EU Commission Asks Public To Weigh In On Survey About Just How Much They Want The Internet To Be Censored
from the try-again? dept
A few years ago, when the EU Commission was first considering some really bad copyright policies designed to attack fundamental principles of how the internet worked, we pointed out the many, many problems with the EU Commission’s online survey (including the fact that their survey tool was literally broken, which eventually resulted in them expanding the time that the survey could be answered). It appears that one thing the EU Commission is good at doing is pushing silly one-sided online surveys that seem uniquely designed to get people to answer in a manner that blesses whatever awful policy the EU Commission has already decided to adopt.
The latest is, once again, an attempt to massively censor the internet. As we’ve discussed over the past few months, after burying the evidence that said piracy is a much smaller issue than people claim, and ignoring multiple people explaining the fundamental issues of mandatory content filters (i.e., automated censorship machines), the EU Commission appears to be hellbent on putting in place such filters. And it’s now pushing a survey to get you to support their plan.
Everything about the survey is designed to get you to be worried about the scourge of “illegal content” online (without any evidence that it’s a serious problem) and to demand that the EU force platforms to wave a magic wand and make it go away. Here’s the survey’s introduction:
The availability and proliferation of illegal content online remains an important public policy and security concern in the EU, notably with regards to the dissemination of terrorist content, as well as of illegal hate speech, child sexual abuse material, or illegal commercial practices and infringements of intellectual property rights, selling of illicit drugs, counterfeits or other illicit goods.
First off, see what they did there? They mixed in copyright infringement with… things that don’t belong in the same camp: “child sex abuse,” “illicit drugs” and “hate speech.” And that’s not even touching on how problematic the whole area of “banning hate speech” has become.
The Commission is collecting evidence on the effectiveness of measures and the scale of the problem, and will explore, by the end of 2018, further measures to improve the effectiveness of combating illegal content online.
In particular, through the present public consultation the Commission seeks to gather views from all relevant stakeholders. The questionnaire is targeted to the general public, hosting service providers such as online platforms, organisations reporting the presence of illegal content online, competent authorities and law enforcement bodies, and academia, civil societies and other organisations.
Collecting evidence? It appears what the Commission wants is a bunch of people to say “ooh, bad content,” and the Commission will use that to demand internet platforms wave their magic wands and make it go away. However, as we’ve noted over and over again, this backfires every single time. When you put the liability on platforms, they will massively over censor, stifling both free speech and innovation — while doing very, very little to stop “bad stuff” from happening online. Sex trafficking and drug dealing is already mostly underground, so demanding that platforms do more won’t have much of an impact either way. Hate speech is an amorphous ball of trouble that frequently just leads to censorship of people critical of government. And, honestly, haven’t we learned by now that merely censoring people doesn’t make them stop thinking whatever it is they’re thinking — it just makes them feel more persecuted.
Anyway, the survey starts out by asking you to designate who you are (and you can only pick one, even if more might apply):
It’s a… weird sort of list. It seems to imply that someone representing “victims” can’t also be representing “civil rights interests.” Really? It also seems to suggest that organizations who “identify and report allegedly illegal content online” are somehow automatically opposed to organizations that host content online…. which is odd.
Once you start filling out the survey, new questions pop up that seem designed to just hand the EU Commission a bunch of anecdotes about you running into “bad” stuff online, so that they can use those stories to insist that we need more censorship:
If you check off any of these a new box pops up, in which you can almost feel the Commission salivating, asking you to share “in what way this has affected you.” Basically “please give us scary anecdotes to push through our horrible idea.”
Next up: please tell us how scary the internet is so we can, again, justify censoring it:
See all that? It’s just “give us scary stories so we can scare people into allowing us to censor the internet.” Incredibly, even if you check off that you “never” came across any of these things, the survey still asks you to explain “how were you affected by the illegal activities.”
Then it asks who “has an important role to play in tackling illegal content online.”
Um. Notice something missing here? For each party, the choices are “Main role,” “important role,” “marginal role,” “I don’t know” and “No answer.” What’s missing? How about “no role”? Why do we expect most of these parties to have any role in trying to censor content? Again, shouldn’t the focus be on finding the person who did something illegal and bringing them to justice? Instead, this entire survey is 100% focused on just getting people to say platforms must “do more.” Indeed, this survey doesn’t let you say anything else.
Also: what strange framing. What does “tackling illegal content online” even mean? Hell, it’s still not even clear what “illegal content” really consists of or how serious any “problem” is, but already we need to know who needs to “tackle” it? But, really, this question is absurd for a different reason: it cleverly skips all the nuance behind this question. That is, in order to actually understand how one would “tackle illegal content” (whatever that means) you’d first need to understand quite a lot about what methods already work for dealing with content — and how that changes depending on the type of content. Or the type of platform. Or the type of user. It also would seem to require some knowledge of all the many, many, many, many ways that attempts to “tackle illegal content” (whatever that means) has failed miserably and tragically in the past — often in ways that expand the “bad” content or make it more difficult to track down the actual perpetrators.
And this is a larger point that the survey makers don’t seem to have considered at all: perhaps instead of focusing on the bad or illegal content… we should be focusing on those who created the illegal content. The underlying theme here is that we need to stop illegal content after it exists, rather than finding and stopping those creating this “illegal” content. It’s a strange approach that focuses on burying the “crime” by blaming the tools, rather than targeting the criminal. What a silly approach.
But if you’re just asking people who don’t follow this issue, of course they’re going to point their fingers at whoever hosts the content, because that’s always the easiest to point fingers at, without ever recognizing that doing so is asking for widespread censorship with little recourse. At this point it’s simply unconscionable that the EU Commission working on this effort doesn’t recognize the massive dangerous consequences of mandatory filters. Yet this question is clearly designed to get people to request filters, without ever giving anyone a chance to point out that filters don’t tend to work and often have massive speech-suppressing consequences.
There are then a few more questions, which all seem entirely focused on giving the EU Commission the cover they need to say that “the public has spoken” and “the public wants us to force platforms to censor speech.” The whole thing is a travesty — but at the very least, here’s a chance for you to explain (politely) why this effort is not just nonsense, but actively dangerous to free speech and innovation.
Oh, and just to make things even more ridiculous: in the process of writing this post, I took the time to fill out the whole survey. As I finished up I hit submit and this is what I got:
Apparently, if you don’t fill out the survey quick enough (and I did it pretty quickly), they’ll just dump all your results in the garbage. Nice work, guys. I’m so glad you’re the ones deciding how the internet will be regulated. I’m sure that’ll go over just great.