The YouTube Killer: Shut Up Before You Get Started

Brace yourself for a wave of reflexive, poorly informed censor-the-Internet blowback.

What will bring this about? News that a Pennsylvia a 14-year-old being prosecuted for an October school shooting plot had communicated online, via MySpace and YouTube, with the teen in Finland who last week killed eight fellow classmates. Here’s a good report from

And here is just one example of the response that is forming, from a reader’s online posting on the site of the UK’s Register newspaper:

Now consider what would happen if such manifestos, photos and personal testaments of mass murderers were put in the same category as child pornography with reproduction and distribution banned and heavy penalties applicable.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, as blog readers are unlikely to be censorious by nature. But to make three points:

  • Viewing the web, or social networks, or YouTube as accessories to murder or intent to murder is like blaming the telephone in the case where conspirators call each other to coordinate. Or to extend the argument to its absurd extreme, to accuse pen and paper as complicit in the Columbine killings, which were foretold in diary entries.
  • As the history of child porn prosecutions has shown, law enforcement has had great success using the Internet as a way to identify potential perps, gather evidence, conduct surveillance, arrest and prosecute producers and consumers of child pornography. The online transactions themselves draw a trail directly to the sickos.
  • There is a good argument that use of such immediate and ubiquitous technologies can encourage copycat actions and even enable conspiracies, which the Pennsylvania-Finland cases suggest. But the problem is, all communication has become ubiquitous and immediate. The attempt to slow and prohibit only communications about “acts of terror” is only going to divert vast sums of money to lawyers, and create full employment for privacy/censorship talking heads. Child porn is fairly easy to identify. “Intent to kill” and “acts of terror” are nearly impossible to identify with sufficient precision to permit constitutional legal action.

To draw, with apologies to all, on the rhetoric of the gun lobby: The Internet doesn’t kill people. People kill people.

Explore posts in the same categories: Internet crime, MySpace, YouTube

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