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Monday, 24 December 2012

Lord Leveson’s Internet Dilemma

Lord.Justice.LevesonI am disappointed but wholly unsurprised by Lord Justice Leveson’s dismissive attitude towards hatred on the Internet. After all, the problem  is in my opinion, more pernicious than the gross invasions of privacy and attendant matters on which his recent Inquiry hung. If, as he noted during a visit to Sydney, Australia in December that laws are needed to prevent ‘mob rule’ on the Internet and ‘trial by Twitter’, why won’t he handle antisemitism  and other forms of hate that abound there?

It emerged soon after publication that his two thousand page report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press pays scant attention to cyberspace.

So I hope, as has been suggested, that if Lord Leveson becomes Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, that the second part of the inquiry examining the “unlawful practices within News International and other newspapers” will be put aside or  re-assigned to another senior judge. Certainly, the matter needs to be handled by someone with a different mindset.

I simply do not understand how someone who, for example, presided at the trial of ex-US Marine Toby Studebaker on charges relating to child grooming over the Internet, could dismiss the Web simply as an "ethical vacuum".

Indeed, his attitude towards the Net is most peculiarly mixed. It has been noted that he must use it often himself as he reportedly told a ‘legal blogger’ as far back as 2007: "I go to Tesco's and I have teenage children who keep my feet on the ground. I don't live on a rough estate, but otherwise I lead a normal life."

If that is so, why won’t he act?

It is commonly believed  the Internet has produced as much social and commercial change since the nineties as the Gutenberg Press did in the entire  15th century.

Much more than a virtual ‘wild west’, it is also the new El Dorado: a wondrous universe, not only without limit but most often without consequences for those who misuse and abuse it. The Studebaker case is one that proves the rule. The accused was not  found guilty either in the U.K. or the USA of any crime while using the Web but  it is supposed to have encouraged the creation of a law against Internet grooming in Scotland.

If this case rang no alarm bells with Lord Leveson then the proliferation  of  online crime, bullying and racism most certainly should. Indeed, some of it has been directed at him as a Jew.

Perhaps he has dismissed as unworthy of attention a parodically awful site entitled ‘The Last American Newspaper’ which calls him a ‘Zionist lackey’ and accuses him, inter alia, of  attempting to stifle the free Press in the U.K.

But what he must find harder to swallow is the unremitting stream of cyber pornography, bullying on social networking sites like Facebook and brazen antisemitism, most often thinly disguised as attacks on Israel.

Some experts believe this torrent may be staunched via a blend of domestic law, self-regulation and international law but meanwhile, it continues to flow unabated. Below I discuss some of the individual problems:

While writing this I was alerted to a New York Times’ expose of the expansion of international  ‘ransomware’ hacking. This happens when computer users, many of them pornography site clients, discover their machines have been infected with a virus which has locked them  and that they have no access to their files unless they pay a stiff fee.  Most often, even when the money has changed hands, they cannot retrieve their material and must then have their machines wiped clean.

Facebook is notorious for both peer bullying and for indescribably awful attacks on Israel. I have found eight different pages with varying titles on the theme of ‘F … Israel’ and the most popular community page boasts more than 35,000 ‘likes’.

But much worse has to be the ceaseless outpouring of invective, pictures – sometimes ‘fauxtographs’ – and other illustrations coming from both paid contributors and readers’ talk-backs in the online editions of respected English language news-sites.

The main offenders in the U.K. are the BBC, along with The Guardian and The Independent newspapers. But other news sites are also culpable and I stopped using a blog on the My Telegraph website as I grew first impatient and then depressed by the constant hail of open and covert abuse. The editor of this magazine became one of my few constant friends there. 

Finally in late December last year I contacted the-then recently convened Leveson Inquiry, appealing for it to widen its brief and suggested a crack-down on Internet racism, perhaps under the terms of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.

As I received no more than a standard reply, I was certain that Lord Leveson would decide not to do anything to help. Sadly, I was right!

So although I’ve been advised not to lean on his Jewish background, I’ve now nothing to lose and here will remind him of the words of the great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Hillel The Elder

“If I am not for myself”, he asked, “then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

Mark.UlyseasThis piece first appeared as the editorial in the January 2013 edition of Live Encounters magazine ( edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of  Israel and all matters Jewish. I take this opportunity to thank him and all other non-Jewish supporters of the Jewish State for their unflagging, unstinting, often courageous goodwill. With best wishes to everyone celebrating Christmas. May we all enjoy a better New Year and 2013.


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