Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Welcome to the world of the total freedom of speech. Please bring your own moderator.

There is a very special place in Hell. It is reserved for journalists who talk about statistics without being familiar with the concepts of mean and median, and politicians and officials who try to make stupid rules about technical matters without any understanding of how the technology works.

The state prosecutor Mika Illman wishes to have all the Internet conversation moderated postfactum. Web forums, blogs, IRC, chats, you name it.

According to the answers he gave to Kari Haakana's questions, Illman would like to force all web forums to hire moderators.

"If I had all the cards, I would extend these laws also to individuals", he says, when asked whether these rules would also extend to private blogs. Sorry, it's kind of hard to resist making jokes about the man not playing with a full deck.

He would also like to moderate IRC chats. He realizes that it is difficult, but that does not stop him. If he knew anything about the subject, he would have also realized that this is impossible (what is said on IRC is said, and no logs are kept unless users decide to keep their own), but I guess that wouldn't have stopped him either. Taking reality into account is for peasants and programmers, not for the state prosecutor.

He says that IRC can be moderated as easily as radio or TV. Hmm, I have always imagined that radio and TV are moderated before the broadcast, not after like he has just said the Net chats should be, but if Mr. Illman has found a way to moderate broadcasts after the fact, I would gladly hear about it. Oh, dear... Imagine, every time you type a line it has to go through a moderator before it shows up on a channel... That, mind you, in a country that cannot even afford a moderator for the public statements of its chief state prosecutor to prevent him from putting his foot into his mouth too often. (If Illman has a personal moderator he sure is not getting value for his money. I have green hairy things in my fridge that can do a better job.)

That's ok, really. We have already learned that politicians are capable of legislating on technological issues without a slightest understanding of the technology in question. What bothers me more is other issues:

"The line between the permissible and the forbidden is in the same place on the Internet and outside it," - he says. Fair enough. In fact I am more concerned that the man seems to have some problem with understanding the line between the public and the private. IRC channels are usually private places, with a limited number of participants who usually know each other either on the Net or IRL, not public broadcasts. The difference between public and private is not 100% clear and might depend on the size and openness of the channel, but if the man really has a problem distinguishing between the public and the private, what else would he like to censor? Text messages, email, letters? Should every conversation of every group of friends in a bar have its own moderator? (Having its own informer has been tried in Eastern Europe during the last half of 20th century and with dismal results; having its own moderator would probably work out even worse and overstretch the country's medical resources.)

I became curious as to what is Illman's idea of the line between the permissible and the forbidden is, and look what I found: Yle's article on his dissertation:

"Demokraattisessa maassa hallitusta ja sen harjoittamaa politiikkaa tulee voida arvostella voimakkaastikin ja ulkomaalaispolitiikka on yksi sen osa. Jos siihen sisältyy samalla ulkomaalaisten arvostelu, sekin on hyväksyttävä, jos sitä ei ääneen lausuta," - says the article. ("In a democratic country one should be able to criticize the government and its policies, even strongly, and the immigration policy is part of it. If it contains criticism towards foreigners, his is acceptable, as long as it is not pronounced out loud.")

Damn. And here I thought that the freedom of speech was about the things one is in fact allowed to say out loud. If the freedom of speech includes things that are permissible as long as we don't actually say them, then the state of the freedom of speech in the world is quite perfect already. You can't even imagine the vast range of things that one could criticize in the Soviet Union as long as one did not express the criticsm in any way. Hell, I think you can even insult the prophet in Saudi Arabia as long as nobody finds out.

The age of the total freedom of speech has finally come, comrades! Hurrah!

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