Honestly, any time I see nonsensical statements along the lines of "We live in a free country, we're not like Russia or China," I can't help laughing. Oh, no, we don't. And the trouble is, it's not really the government that's driving it as such. It's us.
It's a demand-side issue
If you read my blog, you know I'm a Pirate, and you know about the Twofold Principle:
The individual must be free to act and the will of the people must be respected.
It's the antidote to authoritarianism, people, that's the reason I keep blaring on about it. It's a distillation of the wisdom of "Your rights end where mine begin" and our real need to promote a sense of social responsibility in individuals and groups. And as I've said before, when one trumps the other, problems ensue.
Okay, stop me if you've heard this before but do you really, truly believe that banning all mention of a specific topic ON THE INTERNET will prevent people from thinking about it? From seeking out information on it? Please bear in mind that innocent websites providing help and advice for distressed women and children have been caught up in the state-sponsored net nanny blanket ban. Please also bear in mind the fact that these missions can creep from protecting kiddies from perverts to protecting the public from terrorists to protecting special interest groups from competition in a few short hops.
So what can we do about it?
As I've already stated over and over again, we should discuss the issues and deal with them instead of either pretending the problem isn't real or blowing it out of proportion. Why is nobody addressing the fact that some people really want to be terrorists? Deal with that. Why is nobody addressing the fact that some men really want to molest women and girls because they can't relate to them in a healthy way? Deal with that. Why isn't more being done to teach kids that their bodies are their own and that no-touch zones exist? As for drugs, organised crime, and IPR infringement, they too are demand-side issues that can be dealt with using market-inclusive solutions instead of the ineffective "War on..." approach we've been using so far.
Why aren't we doing this now?
We could drastically demand-side problems if more people accepted that there is a demand-side in the first place. Their inability to do so is actually the main driver. Put it this way: if you can influence a person to do evil, it logically follows that you can influence a person to do good, right? So why not promote exciting alternatives to the horrible-but-popular options apparently being bandied about on the internet? Because we just can't seem to put down the Big Stick of Authoritarianism. And why not? Because it's less hassle to bash and be seen to bash than to go out and engage with people, find out what they're really after, and give them that instead.
Think about it: how do you deal with underage sex? Sensible people would educate them but because it's so politicised, conservative religious groups promote an ignorance is bliss abstinence only philosophy. Then they wonder how cases like Steubenville can happen in their neck of the woods. Meanwhile, left-liberals teach kids absolutely everything, are surprised by token resistance, and turn every bedroom into a potential crime scene. Then they wonder how things like this happen.
Shouldn't we be teaching individuals personal and social responsibility first and foremost? That pervert stepfather wouldn't have even considered touching that little girl if he'd had her personal welfare at the top of his list of priorities. Meanwhile, the columnist Alexandra Massey Doesn't Want To Make A Fuss so even though the damage left her in need of counselling, she's not taking it to the police. Well whether she realises it or not she's helping to promote the silent martyr trope that rape culture requires. The last thing it needs is for victims to cry out and expose the perpetrators. Should we censor her, then, for promoting rape culture by encouraging someone who might have considered speaking out to keep quiet because it happened such a long time ago? We're nearly there.
Mission creep is creepy
They're doing the internet ban thing in France now.
The French Parliament this week formally adopted a new anti-terrorism law, part of which aims to stop terrorists using the internet to attract recruits and plot attacks. It will allow the authorities to block websites that “condone terrorism” and will create a new offence of “individual terrorist enterprise”. - La Quadrature du Net
Basically, sharing tweets or posts about any act that might be considered terrorism can get you thrown in prison. Give it five minutes and that mission will creep to "condone IPR violation." You know it, I know it, and the cat on the flippin' wall knows it. Remember how an anti-terror law was used to attempt the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer? I have not forgotten that. And I've just seen that tasty little titbit about a certain anti-piracy boss going to prison for spending state money on hookers and champagne instead of, you know, doing his actual job. That said, the way our politicians behave sometimes I could make a case for him mistaking a brothel for Parliament.
The point is, banning things people want won't stop them doing it, is expensive to enforce, and typically results in the erosion of our own freedoms. Let's come up with effective solutions that actually meet people where they're at and address their demands and needs.
Address the issues
So you see a terrorist video advocating chopping people's heads off in the name of Allah. Do you a) leg it off to Syria at top speed in the hope of raping some unfortunate Yazidi girls or b) turn away in horror and watch Simon's Cat videos for an hour to get the horror out of your head? Most people would probably choose b) because they're decent and reasonable. The point is, people who join terror groups aren't somehow transformed by watching videos, they've got a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves, which has a clear mission statement, and is divinely sanctioned with a black-and-white approach to good and evil. We Westerners tend to fuzz the issues — the appeal of extremism is the purity of intent it offers. Shouldn't we be pointing people in the direction of organisations that provide them with the structure and purpose they crave?
Banning the videos shuts down the debate. Talk about it. Why should anyone be beheaded at all? What about that Manc man who was killed after going out to bring aid to Syrian kids? Why was that acceptable to his ISIS captors? Is it acceptable in Islam? Talk about it! Honestly, I think they scored an own goal with that one and more could have been made of it. We could also be talking more about how they brutalise local populations, even blowing up "the wrong mosques" when they take over but no, let's just ban them altogether instead of inoculating people to their hateful messages, which is what we should be doing.
So, then, the real issue here is not the terrorists, the pornographers, or any other undesirable speech, per se. It's the heavy-handed authoritarian approach that some of us take when dealing with it because that's what it is ultimately all about: closing down speech deemed undesirable by special interest groups. As nasty as it sounds, letting that happen to the hate freaks means that sooner or later it will happen to us. And who will speak up for us?