And now the US House of representatives has joined the party. The members of this august house, just passed a bill, near unanimously, which would block access to social networking sites and chat rooms in public locations such as libraries and schools. An enlightened piece of legislation to fight quasi-porn being consumed by minors? As always the devil is in the details. The generic labeling of what constitutes social networking sites and chat room sites would ensure that virtually any site which has an element of 'Interactivity' built in between the site and its readers would be tripped and blocked at the school gates. For ex: www.Digg.com and www.Shoutwire.com are two very popular social networking service sites primarily engaged in social content aggregation and content ranking services. Since these sites allow readers to post data, they could be banned from schools. The fact that these sites also give you access to RSS feeds of respectable journals like TIME, NYTimes etc., doesn't seem to count. MSN,Yahoo and other marquee names might also join the list given that they are' interactive'.
It remains to be seen as to what reaction this would draw from the Corporate Internet fraternity, since the move, when it becomes a law, would doubtless cut off hundreds of thousands of their readers from accessing their sites. At stake is not only advertising revenue worth millions, but more importantly, a larger issue of whether legislators can or should censor the Net and if yes, what checks and balances do we ensure in the legislative process, so that this power is not abused to smother a medium, which is surely the last frontier of freedom of expression, all over the world, now that publishing and television has been largely co-opted by politico-corporate interests, to deliver messages they deem fit. For a detailed analysis of how mainstream 'old' media has been "Manufacturing consent" please visit : http://www.chomsky.info/onchomsky/2002----.htm.
The very fact that the bill received bipartisan support and that it was passed by a 410-15 margin, indicates the degree of concern that legislators feel over the issue. Even the Democrats, seem to have largely agreed with the main thrust of the bill, which is not surprising considering that there are swathes of ill-informed middle class votes at stake here, which can be harvested cheaply,
Censorship of the NET is sadly something we have been getting accustomed to see. The U.S government has merely joined the bandwagon of the Chinese and the Indian government. The Chinese are past masters of this art and leverage their vast market wonderfully well to control the Net selectively. The Indian Government Blog mis-adventure seems to have been not merely a case of innocent bungling now that we know that curiously many of the sites banned were Anti-Congress or Anti UPA front (the ruling coalition).
How such ham handed or high handed political attacks would be countered by Netizens across the world is something that remains to be seen. For now, it’s clear which way the tide is blowing.