VITAL STATISTICS: This week - Should the internet be regulated? A recent forum showed that educating adults about the net makes them more tolerant

As Ofcom goes from the drawing board to reality, the possibility

that the internet will be regulated also draws closer.



The argument follows that if TV and radio are regulated and newspapers

are curbed by the PCC, as well as the laws of libel, then it makes sense

to bring the internet under control as well.



The opposing argument is that because it is a global medium, it is

practically impossible to regulate the internet.



The ITC and the Broadcasting Standards Authority held an experimental

forum to educate adults about the internet and see if it did, indeed,

influence attitudes. It did and the movement was towards lighter

regulation.



In other words, the more that people know about the net, it seems, the

less they fear it. The number saying the net was basically a good thing

rose from 56 per cent before the forum to 67 per cent after it.



The number saying that everyone should be allowed to choose for

themselves rose from 30 per cent before the forum to 54 per cent

afterwards.



However, for the general population who have not had a two-hour

education session, only 30 per cent feel that anything goes, compared to

58 per cent who feel there should be some regulation.



The trade-offs are many and there are stark moral dilemmas in some

cases: between freedom of speech and the danger of propagating

pornography or worse. Between convenience of shopping, banking or

researching, and the exploitation of personal details; between easy

international communication and loss of personal contact; between vast

amounts of data and the uncertainty of the validity of the data.



But the internet does not have an equivalent to the 9pm watershed, nor

any way of enforcing the privacy of the individual outside the territory

where that person resides.



The surprise was that only 30 per cent believed there were serious risks

to children from the internet. In the chart that follows the pre-forum

results are compared to post-forum, showing that an educational process

makes the public more tolerant.



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