Voluntary Regulation

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[Peter Suderman]
Andrew Burnham, the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, thinks the time may be right to regulate decency on the internet. Time to deploy the enforcers! Or maybe not.

“[There is] an idea that there can be some kind of, albeit voluntary, regulation, some kind of consensus glued back together about standards and content, taste, decency, impartiality – all these kind of things in the new world.”

Perhaps I'm missing something here, but what, exactly, is voluntary regulation? The whole point of regulation is to enforce a rule that wouldn't otherwise be followed. Otherwise, why regulate? The closest thing I can think of to voluntary regulation is government pressure forcing major industry players to self regulate (usually this is politely referred to as "a decision to set standards" or some such flack-invented euphemism). But that's only effective when a few central players control most of the field -- not exactly the case on the net.

In the meantime, Burnham will have doubtless have plenty of fun trying to figure out how to define -- nevermind regulate -- decency on the net. The relatively limited broadcast indecency regs we have here in the U.S. make absolutely no sense, and I doubt he's likely to come up with anything more coherent.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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