[I saved this post as a draft and never got round to publishing it until today. So here it is, 5 days old.]
On the home page of Techdirt today is a summary of the Malaysian Government's reaction to the blogosphere in the midst of its tourism promotion efforts.
Still in the news today is mention of the Thai Government's censorship of Youtube's videos containing offensive material of the King. I see two sides to this. The King is the most revered figure in the country. Having studied Thai history and had Thai friends, I know how much they respect him.
And remember that old HSBC ad on being the world's local bank? There was a scene where a white tourist put his feet up and some young Asian (presumably Thai?) jerked his head away, as he found it offensive.
Thus, combining two polar opposites within Thai culture was bound to bring about a reaction. You can't expect the Thai Government NOT to do anything about it. However it is not practical to regulate the Internet. With its rebellious nature, I am not surprised that more such spoofs will be uploaded to Youtube and other channels. Any organisation that thinks it can block the Internet, is underestimating the human spirit, and risks appearing out of touch with reality today.
Taking a step back, I see that both situations involve two issues: The question of what is offensive material (which can be very subjective), and the (im)practicalities of censoring or controlling some aspect of the Internet.
The International Herald Tribune reports that Tim O'Reilly (who coined the term Web 2.0) and Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) are working together to create a set of guidelines for online discussion and debate. Preliminary recommendations are available.
Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.
They are considering different levels of comments, which bloggers can select. What's going to be interesting is that "The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself." Some good may come out of this on certain sites, but not all. More often, I'd expect to see trolling and chaos rather than self-regulation and order.
While Robert Scoble was quoted as saying these guidelines made him feel like he was in Iran, O'Reilly clarified it thus:
... the guidelines were not about censorship. "That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make -- believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech," he said. "Free speech is enhanced by civility."
Truly, it is. If man were allowed to do anything he wished.