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Mark Leiser: I am a PhD Candidate in Cyber Law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I have written submissions for the Leveson Inquiry into the culture and ethics of the media and for the...

... Scottish Parliament on the use of social media during trials. My PhD is supervised by Professor Andrew Murray at the London School of Economics and focuses on the effectiveness of cyber-regulation. My research and interests revolve around main areas of Internet law and policy including internet governance & regulation, democracy, social media, privacy, and intellectual property. My PhD research focuses on developing a system of modelling to measure the effectiveness and legitimacy of Internet Regulation. I write in a personal capacity.

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23 February 2014 - 6:22pm | posted by | 6 comments

Yes Scotland web site blocked by Internet filters in Scottish school

Yes Scotland web site blocked by Internet filters in Scottish schoolYes Scotland web site blocked by Internet filters in Scottish school

A young student at St Stephens school in Port Glasgow in Scotland posted a picture of what appears to be evidence that her school was blocking the Yes Scotland website. Caitlin Brannigan tweeted that the Yes Scotland site was blocked completely from viewing from school computers, while the Better Together site was accessible to students. Ms Brannigan can be said to be a keen and active member of the Independence movement and spent the weekend campaigning for the Yes vote.

Ms Brannigan’s tweet was retweeted nearly 200 times and was brought to the attention of a Labour Inverclyde counsellor whose smug reply to an interested Twitter user brought on a barrage of abuse. The conversation began with a tweet from Scott Gillan: “@kilmacolm1 How long will it take to resolve Yes Scotland page being blocked in our schools clr?” to which councillor McCabe responded: “@ScottPGillan 7 months I’m told Lol”. Mr McCabe has since deactivated his Twitter account citing online abuse from the “cyber-nats”.

It is unclear whether the filtering was done internally by a school IT administrator or whether the school’s Internet Service Provider was behind the site-blocking. The Inverclyde Council has blamed the problem on a ‘glitch’ and has claimed to have fixed the problem, but subsequent reports have claimed that the site was blocked under content filtering by the school’s internal network.

Last year a bill giving sixteen and seventeen year olds the right to vote in the Independence referendum was passed by MSPs on the last day of the term. The UK government previously opposed votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in the independence referendum, although the measure was eventually included in the Edinburgh Agreement, which set out the terms for the vote and was signed by both Westminster and Scottish ministers.

Announcing the measure as part of the Scottish Referendum (Franchise) Bill earlier this year, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said young people had the biggest stake in the future of the country. Internet filtering was at the centre of a storm late last year after David Cameron mandated that companies like Virgin, Sky, and BT implement filtering in order to give families control over the content accessible on the web.

While it is unclear whether this was an internal filtering issue or one by the ISP, filtering raises questions over who is controlling the gates. Criticism of filtering has often been based around the concept of censorship. Worries were expressed that politicians (or people in a gatekeeping role) could press to move new categories of “undesirable” sites into blocked bands with little oversight.


24 Feb 2014 - 07:57
corpo12505's picture

Mark, your two 'it is unclear' comments in this opinion piece could have been cleared up easily and simply by contacting the council communications office, checking our twitter @Inverclyde or a simple web search would have revealed our comment in a story in Saturday's Greenock Telegraph.

Here's what you would have found:

“There is absolutely no question of any site being deliberately blocked. Our IT service have sorted out the small glitch which appears to have caused this.

"The first line of the council's content filtering system is based on website categories. The Yes Scotland website was categorised under ‘society and culture', which is blocked by default for pupils in schools.

“No-one at the council or school was involved in deciding the category of the website, which meant that it was not accessible.

“As soon as we were alerted to this situation on Thursday morning the site was unblocked by applying more detailed filtering rules, to ensure it could be accessed.”

You will see that there is absolutely no question that anyone connected with Inverclyde Council or the school was connected with censorship of any kind. Also you will have seen that as soon as it was alerted to us, we took immediate action.

I assume these facts will be updated in your piece.

George Barbour Corporate Communications Manager Inverclyde Council @Inverclyde

24 Feb 2014 - 10:50
mleiser's picture

You are missing the point. If you are going to categorize websites in the first place, then you run the risk of censoring content. How many other websites are categorised under "society and culture", which are blocked from students accessing? Ultimately whether you like it or not, society and culture sites are effectively censored content in Inverclyde schools? If you didn't have categorization in the first place, then you wouldn't have to worry about the effect of censored content. Why was the Yes Scotland website categorised like that in the first place? But the Better Together site not? Who made the decision?

24 Feb 2014 - 12:16
corpo12505's picture

The point of the response was to clear up your 'it is unclear' statements to make them...well...clear.

And, to highlight that the information (outlined above) was there easily and readily if you wanted to make sure your facts were correct.

Also, the implication you have that council officers, school staff or even politicians could have been directly involved in blocking a website site and censoring debate on an important issue is absolutely incorrect.

George Barbour Corporate Communications Manager Inverclyde Council @Inverclyde

25 Mar 2014 - 20:30
colin18305's picture

Dear George Barbour , i would ask if the councillors comment on twitter was an accurate reflection of what was posted, and if it was, you could see why people may jump to conclusions. Personally I do not doubt that this problem of accessing one side of the referendum debate was just a technical glitch but would ask why the Better Together campaign is not also categorised as Social and Culture? Not trying to blame anyone, just thought you may know the answer.@corpo12505

26 Mar 2014 - 19:45
melly29163's picture

Classifications being hung up in network filters? While that explanation makes sense on its face, it does not address what the Better Together site is classified as. Mr. Barbour, are you able to answer that? If it got through the filters based on 'classifications', then obviously it's set differently.

15 Sep 2014 - 08:25

I know nothing about this site, but if school did it then there was a specific reason for it. If I could I would have forbid using cell phones and tablets in schools. Children do not use it properly. They sue too much of social media while they need to write their research papers (check this site ), for example. People, many sites have to be blocked in schools. Thanx for the post


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