I sincerely apologize for the clickbait title, but sometimes you really can’t avoid them.

I only discovered now this Guardian article of May 2017 in which the father of the youngest (6. SIX years old!) victim of the Sandy Hook massacre describes how he has to deal with “hoaxers, online and off, insisting that they stop their fake grieving”, and what he does to remove “toxic-hoaxer content” about his son from the Web. Please go read that whole story. It’s depressing, but necessary, to make your own opinion about what you are about to read: some thoughts about the one, very specific issue, of the many present in this story, that is closest to my own work.

Conspiracy theories about school shootings are crap

Father of school shooting victim fights conspiracy theories with censorship /img/school-shootings-conspiracy-theories.jpg

First of all, let me say very clearly that:

  • I definitely am for serious gun control
  • I believe that calling Sandy Hook a staged act is shameful bull***t, not even worth of being called “conspiracy theory”
  • In an ideal world, a very few people posting such crap online may still exist, but surely nobody else would bother to pay any attention to them. The world being what it is, I definitely do not blame that father for working to make certain pages disappear from the Web. In his shoes, I would almost surely do the same

and still…

My general professional slogan is that “human rights and quality of life depend every year more on how software is used around you”. As a consequence, I am more interested than most people in how law and digital technologies favour, or regulate, communication. And that is why I was particularly “attracted” by this specific paragraph of that Guardian interview:

“[He] realised quickly that there was no point in arguing with these hoaxers, so instead he attacks through copyright law. Every day, he Googles [his son’s] name to see if anyone has put up a photo or video of his son without his permission and, if so, he files copyright claims. Thanks to Pozner’s dedication and experience as an IT consultant, he has scrubbed [son’s name]’s search results of toxic-hoaxer content.”

What I read in those sentences is even more proofs, assuming we needed any, of two things. One is that no algorithms, artificial intelligence, smart software filters… will ever fix human ignorance, intolerance and stupidity, by themselves. They won’t even get close to that.

The second, even more important thing is how wide-reaching, and prone to abuses, the current copyright laws are. I already said that calling Sandy Hook a fake is disgusting, and that I do NOT blame that father for removing certain content from the Web. But what if I rewrite those paragraphs like this:

“Every day, a consultant Googles [his BOSS’s] name to see if anyone has put up a photo or video of HIS BOSS without his permission and, if so, he files copyright claims. Thanks to the dedication and experience of that consultant, he has scrubbed [BOSS’s name]’s search results of content that the boss doesn’t like.”

See what troubles me? I have no full or easy solution for this. But whether you like it or not, that father is using basically the same tool that make very easy for any politician, CEO and similar to hide stuff that may make them look bad, even if it is 100% true. “Let’s make it easier to silence voices we don’t like!”: this is one of the reasons why copyright protection has been greatly expanded, and keeps expanding. Not “rewarding and encouraging actual creators”.