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the global nanny state
UN Calls for Worldwide Online Censorship

As the Islamic State marauds across Syria and Iraq engaging in the sexual enslavement of Christian and Yazidi women and girls, the United Nations has decided to devote its resources to studying “just how rough it is being a woman on the Internet in North America.” In a new report suggesting that online harassment in the U.S. and Canada is a crisis on the same order as “mob lynching of women, reported femicide and the sex and human trafficking trades”, a UN committee calls for a sweeping global censorship regime to make the Internet friendlier to women. A piece in the Washington Post by Caitlin Dewey sums up the news:

On Thursday, the organization’s Broadband Commission for Digital Development released a damning “world-wide wake-up call” on what it calls “cyber VAWG,” or violence against women and girls. The report concludes that online harassment is “a problem of pandemic proportion” — which, nbd, we’ve all heard before.

But the United Nations then goes on to propose radical, proactive policy changes for both governments and social networks, effectively projecting a whole new vision for how the Internet could work.

Under U.S. law — the law that, not coincidentally, governs most of the world’s largest online platforms — intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook generally can’t be held responsible for what people do on them. But the United Nations proposes both that social networks proactively police every profile and post, and that government agencies only “license” those who agree to do so. […]

At one point toward the end of the paper, the U.N. panel concludes that “political and governmental bodies need to use their licensing prerogative” to better protect human and women’s rights, only granting licenses to “those Telecoms and search engines” that “supervise content and its dissemination.”

There’s no doubt that internet harassment, threats and bullying are real and persistent problems. But online nastiness is a problem for both genders: While women may be subjected to particularly vile types of harassment, a Pew survey suggests that men are targeted just as much, if not more. And no matter how severe the problem is, it is absurd to suggest, as the report does, that online harassment of women in the West is comparable to the actual, physical brutality inflicted on women regularly in many parts of the world. (For example, the UN body that issued the report includes commissioners from China, where sex-selective abortion and female infanticide are notoriously widespread; from India, where the rape rate is rising so quickly that several countries have issued travel advisories for their citizens; and from the United Arab Emirates, where women who violate provisions of Sharia can be subjected to flogging or stoning).

The UN report, while surely well-meaning, represents a typical moral panic—a sense of crisis and fear blown far out of proportion. As with most propagators of panics, the authors of the report want to crack down on civil liberties. As Dewey explained, the report appears to be proposing a government-enforced internet censorship regime, whereby websites and social media companies would be punished if they did not agree to monitor and police offensive content to the satisfaction of the United Nations. Needless to say, this type of censorship already exists in many countries (particularly those countries with the worst records on women’s rights) but the UN Broadband Commission—nominally a proponent of a free and open internet—would apparently like to see it exported to Western democracies as well.

This is not the answer. Online harassment should be socially stigmatized, and, when it crosses over into the realm of true threats or other illegal conduct, reported to the authorities. But the world wide web is not an American liberal arts college campus; it can not be made into what college activists call a “safe space,” and the UN has no business trying to make it one.

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  • qet

    The UN report represents not a panic, moral or otherwise, but a will to power. And yes, there *is* “doubt that internet harassment, threats and bullying are real and persistent problems.” Conceding the opponent’s premise as a show of reasonableness is a poor rhetorical strategy always, and a poor logical strategy where, as here, the proposition is false or has not been demonstrated to be true.

    The UN deliberately avoids the hard targets of ISIS and Muslim states generally, even Muslim populations in Western states (Rotherham), because those targets are, well, hard. They fight back. They actively and violently resist even the suggestion that they are in any way the problem. Their wills resist. Not so the US, the softest target of all. All manner of pent-up hostility and resentment may be safely discharged in the general direction of the US. We’re like an an emotion firing range.

  • Andrew Allison

    In search of relevancy?

  • mdmusterstone

    Ya know it’s instructive to consider just how breathtakingly
    radical the First Ten of the US Constitution are. I just finished reading a list of books in
    the US that have been banned or some attempt made thereof.
    The default of most of the world is “STOP THAT”!

    Take a moment to consider that in the 18th century, when
    most of the “leaders” in the world thought common man was barely a
    step ahead of the dumb beasts in the field, our founders bestowed citizenship
    with freedom of religion, speech, ability to defend self, privacy, freedom to
    not have the authorities beat a confession out of you, etc., etc., etc,. How radical are these? They either have never existed in most of
    the world or are under constant attack from every quarter.

    Take that moment and consider what we were
    given; it’s like a warm drink on a very cold day.

    • qet

      Yes, this is the basis of American exceptionalism.

  • Fat_Man

    “The UN report, while surely well-meaning,”

    This is the UN we are talking about. “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Its natural tendency is towards dictatorship and oppression.

    I have advocated for the dissolution of NATO. The UN is another post WWII institution that needs to be abolished, or at the least sent packing.

    • f1b0nacc1

      That is an insult to the denizens of Mos Eisely….

      • http://www.rustedsky.net JLawson

        Who were, by and large, not all that scummy, and trying hard to be a lot less wretched.

    • CapitalHawk

      Yeah, I read the same quote and immediately thought “No, it is NOT well-meaning.”

  • FriendlyGoat

    The social and legal climate for women and girls is VERY bad in Syria, Iraq, UAE, and parts of China and India (as well as some other places.) Therefore, there is no reason to hold mostly-American corporations accountable for the use of their electronic tools to trash people and their lives in any countries. After all, the operators of newspapers, radio and television have long known that “anything goes” in print and on air. There have never been any standards or limits for anything appearing in a public space and certainly no reason to start formulating any now.

    • MarkM

      1. The statistics actually seem to indicate men are harassed just as much as women online – if not more. (See Pew study for example.) There is no crisis.
      2. The First Amendment set forth an interesting standard which is not found elsewhere in the world. Our founding fathers believed the answer to speech with which you disagree is more speech. To steal a line, I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
      3. The old remedies are still available – libel, slander, etc. have not gone away as causes of action. There are even specific anti-stalking statutes out there that may apply to certain internet only activity.
      4. Holding a person who runs a board responsible for everything posted to such a board, especially in this electronic age, is an unreasonable standard. If you want to go after the poster with the traditional tools, you are entitled to do so, however.
      5. The UN has limited resources. The point of the article is that going after things like online harassment is a waste of such resources on a first-world (non)problem that could be devoted to the treatment of women elsewhere in the world.

      Bottom line – the proposed “solution” is infinitely worse than the problem and, long term, opens to door to censorship, oppression and dictatorship.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I have my sarcasm-dripping way of explaining why no one from the political right wants anything done about abuse via the Internet—–and you have your way of explaining the same thing. You have added the nuance that harm to men is happening as much as harm to women—-BUT—your bottom line is that there is no problem and no need to propose any solutions. So, basically, my mean-spirited farce and your serious commentary are in agreement, no?

        • MarkM

          No. My point was clear – there are already solutions to so-called internet abuse. Often, actually, the bullying can
          be stopped merely by identifying the bullies which thought they were anonymous. In the US, Courts are willing to force service providers, Twitter and folks running commenting boards like this one to turn over identifying information. Compare, Dendrite Int’l, Inc. v. Doe No. 3, 342 N.J. Super. 134, 141–42, 775 A.2d 756 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2001) with Doe v. Cahill, 884 A.2d 451, 460–61 (Del. 2005) regarding the various showings required to force the ISP/service provider to do so.

          If the posters cross certain historically well-established lines, they can be sued for libel/slander/defamation: (i) someone made a statement, (ii) that statement was published, (iii) the statement caused injury, (iv) the statement was false and (v) the statement was not privileged. Anything posted on social media satisfies (i) and (ii). If the statement is, in fact, the sort of thing we want to prevent, proving injury (including injury to one’s reputation) should not be all that difficult. The only defense a poster would have is that the statement is true, an opinion, or a parody/hyperbole which could not reasonably be understood as describing actual facts. (Depending
          on state law, you may have to show malice or negligence in determining the truth as well.) The damages in such a case can be substantial. See Miss Universe LP, LLLP v. Monnin, 952 F.Supp. 2d 591 (Dist. Court, SD New York, 2013)(affirming arbitration award of $5M against Monnin for statements on TV and social media posts); Clay Corp. v. Colter, 30 Mass. L. Rptr. 429 (Norfolk Cnty. Super. Ct., 2012)($700K pre-judgment attachment of assets from individual posters); Scheff v. Bock, (Florida, 2007, $11.3M judgment awarded against Bock for social media posts). But see, Desert Palm Surgical Group, PLC v. Petta, Arizona Court of Appeals, Division
          One, CA-CV 13-0376 (2015) ($12 million defamation verdict in 2011 vacated and remanded for new trial).

          • MarkM

            Incidentally, there are other tort theories which may be applied to cyberbullying – your mileage may vary by state, however. These include: (a) intentional (or negligent) infliction of emotional distress, (b) unreasonable intrusion upon another’s privacy/unreasonable publicity given to another’s private life/intrusion on seclusion, (c) publicity which unreasonably places another in a false light before the public, and (d) tort of stalking (CA especially).

            A number of states have also passed criminal statutes as well regarding stalking, cyberbulling and other online misdeeds.

            Why again do we need the UN to intervene?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Should we be concerned that most real bullies in this country and others have few to no liquid assets from which to recover a judgment?
            Would we suppose their plaintiff attorneys might take note of that before they pursue cases for ordinary women and girls here and abroad? Suing turnips while the incorporated enablers of the damage skate away sounds empty to me,

          • MarkM

            1) These cases can be brought pro se, especially if the behavior is egregious enough. In other words, no plaintiff attorney required.
            2) I think you’d be shocked how many people have some kind of insurance that would be applicable, however. And occasionally Mom and Dad can be held liable for basement-dweller’s misdeeds. You may even get the local sheriff to seize and auction the device which is allowing the bully to be on the internet.
            3) Some of these judgments may be non-dischargeable in bankruptcy and any of them should be sufficient to wreck the bully’s credit rating. Once you have a judgment in hand, if the turnip ever gets a job, you can be there with a garnishment order.
            4) See comments above re criminal statutes. If the behavior is bad enough, yes, the cyber stalker may go to jail.

            So, what is the UN bringing to the table other than a call for censorship and trying to impose liability on ISPs and other neutral parties who are only providing the message board?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Although I am not in full sympathy with the UN’s approach to this (yet), I do appreciate the fact that they recognize a growing problem, that they recognize it exists or will exist in large numbers of countries, and that they seem to see that under-regulated corporations are facilitating it.

            We need to dial back the worship of tools of meanness and the criminal and civil justice systems are not the ONLY approaches to that. It’s WAY to early for conservatives to demand there be no public discussion.

    • CapitalHawk

      Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Since Stephen Colbert has left “The Colbert Report”, I thought maybe we amateurs could take a crack at actually explaining right wing talking points in plain English. Since I do make a habit of reading articles and readers’ comments by “Constitutionalists”, I just borrowed some of their key words and arguments for clarity and added them in around TAI’s main argument that, since women are ridiculously mistreated in some countries, we just don’t need to talk about any problem with the mere Internet.

        BTW, Who is Mr. Madison?

        • CapitalHawk

          It’s a quote from a movie called Billy Madison (which is generally a bad movie), but does have a scene that I find amusing where two guys engage in a contest to see who performs better at high school subjects. On one question Billy Madison gives a horrible answer for the ages and the statement above is the judge’s response.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks. Never saw the movie, so I did not get the context.

  • ThomasD

    The author assumes good will where plainly none exists.

    That is not merely a mistake, it is itself a grave moral failure.

  • http://endofpatience.blog.com/ EndOfPatience

    This is about overwrought (and over-aged) tweeners playing social dominance games.

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