The global protests against the anti-Muslim Innocence of Muslims YouTube clip raises the issue that anyone could post a video insulting to a religion or nation. A small number of extremists on both sides could continuously derail a country’s foreign diplomacy. Insults are easily published on the internet, and easy to find, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Are we facing years of instability in global hotspots because of extremists hurling insults online?
Robert C. Post, in Foreign Policy magazine, Free Speech in the Age of YouTube writes that “Barack Obama couldn’t censor that anti-Islam film – even if he wanted to.” He points out that the First Amendment does not allow punishment of blasphemy.
He also cites “the famous aphorism of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in his opinion in Schenk v. United States: ‘The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic’.”
That quote means a lot more on today’s internet, where the massive scale of it makes it sometimes seem that the web is one giant global theatre where anyone could potentially shout (blog) fire! and create a panic among an audience of billions. But is that really true?
Back in 2005, I asked, “What if a blogger blogs in the blogosphere but no one blogs it?”
In those days, bloggers blogged each others blogs extensively [unlike today] and so if a post wasn’t blogged about by others it likely wasn’t very good in the first place and wouldn’t have much of an audience.
I raised the question because I had seen large companies very upset about critical blog posts and comments they were finding on the web. Every item of critical content was treated seriously and equally, as if each had appeared on the front page of The New York Times.
They attacked the problem with a tremendous amount of energy and frustration, far beyond what should be required given the tiny readership of the critical posts and the lack of discussion.
They didn’t understand in those days that you don’t feed the trolls, and that by linking to them and responding, they were helping to boost the Google rank of their critics.
These days, those companies aren’t as sensitive to every bit of criticism they find online because they know much of it is inconsequential, it’s mostly crackpot with little or no audience.
Similarly, religions and nations’ patriots, will learn that there will always be crackpot content on the internet with little or no audience, and they can’t react to all of it. So how will they decide which insults to respond to?
Clearly, and literally, an online insult without any pageviews can’t be viewed as insulting. Search bots and other robots can easily account for a third of traffic to a web page, should those pageviews count in determining an Insult Rank?
How many pageviews makes an insult insulting?