The Internet has helped to put masses of information into the hands of the masses and that is its real disruptive effect, i.e. allowing people to find out and share information in a way that was previously impossible with traditional media.
Maria Miller MP, the current Culture Secretary has been speaking to the Oxford Media Conference on the topic of openness, innovation and security with respect to the Internet. The Guardian has a copy of the speech in full, but we feel there are a few key parts worth comment.
While for many people the Internet is actually the world as presented via the HTTP protocol which existed as a web server and browser for the first time in November 1989, the Internet as such pre-dates this and for example Usenet (newsgroups) started in 1980 and are how many people first interacted with others online before the explosion of web browsers in the early 1990's. It is worth remembering this when discussing online behaviour, since a great of online etiquette originates from the ground breaking days well before Facebook.
"To put it simply, the rules that apply offline are the same rules that apply online.
This is at its most clear when it comes to the law. If something is illegal offline, it is illegal online. We have laws in this country to protect our freedom … it is no different online.
Whether it is images of child abuse or terrorist material, we will use the full force of the law, national and international, to take down that content and pursue the perpetrators.
If you vilely insulted, or threatened to attack someone in person on the street, you do so expecting to be arrested and charged. The same already applies on social media.Extract from speech by Maria Miller, MP to Oxford Media Conference
This part of the speech is what will pique many peoples interest in how the Government is involved in our online life and other aspects of day to day life. Which is fairly reasonable, since you libel someone online it should have the same penalties available as offline, but once extended to online trolling the issue becomes much more unclear. There has been plenty of high profile cases of online threats and behaviour landing people in real life courts, and over the years we have received the odd various threat when people disagree with moderating decisions in our forums, should we have reported that person to the police? Or just accept the threat as someone lashing out for a few seconds online, in much the same way someone might throw the most disgusting insults at you on the street if they believe you have wronged them?
A lot of the time people view the Internet through idealistic glasses, seeing it as an opportunity to correct what they see as the ills of society, but when what would appear to be naive comments like the following are made by a Culture Secretary one has to question how aware of real life our political masters are.
"You wouldn't leave your front door unlocked with a handy map pinned to it, showing where you kept your valuables. So why use the word "password123" as your online banking password?
If you wanted to see a film or listen to a CD, you wouldn't sneak into a shop and steal it off the shelf, so why do the online equivalent and download it illegally?
It's about good citizenship … as well as what's legal and what's not.Extract from speech by Maria Miller, MP to Oxford Media Conference
Why naive? Well because in the real world, there are people who do leave their door unlocked, or a key hidden under a plant pot. Also talk to any shop owner and they will tell you that plenty of people shoplift goods to either obtain the item for themselves or sell on the blackmarket. Thus it should be no surprise to find that human nature to get things for free if at all possible is also exhibited online.
The big difference between comments made to four or five friends in a pub that could be construed as a vile insult towards someone who is not present and the online world is that in a drunken moment 144 characters of insult can be sent which are visible to millions and this can act as a viral trigger, escalating something within minutes or hours.