The long arm of the law once had an extensive reach, able to collar rogue print and broadcast media who overstepped the mark in publishing defamatory content. But what of content providers which now lie outside its grasp?
With current technology rumour and hearsay, which might once have circulated around the limited confines of the local pub, can now reach a global audience in seconds. But is this sufficient justification of itself to justify tighter regulation? The police after all would never have dreamt of breaking up a heated debate down the local boozer for subversive chatter, so why should the internet be any different?
Many consider that publishing material which directly impacts an individual’s reputation, work or home life is overstepping the mark. Most recently this has centred on the sordid allegations pertaining to Foreign Secretary William Hague’s private life, freely circulated for months amidst much sound and fury on politics blogs, a stark contrast to the mute silence of traditional media.
WikiLeaks, poster child for this new breed of anything goes publication, has weathered the greatest flak, most recently for publishing confidential police files relating to a suspected Belgian paedophile ring. It has apparently demonstrated that the law “cannot cope with changes in technology” noted Mark Stephens, a media lawyer with Finers Stephens Innocent who told The Times that the internet is not a “law free zone”, but “once material is out there, it is very difficult to put it back.”
Ultimately it is this lack of accountability which can be the webs greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. The ease of disseminating information sees the good indistinguishable from the bad, ultimately invalidating much of the content for many.
The web may have cried wolf once too often.