Is The Right To Anonymous Blogging Under Threat?

The UK government has just published a draft Joint Parliamentary Committee report that may well effect bloggers like you and me. The bill is about defamation of character, but it includes some interesting points about blogging, and in particular anonymous posts. Although their aim is to lift the burden of policing blog comment from the service providers, it may have a knock on quasi censorship effect upon freedom of speech.

The ISP Review website contains all the links you need to read the proposal, and I should state that the draft is open for comment and contains specific questions that we should all maybe take time to think about and answer.

Big Brother is Watching You - PosterThe government want to protect people from slanderous remarks on blogs, as many people uses anonymity as a cover, feeling that they can say whatever they want without fear of reprise. The proposal is that any anonymous post that receives a complaint from any party must be removed immediately, or the name of the author made public, otherwise the blog owner will be held responsible and face the consequences of any libel case.

All well and good if we are just talking about a few snide remarks or even a good and possibly unjustified slagging off, but what about other uses of anonymity? People use blogs to anonymously blow the whistle on malpractice in all types of situation. In this case anyone can make a complaint about an anonymous post and it must be removed. An arbitrator looks at the complaint, but as already noted, any libel remains the responsibility of the blog owner unless they are willing and able to provide the author’s name. The effect will be that any organization or individual will be able to block the comment in an instant, by making a complaint that we could read as a direct threat to the blog owners survival.

The new draft on libel is a prime example of the manipulation of responsibility. Do you make the providers responsible and threaten them with a law suit because they put something online that someone takes exception to? They are big organizations, faceless and have money.  The blog owners do not however, and have a lot to lose.

So what about allowing your contributors to post anonymously? There is a need for anonymity in certain cases, people are much more likely to talk about sensitive issues if they do not have to reveal their names. There have been many cases brought to light that have turned out to be true examples of poor standards through anonymous posts.

How many blog owners will take the risk of going through a lengthy and expensive court case to defend the contents of an anonymous post? This is an option that in most cases I would think is not even feasible to contemplate.

To add just another thought, on occasion I have created a ‘false’ e mail account in order to register for a site that I did not want to have my real e mail address. I could have then used it to register with a website to get access to commenting, so it may well also be very difficult to determine who a named author actually is, further adding complications to already murky waters.

Blog Action Day 2011

It’s not often we post on a Sunday. In fact I think this is the first time we ever have. The reason for this post is clearly one of high importance then…

UPDATE: I have since discovered that this is our second post on a Sunday, the first being a warning to potential writers about providing copied content – another (although slightly less) important matter.

Every year (for the past four years) on the 15th of October, there is a global Blog Action Day, where bloggers around the world write about one common problem in the world today, in order to try to raise awareness of a pressing issue.

This year the day have been moved back to the 16th of October (today) as that makes it coincide with World Food Day. Unsurprisingly, this years Blog Action Day theme is on food.

A history of Blog Action Day

The first Blog Action Day was held in 2007. The 2007 theme was the environment. At the time, one of the main global concerns (not that it isn’t even more so now) was regarding the sustainability of our current way of life, and the environmental impact, be it global warming, climate change, ecosystem instability or environmental degradation.

The world is in our hands

A green coloured globe represents the environment, which is held carefully in someone’s hands – representing how we control the future of our planet

Blog Action Day took off with a bang with around 20,000 blogs taking part, of which, there were around 20 in Technorati’s top 100 blogs – at the time. This proves that from day 1, Blog Action Day had a big influence, giving it a big potential to actually raise awareness and improve things that it petitions for.

2008 saw an equally important matter being raised: poverty. Poverty is a very pressing issue, and is part of the UN’s 8 Millennium Development Goals which it hoped to meet by 2015.

In 2009 the theme changed to climate change. The phrase ‘global warming’ used to be used before we realised that it wasn’t a very good term, as it’s not just warming that is likely to take place.

The world’s climate is so intricate and complex that you couldn’t say that increase in greenhouse gasses via intensive farming of rice, rearing of cows, burning of fossil fuels, cutting down of rainforests etc. would cause global temperatures to rise, as it wouldn’t necessarily do that everywhere, all the time.

Melting Ice Caps - A Sign of Climate Change

Melting ice caps are a symptom linked to climate change

Hence the term climate change was born in order to supersed the term ‘global warming’ in describing the likelihood of an increase in extreme and irregular weather/climate patterns.

In 2010 Blog Action Day moved onto stressing the importance (and scarcity) of water. Currently most people in the developed world use far more water than should really be available to them, if all water supplies were equally divided.

Only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater, of which the majority is ‘locked up’ in the form of ice. This means that less than 0.007% of all the worlds water drinkable and accessible. This matched with an exponentially rising global population is why over 20% of the world’s population don’t have access to safe drinking water, and one in three people around the world have inadequate sanitation.

One in Five People Don't Have Access to Safe Drinking Water2011 – Food

Now down to matter in hand – Blog Action Day 2011. As I have already mentioned, today is World Food Day, and Blog Action Day’s focus for this year is food.

World Food Day marks the 1945 foundation of the Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN project aimed at achieving food security for all, as well as making sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality, nutritional food, to lead active healthy lives.

Why should we worry about food?

In the words of Blog Action Day’s website:

“We use food to mark times of celebration and sorrow. Lack of access to food causes devastating famines, whilst too much is causing a generation of new health problems. It can cost the world, or be too cheap for farmers to make a living.

The way we companies produce food and drinks can provide important jobs for communities or be completely destructive to habitats and local food producers. Food can give us energy to get through the day or contain ingredients that gives us allergic reactions.

Food can cooked by highly skilled chefs with inventive flair, or mass produced and delivered with speed at the side of road. It can be incredibly healthy or complete junk and bad for your health. It can taste delicious or be a locals only delicacy.

Food is important to our culture, identity and daily sustenance and the team at Blog Action invite you to join us to talk about food.”

Nobody alive today can live without food for more than a month, and a lack of inadequate amounts/types of food can also kill.

Many people don’t realise it, but the greedy ‘Western’ lifestyle is the main reason for food issues around the world. Developed countries are getting too fat, whilst undeveloped ones are not getting enough food. According to the UN, malnutrition kills a child around the world every 15 seconds. That is heart breaking.

Westerners waste so much food, it is disgusting, even more so because of the fact that there are people who don’t have enough of the right foods (or any food at all for that matter) to eat.

How can you help?

If you want to help on a personal level there are two main things you can do.

  1. Try to source as much of your food as locally as you can. This helps local producers, as well as reduced greenhouse emission and water loss from undeveloped countries who use vast amounts of their scarce water to produce food for us. Some global food purchases can be justified, so try to pay attention to where your food is coming from and what the impact of getting it to you is.
  2. Donate to a crisis. There is currently a famine in Eastern Africa, and charities are there to help, but they need your help, be it through voluntary work or capital donations. I an not listing any charities, as it’s often better to decide yourself which ones to support.

You could also blog about the topic. If you have a blog, I wholeheartedly recommend you help to raise awareness yourself. If you read this a day or two late, don’t worry you missed the date, sill write about it and raise awareness. I missed the day last year, but I still blogged about it.

Blog Action Day suggest some topic areas you might like to discuss, which can be helpful if you are not sure where to start.

Blog Action Day 2011 Bagde

Technology Bloggers is supporting Blog Action Day!

If you do decide to write about Blog Action Day, you can register your blog with them, on their official list, so that they know roughly how many blogs took part.

The final way (I can think of at the moment) to help the Blog Action Day cause is to like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Technology Bloggers is already doing this.

Please do your bit for the world and support Blog Action Day in whatever way you can.

Search engines are changing the way our memory works

A recent article in Science Mag suggests that the use of computers and the internet might actually be changing the way our memory works.

A series of psychology experiments recently carried out have shown that sometimes, when people were presented with hard to answer questions, they began to think of computers.

If participants believed that it would be easy to find answers on Google later, then they had poorer recall of the actual answer, and yet a greater memory of where the answer was stored.

A head x-ray showing someone with a computer for a brainThe researchers said that the internet acts as a tool which we now depend upon to to aid our memories, by remembering some data for us.

Here is the abstract for the journal entry

The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.

In more simplified English, what this is basically saying is that it is now much easier to access data online, mainly thanks to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. If we have a question, we can find the answer in seconds.


This has lead the the human brain associating the thought of a problem with computers, as it believes that the internet will be the source of the solution. Search engines are now embeded so much in our brain, that when we think of a problem, we no longer bother trying to work out the answer for ourselves, but instead we associate the possibility of finding the solution of the problem with a search engine.

Let’s be honest, who hasn’t been bugged by something, asked someone else who also wasn’t able to help and as a result was either told “Google it” or thought “I could Google that”? I have, in fact I would say it happens on a weekly basis!

Question time

So what do you think? Are computers, the internet and search engines making us stupid, or is it just that we are now adapting as a race to more efficient ways of finding out information?