Censor war looms over invasion of cyberspace

FOR SOME American cyberspace addicts, it's never too early to discuss new ways of cooking a turkey for the November celebration of Thanksgiving, but this year's recipes have been - to say the least - a little weird.

The millions who use the commercial computer networks found that each time the word 'turkey' was mentioned, it had been replaced by 'genocide'.

As the story goes, an unknown Armenian activist spotted a note on a network's bulletin board saying, 'Your Armenian grandfathers are guilty of genocide'. Thinking the author must be a Turk trying to ignore the massacres of Armenians by Turkey early this century, the Armenian activist set about erasing the word 'turkey' from the network and substituting 'genocide'. This included a discussion on Thanksgiving.

The incident has raised the question of computer net censorship, either by the companies which run the networks, or by users. The question is whether the networks should be treated as common carriers like telephone lines or bookshops, which are not responsible for the messages and information they carry, or whether they should be considered private and should be allowed to enforce their own censorship rules. The problem is increasing as more users find out how to erase other users' bulletins.

Some companies already have lists of prohibited words, mostly foul language and also racial slurs. One network, Usenet, was besieged by users' calls over racist bulletins that appeared in a forum set up to discuss O J Simpson's arrest on murder charges.

Networks may cancel a user's entry code to their system if the rules are violated. A Florida university student's access to Internet was denied recently after he was found to be peddling copies of a political polemic.

Perhaps the best known case of one user erasing another's bulletins concerns the Phoenix law firm of Canter & Siegel. The firm advertised its legal services worldwide on the networks despite objections from other users - until a Norwegian computer programmer devised a way of destroying all the law firm's messages automatically.

So many users have now learnt how to construct what the boffins call 'killbots' or 'killer robots', used to erase messages, that when one user from the gun control lobby started inserting campaign literature on the bulletin boards of people who were not interested in discussing the issue, a mini-war broke out. All kinds of messages were killed indiscriminately.

The result, says Brock Meeks, a reporter who covers the online culture for Communications Daily, is that network companies increasingly assume the role of censors.

Some have permanent monitors watching the bulletin boards and deleting messages considered inappropriate without consulting the sender. Mr Meeks says legislation is a long way off because few US congressmen understand what is going on. 'Most of them have never heard of the term 'cyberspace',' he says.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Copywriter / Direct Response Copywriter

£20k plus sales linked bonus. : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Copywriter to j...

Recruitment Genius: Accounting Technician

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

Guru Careers: 3D Creative Designer

Up to £26k DOE: Guru Careers: A Junior / Mid-Level 3D Creative Designer is nee...

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Website Digital Marketing Manager - Fashion / Retail

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You'll be joining a truly talen...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen