As the Associated Press reported this week, anonymous Silicon Valley sources say tech companies scrambled to delete or block videos and links to American journalist Steven Sotloff's execution video in part after journalist James Foley's death video was widely copied and shared last month. The moves, the report said, were made amid new pressure for tighter censoring of content that could help terrorists gain recruits.
"With each video that ricochets around social networks, the militants gain new recruits," the AP reported.
What these seemingly unrelated cases are bringing to the forefront of the conversations is that the uncensored nature of the Internet can enable illegal or immoral activity — be it a naked selfie or documentation of a murder.
Digital anonymity makes immoral choices easier for an online populace uninhibited by the seeming protection of a screen — what Wikipedia calls the "Online disinhibition effect." Time's Sarah Miller postured in a column about the leaked nude photos that the Internet can be an accomplice of sorts to online criminals.
"It’s not really a surprise. The world is sexist; the Internet is sexist," Miller wrote. "Maybe the internet is more so, because it is such a haven for cowards."
And Internet "cowards" aren't just forcing the media to talk about some naked photos stolen from the cloud. In posting the murders on YouTube, terrorists are essentially forcing the world to watch — and enjoying every minute of it.
New Yorker contributor Dexter Filkins argued Tuesday that broadcasting executions, as ISIS has done for Sotloff and, last month, James Foley, is comparable to pornography.
"It’s impossible to watch without concluding that those guys were enjoying what they did — that they were getting off on it," Filkins wrote. "Videotaping a mass murder is not politics; it’s pornography."
Public outcry over victimizing content — whether involuntary porn or a public death — is something the relatively censor-free Internet suddenly finds itself struggling to combat.
"Britain has taken a particularly active role in censoring content deemed to break the country's strict rules against extremist propaganda," the Associated Press reported this week. "U.K. officials recently revealed they have been granted 'super flagger' status on sites such as YouTube, meaning their requests to remove videos with grisly content or that encourage terrorism are fast-tracked."
You may also be interested in these stories: