Troll-la-la! Who’s strangling the Internet?

July 2015

It’s been a tough week the defenders of liberty on planet internet. The announcement that The Verge and The Daily Dot have suspended commenting, gives pause to those of us who dreamt that Tim Berners-Lee’s TCP/IP brain-wave would lead to some kind of Elysian universe where we were finally freed from the bondage of censorship, patrician medalling and nanny-knows-best interference.

And then the Impact Team smashed open the infidelity site Ashley Madison. Whilst there may have been some brief hilarity as those fingered (ahem) by the de facto internet plod rushed to defend themselves, there was an uneasy feeling amongst net-liberty watchers that we were seeing here, and in the ending of comments on The Verge and The Daily Dot, the signs of a disturbing trend. The ultimate ice bucket challenge, if you will, on the heads of those who might have thought that they had found the answer to JJ Rousseau’s chains.

As it happens, there is no better example of The law of Unintended Consequences than the internet. What may have started out as the ultimate way of ultimately connecting ultimately all of us; the nuclear bomb proof, final expression of social cohesion by the known universe’s most socially successful animal, is gradually being eroded by the weight of its own irony.

As so often, Douglas Adams had seen it all coming. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (first broadcast in 1978, the very year of the TCP/IP break-through) we encounter a race called The Belcerebons living on Kakrafoon Kappa.  The Belcerebons were both enlightened and quiet, characteristics which did not endear them to their neighbours who saw them as living mockery of their own chaotic lives. As a punishment The Belcerebons  are gifted telethapy by the Galatic Tribunal which results in their having to maintain a continuous and nonsensical babble to drown out any serious thoughts that they might be having.

I am troubled by the idea that all the tweeting, trending, posting, commenting, reviewing, revealing, uploading, liking, linking and connecting is nothing more than Belcerebonian white noise, invented to drown out the sweet song of liberty. Step forward the troll, for it is you my Scandinavian friend, with you fat fingers around the internet’s neck , to whom I shout ‘J’accuse’. But then you are the truth;  the dark satanic truth. When we invite freedom in we invite all humanity and, in so doing, we find ourselves supping with the racist, the bully, the abuser, the stalker, the cheat, the paedophile and stark staring bonkers.

Rousseau was right – to paraphrase  – there is no freedom without chains. This week The Verge and The Daily Dot found the cost of chains too onerous and for Ashley Madison just too darn weak.  The question remains therefore, just how tightly do we want to screw the lid down on the internet and block out these undesirable bed-fellows. No one doubts the invidious nature of cyber-bullying and cyber-intrusion, but let’s tread carefully; rules we need, chains we don’t.

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Martin Roberts

Martin Roberts is the founder of TTSLP.

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