'Sleepwalking into censorship' web campaign goes viral

By staff writers
December 12, 2013

A campaign against internet censorship has gone viral on Twitter and other social media, with hundreds of thousands of posts trending under the #CensoredUK hashtag.

The controversy surrounds UK Prime Minister David Cameron's attempt to impose default filters enabled across a wide range of content.

The aim is supposed to be to protect children from hardcore pornography, but critics say that the scope will actually be much wider, that on opt-in system would be much better, that what is being proposed will not succeed in what it is purporting to achieve, and that the overall impact will be to cement the hegemony of the largest digital companies.

Jim Killock comments on the Open Rights Group blog (https://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2013/sleepwalking-into-censorship): "What's clear here is that David Cameron wants people to sleepwalk into censorship. We know that people stick with defaults: this is part of the idea behind 'nudge theory' and 'choice architecture' that is popular with Cameron.

"The implication is that filtering is good, or at least harmless, for anyone, whether adult or child. Of course, this is not true; there's not just the question of false positives for web users, but the affect on a network economy of excluding a proportion of a legitimate website's audience.

"There comes a point that it is simply better to place your sales through Amazon and ebay, and circulate your news and promotions exclusively through Facebook and Twitter, as you know none of these will ever be filtered.

"Meanwhile ISPs face the unenviable customer relations threat of increased complaints as customers who hadn't paid much attention find websites unexpectedly blocked.

"Just as bad, filters installed with no thought cannot be expected to set appropriately for children of different ages."

"Of course, all of this could be easily avoided by simply having an 'active choice' as the ISPs originally suggested: with no preset defaults, forcing customers to specify whether they wanted filters, or not.

"It's really very surprising that Cameron's campaign has spent six months insisting on a system designed to fail consumers, threatening ISPs with legislation if they didn't use the inaccurate, error prone method that Number 10 seem to believe in.

"If it all seems to work badly, at what point is it ok for ISPs to start running their own businesses, and change the setup screens?"

The Twitter campaign has been picked up by a range of groups and individuals.

Open Rights Group is the UK’s leading voice defending freedom of expression, privacy, innovation, creativity and consumer rights on the Internet. ORG is a member organisation of European Digital Rights (EDRi).

* The Open Rights Group have launched a petition calling for David Cameron to drop his plans for default Internet filtering: https://www.openrightsgroup.org/campaigns/cameron-stop-sleepwalking

* ORG: https://www.openrightsgroup.org/

* On Twitter: #CensoredUK

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