Unfiltered : the missing liberal voice from the right

It goes without saying that I have many issues with the new proposals for default-on web content filtering. As many of you will have read, the proposals mean that network level filters for fixed-line broadband will be turned on until an active request is made to remove the filtering. There are so many things that could go wrong with the government requiring filtering for both legal and illegal content and I won’t go into the details here as many of you will know and believe the arguments. But what this, the latest media and political circus, shows is that a classical liberal argument on these and similar issues is still very much needed.

© kyz

© kyz

UK mobile phone providers already have default-on filtering with some success and some notable failures. Either way, in this current debate a conflation of issues is taking place to confuse, among others, the general public. First, child abuse images will be policed. This is something that has been and is already taking place. Reporting, blocking and removing these images should happen as a matter of criminal law. Second, filtering of legal pornography will be the default. This is, of course, outrageous in a free and democratic society, never mind the technically impossibility. And finally, child protection online is getting thrown into the mix because apparently the government knows better than all parents.

But the conflation of these arguments are politically pragmatic. It is clear that winning the votes of women and families will be of the utmost importance at the next election for Cameron and his tories to win a clear majority. Additionally, the lead MP on this issue, Claire Perry, is ambitious and a bit bloody minded. This is public choice theory in action – a political agenda created by those who are captured with greater interests.

The importance of the individual to make their own autonomous decisions for themselves and their family has been all but lost in this debate. So called “negative freedom” – the essential freedom of action that is the motor of society, has been sidelined in the news headlines.

A classical liberal voice on this issue would make all the current arguments, shared with much of the left, and then some. Our perspective is the only one which which can clearly articulate some arguments, including the absolute importance of autonomy in a free society. It continues to be a much needed narrative.

Tech giant shows accountability of markets

Facebook has to be one of the biggest of “big business” players out there and has certainly had it’s fair share of scrutiny from social campaigners, in particular, from privacy campaigners. The privacy issue is one where an instinctive mistrust of powerful entities seems to drive large sections of the population to paranoia. What these campaigners often forget though is that nobody is forced into dealing with these firms and that there are other choices to choose. This competitive pressure is a powerful way for customers to keep firms accountable and ensure services are run as they prefer. This is a distinct advantage that the free-market has over planned and mixed economies where state-backed monopolies insulate service providers from this source of pressure.

© Marco Pako

© Marco Pako

Facebook’s latest brush with social campaigners was with a crowd of feminist activists who grew concerned about mysoginistic content hosted on Facebook’s social platform. The content, of course, was not Facebook’s creation but was there on account of Facebook’s self-service approach to content sharing, yet it did not seem to suit Facebook’s interests for it to be there. I’ve looked at some examples, and frankly I agree. When the content was brought to the attention of advertising managers at several major brands the brands decided it wasn’t in their interests either. The FT explains what happened (registration required):

The placement of brands’ adverts next to the offensive content reflects targeted advertising techniques that follow users rather than individual pages. These techniques identify individuals who are likely to buy a particular product and then automatically places ads for that product on whatever page he or she visits.

Adverts for Nissan, Nationwide, Unilever’s Dove skincare brand, were automatically placed next to the offensive images that Facebook users either sought out or stumbled upon accidentally. To the companies’ embarrassment, screenshots juxtaposing the misogynistic images with their products were then widely circulated.

Nationwide said earlier this week that it had pulled its Facebook adverts pending resolution of the situation. Dove said it was working with Facebook to have the offensive content removed and “refine our [ad] targeting terms in case any further pages like these are created”. Both companies said they had not been aware that their ads had been placed on the pages in question.

Say what you like about radical feminism, but this is a handy example of how free-markets, freedom of (dis)association, and naked self-interest have combined to resolve a genuine problem non-violently, and without imposing any central diktats or uniform ideas of what is acceptable in the culture. The only thing that changed is what is acceptable on one platform, and consumers are free to visit a different one. In this case, heterogeneity preserved what is valued generally – freedom of speech – and discouraged that which is generally held to be abhorrent.

Woolwich murderer cited Koran

Perhaps I am slow to pick up on this, but I find it interesting that the first sentence of this video did not get broadcast.

There are many, many ayah throughout the Koran [referring to religious verses] that says we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I apologize that women had to witness this today but in our land women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you.”

That text in bold, sourced from LiveLeak is new to me.

Before reading that, I had come to conclusion, like Jonathan Pearce that the murder was effectively tribal , though the “tribe” consisted of international muslims. Of course, it might still have been primarily tribal (“as they fight us” points in that direction) and rationalised as a Koranic obligation (if “rationalised” can apply to a religious justification) but it does muddy the waters greatly.

JP wrote, and where I had thought that he’d nailed it was this:

There are many reasons how this state of affairs came about, and I am sure commenters have their views on this. I would point to what has happened in our own education system and the climate of ideas in the West for the past few decades. While Western society is, by some measures, more “individualistic” than it used to be – and that is a good thing – in some ways tribal mentalities remain strong. Maybe part of that has to do with post-modernism and the whole challenge to the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth, and that there are universal, shared qualities that all humans have, most importantly, the capacity for long-term, rational action, coupled with notions of taking responsibility for one’s actions, linked as that is to the idea that humans have free will.

I would very much like to belive that no religion is fundamentally violent, I find the idea depressing, but this is a great challenge to that sentiment. Do I now need to read the Koran for myself? I suppose I should.