Republished: A basic guide to the Internet for the Simple Minded

Originally published on 26 Nov 2009

There's been something of a furore amongst the PC Brigade about a picture of Michelle Obama that appeared in Google's Image search result. As ever the BBC have launched a debate in the Have Your Say section. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this debate does very little other than highlighting how ill informed a large section of the Internet using populace are.

So lets dispell a few of the most common misunderstandings that are displayed in the vast array of comments;

a) Google is not responsible

Google is a search engine, they neither authored or OK'd the picture. They use software to rank links and images, based on a number of things, including the number of pages that have linked to a given bit of media. They also rank based on relevance to search criteria. What they do not do is 'post' the image.

The image was posted to a website somewhere on the net by someone, it was not Google's doing. All Google did was to index the page, based on comments made by Google it does sound like the original authors may be linked to malware, but as no malware was found on the host page, there's no reason to remove the listing. Measures of offensiveness do not come into it.

b) Just because you find something offensive, not everyone does

Offensiveness is very subjective, so who's going to measure it? I find articles in some of the national newspapers to be quite offensive, especially when they are so clearly biased and ill informed. Do I call for them to be censored? No. Similarly I find the average level of intelligence on todays internet quite offensive compared to the original intent of DARPAnet and the like. Do I demand that 80% of the populace have their connections terminated? No.

So why should you demand that a third party censor the information that I can consume? Would you be happy if I called for the Daily Mail to be banned, because I believe they publish nothing of worth? Probably not. If you don't like what you see and read, click the little cross in the top right hand corner. Or even just the 'Back' button in your browser!

Don't waste bandwidth by spouting a load of vitriol about how much you dissaprove of something, and how we should all be 'protected' from it.

There are customs in other parts of the world that you and I would find offensive, similarly there are things we do that are grossly offensive in other parts of the world. So who exactly is going to define offensiveness. If you are really that concerned, you have three choices - 1) Install something like Net Nanny 2) Move to China or Iran where the work is done for you 3) Call your ISP and cancel your Internet Service. Don't try and create a secret option 4 where you interfere with what the rest of the world sees.

c) Censorship is a bad thing

You may believe you have the best intentions, but it is a very slippery slope. First we have 'offensive' images blocked, then the Government decides there are bits of information that are useful to Terrorists. Then it's information that could be useful to paedophiles and other lesser criminals. Before you know it what are we left with? Access to CBeebies and not a lot else. Of course there will always be the Government approved sites, but just like in China, dissidents will be cracked down on in an attempt to sheild the rest of the Populace from 'unsavoury' information.

Most of us will trade a little bit of freedom for the privilege of not stumbling across child porn, but even that process is not nearly transparent enough. What happens if you are blocked by accident? Or incorrectly categorised, how do you appeal. Hell how do you even know that your site is on the blacklist? The answer to all 3 is, you can't.

Its a trade most of us are willing to make, but that's as far as it can ever be allowed to go.

d) The Internet is not a safe place

Believe it or not the Internet contains a lot of information that could offend or even harm you, let alone your darling children. So why would you let them surf unsupervised?? There was quite a tirade by the head of the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre on BBC Radio 4 last week. Incidentally he came across as very single minded and a bit of a bully, but I guess his heart is in the right place. He was complaining that the likes of Facebook and Myspace won't impliment his 'Panic Button' to allow kids to report anything that concerns them. Facebook and Myspace both claim that they have processes in place that are more effective, but this all misses an important point.

If you need a button on every website so that your child can report predators etc. it means a number of things;

  1. You're probably letting your kids surf unsupervised
  2. Your kids wouldn't tell you about something concerning them

Both of these indications are not faults of the internet. They are failings in your parenting skills, kids should not be allowed on the net unsupervised (the age at which they can go it alone is debatable), and if your kids can't trust you enough to tell you about Bill the Pedo on Facebook, try spending some more time with them!

More to the point, if they don't feel they can talk to you about it, why would they then be willing to talk to an anonymous copper who is more than likely to tell you anyway? The internet is not a safe place for kids. Period.

If you're letting young children on the net, install Net Nanny or one of the free alternatives. It's really not that difficult.


Some people completely fail to understand how the net works, and the dangers that lie therein. Not everyone is technically minded so this alone does not make those people any less intelligent. When these users become truly stupid is when they lets kids run free on something that they do not understand themselves. Or when they begin extolling the virtues of their beliefs and feelings by calling for greater censorship to protect their fragile minds from the nast images out there.

However, the level of truly stupid is reserved for those that believe that censorship is spelt sensorship. These people appear so lacking in relevant intelligence that they should not even qualify to participate in so important a debate. A simple bit of research before vomiting ones opinion onto the web is a must, and a failure to do so can easily lead to the impression that you are trying to punch above your weight.