Because my final year project is the biggest piece of academic work I’ve ever had to do, it naturally attracts the biggest opportunities for procrastination. I’ve been meaning to switch my blog over to a new host and redesign its template since 2011 but only now that I’m in the deepest, darkest, deadliest parts of writing my dissertation does the deed demand my diversion.
If you’re reading this, then I’ve successfully transferred my blog over to a new web host. Now all that remains is to find a template I like or build my own. Shiny!
Though my self-imposed blogging exile is still in effect whilst I finish my dissertation and prepare for exams, I thought I’d air my thoughts on recent news surrounding Doctor Who since it’s a topic I know so intrinsically that this will require precious little additional research. This may also be a good place to mention that there are spoilers ahead, so if you’re avoiding hearing about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special then go away. This will also be a heavily speculative blog that may require detailed knowledge of NuWho continuity, I’ll explain where possible but be prepared.
Since I’m going to be snowed under with final year Uni work, I won’t have time to write any new posts for a while unless I’m foolishly procrastinating. In the meantime, satiate yourself with this article I recently wrote for CNET UK. I can’t publish the full article, so follow the link below.
See you on the other side!
[This is a repost of a study paper I wrote for University at the end of last year, I wrote it much like I would a blog post but had to subject it to fiercely draconian editing to stay within the word limit so interested in how it compares to my normal stuff.]
Social media has irrevocably altered the way in which people view and react to content. Whereas newspapers and television broadcasts are decidedly one-way and controlled by a privileged few, the Web uniquely inverts this. Sites like Twitter and YouTube have empowered individuals to broadcast their content globally and, in turn, allowed others to directly respond and fuel discussion.
As with any emerging technology, the result has been a plethora of unprecedented legal cases that existing law has, at times, struggled to adapt to. One of the most prominent examples of this is defamation cases being brought against people for statements they’ve made online.
2. LIBEL LAWS IN LEGACY MEDIA
The origin of what became modern libel law contains language distinctly rooted in the context of newspapers . The prohibitive cost of printing at the time meant that only companies selling newspapers for profit could afford to widely disperse information, so they have very strong business interests in avoiding costly litigation. Furthermore, the nature of hiring trained, professional journalists meant those responsible for cases of libel could be directly held to account. Although, due to the editorial influence the newspaper has, liability is more often considered to be with the owner of the publication itself than the writer .
3. LIBEL LAWS IN SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media utterly democratised the ability to publish information to a large audience, from laconic micro-bloggers to “citizen journalists” presenting information as news.
At time of writing, the law for dealing with cases of defamation makes no distinction between a libellous statement made by a large mainstream newspaper and one made by a Twitter user with followers in the single-digits. In the eyes of the law, every single Twitter user is effectively a newspaper editor and thus subject to exactly the same regulation .
This approach is impractical for a number of reasons. Firstly, it fails to acknowledge that most social media users are regular people without any training or concept of media law. Secondly, it grossly overestimates the amount of damage to someone’s reputation the claims of most social media users can have, given the dilution effect caused by the volume of posts. Thirdly, it opens the floodgates for anyone to initiate expensive legal actions as merely a tool to censor even the mildest criticism.
4. LEGITIMATE ONLINE LIBEL
Of course, libel laws have an important purpose: to protect people from having their reputation damaged by the broadcast of misinformation. Since social media websites are undeniably a broadcast medium, there is no defensible argument for giving it complete exemption from defamation regulation. There are examples of libel laws being appropriately applied when someone’s reputation is damaged by a statement made online .
5. DISPROPORTIONATE LIABILITY
However, in these cases the plaintiff and the defendant were of similar professional status. The former had a reputation to protect and the latter had enough of an online influence to genuinely damage it. Conventional libel suits require the claimant to prove damage to their reputation , but this hasn’t prevented public figures threatening legal action against social media users, regardless of follower count .
In the UK, even “re-tweeting” (the Twitter equivalent of attributed quoting) can make you liable to legal action . Whereas, in the US, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants immunity to online users for quoting the aspersive claims of another .
It should also be acknowledged that not all social media users are equal. A defamatory statement from Stephen Fry (for example), with over 5 million followers, has a far greater likely proliferation than the vast majority of other Twitter users, with less than 50 .
The Crown Prosecution Service is currently developing interim guidelines that would take into account the “reach” of a social media user when deciding if offensive comment warrants conviction . This could be applied to libel, since, in order to significantly damage someone’s reputation, the user making the claim must have a substantial “reach”. However, the interconnected nature of social networks means that a claim made by a low-reach user could be potentially proliferated amongst the entire network by others. As mentioned, each repetition is technically a separate libel, but the plaintiff will more likely pursue its originator. Nevertheless, acknowledgement that social media cannot be feasibly regulated by existing law is progress.
6. THE DEFAMATION BILL 2012
At time of writing, the Defamation Bill 2012 is being put through parliament to bring libel law more in line with the current socio-technological context . Though the Bill may be modified in the coming weeks, its current form establishes that the offending comment must cause “serious harm” to the plaintiff’s reputation. However, what constitutes “serious harm” is ambiguous and subjective, therefore cannot be effectively proscribed in law. Furthermore, “serious harm” may be caused to reputation among low-reach social media users on a local level, but the context is not considered.
The Bill also introduces a “single publication rule” on published statements. Presently, though limitations exist on the actionable period from a libellous claim’s publication, the comment’s individual reprinting is considered an entirely new publication, thereby resetting the litigable clock . The introduction of a single publication rule will ensure that attributed quoting of a mendacious statement is actionable only against the original speaker within the statute of limitation on its original publication. This effectively immunises people from facing legal action for retweeting.
Attempts to reform libel legislation to consider social media seem reluctant to acknowledge the many forms online libel can take. As we’ve seen, nebulous terms like “reach” still assume a strictly one-to-many relationship between speaker and audience. However, this is understandable in such a complex area. Social media evolves so rapidly that legislation too specific to its current incarnation will likely become outdated fast; whilst too vague legislation will be ineffective. A careful balance must be found, assuming one exists.
 “Libel and Registration Act,” 1881. [Online]. Available: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/44-45/60/enacted.
[Accessed 29 11 2012].
 A. Keen, “The Cult of Amateur: How Blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the Rest of Today’s User Generated Media are Killing Our Culture and Economy,” in Truth and Lies, Currency Press, 2007, p. 74.
 “Grayling warns Twitter users also face libel laws,” 14 11 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.itv.com/news/update/2012-11-13/grayling-warns-twitter-users-also-face-libel-laws/. [Accessed 30 11 2012].
 “Ex-cricketer Chirs Carins wins £90,000 libel damages,” BBC News, 26 03 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17512027. [Accessed 30 11 2012].
 “Twitter libel: Caerphilly councillor pays rival £3000,” BBC News, 10 03 2011. [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-12704955. [Accessed 29 11 2012].
 “Legal definition of ‘Libel’,” [Online]. Available: http://dictionary.law.com/Default.aspx?selected=1153. [Accessed 14 11 2012].
 A. Taylor, “Why A British Politician Is Planning To Sue ‘At Least’ 10,000 Twitter Users,” Business Insider, 19 11 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.businessinsider.com/lord-mcalpine-sues-10000-twitter-users-2012-11. [Accessed 6 12 2012].
 “US Communications Decency Act,” Cornell University Law School, 1 2 1996. [Online]. Available: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230#c. [Accessed 5 12 2012].
 Beevolve, “An Exhaustive Study of Twitter Users Across the World,” 16 10 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.beevolve.com/twitter-statistics/#b1. [Accessed 6 12 2012].
 C. Williams, “Unpopular Twitter accounts could escape prosecution for ‘grossly offensive’ tweets,” The Telegraph, 13 11 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/twitter/9675548/Unpopular-Twitter-accounts-could-escape-prosecution-for-grossly-offensive-tweets.html#. [Accessed 29 11 2012].
 “Defamation Bill 2012-13,” UK Parliament, 24 9 2012. [Online]. Available: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/defamation.html.
[Accessed 6 12 2012].
 “Defamation Bill 2012-13 (content),” 21 9 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2012-2013/0041/20130041.pdf. [Accessed 6 12 2012].
 R. A. Leflar, “The Single Publication Rule,” Rocky Mountain Law Review (Issue 3), p. 263, April 1953.
It’d be easy to think that this has been a slow year tech-wise, since we’re still decidedly lacking the toys that optimistic science-fiction writers promised like a drunk Santa in a shopping centre. But despite the absence of hoverboards and robot butlers, it’s been a busy year in the tech world. Here’s my rundown of the biggest tech stories to grace RSS feeds this year.
1. Apple vs. Samsung
This year saw the patent war between Apple and Samsung erupt into all-out conflict, with the US courts ordering Samsung to pay a staggering $1 billion in damages for infringing Apple’s patents in several of its products. However, things didn’t end quite so well for JobsCo in the UK, ultimately resulting in Apple being ordered to issue apologies to Samsung…twice.
2. Windows 8, Phone and Surface
Microsoft have also been hard at work this year to make their mark on smartphones, partnering with companies like Nokia to host Windows Phone 8 in their devices, as well as tablets with the release of the Microsoft Surface. Not to mention the radical redesign to its Windows operating system, with a greater focus on touch usability and apps that was lacking in its predecessor.
3. Apple without Jobs
All eyes were on the Cupertino-based company for its first full year without its charismatic founder Steve Jobs at the helm, since his return in 1997. New CEO Tim Cook promised that 2012 would “see a lot more of this kind of innovation” but Apple only updated existing product lines this year. A new version of OS X (Mountain Lion) along with new models of iPhone, iMac and iPad as well as the first 7-inch version, the iPad Mini, are nice but hardly innovative. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about the disastrous iOS 6 Maps debacle shortly.
4. SOPA and PIPA
Ostensibly as a way to fight online piracy, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) sought power to force search engines and ad-agencies to cut all ties to websites accused of copyright infringement. Various Web 2.0 sites, seeing the threat to their (mostly ad-supported) livelihoods, conducted “blackouts” in protest, during which their services were unavailable. The Bill was ultimately scrapped.
5. Facebook’s IPO
Despite resisting going public for many years, the monolithic social network Facebook finally launched its IPO back in May. Though expectations were high, technical problems on the first day and criticism of over-valuation meant that, in the eight months since, ZuckerCo has failed to surpass its $38/share starting price and, back in September, fell as low as half its initial value, according to Nasdaq data.
6. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and Fire HD
This year saw the release of Amazon’s first tablet computer, the Kindle Fire, in the UK along with its new HD counterpart. Sporting an Android OS skinned to drive users towards buying content, from which Amazon makes most of its money, its enticingly low-price has sparked the Fire’s hot sales. To advance the eReader lineage, the Paperwhite added a scarcely-needed light to the Kindle’s eInk display, just like a real book!
7. Instagram’s billion
Instagram turned photo-sharing into a social experience in a way that Flickr and Picasa had failed to do: by offering rudimentary filter features to awaken the show-off hipster in all of us. Despite relative infancy and strong ties with Twitter, the photo-focused social network was snapped up by Facebook for a crisp $1 billion back in April.
Labour controversy erupted this year at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that manufactures many Apple devices as well as the Amazon Kindle and several well-known games consoles. A series of suicides by workers and reports of hazardous working conditions pressured Apple to request an audit by the Fair Labor Association, which found a number of compliance issues including uncompensated overtime and risks to employee health and safety.
9. Twitter Abuse
Between insults hurled at Tom Daley, libellous accusations about Lord McAlpine and offensive jokes on missing schoolgirls, this last year has shown off social media’s ugly side. How social media should be regulated, if it should at all, has been a much-debated issue with everyone from parents to free speech advocates to anti-bullying groups to bloggers weighing in.
10. Raspberry Pi
Amid growing calls to reform the teaching of ICT in UK schools with more technical content, the release of the long-awaited Raspberry Pi seemed like serendipitous timing. Developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the eponymous device is a small computer sporting an ARM processor and running the open-source operating system Linux. Shipping at £22 a slice, the Pi was developed as a cheap and easy way to teach hardware and programming to children.
11. iOS 6 Maps
Apple’s attempt to oust Google Maps as the default maps application on iOS and replace it with their own backfired on them spectacularly. The September release of iOS 6 did away with several previously native Google apps in favour of Apple’s offering, most notably giving Apple Maps dominance. However, Maps came under so much criticism that Tim Cook posted an apology on the Apple website suggesting that people use third-party apps while they fix it.
12. AMD announced ARM chips
AMD announced this year that they would be releasing low-power server chips based on the ARM architecture in 2014. Having been one of the key drivers in the rise of x86 CISC processors, branching out with RISC-based ARM designs seems to be a bid to diversify and make up for ground lost to arch-rival Intel.
Christmas traditions are a wonderful thing. The religious right in the US spent December waging its annual war on the ‘War on Christmas’: a nonexistent “militant” secularisation of the winter solstice, dreamed up by Fox News as an excuse for some good old self-righteous indignation. Stories of Nativity displays being removed from public spaces were puffed up as capitulation to crybaby-atheists, rather than a legitimate defence of the First Amendment. Shops daring to acknowledge the existence of other religions with an inclusive call of “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” was derided as political correctness gone barmy. Specious slogans like “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Keep Christ in Christmas” were tossed around with no apparent awareness of the irony.
As immutably as the Queen’s speech, the Doctor Who special or the umpteenth showing of The Muppet Christmas Carol, people bemoaning the dilution of the holiday’s supposedly Christian basis were abundant. But evidently nobody pontificating on the “secularisation” of Christmas did so on behalf of the Mithra or Saturn, nor the thousands of contemporary pagans celebrating the winter solstice. Indeed, the “fair and balanced” reporting from Fox News seemed zealous in defending the Jesus story exclusively.
In late 2011 a rumour, swiftly proved untrue, circulated that President Obama was insisting all Christmas trees in the White House be referred to as “Holiday Trees”. Despite being debunked, it resurfaced in 2012 and was jumped on by right-wing pundits, including monotonous Professor Honeydew lookalike Ben Stein, who penned a viral letter to the President about his fictional edict. The fact that Obama has characteristically been nauseatingly obsequious to Christianity, or that this myth has been roundly rebuked online, evidently didn’t register for those who repeated it a gospel.
However, it actually would be far more accurate (not to mention patriotic, considering the US was founded on secular principles) to refer to Christmas trees in such an unassuming way. The practise of bringing evergreens into the home was originally a Pagan one in celebration of the winter solstice. Generally celebrated on December 21st, the solstice celebrates the point that winter begins to abate and the days start to get longer, often characterised as the rebirth or resurgence of the Sun (or sun-gods…or son-gods, for that matter). This was also picked up and modified by several other traditions, including the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. What we now call “Christmas Trees” were still considered a pagan symbol in the US as recently as 1840, but gradually gained uptake in Christian homes.
According to historical record, it wasn’t until the fourth century that early Christianity chose to celebrate the solstice at all; their only religious holiday was Easter. In the Bible, no date for the birth of Jesus is ever given and, when Pope Julius I decided to make the birth of Christ a holiday, it’s believed that he chose December 25th in order to absorb the festivities of Saturnalia. If Christ was born in the deepest part of winter, as so many modern defenders of Christmas tacitly claim, then it should be considered suspect that the Bible talks of shepherds tending their flock.
So despite cries to not let the “meaning” of Christmas become compromised or replaced, the traditions of the holiday itself come from sources that are outside Christianity, including places considered heretical by the faith.
You’ll notice, however, that I’ve referred to the modern holiday as Christmas throughout this article, simply because (despite being an atheist) that’s just what I call it. But I won’t begrudge anyone whose religious or cultural affiliations or upbringing compel them to refer to it as something else. It’s not my place, nor is it anyone elses, to insist that they acknowledge my interpretation as the “true” meaning of the holiday, since it’s no more valid than anyone elses. Jesus may be your “reason for the season” but you may not presume it to be mine.
Nor may you retroactively claim that these borrowed traditions are so intrinsically part of your holiday that they are thus the property of your religion. You may not say that, since we refer to the pagan symbol as a “Christmas Tree” that it is thus the exclusive property of Christ followers. Having as disjointed a mixture of traditions as most do, the best you can say is that you celebrate a secular Christmas.
A secular Christmas is not about gutting the holiday of any religious meaning, if that’s what you wish to celebrate, in fact it’s the opposite. It celebrates the diversity of culture and tradition, as an amalgamation of practises passed down down the millennia. Far from diminishing your particular belief, it strengthens kinship with those celebrating other (or no) gods. Secular Christmas celebrates our common humanity, since the basic ideals of family, generosity and unity are brought to the forefront, absent of any divisive religious dogma. Me and my sister have an annual tradition of seeing a schmaltzy Christmas film at the cinema on December 24th, then coming home to prepare the trifle and pigs-in-blankets for the next day. For me, that’s as much a meaningful part of the holiday as going to Midnight Mass is for others.
Before Russell T Davies retconned their history so that they were created by Trigger from Only Fools and Horses, the original Cybermen on Doctor Who were humans who’d gone overboard augmenting their bodies with technology. In my vision of the future we’re still emotionless monstrosities, but with unnecessarily-glowing Apple logos embossed on our cold, metallic skin.
JobsCo haven’t quite gotten to the point of delving beneath human flesh, networking your nervous system and linking it to a proprietary port for which you have to buy a separate £39 cable just so you can play your iTunes purchases out of your coccyx. But if rumours that Apple are developing a “smart watch” are to be believed, then I can’t help but think it’s getting sinisterly close to the Apple Geniuses receiving surgical training and AppleCare coming on the NHS (which won’t make it any cheaper, by the way).
If true, which I doubt but I’ve been wrong before, then it would inevitably connect (exclusively) to an iPhone via Bluetooth, have a camera to allow Facetime and be controlled either by a touch-screen or Siri or both. The microphone on the iPhone has never been great, so unless you link a Bluetooth headset to a Bluetooth watch to a Bluetooth phone, you’d have to mutter into your wrist like you’re conspiring with your armhair to overthrow the Illuminati.
They wouldn’t be the first to try and bring out a “smart watch” (though I hope to God that’s not what we end up calling them), LG tried to persuade us that an entire phone strapped onto your carpus was a good idea back in 2009. They made lofty promises of “basic functionality” and “various clock faces” but sadly it never quite caught on. More recently, the Kickstarter-darling “Pebble” watch and Sony’s SmartWatch are at least being realistic by connecting to existing smartphone platforms rather than trying to overthrow the iPhone and Android giants with a concept device more niche than a Josef Fritzl fanclub.
The idea of watch-gadgetry has been around in fiction for a while: Dick Tracy, Secret Squirrel and Power Rangers all famously wore watches with (amongst other things) communicators. Whilst the idea is nifty, it’s always struck me as a prospect that wouldn’t work well in reality. For one thing, modern gadgets (particularly Apple devices) have a notorious scratch-rate and that’s just when it’s in a pocket, imagine what lacerations it’ll emerge with after a day in the open air. Even if you work a desk-job, proximity to coffee, hard-surfaces, blue-sky thinking or (worst of all) clichés would still afford it a scrape or two.
The screen would be so small that working out who’s calling you from the hopelessly-pixelated scaled photo would be like watching a bizarre witness-protection episode of Deal or No Deal. Their position as a highly sought-after device (which the Great Apple Publicity Machine would see to) would be incongruous with their nature as being visible and easily accessible, since it’d be easy for thieves to target people who were sporting one. Wrist-mounted tech seems about as practical to me as a marzipan sledgehammer.
Of course, practicality has never stood in Apple’s way when it comes to selling a product. In much the same way as trainers, mobile phones or regular watches (hereafter referred to as “caveman timepieces”, “Luddite chronometers” or “wrist sundials”), this gadget would be a fashion symbol first and a tool second.
But if people are willing to pay for it on the basis of branding alone, then why shouldn’t Apple take advantage? Though I may regret those words in five year’s time when I’m running down a corridor desperately spraying bullets behind me to escape a swarm of iCyborg and a mechanically resurrected Steve Jobs.
Excruciatingly typed on my new iPad Mini. Happy Christmas.
It seems like every town has an elderly eccentric that few have met but everyone knows. My home town has a man who cycles around on a bike with dozens of pin-wheels attached to the basket whilst wearing garish patterned trousers, like Noel Edmonds trying to recreate the flying bicycle scene from E.T. Whilst plenty of these amusing nutters will make bold assertions on behalf of the supposed creator of the Universe, only one city has taken these geriatric ramblings so seriously as to put their author in charge.
Pope Benedict XVI has been extolling wisdom, theology and questionable condom advice throughout his seven year Papacy, only now he’s joined Twitter so he can shout into an entirely new indifferent abyss. Before his befrocked Holiness had even said anything, his follower count burst past the one-million mark. These comprised a combination of devout followers and bemused heathens, primed in the off-chance his senility wasn’t being filtered through a dozen advisors and he ended up tweeting that God’s favourite creature was actually the Dairylea Dunker.
It’s not even like his absurd follower count – online that is, not his absurd follower count in reality – was a case of follow-back guilt, since he’d only followed his own accounts in different languages. After that whole Tower of Babel thing, he really had no choice. In any case, a few days later he made his proper debut, in which he blessed everyone who’d shown up so far, which seems an unwise strategy, what if there were child molesters following him? Oh.
Just like Gary Glitter (albeit later found out to be fake), the sudden appearance of someone directly involved in pedophilia on a public forum has invoked the wrath of keyboard vigilantes. Pesky atheists, why can’t they just shut up and let the Catholic Church systematically abuse children in peace?
Oddly, the subject of the Pontiff shielding pedophiles in the Clergy and silencing their victims through intimidation and guilt hasn’t come up. All we’ve had so far is meaningless platitudes about faith straight from the cliché handbook. All fourteen of Benny’s tweets, at time of writing, have been vapid, ghost-written (possibly by the Holy Spirit) and barely worth the pixels they’re rendered in. However, from the response each one has had, you’d think he’d been claiming that condoms increase the risk of STIs…again.
Everyone’s life of faith has times of light, but also times of darkness. If you want to walk in the light, let the word of God be your guide
— Benedict XVI (@Pontifex) December 19, 2012
Cool story, bro.
History doesn’t favour a heartfelt disavowal of pedophiliac priests to come any time soon. The Catholic Church neglected to acknowledge that Galileo’s “heretical” claim that the Earth orbited the Sun was, in fact, correct until 1992. Back in 2000, the incumbent Pope issued a nondescript, blanket apology for all the mistakes the Church had made. That’s a hell of a long wait just to see the horrific crimes be hand-waved off with all the sincerity of a sneering Lord throwing a penny at the foot of a beggar.
The irony of the Catholic leader using a product bearing a logo referencing original sin notwithstanding, have a good look at what we have in this video. A deteriorating husk of a human-being jabbing stupefied at a glowing rectangle at the behest of his handler. If there was any doubt left that he’s not really writing these tweets, that video should settle them; I’d be surprised if he even knew what he was doing in that clip.
Ultimately, the Pope has joined Twitter so that he can preach to the choir. Those managing the account are clearly not interested in theological debate or addressing the many issues that surround the church. Especially since, given that the abuse scandal has effectively blown over, nothing will be tweeted that hasn’t been utterly exorcised of anything substantive that may risk giving more cause for criticism. Those who lambaste the puppet account of a feeble old man spouting myopic philosophy are just wasting their time, that may be better spent defending children from the monsters he shields.
[This is a repost of an article I wrote for the 'Comment & Debate' section of Spark*, arguing the 'Yes' side to the question in the title. Upon publication on Friday, the counterpoint will be available on the Spark* website.]
Though I’m not privy to my opponent’s response on this question to the contrary, they have probably pointed out that free expression is a cornerstone of the democracy we live in, and could scarcely have come about without it. While accurate, this fact tends to be misused as an argument in itself, as though any and all instances of free speech being encroached are inherently wrong. The call to defend free speech in all its forms is admirable but often overly-idealistic and myopic, ignoring the current socio-technological context.
As a prolific blogger, I’m fortunate to live in a country where free speech is treasured and I (like many) would be loathe to see authoritarian censorship become the norm. Though, because of how the question is worded, the counter-argument must demonstrate that it is absolutely never acceptable to censor someone. While I agree that it should be avoided as much as possible, there will always be edge cases in which censorship could be justified for reasons of legality and safety.
In recent years, social media has fundamentally changed the national discourse on free speech, as it reclaimed technology as a medium for its exercise to the masses, for better and worse. Indeed, microblogging service Twitter is a prime example of where free-spirited communication can have its most mean-spirited consequences.
Data collected by Google suggests that around 9% of Twitter users are under the age of 17 and it’s a rare moment when some tween pop star or other isn’t trending, so it’s clear that the online population of actively-tweeting children is significant. Which means thousands of immature and potentially unsupervised children being subjected to the full force of the Twitosphere’s apparently inexhaustible malice. Whilst adults and public figures are usually thick-skinned enough to brush this off, younger users may be ill-prepared to handle the vitriol one usually encounters on Twitter. This has given rise to the somewhat tentatively-named ‘cyberbullying’, and it is a serious problem that must be addressed.
However, setting up a minimum age to join Twitter would be ineffective since there’s no way to capably enforce it. A survey by Consumer Reports suggests that, despite requiring a minimum age of 13 to sign-up, Facebook has around 7.5 million users younger than that. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he wishes to remove the lower age-limit for the sake of educating young children in using the Internet safely. Its current enforcement is to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which Twitter (as it collects very little personal data) is not subject to.
But protecting children isn’t the only instance in which free speech may be justifiably curtailed. A few weeks ago, BNP chairman Nick Griffin tweeted the home address of a gay couple who’d recently won a high-profile civic case against a Christian B&B owner who’d discriminated against them. Griffin stated that he intended to stage a BNP demonstration at their home and ominously warned that “a British Justice team will come up and give you a bit of drama.”
Mr. Griffin was temporarily suspended from Twitter and, upon his return, had deleted the tweet containing the couple’s address. Griffin was quick to play the martyr for free speech, waxing hypocritical about how bullies are always cowards. His right to free speech was indeed restricted, but there were pertinent legal reasons (not to mention the personal safety of the couple) to do so, breaching Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. He’s perfectly at liberty to voice whatever bigoted opinions he has, but this should not be tolerated when it poses a risk to the safety and security of his victims.
Twitter is an independent organisation that runs an ad-supported tool, so users are only permitted to speak freely only insofar as the terms of service allow. However, Twitter has business interests in providing both a non-restrictive but also safe environment for its users. You wouldn’t use a website so reactionary that your lightest controversial word could get you banned; nor would you frequent a site that allowed users to spit constant venom at you unimpeded. A social network without a strong, active user-base is about as useful (and profitable) as a marzipan cutlass, so Twitter has to find the right balance between these two mutually-exclusive priorities. This should defend free speech in its most modern form, but also prevent its misuse.