Policing the Internet: A Website Rating System

Andy Burnham, Britain’s minister for culture, is looking for a way to police the Internet and better protect children from harmful and offensive material on the net. One of his solutions is to apply a rating system to websites, similar to that used for films.

Policing the InternetBurnham recently said that the government is planning to negotiate with President-elect Barack Obama’s administration to create international rules for English language websites. Of course, giving websites film-style ratings is only one possibility. Another alternative would be for Internet service providers to offer services that would restrict accessible content to only that which is deemed suitable for children.

Certainly any moves by the government to censor the Internet would result in countless debates regarding freedom of speech on the Web. Burnham recognizes this, but feels we still need to address Web content: "If you look back at the people who created the Internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that governments couldn't reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now." According to Burnham, some content should not be available for viewing since sometimes there is a “wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people.”

In addition to policing content, Burnham wants industry-wide takedown times, which would require websites like YouTube or Facebook to remove offensive material in a specified timeframe after it has been brought to the company’s attention. Burnham further mentioned that Britain is considering changing libel laws in order to give people access to legal help if they are defamed online.

While there’s certainly content on the Web that we wouldn’t want children to view, we’re not so sure that a rating system would be the perfect solution either. After all, there are plenty of underage kids sneaking into “R” rated movies. We have to think there will be ways to sneak around the net as well, even with such a rating system.