Stand up for Tila, an unlikely web warrior

Both a Playboy model and a Tory MP have shown the need for uncensored public spaces on the web

Then, earlier this year, [Tila Tequila and MySpace] fell out briefly. The site’s owners asked her to remove a link that let visitors buy songs from a rival music service instead of MySpace’s approved partner. To idealists who hoped the net would be the common land of the 21st century, the confrontation was ominous. Cynics had predicted that big businesses would one day dominate the new medium, but didn’t understand how the supremacy would be achieved.Pundits in the 1990s thought that gigantic sites would offer mainstream films, TV and videos on demand. These may appear one day, but for the moment, the biggest businesses are MySpace, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, sites that, paradoxically, don’t feel like businesses because their content is produced by the customers. Only rarely do users realise they are guests on someone else’s property.In my case, the penny dropped the other week when Unite Against Fascism invited me to sign a petition asking Facebook to remove British National Party and Ku Klux Klan propaganda from the site. At some level, I knew that Facebook had managers with the power to intervene. But I was still taken aback that the practical experience of posting on social network sites had created the delusional belief that there was no one out there who could censor content, ban users or insist that Tila Tequila cuts them in on music sales. It feels like my space or your tube when, in reality, it is a privately owned business like any other.Bill Thompson, one of Britain’s most interesting thinkers on the net, says we should think of it as turning from a public highway into a private mall. On high streets, you can collect for charity or hand out leaflets for causes; as long as you don’t break the law, you are free. Malls feel like public spaces. As with the social networking sites, your fellow citizens are going to them in ever-increasing numbers. But if their owners don’t want you to shake a tin for Oxfam or hand out leaflets for Greenpeace, security guards will eject you with no right of appeal.Britain’s ludicrous libel laws make supposedly independent bloggers equally vulnerable. This month, Boris Johnson found that threats of legal action had closed his website, one of Britain’s most popular political blogs. Bullies are always threatening to sue bloggers; few have the resources to fight a libel action and bow to their demands.,,2180165,00.html

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