The UK needs a regulator for internet sites, in much the same way as the telecomms regulator, Ofcom. Compliance by internet sites should not be optional and failure to comply should result in a site being shut down in the UK.
The new regulator would have the power to impose the following requirement on a website which hosted comments from the public if it were deemed that that site was home to abuse, whether or not illegal, of sufficient strength that it caused difficulties for the target. This would typically be evidenced by a complaint from the target to the regulator.
(a) Each person permitted by the website to post comments would have to pay for the privilege, even if only £1 per year.
(b) Payment would be by credit or debit card so that…
(c) The cardholder’s name would appear as the name of the person making the post
(d) and their town of residence would appear on each post. This, and (c) are no more than is routinely required by the press for letters to the editor. Even Stroud news and journal manages to enforce this.
(e) In the event of serious complaint, the website and/or credit card company would be required to reveal full identifying details of the offending poster, if only to the police. If revealed to the target, he/she would be entitled to publicise this information, subject of course to points (c) to (e).
To the inevitable protests:
(a) Suppose two people have one and only one credit/debit card, and it’s in their joint name. I’d have to see if this were a real problem before thinking about a solution to it, if such it is. Most households have at least once credit card and at least one debit card so one person of the two could have one and the other could have the other.
(b) To the objection that all comments would be in both people’s name, it is presumably not beyond the wit of people to sign their posts individually.
(c) This system removes anonymity. At one level, the whole point is to remove the anonymity of abusers. If people wish to divulge intimate secrets, then they should perhaps ask themselves whether their forum of choice is really the place to make the revelations.
Note, in 2 I state that these rules need only apply to sites which have a problem their owners can’t or won’t address. So the remedy to the objection is go somewhere more useful.
(d) To the objection that worthwhile webpages, such as the Guardian’s webpages on people’s personal problems, attract serious, personal contributions containing information that others find useful, and which the poster doesn’t want bruited around town, I suggest that people wanting to have this sort of conversation have it somewhere else. I am not suggesting that the Guardian has the problem: its moderators make a reasonable stab at dealing with it. It is an example.
(e) That said, my first response is “Hard luck”. I am proposing a basic, affordable scheme. If and when the children demonstrate they can play nicely with their toys, then maybe it can be relaxed, site by site.
(f) To the inevitable complaints of denial of free speech:
> firstly, all the websites under discussion are private enterprises―noone has right of access to, or use of, them
> secondly, if people have the right to free speech, they also have a right not to be abused. This is best epitomised in the phrase,
No rights without responsibilities.
The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, US jurist
Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.
Zechariah Chafee Jr, US judicial philosopher and civil libertarian
When exercising a right, one has to be actively mindful of the effect on others that exercising that right has. Given that the effect desired by some posters is hurt and injury, I see little problem with denying their “freedom of expression”.
Of course, and this is the bit everyone forgets, people are responsible of their own lives. If someone chooses to be offended by a cartoon of Mohammed, say, that is their problem, their responsibility, not the cartoonist’s.
It is therefore not cut and dried. But I think that most people would recoil from the vile abuse meted out to, for example, female politicians, and find it deplorable.
(g) To those who simply complain that this is a denial of free speech, I say, “Yep, you’re right”. For the reasons I have already put forward. Free speech is denied all the time―usually by the government, and usually for questionable reasons. At least my proposal is saying that there is a known, serious problem and, if some people want to take an ideological position on this, then please do so, but not if you are going to abuse me or others.
[*1] Independent Press Standards Organisation, https://www.ipso.co.uk/
[*2] First official UK press regulator, Impress, approved, anon, BBC website, 25 october 2016
© 2017 Jeremy Marchant, revised 3 september . image Free images
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