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Issue: How to reach a global consensus on the balance to be struck between the right to freedom of expression and content which should be illegal on the web.


Prior to the web, content classed as ‘undesirable’ (including that classed as antisocial, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, racist, malicious, threatening, abusive, or undesirable religious or political propaganda) could be regulated far more effectively.

1. Because the mediums used to distribute it were easier to control

2. Each jurisdiction could decide, make and enforce their own regulation on how the balance should be struck.

However, in the wake of the web, concerns have erupted surrounding the ease of propagation of content which could be deemed desirable in one jurisdiction and undesirable in another.  The ease of accessing information originating from another jurisdiction makes it almost impossible to enforce national laws on a medium that does not recognise national boundaries.

Gaining global consensus as to the standard/ type/ level of content that should be available on the web has proven difficult.  Unlike the approach to fraud or hacking, where, despite differences, a consistent philosophy and approach can be seen among jurisdictions, the balance struck between freedom of expression and illegal content varies greatly from one country to another. Certain governments are more sensitive about the expression of some political or religious views and definitions of obscene or pornographic material vary from place to place.

Therefore, how do we harmonise these different views?




Mathematics is the science which deals with the logic of shape, quantity and arrangement. Many situations can be represented mathematically and many ‘real world problems’ can be solved using mathematical models. I will be looking to critically analyse whether it is possible to use a mathematical model to decide what content should and should not be deemed desirable on the web.


This is the study of humankind. It draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences and applies that knowledge to the solution of human problems. I am particularly interested in ‘sociocultural anthropology’ which is the examination social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organise, govern, and create meaning. I will be looking to use anthropology to understand why different jurisdictions have different approaches to the regulation of content online and whether this knowledge can be used to understand better where the aforementioned balance should be struck.


Reading List:


Garbarino. Merwyn S. ‘Sociocultural theory in anthropology: a short history’  (1977) New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, c1977.

Hannerz U. ‘Anthropology’s World: Life in a twenty-first-century discipline’ (2010) London : Pluto

Haberman R. ‘Mathematical Models: mechanical vibrations, population dynamics, and traffic flow : an introduction to applied mathematics‘ (1998) Philadelphia, Pa. : Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

Taylor, Alan D ‘Mathematics and politics : strategy, voting, power and proof’ (1995) New York : Springer-Verlag





Written by Emma Cradock on October 14th, 2013

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