The Internet is abuzz with talk of Tim Bray – Google’s software developer and XML creator – honoring Ray Bradbury with a proposal that the Internet Engineering Task Force create a new error code delineating site censorship.
We’ve all seen HyperText Transfer Protocol codes like the “404 Not Found Error” or the “500 Internal Service Error.”
Bray’s proposal is to honor Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 when a site is censored with an eponymous “451 Unavailable for Legal Reasons” message instead of the usual “403 Forbidden” error.
Bray spoke to the Guardian about free speech. “We can never do away entirely with legal restrictions on freedom of speech. On the other hand, I feel that when such restrictions are imposed, they should be done so transparently,” he said. “While we may agree on the existence of certain restrictions, we should be nervous whenever we do it; thus the reference to the dystopian vision of Fahrenheit 451 may be helpful. Also, since the internet exists in several of the many futures imagined by Bradbury, it would be nice for a tip of the hat in his direction from the net, in the year of his death.”
Bray’s proposal recommends that websites go detail the specifics of the censorship.
For example, one could see:
This request may not be serviced in the Roman Province of
Judea due to Lex3515, the Legem Ne Subversionem Act of AUC755,
which disallows access to resources hosted on servers deemed
to be operated by the Judean Liberation Front.
But Bradbury himself wasn’t that fond of the internet. In a 2009 interview with the New York Times , he said “the Internet is a big distraction…It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”
Which begs the question, how dystopian is it to name censorship after an individual who rallied so hard against it? Another dystopian writer – George Orwell – references doublethink, later expanded upon into “doublespeak,” with euphemistic examples such as “Department of Defense” which actually wages war.
The United States has rampant political euphemisms. One only has to recall the names we choose for our weapons of warfare. Tomahawk missiles, for example – a name of a weapon taken from native peoples oppressed and exterminated – now used to kill Iraqis? Or Occupy Wall Street’s special “freedom cage,” commonly known as a Free Speech Zone, where they are “allowed” to protest. What rights do we have outside this fencing?
The internet is truly the last frontier and shouldn’t be censored. But is naming censorship after Bradbury actually more dystopian?