The New York Times once published pictures that were “disgusting”, “obscene”, and “lowly fun” to readers during the Vietnam War, and some readers hoped to end the war after seeing it. From the moment this photo was taken, it became a particularly tricky case for Western print media, as did social media.
The Internet embodied neoliberal ideas and was promised free use by users at the beginning of its development. However, with the development of social media sites and software, this confusion and controversy has become a controversial topic. The Internet has made it possible for more people to reach out to each other, especially in times of pandemics, providing a new opportunity for people to communicate and interact with a wider range of people without leaving their homes. While it may seem as if the distance between people is being pulled in, the dangers are also obvious and increasingly obvious: pornography, obscenity, violence, illegality, abuse and hatred. This content is widely disseminated, wantonly, and secretly. The web seems to facilitate the behavior of perpetrators, making it harder for them to be restrained and regulated. The network separates criminals from the police, and it seems that there are more criminals on the network. Through the Internet, the number of criminal avenues has increased, but people’s sense of justice has been reduced. (Internet Society, 2014) Netizens only know that they have the right to freedom of speech on the Internet, but they do not have a sense of free boundaries, and they arbitrarily disseminate false news, pornographic and violent pictures, etc., which are illegal or criminal acts.
Network problems are becoming more and more serious, so it is becoming more and more urgent to put the matter of regulating network civilization on the agenda. Often, regulatory networks are considered the task of digital platforms. Both the platform and the government need to carry out online communication supervision: because the regulatory direction and supervision of the two are not the same. The platform is supervised by the relevant departments of the national government, and the digital platform is like the first door of supervision, and the government is more in the supervision platform. From the government to the platform to the users, it is like a chain of regulatory responsibility. The platform reviews the content posted by users, but does not take responsibility, and the supervision of hate speech is not strong. However, due to the “temporary” nature of the platform’s supervision, there is a certain degree of arbitrariness in the implementation of rules. (Gillespie, 2018)
However, platforms must act as norm-makers, law-interpreters, arbitrators of taste, arbitrators of disputes, and enforcers of any rules they choose to establish. The platform and the government are like both superiors and subordinates, and they are like partnerships. (Hara & Hall, 2018) Sometimes there are problems with the platform’s cooperation with the government. The use of the platform relies on the support of netizens, so in order to attract more users and participants, the platform company will emphasize the freedom and inclusiveness of the platform when publicizing, and claim that its platform will treat the content released by users fairly. Reviewing and screening information posted by users is the initial and most important step in online regulation, and it is also an important step in protecting the reputation of platform operations. Many Western social media sites or software define their censorship as trade secrets that are not allowed to be made public. They argue that full exposure to platform regulatory policies could lead to unethical users exploiting loopholes to commit illegal acts. Thus, the Western platform doesn’t allow governments to interfere completely, so cooperation between the two often has problems.
In the 1990s, the digital web evolved with the idea of making access to content free, open, non-proprietary, and sharable. As John Perry Barlow said, “…not only free of physical constraints, but also free of social laws.” He sees the Internet as developing independently of government and free from its constraints. Judge Dalzell also said the Internet is “a never-ending worldwide conversation … as the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion.” (Judge Dalzell, quoted in Godwin, 1998, p. 289).
One of the most significant reasons the Internet is difficult to regulate and supervise is that it is often considered a global medium, yet it is influenced by the history and policies of each country. Global Internet rules were largely developed during the Clinton administration in the U.S. The Global Internet Infrastructure (GII) proposed an Internet driven by private investment, free markets, deregulation, competition and flexible regulation. 1998 saw the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), whose core principle is multi-stakeholder governance. The nature of the Internet creates its ungovernability. The dominant model of multi-stakeholder governance is one in which companies, NGOs and other organizations have as much influence as governments to regulate the online environment. This dominant model was facilitated by the United States in the 1990s. It has been maintained since then.
How do governments and platforms monitor and manage networks?
The platform and the government should make progress together for a healthy Internet environment and work together to develop rules for a healthy network. Make joint efforts to improve the quality of Internet users.
The platform and the government divide the area or strength for management, so as to achieve “two levels of management”. As the “first layer of management”, the main responsibility of the platform is to check the content posted by users, supervise users’ speeches and set up punishment rules. The government, as the “second layer of management”, needs to communicate with the platform and impose legal punishment on users who repeatedly break the law and spread bad information or seriously affect the network environment.
Users are the largest active group of the network and the most important part. So how to guide users to work together to maintain a healthy network environment is also the platform and the government need to think about. Users need to take the construction of a healthy network environment as their civic duty.
The role and influence of the Internet is not only reflected in the bits and pieces of people’s lives, but also more and more important. So whether netizens want to or not, the platform must act as a rule-maker, an interpreter of laws, and an enforcer of rules. The platform is the guardian of the network, and the government is the last shackle. Netizens are the ones who observe morality. While different laws and different political and cultural traditions make it difficult to enforce the rules that govern a healthy online environment, it is an important thing that must be maintained with the participation of the whole people.
Gillespie, T. (2018). Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions that Shape Social Media (pp. 1–23). Yale University Press.
Hara, K., & Hall, W. (2018, December 7). Four internets: The geopolitics of digital governance. Centre for International Governance Innovation. https://www.cigionline.org/publications/four-internets-geopolitics-digital-governance
Internet Society. (2014). Who makes the internet work: The internet ecosystem. Internet Society. https://www.internetsociety.org/internet/who-makes-it-work/
Mueller, M. (2017). Will the internet fragment?: Sovereignty, globalization and cyberspace (Vol. 5). John Wiley & Sons.