On Net Censorship And Double Standards

On Net Censorship And Double Standards

Last week’s decision to cancel laws aimed at controlling commentary on forums in South Australia seemed like a sensible move to most Lifehacker readers, but that doesn’t mean it was universally welcomed. Does the rejection of the law mean there’s an Internet double standard?

Mark Day pushes that argument in an opinion piece for The Australian, suggesting that the law merely would have made the Internet subject to the same rules as everywhere else. The fact it has been shouted down means, he says, that the “Internet generation” now wants a massive double-standard in place:

It is apparent the standard of the net generation is that imposing limits on what can be sold in a newsagent or a sex shop is acceptable, but imposing limits on anything to do with the net is not, especially if it can be cast as censorship.

The big flaw in this argument is that it presumes that there was already a consistent model in place. Of course, you don’t have to look any further than how computer games are rated to realise that inconsistency in these kinds of regulations is rampant (and that it doesn’t necessarily favour the users of advanced technology). Nor does Day remotely address the fact that censorship laws for the Internet would be entirely different to other media, since the list of what is banned would itself be banned material.

More generally, while there’s no doubt that consistency would be a worthwhile goal, that doesn’t necessarily override the notion that introducing a law that can’t be enforced serves no useful purpose other than wasting parliamentary time and government money. From that point of view, Day’s piece doesn’t seem like much more than “damn these young Internet whippersnappers” trolling.

Net-gen forces state-sanctioned double standard [The Australian]


  • It also ignores the “conversation” aspect of blog posts and comments.
    A blog is (or should be) a conversation that is written down rather than spoken.
    In that respect, I can call a talkback radio show, tell them my name is Mickey (Mouse) and it’s fine for me to spout whatever junk I want to until the host dumps my line and goes on to the next punter.
    Noone knows my true identity, and everyone knows there is no proof that I am who I say I am.

  • Mark misses the point entirely, showing his poor grasp of the issue. The law required people commenting on election related articles to declare who they are, not just election material. I believe all material from a registered political party should be traceable no matter what medium it appears in. I do not, however, believe that every comment made about that material or elections in general to be mandated by law to have a name and address attached to it, and stored for a period of time. As StevoTheDevo already pointed out, we can call radio talk back without revealing identifying information. I can send a letter to the editor without revealing who I am, and the internet is no different in this respect. It is simply easier to do and is much more popular than other means of expressing an opinion.

  • I have no problem with websites, forums, newspapers, radio call-in shows, etc. requiring that users supply a name, postcode, email address, or whatever. If a newspaper is going to publish someone’s letter, they have every right to request whatever information they see fit.

    I do, however, have a problem with this being controlled by the government. The issue is clearly not simply a matter of cutting down on defamatory or offensive language, since it only applies to political comments made during an election campaign. I don’t like the idea that the government is taking any interest in the personal information of people making comments about elections.

    It’s not the government’s responsibility to ensure that comments about elections remain civil. If the comments are being published by some third party, then the quality of the comments reflect on the quality of said third party, and it’s the publisher’s responsibility to keep them civil.

    It’s true that there appears to be a double standard on the part of the government. The thing is, letters published in newspapers are already heavily moderated, regardless of whether they relate to politics or not. Nobody expects that their letter full of cursing and offensive comments about someone’s mother is going to get published in the Australian, and that has nothing to do with a government mandate. If they want to put out material like that, there are places to do so, but it should be perfectly clear that the material is not being endorsed by anyone with a reputation to keep up.

    At any rate, it seems to me that if a comment reflects poorly on the government, it won’t be because of the language or civility of the comment. It will be because it’s actually pointing out the government’s flaws.

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