Young people today are very, very angry about a number of things (and I should know because I am one). There’s a shortage of housing around the globe, attempts to fight climate change seem to be stalling, xenophobic nationalism is on the rise, and the prices of avocado toast and flat whites have gone through the roof.
All kidding aside, there is a real need now for more digital natives or millennials or ‘Gen X-ers’ or whatever term you wish to use to describe us to enter into the corridors of power and begin enacting legislation. Not simply because climate change will most greatly affect our generation. Not just because housing shortages prevent economic and personal growth. But mainly because, and I see this with all the goodwill in the world, you boomers and ‘old folks’ are killing the notion of the free internet.
Memes, glorious memes. I honestly don’t know how I’d get through the workday without a quick look at Facebook or Twitter for some juicy, dank or wholesome memes. I mean sure, I’d probably be a bit more productive, but would the world necessarily be a better place without classic memes like ‘distracted boyfriend’? Well, the EU thinks it would, and now they’re coming for all your memes, no matter how wholesome or niche they are! In all seriousness, the passing of this new “Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” represents a real step back in terms of securing a freer, more open internet for everyone.
Whilst initially seeming like a way to tighten up existing digital copyright laws, Articles 11 and 13 severely curb both internet freedoms and economic competition. For example, Article 11 will impose what is essentially a “link tax” on social media sites and search engines if they wish to share links to and of news stories. Aside from the fact it makes nearly zero sense to force search engines or social media platforms to pay for giving free coverage and clicks to news sites, it will also monopolize publishing rights and empower big publishing groups. This explains why it was defended in The Times newspaper by a lobbyist from the European Publishers’ Council. The vast majority of the revenue collected from these ‘link taxes’ will be collected not by smaller, independent publishing groups but by much larger conglomerates, killing off any notion of an open market and actively harming both consumers and authors in the process.
Article 13, on the other hand, will make sites such as YouTube and others legally responsible for any potentially copyright-infringing material published on their sites. Problems arise here when you consider the question of how sites will enforce these rules. Aside from the fact that it creates another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy for smaller platforms, the only way many can see these new copyright rules being enforced is through the introduction of upload filters. These would scan and filter any content uploaded to sites like YouTube to check there definitely aren’t any infringements, a process that sounds a lot smoother than it is. Whilst the EU claims things like memes will be exempt as they fall under a ‘parody’ clause that doesn’t resemble infringement, in practice these filters often can’t tell the difference between jokey parodies like GIFs or memes and legitimate attempts to undermine copyright law, meaning that a whole raft of content could be wiped from these sites.
I know, I know, porn isn’t exactly a topic people are comfortable discussing, but we need to do so because the UK is effectively trying to ban it and thus further curb individual and internet freedoms. So buckle up for what may be an uncomfortable but ultimately necessary ride (pun intended).
Basically, from April the UK will ban access to legal porn and erotica sites through the creation of a filter. The only ways to get around this filter will be through either handing over your credit card details, uploading a form of government ID (eg: a driving license), or by traipsing down to your local newsagents and purchasing a ‘porn pass’ for the sum of £10. As you can see, not only are these laws somewhat demeaning, they also prove that the state — ran as always by boomers and old folks — seem to have little concern for privacy rights.
Handing over credit card and identity details is an obvious privacy concern, as the process can be easily exploited by hackers. As noted by the Open Rights Group (ORG), “anything that normalizes the entry of credit card details into pages where the user isn’t making a payment will increase the fraudulent use of such cards”. These concerns come on top of the fact that, if you choose not to use this method, you’ll have to upload a form of ID like a passport or drivers license, again creating potential privacy minefields and potentially empowering identity thieves. Furthermore, the company behind these age verification checks — MindGeek — have a pretty bad track record when it comes to data security, having suffered five (!) major data breaches since 2012. Consider this too: If the service is this easy to hack, what’s stopping a hacker taking your information and blackmailing you? What’s stopping homophobic gangs ‘outing’ closeted LGBT teens? Nothing. Aside from consumer protection and civil liberties concerns, these changes could present real and present dangers for both sex workers (through the creation of black, murkier markets that may not require verification) and other individuals.
But the bigger point here is this: It’s not going to stop people watching pornography online, and more importantly, it isn’t going to keep children ‘safe’. Aside from the fact that one can very easily download a VPN to circumvent filters, children aren’t going to be ‘protected’ by this law at all. What’s stopping them from taking their parents’ credit card? What’s stopping them from getting hold of a ‘second hand’ porn pass (ew….)? Again, nothing, absolutely nothing. All this ban serves to do is provide yet another example of moral puritanism being foisted onto members of the public by a group of people who don’t understand how the internet and wider media platforms and technologies work.
It seems we live in an era of increasingly closed societies. Borders are strengthening, trade deals are being scrapped, censorship and surveillance are increasing, all through the supposedly ‘benevolent’ hand of the state apparatus. The above two examples serve as further examples of that inwardness, that ‘closing’ of the doors.
The boomers, the oldies, the past-their-sell-bys haven’t just caused climate change or housing crises or tanked the economy one too many times. They’re actively trying to curtail a free and open internet, whether that’s through ending things like net neutrality, the pushing of unenforceable moral puritanism, and unworkable forms of censorship and copyright.
We need digital natives in legislatures today. The future of a free, open internet depends on it.
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