The World Wild West

Daily Mail (London), August 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

The World Wild West


Byline: by Ronan O'Reilly

WHILE there was no doubting the sincerity, the irony was presumably unintentional.

Bressie was one of the prominent individuals to comment publicly on the global circulation of pictures showing a teenage girl performing sex acts at last weekend's Slane Castle concert.

In one statement yesterday, the singer said he was sickened 'to see the entertainment people gain from seeing a young girl's life essentially ruined'. Separately, he remarked: 'I have done many irresponsible things as a teenager, the difference being I did not have a camera phone shoved in my face documenting it.' Few of us could argue with either of those sentiments. Yet Bressie chose to share these observations -- particularly the one about the phone -- on Twitter, where he has more than 143,000 followers. It's no fault of his, of course, but there is something faintly ridiculous about bemoaning the worldwide distribution of the images on the same forum that was used to spread them in the first place. Ultimately, he is using Twitter to complain about the way other people have used Twitter.

Anonymity Much as we might all feel sorry for the unfortunate 17-year-old girl at the centre of this controversy, Bressie misses the bigger point. The internet is a modern-day Wild West -- there are no rules, no restrictions, and no sheriff to clean things up.

It is quite some time now since the world woke up to the deeply sinister threat of paedophiles logging on to chat rooms as they trawled the web for potential child victims. That was an early lesson in the perils involved when the cloak of anonymity is harnessed to the power of the World Wide Web. We generally think of the internet as a benign and positive force in our lives but child pornography is a stark reminder that this is not the case. Yet child pornography is an internet phenomenon. It is on the internet, after all, where such images are shared, it's where children are exploited and groomed.

The web is full of horrific pornography, yet we overlook the fact that this is the very repository for the kind of unsavoury material that normally dwells only in dark and secret places.

How then can we still think of the internet as a benign force? Yet we do, because the message that there are other dangers at play has failed to get through. Thanks to the advent of social media networks over the past few years, practically everybody in the developed world has been given a voice that can be heard in every corner of the planet.

Unpleasant and embarrassing material will always be spread far and wide, through a combination of individual recklessness and the malice of others. Yet when it comes to the traditional media, this is not the case. In Ireland, for example, a plethora of laws and protocols govern what is deemed suitable for the print and broadcast media -- there are laws, for example, governing issues of libel and contempt of court. And there is the Press Council, of course, and tight restrictions imposed on court reporting.

All of this is designed to police content that is placed in the public domain. And when a line is crossed, the penalties are severe.

No such rules apply in cyberspace.

Not only can anyone say whatever they like about whomever they want, they can do so sure in the knowledge that their comments will have a far greater reach than even the most successful newspaper or television station could ever dream of.

I mentioned Wild West sheriffs earlier. We all remember movies where one of these heroic figures, armed with little more than a tin star on their lapel and a quiet sense of authority, would restore law and order in a frontier town that had previously been controlled by gangs of trigger-happy desperadoes. …

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