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Technological reality & human nature make controlling the internet almost impossible

Simon Rite
Simon Rite is a writer based in London for RT, in charge of several projects including the political satire group #ICYMI. Follow him on Twitter @SiWrites
Technological reality & human nature make controlling the internet almost impossible
It's not easy being a government in the age of the internet and pretending to have power over something that is essentially beyond control, but that doesn't stop them trying.

The British government is ignoring its previous online mishaps and outlined tough new measures to police the internet, which is all well and good, but all it's going to do is make Britain a global center for Virtual Private Networks (VPN). 

A White Paper last week detailed how the UK wants to bring in a "code of practice" for social networks and internet firms, giving it the power to be able to fine them if they breach it and perhaps even block offending sites.

Also on rt.com Internet watchdog, blocks & fines: UK outlines plans to protect citizens from all ‘online harms’

If China or, heaven forbid, Russia were aiming to introduce similar measures (and they are) it would be (has been) called a crackdown, censorship, or an authoritarian attempt to control cat videos – but this is Britain, so the motives are purely noble. 

The arguments for and against online controls are in my eyes both compelling. No one denies that children need protection from the online trolls and porn peddlers spreading nastiness around the World Wide Web, but on the other hand, one of the beautiful things about going online is freedom of speech.

To boil the complexities of argument down as I see them, it's offering protection from cyber-bullies, vs. the ability to insult people free of consequence, which is the very life blood of the internet and social media.

Activists I suspect define the concept of online freedom of speech as the ability to speak truth to power and release WikiLeaks-style secrets to the masses. The rest of us just want to retain our ability to troll celebrities, ex-partners and strangers with opposing points of view, and probably watch people fornicating. In public though, we'll all say, 'whistle-blowers, protect whistle-blowers'.

So ultimately, it's the twin beasts of reality and human nature which make controlling the online world so difficult.

Also on rt.com UK govt trying to control online free speech is ‘very serious and sinister’ – analyst to RT

Say, for example, Britain decided it needed to block Facebook or Twitter – one of two things would happen. People would pay for a VPN and happily redirect their trolling of strangers via servers in Uzbekistan or Romania. 

Anyone who had neither the money nor technical know-how to bypass the block would very likely explode into a ball of fury. The hapless British government should not underestimate the usefulness of giving the population a virtual anger release valve in this time of Brexit incompetence. Imagine 70 million people going cold turkey from social media… Not good is it?

I suspect this is part of the reason that the much-delayed attempt to regulate online porn in the UK still has not been successfully introduced – in fact, has been constantly delayed. Officially, it keeps getting put back because it's tough to find a way to protect the personal data of users that have verified their identity in order to access some online filth to pass an afternoon. In the age of cyber-hackers, the dangers of that are clear. Unofficially, there is that cold turkey thing I was talking about earlier. If it's dangerous to take people's social media away, the consequences of removing pornography could be nothing short of revolution. I'm not saying I approve of or condone that sort of online behavior, but I have met people before, and I know what they are like. 

And finally, there is a more uncomfortable truth for countries like Britain when trying to control the online world. Firms like Facebook are so big, the complaints of nations mean very little. Just look at the amount of times founder Mark Zuckerberg gave evidence to British MPs looking into so-called fake news. Despite repeated requests, he spoke to them zero times. He just ignored them.

It goes without saying that I fully support any attempts to clean up the internet, and believe it's essential to protect the whistleblowers. Can anyone recommend a decent VPN?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.