What Can You Say Online?

The Economist recently addressed the chilling effect that libel law is likely to have on Twitter, arguing that: ‘Now it [Twitter] seems to fall under the law’s shadow to a greater extent than similar speech does on the offline world’ (November 24, 2012: 37). But it is not simply libel law that could undermine freedom of expression online, it is also criminal laws addressing speech in largely pre-Internet aware days.

Taken together, Internet users – three-quarters of the British public – must be wondering what they can say online. For those in doubt in the aftermath of some actions taken against Twitter users and other online netizens, you may find a recent blog by Roger Darlington to be a helpful place to start in thinking seriously about this question.

Roger Darlington, a former member of the Consumer Panel at Ofcom, has posted a blog, entitled ‘What can’t you say on the Internet?’. He lays on the various viewpoints on this question, as well as UK legislation of relevance. You can read his blog at http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/commswatch/?p=4647 Take a look at Section 127 of the Communications Act of 2003, along with Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988.

I hope you read this for yourself, but Roger argues that a strict interpretation of UK law could underpin ‘a staggering amount of content to be prosecuted under the criminal law.’ This leads him to conclude that it is time to modernize law and regulation. From his perspective, which I share, there is a need to protect speech online such that people are not subject to inappropriate or disproportionate punishments for such things as tweeting a bad joke or expressing a viewpoint that might be viewed as malicious or indecent.

Consider Roger’s viewpoint and let me know if you have a constructive view on this topic. Roger believes there should be more consistency across media, while I believe that the different communication infrastructures are different in ways that require unique regulatory frameworks. It may be that striving for consistency has led to this disproportionate coverage of online expression. In any case, I agree that this issue will only grow in importance as more communication shifts to the Internet. Consumers need to know what they can and cannot say or this uncertainty alone could have a chilling effect on speech.

There will be an increasing array of issues driven by the convergence of media and the Internet. Content regulation is certainly one key example of such an issue. Over decades, standards of expression on television have become relatively well understood, even if they are sometimes breached and the subject of complaints. But the Internet is not television and is not and – it seems to me – cannot be regulated like television. As but one example, 72 hours of video are posted on YouTube every minute, and this is only one of many video sites on the Internet.

I hope you find Roger’s blog helpful – eye opening – in framing this issue for consumers and netizens. It also provides a nice example of law not keeping up with technological change, and becoming an unintended but unanticipated constraint on technological change. If I have this wrong, let me know.

China and the New Internet World at Oxford University: 13 and 14 June 2013

The OII is involved with a wide range of collaborating partners in the organization of two joined events focused on China and the New Internet World.

Running over two days, the first event on Friday, 14 June 2013, will be an pre-conference to the 2013 International Communication Association’s Annual Conference. The preconference will be held in Oxford at the OII and other units at the University of Oxford, while the following ICA Conference will be held in London. The call for papers invites academics to address how the phenomenal rise of China and the Asian region on the Internet could be reshaping the global Internet, but also how the global Internet is reshaping communication and media in China and the Asian region. Information about travel and lodging for the ICA preconference is at https://www.icahdq.org/conf/2013/confdescriptions.asp. The call for papers for this ICA preconference is at http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/events/?id=555

The preconference will be followed by a dinner at Balliol College on the 14th. This is a separate event, but those who attend the ICA preconference or the following day’s event may enquire about space at the dinner at events at oii.ox.ac.uk. The dinner will close the preconference, but open the following day’s conference on China and the New Internet World as the 11th Chinese Internet Research Conference (CIRC).

On the next day, Saturday, we will be holding the Eleventh Chinese Internet Research Conference (CIRC11). This conference is open to a wider range of topics about the Chinese Internet, but we hope the two joined events will be as complementary as possible. We invite the submission of papers for this event. Instructions and more information about CIRC11 is available online at: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/events/?id=549

We hope that connecting events into a series will help to highlight one of the most significant developments around the New Internet World, one theme of OII research over the last years, as China and Asia continue to shift the centre of gravity of global Internet use.

Both events are being jointly organized by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) in collaboration with the Programme of Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) at the University of Oxford, in partnership with the Chinese Internet Research Conference (CIRC), the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC, the Center for Global Communications Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, the Global Communication Research Institute at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Centre for Chinese Media and Comparative Communication Research (C-Centre) at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the Department of Communication at the University of Macau, and Singapore Internet Research Center at Nanyang Technological University. We are also grateful to Taylor and Francis/Routledge, publishers of Information Communication and Society (iCS) and the Chinese Journal of Communication, among many other journals relevant to the study of the Internet and related media and communication technologies and society, for their sponsorship.

Thanks for considering your involvement. If you have questions, you may contact ‘events at oii.ox.ac.uk’ about China and the New Internet World.

Robin Mansell’s ‘Imagining the Internet’

I had the honor of participating in a launch of Robin Mansell’s new book, Imagining the Internet (Oxford University Press, 2012). Here is a podcast of the launch, featuring an overview by Robin.
Download: Audio, Video, Slides – R MansellSpeaker(s): Professor Robin Mansell, Professor William H Dutton, Professor Robert Wade
Chair: Professor Sonia Livingstone

Recorded on 16 October 2012 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building.

Big challenges face policy makers trying to balance conflicting interests in the information society. This lecture examines why digital information and complex networks make policymaking especially difficult.

Robin Mansell is professor of new media and the internet at LSE and author of Imagining the Internet.

William H Dutton is professor of internet studies at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

Robert Wade is professor of political economy and development at LSE.

 

The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies

The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies is now available in print and OUP has created a Website for the book: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199589074.do  You can find Chapter 1, the introduction, on line and available free, if you’d like an overview of the Handbook. See: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199589074.do#.UQ6iIOg7i_E  It was published in late January 2013.

The first paragraph of the preface reads:

“Internet Studies is one of the most rapidly developing interdisciplinary fields of the early 21st Century. With the increasing significance of the Internet, and the range of issues surrounding its use and governance, the field is on a course to continue expanding in its range and diversity through the coming decades. Despite the pace of change, it is a time to take stock of this emerging field, examine current approaches to study of the Internet, and reflect on the field’s future. This was the key motivation behind this handbook.”

It has been published initially in hardback, but OUP usually bring out paperback versions of their handbooks in due course after first publication in hardback, I am hoping that is the case with The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies.  Also the handbook will be uploaded to Oxford Handbooks Online (www.oxfordhandbooks.com), an online resource to which many institutions subscribe, and this should enable greater access to the material. So, I hope that for most people seriously interested in Internet Studies, that library acquisition and online access should enable access to the material, particularly if we can make the case for the paperback edition. I am very optimistic about the book’s reception, and therefore its eventual availability in paperback.

 

The Risk of ‘Privacy Impact Assessments’ – PIA in the Sky

I’ve run across the promotional material for a new book by David Wright and Paul De Hert, Privacy Impact Assessment, Springer, Dordrecht, 2012. They argue that the book ‘is timely as the European Commission’s proposal for a new Data Protection Regulation would make privacy impact assessments mandatory for any organisation processing “personal data where those processing operations are likely to present specific risks to the rights and freedoms of data subjects”. I find the whole idea of PIA to be far too uncritically accepted by far too many within the privacy community.

Stop the PIA

My own sense is that this sounds good, parallel to an ‘environmental impact assessment’ (EIA). But the history of EIA should clearly alert us to the risk that impact assessments are unlikely to prevent risks to privacy and data protection. To the contrary, they are likely to cover the backside of actors who can say they submitted a risk assessment, be limited to primarily a symbolic victory for privacy, and clearly raise the costs of all software and systems developments, creating a new set of businesses employed to write PIAs for organizations.

The concept of a privacy impact assessment is one of those initiatives that sounds good, and rings all the right bells to be politically popular, but that will not accomplish its intended aims and undoubtedly have negative, unintended consequences. I hope the privacy community takes a more critical look at the rhetoric in support of this bureaucratic silver bullet that carries its own risks.

Happy to receive comments, as I am sure my view is a minority opinion, but every discussion of the issue convinces me all the more that the PIA is a mistake. I hope some bright students begin to evaluate the actual impact of the PIA.

Single Issue Politics is Undermining the Internet

The worldwide diffusion of the Internet is one of the most promising technological developments of the 21st Century. Over 2 billion people use the Internet with large proportions of North America and West Europe online, but larger numbers of users – and growing fast – in such rapidly developing nations as Brazil, Russia, India and China, what I have called the ‘New Internet World’. For example, there are more Chinese online that Americans on the planet. It is a core infrastructure for economic development in developed and rapidly developing nations alike, and is enabling networked individuals to hold governments and other institutions accountable in ways that are as powerful as the press in earlier eras, such as in the significant role the Internet’s social networking platforms played in the Arab uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa.

However, the vitality of the Internet, Web and related technologies is being placed at risk by an ideologically blinkered standoff between two single-issue groups – one seeking to protect copyright versus another protecting freedom of expression. The Internet and Web grew out of a culture of sharing and free expression within academic communities, but to this day, over 40 years since the invention of the Internet, users around the world are very supportive of online freedom of expression. In fact, Internet users in the New Internet World are as supportive of free expression as are those in the Old Internet World of North America and West Europe. And support is growing with experience with the Internet. Given the high levels of support for this underlying culture of Internet use, it should not be surprising that threats to freedom of expression have created major counter-reactions.

Threats have come from legislation aimed at criminalizing and putting a stop to illegal file sharing of music, films and other copyrighted materials, such as through the UK’s Digital Economy Act and, in the US, through the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (Pipa). The music industry and other creative industries are trying to use the law to protect business models that are not sustainable in the digital age. These legislative routes to protecting copyright would have a chilling effect on the Internet, as they would usher in greater surveillance of Internet users, and governmental sanctioning of the blocking of Internet content as well as the disconnection of Internet users. That is why Wikipedia, Google and other responsible stakeholders in the Internet have protested SOPA and Pipa, such as by Wikipedia blocking its own content for one day.

At the very moment that protests over these legislative actions appeared to be gaining ground among US elected officials, the Department of Justice raised the stakes. It took the domain names of a file sharing Web site (Megaupload) offline, charged its founders with violating piracy laws, and arrested four employees. In response, an Internet ‘hackivist’ group, Anonymous, launched a denial of service attack on FBI, DoJ, and music industry Web sites. The actions of nearly every stakeholder in this conflict have been seriously uncompromising.

In the short-run, it is time to talk and to stop these flame wars. Each side has failed to be open to discussion, but that is exactly what is needed. In the long-term, the creative industries must focus on new business models that are sustainable in the digital era. Government can help support the research and development to enable these innovations.

More generally, all stakeholders need to understand that freedom of expression and copyright cannot be pursued as single issues. Both are part of a larger ecology of policies that have major interactions. Responsible policy discussions need to reign in single-issue politics. It is tempting to say that freedom of expression trumps all other values and interests, but the evidence is right before us that freedom of expression is being eroded by copyright, liability, privacy and data protection, public safety and other concerns. Single-issue political posturing could undermine the Internet’s future.

References

Dutta, S., Dutton, W. H. and Law, G. (2011), The New Internet World: A Global Perspective on Freedom of Expression, Privacy, Trust and Security Online: The Gobal Information Technology Report 2010-2011. New York: World Economic Forum, April. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1810005

Dutton, W. H., Dopatka, A., Hills, M., Law, G., and Nash, V. (2011), Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet. Paris: UNESCO, Division for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace.

Advice to Ofcom

The Advisory Committees to Ofcom have created a blog site to provide useful information of relevance to anyone with a serious interest in communication issues across the communities and nations of the UK and Northern Ireland. It is designed to inform members of the various advisory committees to Ofcom. It will accomplish this by using the Internet to tap the wisdom of individuals across the UK and Northern Ireland, or anywhere in the world, with either local knowledge, such as what is happening in your community, or expertise in a particular area, whether it be mobile communication, broadcasting, telecommunications, or any of the many specialized topics discussed by the advisory committees. I’d like to invite you to take a look at the site, add your comments as your interests and expertise permits, and let me know if you have thoughts on how to improve the site.

Advice to Ofcom

 

Internet Governance and National Digital Policies, Paris, 9-10 November 2011

Internet Governance and National Digital Policies

Paris, 9-10 November 2011 (noon on 9 November – noon on 10 November)

International Diplomatic Academy

A UK ESRC Digital Policy Forum in Collaboration with the International Diplomatic Academy, Paris, organized by the International Diplomatic Academy and the Oxford Internet Institute as one of a series of seminars on ‘Digital Policy’. This seminar is supported by Afilias and the ESRC Seminar Series, entitled ‘Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity & Rights’[1].

Purpose

Digital policy initiatives are emerging in nations across the world amidst a transnational effort to coordinate Internet governance, most prominently through the Internet Governance Forum. This seminar brings together key participants in global and national initiatives to govern the Internet. The seminar will seek to describe the state of developments within the IGF, and discuss the ways that national developments interact with transnational efforts, such as the IGF.  Each aspect will be addressed in one of the half-day sessions.

Outline Agenda

1 – Evolution of the global IGF

The meeting will begin at noon on 9 November, with a first half-day session focusing on developments within the IGF, reflecting on the 2011 IGF in Nairobi. It will discuss the differing views regarding how much change can be brought to the IGF without losing what makes its value, at what speed such improvements can be introduced, and the role of the IGF within the larger ecosystem of organizations and actors dealing with Internet-related issues, particularly the UN, ITU, or ICANN. The session will not aim at developing a consensus, but seek to inform and stimulate debate about the future of the IGF.

Discussion will continue informally over a reception and dinner.

2 – National Internet Governance and Policy: Recent Initiatives and their Implications

The second half-day session on 10 November (9am to noon) will focus on national developments, including the role of national IGFs, but include any initiatives in policy or governance of the Internet. The objective is to understand the possible implications of national efforts to govern the Internet and their impact on international efforts.

Participation

Participation in the seminar will be limited to about 25 invited participants, but a summary of the discussions will be prepared for a wider audience. All participants will be encouraged to prepare a very short (1 page) position paper on each of the two topics that will be explored.

Organizers

William Dutton, Professor of Internet Studies, OII

Bertrand de La Chapelle, Program Director at the International Diplomatic Academy and member of the ICANN Board of Directors

Desiree Miloshevic, Senior Public Policy Adviser at Afilias, ISOC Advisory Council Co-Chair, Afilias, and Visiting Industry Associate, OII


[1] (RES-451-26-0849) 2011-13

Moving Content Control Closer to the Household: Who is doing the research?

News of the launch of ParentPort should be of interest to all following communication issues, as it aims to provide an integrated, single site, to help households complain about content or material they feel is inappropriate for children, such as by helping to direct them to the appropriate regulator. This complements initiatives by the largest ISPs in Britain to provide new customers with the ability to have access to software for filtering content, and blocking content deemed inappropriate to children. Some provide software for PCs, others control at the ISP level. An overview of these initiatives is online here.

These are early days in the development of such facilities, but they seem to be the most responsible response to increasing demands for content regulation. The closer decisions can be moved to the user and the household, the more appropriate the are the controls from most perspectives on the rights of Internet users. Enabling more effective self-regulation by users and households might take some pressure off policy-makers and regulators to apply Internet filtering regimes. Earlier efforts have not been a great success, such as the US Violence-Chip or V-Chip, during President Clinton’s administration. However, these initiatives deserve support and research to determine how they can be good enough to head off far blunter approaches that take control away from users and households.

I am not aware of research on these measures, but would encourage it and would be delighted to hear from any experts and researchers focusing on this area. The OII is doing some work on the home hub, in a study of future home networks and services, which is a promising locus for content controls in the future, and I would be particularly interested in any related work with this focus.

 

 

Selected Responses to Jeremy Hunt’s Open Letter

I worked with several colleagues at the OII (Victoria Nash, Monica Bulger, and Alissa Cooper) to pen responses to Jeremy Hunt’s Open Letter, requesting feedback of relevance to the new communications bill. They were submitted under my name as director of the OII, but also as a Co-Principal Investigator of the ESRC Seminar Series, entitled ‘Digital Policy’. In fact, all of these responses were shaped to some degree by discussions that took place at the OII Forum, entitled ‘Digital Policy Issues of the New Communications Bill’, held at the OII on 24 June 2011. A summary of that forum will be distributed in due course. In the meantime, these responses provide some sense of what my colleagues and I took away from the forum.

Question 1

What could a healthier communications market look like? How can the right balance be achieved between investment, competition and services in a changing technological environment?

Many of the questions in this review focus on aspects of competition and industrial policy, however it is our view that for the economic benefits of the Internet to be maximised, attention must also be devoted to closing the digital divide. Efforts such as Race Online 2012 demonstrate that the UK government realizes the significance of access to the Internet in supporting efforts to erase the digital divide, increase participation and enhance digital media literacy. Yet less than 30 percent of adults in the UK report receiving training in media literacy, even though training could promote participation among those with little to no experience (Ofcom, 2011; Livingstone & Wang, 2011). Our view is that access must be paired with understanding of options and risks to promote a healthier communications market.  Based on our 2011 OxIS survey findings, 73 percent of individuals in the UK use the Internet, leaving more than a quarter of the population off the Internet.  Efforts to increase Internet use among Britons has critical significance for 21st century economic and civic participation, but need adequate resources to promote understanding of the associated opportunities and risks.

For earlier OxIS figures see:

Dutton, W. H., Helsper, H. J., and Gerber, M. M. (2009), The Internet in Britain. Oxford: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

Livingstone, S. & Wang, Y. (20110) Media Literacy and the Communications Act. London: LSE.

Ofcom (2011b). UK adults’ media literacy. London: Ofcom.

Question 3

Is regulatory convergence across different platforms desirable and, if so, what are the potential issues to implementation?

This question was discussed at a recent policy forum convened by the Oxford Internet Institute, in which field-leading academics with media, communications and regulatory expertise were asked to consider the proposed Review of the Communications Act. This forum served to reinforce our view that it would be a significant mistake to seek regulatory convergence across platforms if this means imposing a model of broadcast regulation on the Internet. It is often assumed that the Internet is a modern era ‘Wild West’, lawless and unregulated. In fact, the opposite is true – there is already extensive regulation of Internet service provision, content and activities. We would argue that traditional regulatory models for broadcasting, common carriers (such as post or telecommunications) and the press cannot be imposed wholesale on the Internet without serious risks to its vitality and its contribution to the UK economy as well as potential chilling effects of speech. Further analysis of this point can be found in: Dutton, W. H. (2010b), ‘Aiming at Copyright Infringers and Hitting the Digital Economy’, Prometheus, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 385-388, December 2010. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=1778422

Question 13

Where has self- and co-regulation worked successfully and what can be learnt from specific approaches? Where specific approaches haven’t worked, how can the framework of content regulation be made sufficiently coherent and not create barriers to growth, but at the same time protect citizens and enable consumer confidence?

Many different regulatory models have been applied to various aspects of the Internet. Mobile operators in the UK voluntarily adopted industry codes of conduct to limit Internet access to adult content to minors, and to limit the use of location-aware services. Similarly the UK-licensed Internet gambling industry has proved that age verification (at least for the 18 threshold) is possible, and further has been widely recognised to have implemented this so successfully that even the child protection lobby have registered their satisfaction with this system. The UK model for control of illegal content, such as child pornography and hate speech, could undoubtedly benefit from more transparency and judicial oversight, but has broadly proved an effective way to limit the distribution of such material. Such measures are almost all co-regulatory – individual businesses and industry bodies signing up to common codes of conduct or unofficial norms, with the backing (or threat) of legislation.

We do not believe that the Internet requires further heavy-handed regulation, and would propose two principles as a suitable basis for advance:

·       A presumption in favour of ‘democratised regulation’, namely pushing more control to the users and producers of communication and information services – the public. This is not simply another term for self-regulation, as it requires regulatory support at many levels (see below). A good example of democratised regulation would be the currently evolving system for content regulation whereby only extremely limited forms of illegal content (such as child pornography) might be blocked by mandate or on a centralized basis, with users having access to PC-based tools, a ‘home hub,’ or an ISP filtering system that enables them to choose how much content (if any) they want filtered. In this sense, parents, educators and users generally, could be given more control over their own communications infrastructure in a way that is low cost for government and industry.

·       A presumption in favour of regulation only where it is needed to ensure the preservation of a fair, accessible and open Internet, or to protect the most fundamental rights such as freedom of speech or protection from abuse.

I would also like to draw your attention to related post by Roger Darlington at http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/commswatch/?p=2900 Roger has been posting links to other submissions here: http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/commswatch/

Roger Darlington’s Website: http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/convergence.html

David Grahams’ Blog: http://www.attentional.com/david-grahams-blog/2011/05/a-new-communications-bill-is-coming/