Barney's Rubble

Speak No Evil

Politics pervades all things, including technology.

Sensitive types scream bloody murder if technology journalists dare mention politics. Stick to the bits and bytes and steer clear of the partisan fights, these quibblers complain.

My view is that as IT folks, we live in an interconnected universe, and what happens technically, culturally and politically on the Internet impacts our lives. So this out of control issue of censorship should be of concern to all.

When I started browsing over a decade ago, the hot censorship debate was about porn, and that's still a huge unresolved beast of a problem, as our children can easily access things that 7-Eleven stores wisely won't sell them.

Instead of smartly addressing that issue so adults can get what they want and our kids can't, Internet censorship has become a blunt sword aimed at politics rather than smut. Today's censorship involves political speech, and as tempting as it is to just let everything go based on free speech, things are a bit thornier.

I'm troubled that extremists can brag, and recruit new idiots by posting the hideous deaths of hostages over the Internet. Should there be a mechanism to censor this? I dunno ... you tell me at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

I also find it troubling that the creeps that post this garbage are hiding behind Internet anonymity. There's something wrong here, something very, very wrong. We should be able to find virus authors and other cyber losers, and we should certainly be able to find evil al-Qaida videographers and webmasters. Free speech and Internet anonymity are not the same.

But some censorship, essentially self-censorship, is more clearly egregious. Recently, Yahoo! reportedly banned the use of the name Allah (even when part of a larger word) in e-mail addresses, but not Moses, Krishna, Jesus or Buddha. This is distressing news to all the Callahans in East Boston looking for a free mail account!

It used to be that violence was OK, while sex was frowned upon. Now it appears that Google in Europe is actually barring graphic violence. Ogrish.com, a cornucopia of all things grim, is complaining that users in Germany can't search for proper gore through Google -- it's blocked. As tough as Ogrish is to look at it, these images are news as they show the reality of what is happening in hot spots around the world.

Nowhere is the question of censorship more important than China, where budding surfers and bloggers are being blocked, and in some cases hunted down, for what they say. So it is that top American technology companies -- Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo!, Google and pure-play filtering firms -- are curtailing what people all over the world can see and say (see "A Delicate Balance" for more on this).

A combination of political correctness and fear is leading to more restrictions on our right to content, however distasteful or disagreeable. Have we gone too far, or not far enough? As customers, should we be able to tell these vendors to stop telling Chinese and other citizens what they can do with their computers? Tell me what you think (make it uncensored) at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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