- 30 Dec 08, 11:45 GMT
Oh dear Mr Burnham - you surely cannot have expected a little light musing in the Daily Telegraph to have turned you into the blogosphere's Public Enemy Number One? On Saturday the culture secretary gave one of those broad-ranging interviews to a national newspaper which eager politicians are wont to do at this time of year.
The problem was, he threw into the mix, along with some hints about how Channel 4 might be funded, some thoughts on ways of regulating the internet. There was vague talk of "cinema-style, age-ratings for websites", mutterings about ISPs being forced to provide child-safe services, and of negotiations with the incoming Obama administration on new international rules for English-language websites.
When I heard about this on Saturday morning's radio news bulletin, my first thought was that a web storm was about to break over his head, and so it has proved. He has been attacked, abused, and mocked for days now - and one blogger went so far as to set up a Twitter account in his name in an attempt, he says, to educate him about just how the internet works. The Twitter administrators have now deleted the account.
A couple of things strike me. First, yes, Andy Burnham's suggestion that Britain and the US could get together and impose some sort of web code does beg all sorts of questions. Who would decide what was permissible? How would trillions of constantly changing websites be policed? How would it work with existing ratings schemes such as PICS, set up by the W3C consortium? And isn't it up to parents, not the state, to watch over the way their children use the web?
Then again perhaps the blogosphere is underestimating the subtlety of Mr Burnham's approach. After all, it was unlikely to have been the primary audience he had in mind when he made his remarks to the Telegraph. He may be betting that millions of parents share his concerns, and sense of helplessness about the web. He is also probably correct in thinking that governments are more able these days to apply pressure on both ISPs and on major web international brands than web libertarians would like to think. So, for instance, suggesting industry-wide "take-down" times for sites like YouTube and Facebook to remove offensive material may not actually be as naïve as the blogosphere believes. Whether more regulation of the internet is actually a good thing is of course another matter, and of course one on which the BBC has no opinion whatsoever!
But perhaps we all need to move on. Mr Burnham could explain more clearly exactly what he has in mind in terms of producing a safer web - and his online opponents could explain, probably in less sarcastic language, just why they think those proposals would not work, and whether there is any role for government here. The culture secretary's web-savvy colleague Tom Watson has used his blog to invite views on Mr Burnham's "cinema-style ratings plan", and promises to forward them, but that is a bit of a one-way process, not the conversation that the blogosphere prefers.
So here is an invitation, Mr B. Why not come on to "dot.life" and start a dialogue with those critics who believe you just don't understand the web? You would be very welcome - as would anyone else with views on this matter.
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