SOPA could be a good thing – policing the internet is the only way forward

Policing the internet


In his first column, our digital maestro Gregory Kris defies his native tech industry to voice support for the controversial SOPA bill that has so enraged it

What did we learn from the disruptive Wikipedia blackout last month?

That we use the site as a factual crutch without which we are left scrambling around in the dark for answers…and that threats to the freedom and welfare of the internet are taken very personally.

However while people promulgated the negative and restrictive effects that the SOPA bill would have had [Stop Online Piracy Act, which the tech industry widely believes would strangle freedom of online speech], they seemed to overlook the notional positives to be gained from a policing of the internet.

The internet is the place to share endless thought and create limitless connections over an infinite hyperspace medium, but it’s also a forum for detrimental contributions and has the potential for incredibly damaging thought in a shared space.

Some of the strongest demonstrations of social cohesion to come out of the internet age, such as Facebook and Twitter, have also housed some of the most dangerous episodes of human thought.

“If I were to stand in the middle of Oxford Street hurling racist abuse at the top of my lungs, there would be repercussions, and quite rightly so.”

Since the internet has become a mainstream phenomenon, and this has been a good few years in the offing now, it has offered a huge proportion of the general populace the chance to interact in a completely new way, and what’s more, it offers no limitations.

Over time, as we’ve seen the influence of the internet grow, people have started to utilise the potential of a medium that has no consequences, for good as well as bad.

Anti-social behaviour perpetuated by the internet ranges from the mild (i.e. trolling comment sections on digital broadsheets) to the dangerous (using social media to provoke public disorder).

If I were to stand in the middle of Oxford Street hurling racist abuse at the top of my lungs, there would be repercussions, and quite rightly so.

However, writing something equally inflammatory on a discussion board of the Mail Online, for example, would reach tens of thousands more people, and would incite no more reprisal than a comment removal or being blocked from interacting with the site.

Both of these obstacles are easily scaled by even the most rudimentary of internet users.

“An internet license would undoubtedly make usage a far more pleasurable experience”

The truth is, the more we treat the internet as a society, the more people should have to answer for their actions.

We have licenses to drive cars, why can’t we have licenses to use the internet? Why isn’t there a minimum proficiency for someone to use a tool that affects millions of people? Try and enforce a best practice on the digital highway and reward malpractice with points. Punish continued misuse by enforcing limited internet privileges.

It’s not a matter of being draconian, it’s about retaining order in an emerging and unruly society, it’s about stopping piracy and billions of pounds being lost due to illegality and about retaining integrity in the face of damaging opinions and sedition.

Most importantly, it’s about accountability.

There is no set practice for usage of the internet and we’ve reaped the ill-rewards of unfettered online activity – why can’t, at the age of 13, teenagers now have to demonstrate that they realise the importance and respect the rules of this online society?

It’s a small matter to implement, and a great way to enforce the morality of action and consequence in a public space.

What’s more, by assigning a tag to everyone on the internet, not only could we track malpractice, but we could also start to generate incredibly accurate metrics of usage, giving an indication of a global populace’s wants and desires.

An internet license would undoubtedly make usage a far more pleasurable experience. As a medium that demands respect, a way of placing restrictions on the untempered human imagination can only be a good thing.

Ironically, I realise that by writing something like this will probably polarise a lot of people and encourage the sort of anonymous internet ire that I’ve written about controlling here.

Gregory Kris is an original dot-com CEO, selling his first digital business, a social network, in 2000. Since then he has run and sold two start-ups, advised on numerous others, and invested in a couple more, with varying results. A firm believer that ‘data is the oil of the digital economy’, Greg is currently CEO of Decibel, the music metadata specialists, and has been called ‘Europe’s first Digital Data Baron’. You can follow him on twitter at @gregkris or email him