In quick summary, a series of UK ISPs have bowed to pressure from the online watchdog the IWF (a quango) to block access to a wikipedia page about rock band The Scorpions. The row is about an image from one of their album covers - of a naked girl.
From the Beeb: "...the IWF, which warns internet providers about possible images that could be linked to child abuse, said it had consulted the police before making its decision."It's not clear if the ISPs or the IWF had even spoken to wikipedia before taking the action it did. After all wikipedia has (controversially) frozen pages in the past when libel issues have emerged. And surely child abuse is at least as big a concern to all parties as libel?
The ISPs have not just blocked the picture in question, they've blocked text and, wikipedia says, blocked many peoples ability to edit parts of wikipedia. (Image courtesy)
The issue reveals a wider and painful truth we must face:
The internet is created by us, is connected by us. It is ours - but our access to it - our very ability to use it - is not.
While ISPs are run by people who can be threatened with legal action by the centre (Governments and the like) they can be controlled. Mobile operators are already subject to rule after rule about what can and can't be distributed using their infrastructure.
That ISPs have come under so little pressure so far is something of a surprise. The reality is the centre can literally turn off all our access to the web tomorrow. And there's little we could do about it.
While the ISPs retain such power the network is at risk.
Yes, we are the distributors and in the idea of the eighth mass media I claim:
"We are the connections. We are also how the connections are made."
At least, we are when the eighth mass media arrives. What this ISP censorship issue reveals is that it is not yet with us. We don't have as much control over distribution as we'd like to think - as much as we must ultimately demand.
Peer-to-peer distribution requires the means to distribute. And that remains in the hands of the centre.
Only when the distribution itself becomes more distributed itself, a loosely connected network of nodes itself rather than these giant central on/off hubs, only then will the risk to the network be removed.
The eighth mass media requires the free distribution of metadata beyond silos to increase our ability to connect one to another. But one of the biggest silo walls remaining is centralised ownership of ISPs.
I have a feeling we have accepted and tolerated this only as long as the potential power the ISPs holds remains unused.
Examples like today's wikipedia clampdown give us cause for concern and raises questions about how long we'll tolerate this control.
And as we see time after time - people and their connections have a way of finding their way around control.