UK Prime Minister Calls ask.fm A 'Vile Site,' Blames It For The Behavior Of Some Vile Users
from the a-bigger-target-is-always-easier-to-hit dept
Another tragedy in the UK and Prime Minister David Cameron has moved swiftly to ensure the moment doesn’t pass without comment. As is Cameron’s standard m.o., he has sent his mouth ahead as an advance party, allowing his intellect and reasoning to arrive at their leisure.
The impetus for Cameron’s latest blast is the suicide of a 14-year-old girl who was apparently bullied by other users of teen-heavy social site, ask.fm. And like his earlier attacks on various web entities, triggered by the kidnapping and murder of a 5-year-old girl, Cameron blames the acts of individuals on third parties.
Internet users should boycott “vile” websites that allow cyberbullying to help prevent more deaths of young people, the prime minister has said.
David Cameron asked parents to boycott sites that granted bullies unmoderated access to young people and said those who posted abuse online were not above the law.
Calling for a boycott isn’t the issue. This is a perfectly acceptable response, although slightly less so when the head of a nation does it, which adds a hint of censorship to the proceedings. No, it’s the fact that Cameron believes the sites themselves (no others are named at this point) are “vile,” mistaking (perhaps purposely) that ask.fm, in and of itself, is neutral at worst. It’s the users, and then only a small subset of them, that are “vile.”
There are many sites on the web that normal people would consider “vile,” like theYNC.com or, for that matter, LiveLeak, which shows plenty of uncensored videos depicting very graphic violence. A social media site that allows users to ask questions and receive answers from nearly anyone is prone to be abused by trolls and sociopaths, but the site itself is not “vile.”
Cameron added more to that, some of it even reasonable.
He urged website operators to act responsibly to protect children from bullies, following the death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who killed herself on Friday after receiving abuse on Ask.fm.
There’s nothing wrong with asking websites to provide more moderation but government officials asking/demanding this sort of compliance need to be aware that not every site will have the financial or technical ability to monitor incoming content with an efficiency that will please any aggreived parties. In fact, no site, no matter how well-funded can hope to achieve this. Abuse can and will slip through the cracks.
Even a behemoth like Facebook is unable to control every instance of offensive behavior that occurs under its purview. This is just part of the territory. If you provide a service for millions of users, abuse is inevitable. This is because you’re serving human beings, some of whom are truly amoral.
Calling the site “vile” simply shifts all of the blame (in a very official manner) to ask.fm, something Cameron really has no business doing. But this is how he handles the web — it’s the biggest target’s fault. Child porn is the fault of search engines. Abusive behavior is the fault of ask.fm.
Even if ask.fm’s moderation efforts were the very least it could do, it’s ridiculous to think it should be responsible for abusive messages sent by its users. It should make a real effort to moderate more of its users’ messages, but at some point it will hit a wall in effectiveness, especially considering how popular the service is. Pushing it to do more than it can capably handle will only result in overreactions that will curtail its usefulness for its members.
Cameron’s call for a boycott is already having an effect. Many advertisers are pulling out of the site. Someone may want to ask Cameron how ask.fm is supposed to better police its users when its revenue streams are swiftly drying up and its user base is being warned away by the Prime Minster himself.
If it continues in this fashion, chances are ask.fm will just go under. People who buy into Cameron’s projection of user behavior as the behavior of the site itself will be happy. People who think the site offered nothing but bullying will feel they’ve won a battle. But those abusive users, who won’t be affected by boycotts, outrage or a sudden lack of revenue will just go elsewhere and abuse other people. After all, they’re not on the radar. Only the hosts are.
Cameron points out there are laws against the sort of bullying behavior that reportedly occurred on ask.fm and that “just because it happened on the internet,” those behind the bullying shouldn’t expect to be above those laws. Good points, but they’re points Cameron’s ignoring. There are laws in place against this behavior, but those have to be deployed against the offending users, something Cameron talks about, but doesn’t seem very inclined to actually pursue.
Attacking the nameplate out front is easy and usually results in some very visible, if skin deep, changes by the entities being attacked. And why not? The attack itself is only skin deep. It’s easier than dealing with the underlying issues or asking people to take personal responsibility for themselves or their children. It’s also easier than explaining to someone post-tragedy that terrible people inhabit the world and it’s impossible to prevent all of them from ever harming others.
This is Cameron hanging the web in effigy, nothing more. Any perceived effects will only last until the crowd wanders away.