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Morality on the internet (revisited)

November 15, 2010 15 comments

I published the article morality on the internet on 11th November 2010. To say I was surprised at the feedback and viewings I received over the days that followed,  is an understatement. I was overwhelmed, (happily), with over three thousand people reading my article in two days. The article proved to be thought-provoking and topical, but also uniting people. This could be due to the fact censorship affects everyone (using the internet) in one way or another.

My blog post was featured on the WordPress home page for a couple of days:

My blog featured on the homepage of WordPress, 11-13 November 2010

I received numerous comments on my article, for and against. Then I paused to stop and think. What is my blogs intention?

This blog is (worth) one unit in my university degree (second year) out of a total of six units. The project (assignment) is to create a website displaying my work, opinions and ability to communicate in a socially (internet) dominated world. So in my blog world, did I want comments from other people containing expletives? Anger towards myself (the author) of my piece of writing? Censorship. This sudden arousal of thoughts made me stop in my tracks. From this personal thought and experience meant I could empathise with both sides of the ‘Morality on the internet’ discussion.

To provide more depth and breadth on how other blog users dealt with commenting upon articles I went to the well-known and trusted website of the BBC. The House Rules for blogs on the BBC offer guidance to readers on what they can write in response to an article.

Digressing slightly from the previous paragraph, I found it interesting to remember and note the ‘old’ censorship news over the last few years, Google use- banned in China back in 2002, and you may remember the lecturer banning students from using Google and Wikipedia, 2008. One of several reasons for these actions being taken could be the freedom and exposure these websites offered to people. Students could be reading facts that were potentially incorrect or ill-informed and using these in their studies. China, a larger scale example than the latter, but sharing the same goal, trying to gain control (through censorship).

So where does this leave me to conclude? Well in fact it doesn’t. Having experienced ‘a mild form of censorship’ since posting my original article, I think it is important to recognise perhaps websites need to initially set guidelines and a visible statement of what they offer so that users clearly know what they are getting and these are set in stone. As websites may, as proved above, be restricted to certain users in the future. Censorship should be recognisable on an internet website and users should be given access to this knowledge. Then users will know how the website is constructed and how it will respond and fulfil a users demand. For example, how a website would react to a search for “anything.

It may be considered a contradiction that I have created my own house rules for my blog but this has led me to draw points to help form a conclusion from my previous article. Censorship offers control, and perhaps in certain situations control is needed. However, users should be fully aware if their content has been restricted or reduced. If I had not seen the Google censorship article, potentially, as a (passive) user searching for suicide I would have overlooked the first result of the search, the help line. I would have been none the wiser about the censorship.

Therefore if censorship is to be appreciated and in some ways, understood, amongst the public, it has to be defined and explained fully when, why and where it is happening or otherwise users can feel cheated, disappointed and lose trust in a society or organisation. This can also give users more choice. A user can decide whether they want to be in a controlled environment or not. It opens the possibility to a clearer distinction and less friction being caused.

Up until this point I have not had the chance to experience or appreciate censorship, however, since, being exposed to the choice on whether to approve comments upon my page, I had the power of censoring. So should we be knowledgable of when censorship occurs? Will this help? Will we ever truly know all?

House rules for Rebecca’s World

House rules are to ensure my blog is respected and enjoyed by all users.

I reserve the right to deny comments to my articles or blog that:

  • Contain swear words or other loaded language that could or is likely to cause offence
  • Are considered abusive, sexist, sexually explicit, homophobic or racist
  • Are not concerning or relating to the article or blog (off-topic)
  • Are containing direct and personal contact details
  • Are breaking the law or condoning unlawful behaviour

Please offer your opinions to my follow-up article as I would be extremely grateful. How does your blog operate?

Morality on the internet

November 11, 2010 55 comments

Technology journalist Rory Cellan-Jones discussed today how ‘Google‘ and ‘Amazon‘ the giants of the web, are changing. Originally they were created as platforms for users to explore and retrieve any (desired) information. However, ‘morality’ and ‘public’ good is shaping the way these websites work.

Google, has been in the spotlight after steering away from the “it’s not our responsibility” approach to search engine results. Google has announced today that people who search for terms associated or relating to suicide will see a message with contact details for the Samaritans. This link is highly visible for users and can help people who may feel suicidal and need help. This action has also been taken in the US and has resulted in an increase (9%) of calls to the National Suicide Prevention Line.

Google previously insisted that there were only two ways of appearing in its search results:

  • Morally blind choices made by its algorithms
  • Sponsored links and advertisements paid for by those who bid for search terms.

The last reason appears to be for the public good.  This is a change in Google’s approach to morality and the internet.

The world-wide website, Amazon.com has also been discussed. Last night, a post on Twitter revealed a book, currently being sold on the website, apparently promoted pedophilia. Twitter posts conveyed people’s outrage and fury towards such a highly regarded website allowing this publication to be sold. The book appears to have been registered through Amazon’s self-publishing programme, limits are based on what the retailer deems offensive but no detailed guidance explains what ‘is offensive’. The book has now been removed by Amazon.

After reading this article about morality and censorship it is apparent why people feel outraged (especially in the Amazon incident) about the lack of censorship. However, the idea of the world-wide web (www) is predominantly a global world in which participants (users) can browse freely, post and visit any given website address. With large companies on the web, such as Amazon and Google, changing their dynamics, could this cause further disputes? Censorship is an ongoing discussion which requires answers. Who is able to determine the guidelines and boundaries to ensure safer searching on these sites? Surely, changes made (and to be made) affect our personal freedom,  free speech and thought?

It’s given me an idea for my own blog. Perhaps I should add a (help) link to mine, after all I have subjected users to read and endure my work, opinions and views (hopefully balanced). Any suggestions would be appreciated…

See the full article

See my follow up response to this blog post

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