Anyway moral of the story: nothing is private online so think before you upload other people's personal information (I think that the cops involved should face charges).

It's truly terrible what some people have done to the family. Emailing them with pictures from the crash scene is vile but I think their time would be better spent ignoring it.

Hopefully stories like this will be few and far between and hopefully people will learn from them.

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