Understanding the Web is one of those areas where there are plenty of people trying to educate those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, but precious few ready to listen to them. Those unable or unwilling to listen, sadly, include many in Government, and hence today’s screaming headline from the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre - a technophobe without compare - at the Daily Mail.
“After Mail campaign, May’s ultimatum to Web giants … TAKE DOWN HATE VIDEOS IN TWO HOURS … OR ELSE” thunders the self-congratulatory declaration (the story, such as it is, has also been briefed to the Murdoch Sun, whose interpretation is “2 HRS TO GET I. S. OFF WEB”). So what is in store? “Google and Facebook face punishing fines unless they remove terrorist propaganda within a two-hour limit”.
And there is, sadly for the inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker, more: “Theresa May will use a summit in New York tonight to warn the technology giants and their rivals that her patience is running out over their failure to clamp down on jihadi groups … She will say they have only a month to make progress. If they don’t, the Government will legislate to make them liable for extremist content on their sites”.
Very good. So let’s take this nice and slowly, for those in the Fourth Estate who still can’t get their heads round the technology involved. Facebook, yes, can remove content, if that content has been posted there. Facebook can also remove links to content elsewhere, but as the content concerned is not posted there, it can’t remove it. Facebook can, of course, flag the content to those hosting it, but has no sanction on them.
Then we get to Google. Yes, there are ways that Google can remove content, such as anything posted using Google Blogger. That is the straightforward part. But for most content accessed via Google search, it is not Google’s content: all the company does is use its search engine to offer users a series of links. Google can remove links. But, once more, it cannot then go and remove the offending content.
There is more that the press briefing does not answer: being able to levy fines in the UK, France and Italy is all very well, but if the content is hosted outside those countries, and companies like Google and Facebook have removed links to it, the Government has little else it can do. Is the Mail suggesting that Britain indulge in the kind of web-blocking practised by countries like China? You know … censorship?
The problem the Mail has is not just its technophobia, but that it has built up companies such as Google in such a way to suggest that they ARE the Web, that they alone can switch off all that Bad Content. Explaining what is, and more importantly, is NOT possible might make the paper’s readers better informed, but would also underscore that Alastair Campbell was right all those years ago to call the Mail “The Dacre Lie Machine”.
Sometimes you need more experts. And fewer media establishment loudmouths.