UK MP Thinks Secret Online Groups Are The Root Of All Evil Online, Promises To Regulate 'Large Online Groups'

from the good-luck-with-that dept

It's always fascinating to me when people try to condense the complex and varied reasons why people sometimes behave badly into a single factor for blame. This is especially true online. A commonly misdiagnosed "problem" is anonymity, despite the fact that studies show anonymous online users tend to be better behaved in online flame wars, than those using their real names.

British Member of Parliament Lucy Powell has come up with her own simplistic and ridiculous explanation for why people are bad online and has a plan to do something about it. In her mind, the real problem is... "large secret online groups." She's written a whole Guardian opinion piece on it, as well as given a Parliamentary speech on it, not to mention making the rounds to snippet of the actual proposal (the full bill hasn't been placed online as far as I can tell as I type this), it appears that she wants to ban secret groups over 500 members, requiring that for any online group that has more than 500 members, the moderators and administrators would be legally required to publish public information about the group (she insists not the members), but also "to remove certain content." What kind of content isn't explicitly stated, which should set off all sorts of censorship alarm bells.

In her speech to Parliament, she mentions racism, revenge porn, jokes about the holocaust, and conspiracy theories as the types of content she's concerned about. Also... um... bad advice for autistic parents? It seems kind of all over the map. Which is why most people find this all so ridiculous. First off, you can't stop people from saying stupid stuff. That's just asking for the impossible. But it's even more ridiculous to argue that non-public groups of over 500 individuals now suddenly are going to be legally liable for censorship of amorphous "bad content."

In both her speech and the op-ed, she insists that she's just trying to make these groups have the same responsibilities as news organizations:

Our newspapers, broadcasters and other publishers are held to high standards, yet online groups, some of which have more power and reach than newspapers, are not held to any standards, nor are they accountable. It is about time the law caught up. The Bill is an attempt to take one step towards putting that right. It would make those who run large online forums accountable for the material they publish, which I believe would prevent them from being used to spread hate and disinformation, and for criminal activity. It would also stop groups being completely secret.

But that doesn't make any sense at all. Newspapers, broadcasters and publishers are not open forums for members to post their own thoughts. They are top down organizations that have an editorial process. An open forum is an entirely different thing, and it makes no sense to regulate one like the other. I mean, she actually uses the following in her speech:

If 1,000-plus people met in a town hall to incite violence towards a political opponent, or to incite racism or hate, we would know about it and deal with it. The same cannot be said of the online world.

But, under her proposal, rather than blaming the people who actually incited violence in that situation we should blame... the mayor who set up the town hall? This whole thing shows a rather astounding lack of understanding of both technology and human nature. There are already laws on the books against those who incite violence. Forcing private groups to become public, and making the organizers of those groups liable for "bad stuff" doesn't fix anything. It's also silly and impossible. Secret groups will continue to just remain secret and avoid this whole law. And, of course, is many cases, this would be impossible anyway. Who would be "responsible" for large IRC channels or Usenet groups?

I know that politicians see "bad stuff" online and feel the need to "do something" about it, but actually understanding technology would go a long way towards not making utter fools out of themselves.


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  • identicon
    Rocky, 13 Sep 2018 @ 3:29am

    Fools..

    There are no simple solutions for complex problems. Anyone who believes that is fool.

    Which make most politicians fools I guess...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dingledore the Previously Impervious, 13 Sep 2018 @ 4:32am

    So...

    she wants to ban #hashtags

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 4:57am

    *"Our newspapers, broadcasters and other publishers are held to high standards"*

    AHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!

    Nope. I think that's all we needed to hear to know this wasn't a serious piece.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 5:15am

    Hmm, there are 650 members of the UK house of Commons. That is a pretty large, and very secretive group. Maybe their speech should be censored too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Avideogameplayer, 13 Sep 2018 @ 5:32am

    There goes Facebook...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 5:34am

    Again, they hate us for our freedom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 5:52am

    Jeez! the politicians in the UK are becoming more and more ridiculous and more and more misguided in their quest to appear to be doing something to 'prevent terrorism and the induction of children into porno situations'! if only they were as enthusiastic and committed to doing what the public voted them into office to do, rather than make out they were when, as is typical, all they want is the money, the fame and the prestige of their position, just think of the difference it would make! and those in the US would be the same!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 5:54am

    Why 500?

    Apparently she saw that Sparta 500 movie and realized once you hit 500 people then people think they can take on the world. Regardless techdirt, we are watching you trouble makers and monitoring your filthy views on copyright!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 6:10am

    It worth noting the bill she has put froward is a Private Members' Bill and they rarely become law.

    Only two private bills put froward under the 10 minute rule became law during the in 2015-16 parliamentary session.

    Online Forums Bill 2017-19
    https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/onlineforums.html

    The text of the bill should be published after its second reading in October.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 6:11am

    Why so serious?

    Our newspapers, broadcasters and other publishers are held to high standards

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n5E7feJHw0

    She's clearly never read those newspapers she's talking about. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 6:35am

    Some politicians are fearful and they are dangerous. Rather than using logic and experience their reactions are driven by fear.

    Those who serve in government need to have level headed responses to situations, not fearful knee jerk reactions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jono793 (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 6:39am

    "...It would make those who run large online forums accountable for the material they publish"

    Which is basically already the law!

    Intermediary protections are much weaker than the USA. So While platforms benefit from some (limited) notice-and-takedown requirements, if they're notified of defamatory or illegal content they become responsible if it isn't taken down promptly.

    What would this bill achieve, other than re stating the existing UK law, while being unenforceable against any services operating abroad?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:16am

      Re:

      Making it so that the nearest big target becomes responsible for the actions of others, rather than having to do the pesky hard work of finding the real culprits, obviously.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wilhelm Arcturus, 13 Sep 2018 @ 7:31am

    Unseen Groups

    As long as we're talking about secret groups it would be interesting to know how many members of parliament are also members of masonic lodges.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 7:38am

    Good idea

    Legitimate groups with legitimate goals will have no problem complying, and will do so as part of their promotional campaigns, which would be normal, usual and expected. They have a legitimate message they want to promote and convince an audience of, and signing their name to is is no problem.

    Illegitimate groups with illegitimate and/or illegal goals would fight the idea tooth and nail, because exposure would be expensive to them. When you operate outside or at the very edge of the law, anonymity is a defensive weapon.

    Good idea. Large anonymous secretive groups are likely criminal, just like those BitCoin guys (now in prison). No one would promote an organized and anonymous underground social structure except the criminal elements themselves. Legitimate groups are proud of their message and happy to promote themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 7:59am

      Re: Good idea

      Are you sure that legal groups do not need anonymity in places like the US under Trump, when their message goes against the government line?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:17am

        Re: Re: Good idea

        Define “government line”.

        Unlike Obama, the Trump administration is not abusing the IRS, FBI, DOJ, CIA and the courts to deny legitimate Americans (like Carter Page) of their rights (including privacy) under the constitution and bill of rights.

        If you operate a legitimate business, you have nothing to fear from the Trump administration. Trump represents all Americans, those who voted for him and those who didn’t, assuming they obey the law. Those that break the law, of course, have a different situation. That’s basically what “law-abiding” means and “law-breaking” means. Different situations.

        Obama, on the other hand, was a nightmare for civil liberties of the law-abiding. More information about how corrupt his administration was comes out every day. His “government-line” crossed into criminal territory, as seen from any reasonable interpretation of the American Constitution.

        But that’s over now, for the most part. Trump is firmly in charge, and the corruption is coming to light and getting cleaned up. I predict Obama will soon be begging for a pardon.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:28am

          Re: Re: Re: Good idea

          Voted funny.

          Please see recent events in the last 2 years for direct refutation of your points.

          But just to humor you, hear is one specific example: Trump had the DOJ request that any visitor to a specific site organizing a protest to his inauguration be publicly identified so they could prosecute them. This would have resulted in millions of Americans, who didn't even attend or participate in the protest, being identified and prosecuted. That wasn't the end of it, but you get my point.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            JEDIDIAH, 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:53am

            Re: Good idea

            The recent events of the last 2 years only support him. It's not Trump you have to be worried about. It's all of the anti-Trupmers that are fine with corporate censorship and Brown Shirt tactics.

            Pity anyone that works at Google and doesn't completely drink the DNC Kool-Aid.

            If you aren't a socialist, you get labeled a Nazi and then it's open season for assault and battery.

            I hesitate to call these kinds of people "liberals" anymore (because they aren't really).

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 11:26am

              Re: Re: Good idea

              The recent events of the last 2 years only support him.

              Can you provide proof of that? All the things I am aware of that have happened over the last few years seem to suggest otherwise.

              Let's review:

              1. Trump has attacked free speech and called for opening up libel laws as well as placing restrictions on what news can and cannot be reported

              2. Trump has attempted to return America to the days of racial segregation by kicking out not just illegal immigrants but also ones who are here legally and through the proper channels. He has also denied aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees and blocked their entry into the country because there "might" be one or two terrorists in their midst.

              3. Trump signed off on a measure that rolled back protections on Americans privacy on the internet, and at the same time restricted the FCC from EVER passing regulations to protect American's internet privacy ever again.

              4. Trump's closest circle has admitted to and been convicted of, but not limited to: bank fraud, deliberately lying to the FBI, and having improper contact with foreign government agents during the election.

              5. Trump continually demonstrates that not only does he not live in reality, he actively rejects sound science and factual evidence that has been thoroughly proven and tested and is not under debate. And no, I don't mean climate change/global warming. We're talking basic scientific principles here.

              6. Trump gets his news from Alex Jones and FoxNews, the former of which is a con artist and nothing truthful ever comes out of his mouth, and the latter, while at least attempting to engage in decent reporting, has a very hard time getting their facts straight and is constantly called out on it.

              7. Trump has no idea about technology or how it works, as is evidenced by several points above and his constant ignorant remarks regarding "the cyber".

              And this is just what I can think of off the top of my head without making an extremely long post. And you say the past two years do nothing but support him? At the very least I've shown that to be outright false and he's had some missteps in his presidency. At worst, he's likely to go down as one of, if not THE worst president in current US history.

              It's all of the anti-Trupmers that are fine with corporate censorship and Brown Shirt tactics.

              Oh yes, because no one who doesn't support Trump has ever complained about having their posts deleted or being wholesale banned from a social media platform. Which is not censorship by the way.

              I look forward to your reply/rebuttal.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:21am

      Re: Good idea

      Large anonymous secretive groups are likely criminal

      Tell that to every single online forum where everyone is anonymous. Including, but not limited to: official Apple forums, official Microsoft forums, official forums for every video game ever made, health and medical forums, coding forums, system admin forums, REDDIT, imgur, tumblr, blogspot, deviantart, etc...

      Basically what you're saying is the entire internet is likely one giant criminal organization.

      just like those BitCoin guys (now in prison)

      Uh, what? Which BitCoin people are in prison again? No one from BitCoin is in prison as far as I'm aware. Other people who started illegitimate cryptocurrencies (not BitCoin) were put in jail for fraud and running a scam, but BitCoin was never part of that.

      No one would promote an organized and anonymous underground social structure except the criminal elements themselves.

      As stated above, you obviously don't know the internet and the fact that the MAJORITY of official forums and social structures are all anonymous.

      Legitimate groups are proud of their message and happy to promote themselves.

      So are illegitimate groups. Neither requires them to publicly identify themselves. Legitimate groups can be proud of their message, happy to promote themselves, and completely anonymous. The two are not mutually exclusive.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:24am

        Re: Re: Good idea

        I have been a Microsoft Developer and Apple Developer for years - never once have I been anonymous. Being part of groups that supply paid products always requires non-anonymous registration. I have no idea what you are talking about.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:31am

          Re: Re: Re: Good idea

          Then you obviously don't actually visit the Apple and Microsoft forums. Neither require public identification and are completely anonymous.

          Perhaps as an employee of Microsoft and Apple the requirements are different for you but for the public at large, their community is completely anonymous unless the individuals want to be publicly identified.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 6:44pm

          Re: Re: Re: Good idea

          I have been a Microsoft Developer and Apple Developer for years - never once have I been anonymous

          Said the guy posting under Anonymous Coward.

          I have no idea what you are talking about.

          Somebody learned to look in a mirror. Finally, a breakthrough!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:33am

      Re: Good idea

      So, just for perspective, on Facebook I am part of closed groups of: over 500 fans of a wrestling podcast (Going in RAW), over 500 people People who continue to use Mac OS 9 for various reasons, over 500 People who perform or used to perform rocky horror, and over 500 people who are fans of a book series (The stormlight Archive).

      The Wrestling fan page (and the Book fan page) is closed for a number of reasons, including difficulty moderating posts and membership and because the discussions and memes are built up around that culture that may not be well received outside the context of that group and culture.

      Many people who do Rocky Horror can not out those performances in their daily life for fear of loss of housing or employment. So this closed group allows them to discuss their hobby and post photos of costumes and makeup safely without that fear.

      These are mundane. This law would not target secret groups that meet in person, only secret online groups. Secret online groups do not exist only to pursue political agendas. They also exist to allow people to discuss their hobbies and lives in private. Your argument is fundamentally flawed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ryunosuke (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 9:51am

      Re: Good idea

      Large anonymous secretive groups are likely criminal,

      Says the Anonymous Coward

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 2:26pm

      Re: Good idea

      ... says the Anonymous Coward.

      I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that was a poe, because the alternative, that you seriously see nothing wrong it stripping anonymity simply because a group got large is just wrong on so many levels.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kirion, 13 Sep 2018 @ 8:30am

    What a great idea!

    See Russia and other enemies of the internet implementing this in 5..4..3..2..1

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    John Smith, 13 Sep 2018 @ 10:38am

    Some people have ties to online "mafias" which anonymously harass and threaten (dox or worse) people that their money masters wish to silence. Confront them with evidence of this, connect the dots, and they either block, cover their ears, censor, or point to the poison itself that was put there in the search engines by these mobs.

    Numerous white-collar professionals have been targeted for reputation blackmail by foreign interests who rely on intermediary immunity to weaponize the search results they poison.

    Since these people are pure evil to begin with, rational discussion with them doesn't get very far.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 11:08am

      Re:

      And your point is what exactly?

      Most of what you have said is true, more or less. Bad people do bad things on the internet sometimes. Everyone knows this. Is there a specific reason you are stating so?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 2:03pm

      Re:

      Voted insightful, as the MAFIAA° certainly are pure evil, and do love to harrass threaten and extort, poison search results, and censor while its supporters cover their ears whenever this is pointed out.

      °RIAA+MPAA, collectively

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DeComposer (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 11:56am

    Stamping out dumbassery!

    The next logical step is to regulate the speech of individuals gathered in large groups, such as conventions. Thought Police will mill amongst the crowds and moderate conversational comments in real time.

    I other news, the 2019 Sexpo UK expo was cancelled after registered attendees learned that they would be permitted to discuss only weather and stamp collecting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 2:14pm

    BEEN THERE DONE THAT...

    To anyone that cares..
    How many Social and City groups, Did there USED TO BE??

    When I was younger, in a town of 15,000...We have 8 different groups..from Poor to rich..they all got together in their groups to get things done..
    NOW...you cant find Most of those groups, or they have become VERY small..and cant help much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2018 @ 4:54pm

    UK is always in the frontline of internet censorship.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 13 Sep 2018 @ 11:35pm

    Jurisdiction

    > Secret groups will continue to just remain secret and avoid this whole law.

    Or, you know, be full of people who are not in the UK and don't care what UK laws say or require.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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