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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who’s responsible for banning offensive content?

Our Qur’an burning rev just got his website pulled for violating what his host Rackspace says is a violation of their terms of service covering offensive content. Look, I’m not for burning a Qur’an, but there’s bigger censorship issues at work. It’s an aspect of the issue overlooked by Danah Boyd and her rather scholarly look at the current problem craiglist finds itself dealing with.

Not sure the answer is an easy one. At some point, you either hold a given website responsible for content you deem offensive, and by extension, ALL websites, or you blame their respective internet service providers(ISP). But you can’t have it both ways—some of the time.

On one hand, you say craigslist is to blame for its content and policing itself, but then turn round here and let the ISP step in to delete a site like that? Wouldn’t then my ISP be responsible for allowing me to see craiglist ads in question or the reverend’s site?

Which is it?

If we’re going to make this a semantic argument and say that communities like Facebook, craigslist, eBay, etc. don’t fall under the purview of a given ISP because then, what we’re really doing is splitting hairs over the definition of an Online Service Provider (OSP) vs. and ISP, it risks missing the bigger question of just who is responsible for controlling access to content. I’d counter that they do fall under the watch of the ISP though.

How else do you access online content but through your local ISP? There needs to be one governing body here, because while Rackspace stepped in here, I think too often ISPs would rather take the free speech high road and let law enforcement be the bad guy by ordering them to shut something down. That way, they can look like a hero to their customers for standing up to The Man. Again, no easy answers here, just more questions.

Especially when the craigslist sex trade did exactly what we all knew it would: shift their listings to another part of the site.



Sherman Unkefer said...

I don't think it should be policed at all unless it allows illegal activities (like craigslist). Even then, it's not the ISP or OSP's fault, it's the person uploading the content. I think blaming anyone else is just taking the easy way out to score points in the media.

Jessie said...