Free speech haven or lawless cesspool – can the internet be civilised?

From hard porn to broken injunctions, the unfettered web has played havoc with the law. But moves are afoot to tame itWhen a south London teenager uploaded a series of amateur rap videos to YouTube, he had no reason to believe they would make legal history.But the videos, a vivid account of life “on the road” in Peckham for a young black male, quickly gained millions of views. In one, 18-year-old Matt raps about stabbing, saying: “You’re always chatting on, you should feel a piece of the knife, stabbing in your head, stabbing in your chest.”In another video, teenagers make gestures and call out gang names. It was not long before the authorities took notice: last year Matt became the first person in England and Wales to be banned by law from producing music or videos that encourage violence.

Vint Cerf, one of the Stanford professors behind a key building block of the internet, believes the time has come for a global discussion on the future of the open web. “We don’t have a framework yet that allows us to deal with some of these problems and that’s an important discussion to have,” he said. “We need to begin thinking about the law of the net in the same way as we think of the law of the sea.”

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