Should web hosts be held responsible for webcasts of suicides or criminal activity?Should web hosts be held responsible for webcasts of suicides or criminal activity?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is of course a very interesting discussion to have, especially given the way that the internet has been used by groups such as Al-Qaida and other individuals to advance their own personal aims and objectives, which may be stridently against mainstream thoughts and beliefs. The problem to my mind seems to go back to freedom of speech and the question of ethics. The issue is compounded by the way in which the internet gives a world-wide platform to everyone to broadcast material that the majority of the world population may consider to be completely distasteful or downright unethical. Consider the way in which the execution of Saddam Hussein was posted on youtube quite soon after his death. Many would argue that such footage is repugnant and should not be displayed, however this stance seems to be belied by the massive number of people who then actually viewed this clip. One argument would state that if people didn't want to watch it they didn't have to access it.

It seems to be incredibly difficult in our globalised world to agree on any common core of values that would allow us to dictate what would classify as "suitable" and "unsuitable" material. Even in the Western world, which me normally speak of as having a core set of values, internet broadcasts have been made of people committing suicide in order to champion the cause of euthanasia. Such cases make it very difficult for us to state with any authority what should or should not be broadcast. If this can be done, then clearly the web host should be held responsible for removing the clip. Sites such as youtube already do this. 

marbar57 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The original Founding Fathers established freedom of speech as one of our inalienable rights.  Through the ensuing years, there have been many individuals and groups who've always taken their rights to the extreme.  I believe in the freedom of speech, but there's a fine, thin line as to what's my freedom to express versus abridging another's freedom to have to listen or watch what I express.

On the issue of web responsibility . . . since no one really "owns" the Internet (the web hosts, servers, and providers only providing the means to up link and download information), I don't think they should have to take the blame for what's being put there.  To protect themselves, perhaps they should have all users accept their own responsibility for what they see, hear, broadcast, and receive and acknowledge that the web host will not be held liable for any of it.  I'm sure many, if not all, web hosts already have this feature on their websites.  In fact, some websites will not let you proceed further unless you click on either an "I agree" or an "I disagree" box.  (Some variances in wording use the word "accept.") 

megan-bright eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It would depend on if the webhost was even aware of such activities. Perhaps if people visiting a certain site were continuously contacting the webhost out of concern, then the webhost would bear some responsibility for criminal activity. No one can prevent a suicide. Most of my webhosts do not allow criminal activity, but obviously there are many sites conducting such and they are not easily shut down from what I understand. Some webhosts serve millions of customers, so the task would be difficult.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the enforcing of such an responsibility would be impossible as well as impractical. Aside from the restrictions on personal rights to freedom of speech and so forth, different societies have different definitions regarding what is considered "criminal activity". For example, it would be unrealistic to try to block webcasts of someone in Netherlands smoking marijuana (where that is perfectly legal) from being seen in the United States (where such an act is generally still against the law).

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While I agree with post 4 in spirit, the analogy falls a bit short. If a web host is a house, it's a house with millions of rooms in which people are constantly entering and leaving, sometimes under false pretenses. It is very difficult, as Post 3 observes, to regulate content on these sites. Another issue is determining how we draw the line. Webcasts of violent activities on the part of repressive regimes around the world are a valuable political tool that can be used by dissidents. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No, I do not think that they should.  It is really hard to imagine that web hosts would be able to know what is being disseminated over the internet using their services.  They would somehow have to screen everything that was on every website they hosted.  This does not seem possible.  The only parties who should be responsible for this are those who actually put the content on the internet, not the firms that run the services that allow the content to be uploaded.

Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, they should be held responsible. TV networks in the past, less so today, censored themselves and less crap was on TV back then, not like the dirt on TV today. The web hosts need to take some responsibility and watch what goes out on the Web. It's a disgusting free-for-all on the Internet and some controls need to be put in place - people are taking advantage of 'free speech' to put forth their filth in front of children's eyes.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say absolutely no responsibility for suicide, unless they knowingly kept up a suicide video for a long time after it had been brought to their attention then numerous copycats occurred.

In terms of criminal activity, it lacks the finality of suicide.  If it was a recurring issue that they had been made aware of and failed to take action then I think there should be some sanctions placed upon the web host.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are lots of good insights, but in the end, we need to talk about possibility. It is not possible to monitor everything. Some website are enormous, like In light of this, if we make web hosts responsible, we will indirectly hurt free speech and other forms of mass media. However, if the web host is warned and apprised of harmful things and he or she does not respond, then they should be responsible. 

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am really torn on this. If I were to have people over to my house and a person committed suicide or was involved in criminal actions, I am almost positive that I would be held accountable on some level. Web pages, for me, are the same as a person's house. They are responsible for the things which happen there.