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Michelle Holmes Headshot

2012 - The End of the Internet as We Know It?

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I don't know about you but when I thought of 2012 and the 21st century, I thought of flying silver cars, robots for maids and the ability to teleport. Although we're not quite there, we're definitely in the age of innovative technology, when you take into consideration our dependencies on smart phones, online communication, the ability to inform ourselves, share music, watch films and keep up to date on news from across the world.

These are all privileges that us in democratic societies take for granted, whether or not like we like to believe it. Our allowance of freedom of speech has also been reinforced by the use of the internet, with microblogs like Twitter which allow us to have a voice, informed or not and the websites that arm those among us with the answers to questions that are often not readily available, as well as being the backbone of the recent and current global protests.

I recently found that every time i log into Wordpress - a blogging tool I regularly use, there was a note corner asking me to help stop the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

With this new law, the US government will have the authority to blog internet addresses to websites that host illegally obtained content, censor twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or any website that encourages the exchange of possibly illegally obtained data, supposedly for the good of the entertainment industry with the aims to encourage members of the public to buy and not download. This censorship will threaten sites like Wikipedia which may contain these types of sources of information and even YouTube who under this law, might even not allow people to cover artists songs due to copyright laws, not to mention shut down websites that blow the whistle on dishonest or illegal activities taking place in government.

However, companies already have the means to fight piracy with the facilities to take down specific content if it hinders infringement laws - record companies and entertainment companies often have videos removed from YouTube and there was the well reported case of peer to peer software companies Napster being sued by A&M for trading of copyrighted material and copyright infringement. We've also heard the odd cases of people from the general public being sued for their music collections that were illegally downloaded. So what is this about?

The very websites under threat, like Facebook and Twitter came under fire in the aftermath of the recent UK riots this past August and were blamed for the organisation and orchestration of the civil unrest. This resulted in the case of two men who were jailed for four years each for posting Facebook statuses to incite a riot that subsequently never took place.

In the summer last year the Arab Spring led to instances of censorship in an attempt to undermine the protester and the option of a social media blackout in times of future civil unrest was raised by our very own PM David Cameron. In terms of the existing censorship, this is already prevalent on the BBC - the most outrageous in my opinion taking place on a BBC 1Xtra radio show last year during a freestyle rap session on a show after 1am in the morning, as according to them the word 'Palestine' is deemed as politically controversial.

Now the most open forum of communication and place where we freely share information and views is being threatened. Much like North Korea, Iran and China's sanctions on the internet, we appear to be moving into a time where the very thing we pride ourselves on in our democracy driven countries we appear to be losing our grip on, if we let it. An activist speaking about the Boycott Law, which makes it illegal for critics to speak out against settlement building and the state of Israel's expansion into Palestinian land: 'the first steps to fascism are quiet' and the SOPA will only have a knock on effect to countries outside of the states and inevitably the UK.

This extreme censorship, for the supposed purposes of the entertainment industry in my opinion threatens the very existence of the most basic human right that should be entitled to everyone, being that of free speech and political expression, especially in so called open societies. So, not only as a writer does this worry me, but as a human being too.

In protest of this Wikipedia and other websites will take part in a blackout to show the impact the internet police may have. If we're not vigilant, 1984 may just come to pass. The love affair between politics and the media continues.

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