A Case for Internet Regulation

The internet can and should be an equalising force, yet for deaf people the online landscape is still an unwelcoming jungle.

If, like me, you have a knee-jerk reaction whenever anyone suggests regulating the Internet, this A List Apart article on captioning/subtitling of online videos is a challenging read. Joe Clark argues that the voluntary approach to developing a good, standardized captioning system has failed, and that only governments can enforce some sort of progress:

In short, disabled people’s right to be free of discrimination trumps the belief, however fallacious, that the internet cannot or should not be regulated.

Earlier this year, the Liberal Conspiracy take on Andy Burnham’s recommendations on Internet regulation, was that it was merely a sop to the powerful music lobby and their outdated business models.  Contrast this with the case of subtitling, where it is the lack of regulation which has allowed the studios and broadcasters to ignore their obligations to provide accessible content, in favour of greater profit margins.

It was the political concept of ‘accessibility’ that got me interested in web design, and fuels my current love of all things social networky. When we made The Unrecognized, I took particular pride in the subtitling, a project I worked on alone and probably took as long as the edit of the film itself. We were in a sense lucky that the film featured three languages, because it meant that a captioned video was the norm, as Joe Clark now recommends.

The internet can and should be an equalising force, yet for deaf people the online landscape is still an unwelcoming jungle.

2 thoughts on “A Case for Internet Regulation”

  1. Hmm. This is very tricky. I have to agree with you, but I don’t think it’d be right if I wasn’t allowed to use stairs just because some people are in wheelchairs.

    I think there should be an option, like a button, to choose sub-titles, for people that want them, or for sub-title-free content, for people that want that. I think that’s the only fair way to do it.

  2. Indeed. There’s no disagreement that an efficent and standardised closed-captioning system would be the fairest. The problem Joe Clark raises is simply that this is not being delivered by the market and self-regulating companies. It needs a powerful, disinterested body to push it through, and it looks like governments might be the only appropriate example.

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