19 January 1996
The Right To Be Offensive
Living Marxism is in favour of free speech on the Internet. We
are opposed to legislative control or corporate curbs on what can
be said online, and we are also against the increasing
acceptance of self-censorship among many Net-users.
The moral panic over computer pornography has been the backdrop
to the attempted introduction of statutory controls over the
Internet. But the global Internet operates on a scale which is
largely beyond the reach of national governments; and the
'gatekeeping' techniques associated with traditional forms of
censorship are no longer operable. The corporate sector has so
far proved equally unsuccessful in limiting and controlling online traffic.
For the time-being at least, the Internet has the
capacity to re-route itself around most legal obstacles to free
The majority of Net-users we have spoken to agree that externally
applied controls are undesirable. But there is growing support
for internal policing. If this simply meant that Net-users should
make their own decisions about what goes online, we would have
no objection. But it goes further than that. Underneath what
appears to be a plea for autonomy among Net-users, there is a
hidden agenda which dictates that everyone should be made 'aware'
of what constitutes 'inappropriate' and 'offensive' behaviour online. Universities
and other academic institutions are at the
forefront of 're-educating' their Net-users on the do's and
don't's of online intercourse. This ethos brings a note of
anxious pruderie to the digital frontier. It introduces the
possibility that Net-users will censor themselves at a time when
governments and corporations are happily unable to do so. Faced
with the prospect of a 'politically correct' Net, Living Marxism
stands for the right to be offensive.
Andrew Calcutt writes on the Communications Decency Act 1995,
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