UK Culture Minister, Andy Burnham, is proposing a partnership with the U.S. to impose a motion-picture style rating system for Web pages and sites. There are plenty of U.S. politicians that would support the idea, so its getting significant coverage in the media this week.
This isn’t the first time a rating system has been proposed for the Web. Past efforts have been stymied by the challenge of implementation. There are many individuals who enthusiastically support a rating system in order to protect minors and others from stumbling onto objectionable content. Like the v-chip in televisions, a Web-rating system would make it possible to screen out content that a person finds objectionable. Burnham told the BBC that he thinks we “need to have a debate now about clearer signposting and labeling online because it can be quite a confusing world, particularly for parents who are trying to ensure their children are only accessing appropriate stuff.”
There are at least as many people opposed to a rating system for the Web. Some feel that it would lead to filtering by the government – as Australia is currently attempting. Others worry that it would impact the free flow of information to the Web. After all, movies have plenty of time to work through a rating system prior to being released, but Web content is continuously being added to the Web, particularly in this era of social networking. Consider needing to have your Facebook site rated every time you change the content.
A mandatory rating system seems certain to fail as it would be impossible to police and enforce such as system. One solution might be a self-rating system, where those that post the content can voluntarily apply a rating to it. It appears that this debate is about to play out again, so stay tuned to find out what is decided.