The dark side of the internet is an affront to decency and a risk to employers, writes Simon Moores
Earlier this summer, during a Westminster debate on internet content (called as a consequence of rising concern about the availability of violent pornography and the murder of Jane Longhurst) Conservative MP Tim Loughton mentioned a US website that is hiding behind First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.
The site offers nothing less than a global digital catalogue of atrocity with no image too tasteless or extreme for its webmasters, who have twisted the democratic principles of free speech to a point that would be quite unrecognisable by the founding fathers of the US constitution.
Since that debate, the way the internet has been leveraged to display politically motivated content has also changed in a graphic and unpleasant manner such as has not been witnessed since the end of public executions as a form of mass entertainment.
Last week, suspecting the worst, I revisited the website in question and was not surprised to see that the recent wave of so-called executions from Iraq and Saudi Arabia were available on demand to anyone with a broadband connection and a strong stomach for reality TV at its worst.
Executions or murders are now big business on the internet and are proven tools for driving traffic and advertising figures, As a result I was even more disturbed to read, under the captioned link, “All the Iraq beheadings can be seen here”, a new message.
“We are looking for people who are able to provide us uncensored and exclusive content from the Middle East (war in Iraq/Afghanistan and other uncensored/newsworthy scenes)," it said. "We are interested in obtaining the images/videos PLUS possible copyrights to them. We're willing to pay for the copyrights. Think you can help us? E-mail us here and possibly attach a sample. Thanks!”
Reading between lines it seems clear to me that a US-based business, hiding behind the First Amendment, is calling on people who are prepared to commit murder to offer video footage of such atrocities to it first, in return for for cash.
This is an example of the world turned upside down. How can a so-called legitimate business be protected by law as it peddles images of murder, openly calling on the architects of atrocity at source, allegedly in the interests of free speech?
The implications raise a raft of issues which embrace not only the concept of treason in the 21st century, but obscenity legislation and the sinister connections between the internet, terrorism and organised crime.
For employers there is a potential liability issue to consider as well, which is why I have deliberately not named the website in this column. That is the vicarious liability problem that an employer faces if an employee stumbles across such content in the workplace, is shocked by what he or she sees and then chooses to sue the employer for a “failure to provide a safe working environment”.
Larger organisations may choose to use filters to limit their risks but 95% of companies in the UK count as small businesses and may not be taking steps to block content that may leave them exposed to risks from the darker, twisted side of the internet.
Perhaps, then, this is the future facing all of us: one without any real checks and balances on information and content. An on-demand, everything or nothing world where one man’s personal terrorist nightmare is another’s 30-second Windows video clip.
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com