The Internet is the most globalized tool ever invented by man. It has been developed in such a way that citizens from every corner of the world can exchange information without barriers. It is also the most decentralized tool, and for that reason the most democratic mechanism we have at our disposal.
Sure, rankings emerge on the basis of user preferences. But, technologically speaking, every hub carries the same weight and every Web address has an equal opportunity to transmit its message.
The Internet’s decentralized structure makes it immune to attacks or attempts to curb it. As one of its gurus, John Gilmore, famously said, “the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
That explains the inability of national governments to impose regulations on what can be posted on the Web. For example, Greece has laws that ban defamation on the Internet.
In the United States, which has a robust tradition in the protection of free speech, defamation and slander are tolerated in the name of vibrant and unobstructed speech. Anonymous speech is permitted.
In a decentralized and interconnected system, most of the information comes from where there is fewer limitations.
In the second half of the past millennium, the most heretical texts were printed in the Netherlands. Today, for technological as well as financial reasons, websites are hosted in the US and come under American legislation.
As a result, any attempt to identify bloggers or to censor even the worst kind of blogs (most of them here would be classified as “news blogs”), is bound to fail -- as did the late Socialist official Dimitris Maroudas, who once threatened to shoot down satellites that transmitted Greek television signals. The globalization of the Net creates the greatest denominator of freedom.
In case of a criminal offense, like blackmail, the law (also American law) states that anonymity must be lifted. But what can be done about blogs that are used to defame or to blackmail individuals without leaving a trace?
One way to deal with them is in the spirit of the late Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou, grandfather of Greece’s current premier, who once reacted to criticism by saying: “Who said that?... Oh, then it does not matter.”
But there is another -- simpler -- way, which is to reverse the relationship between news organizations and free speech. The so-called news blogs thrive in the information gaps created by conventional news organizations (meaning media that come with sources and bylines).
Contrary to the legend, these gaps are not the result of some mysterious interests. Sure, interests exist, but they are scattered and contradictory. If one piece of news is downplayed by one source, it will be emphasized by the competition.
The gaps that do exist are in fact created by Greece’s stifling legal framework.
The law stops professional journalists from publishing specific news items, which are then found in blogs (sometimes posted by the same writers, this time without a byline).
If you want to curb unscrupulous blogs, then you must increase the freedom of the traditional press. It is unthinkable that we have to resort to dodgy blogs to read the name of some suspect arrested by state authorities because the law says we cannot do so in a newspaper. The publication of a newsworthy piece of information offers an air of credibility to other not-so-innocent reports published next to it.
In a world where cell phones have become transceivers of information, any attempts to assert control are destined to fail.
The problems of information cannot be solved with prohibition, but by allowing reliable news sources to smother the weeds in their field.
Published in ekathimerini.com , Wednesday August 10, 2011