Is the internet becoming an outlawed land
and what can be done about it?
The rapid development of the internet has brought revolutionary change to our lives. This change includes easier connections with others, more frequent updates on news, and more choices to kill time. However, this change also includes the spreading and exposure to bullying, harassment, violence, hate, porn, and other harmful content.
This essay will focus on solving who should be responsible for the wild-spreading problematic content on digital platforms with the introduction of the internet from various perspectives. Then, it will discuss what should be done to stop the spreading by combining Internet change with social and cultural awareness shifts. Furthermore, it will propose some recommendations based on previous research about how to stop the spreading.
Therefore, this essay will be divided into four parts – ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘how’, and the final conclusion.
Figure 1 the photo is from the common sourced website.
Unlike the recognition of most people, the internet is no longer just some visible hardware or invisible software these days. As Janet Abbate stated in her article,
‘the ways in which historians define the internet profoundly shape the histories we write.’(Abbate, 2017).
Figure 2 the local QR codes and national QR code, and the itinerary QR code.
Figure 3 people are getting bullied in Instagram, the photo is from the website.
In fact, the internet has changed our lives fundamentally. For example, Schafer verified that European networks influenced design choices according to local internet environment and communities (Schafer, 2015); Gerovitch concluded that in the 1960s, computer technologies become so-called ‘political instruments’, the soviet leaders also envisioned the internet as a way to a nationwide automated management system (Gerovitch, 2008); the Chinese government adopted the internet in the form of (national and local) health QR code and itinerary QR code to fight against COVID (Wang & Jia, 2021). It can be concluded that the internet is making a huge influence, whether negative or positive, on modern society due to its shared global ownership, open standards development, and easy access to everyone (Society, 2022). It helped to shape our societies while making up a huge part of our lives. The internet is invisible and virtual, but its impact is real and solid. Almost everyone can interact with the internet and be a part of the internet ecosystem. However, the advantage of the internet, the easy access, has become one of its disadvantages.
Figure 3 shows an Instagram user being bullied by other users and adopting the ‘restriction’ product. This product allows Instagram users to block others without notifying others (more details about restriction are in this video). The act of Instagram designing and proposing the product of restriction infers that the social platform is responsible for problematic content in it. Social platforms are obligated to take down harmful content no matter how popular this content is because all the content on the platform is linked with the name of the platform (Grimmelmann, 2017).
Another party that should be responsible for internet junk is the government. ‘Social production is culturally informed (Castells, 2002)’, it can be inferred that the harmful content on the internet is merely a projection of the real world. The internet doesn’t produce content, it simply bears and spreads them. Countries with different cultures also have different regulations for the internet. For example, European nations proposed a ‘bourgeois’ internet that forbade trolling and bad behaviors with the cost of suppressing innovation; some nations, notably China, proposed an ‘authoritarian’ internet which is adopted with massive surveillance and identification to prevent crime and terrorism; other nations, notably the US, proposed a ‘commercial’ internet which regards the internet resource as private property (O’hara & Hall, 2018). It can also be further supposed that different nations with different cultures have different tolerance for bad content on the internet. For example, US citizens can make jokes about their presidents on the internet while it is impossible for Chinese citizens; porno websites are also illegal in China. Regardless of these differences, the government is still responsible for the negative content on the internet.
As established in the prior section, the platforms and the government are all responsible for the harmful content on the internet. This section will point out what exactly should they accomplish to stop the circulation of bad content.
Figure 4 different social platform icons. Photo is from the website.
About the platforms…
Figure 5 adolescents surfing online, the photo is from the website.
There are often noxious trends on different social platforms. For example, the Tide Pod challenge people to upload videos of themselves eating the Tide Pod. Consumption of laundry detergent can cause serious damage to health including stomach cramps and esophagus burns. Many platforms have taken down the related videos and posts (Grimmelmann, 2017), but it still aroused discussions about whether the platform should be responsible for taking out content that is harmful, negative, and injury-inducing (Nelson & Schultz, 2019). Psychologically and socially speaking, this trend is an example of the Handicap Principle and other social psychological hypotheses (Murphy, 2019). The internet has magnified and helped to spread the negative effect of risk-seeking behaviors through the popularity of social platforms, therefore the platforms should be able to identify, and timely take down bad content. Though this can be challenging because most popular and viral content is always negative to some extent.
Adolescents without mature minds and real-life experiences are easily influenced by their peers online. With people shifting connections from reality to online and spending more time online, the internet is casting influences on adults and adolescents more than ever. These social platforms should still take up their social and public responsibilities and stop the spreading of harmful content.
About the government…
Figure 6 women in Iran protest against the patriarchy society from online to offline, photo is from the website.
The government has direct responsibilities for its citizens’ welfare and well-being, including keeping them from problematic online content. However, there is a delicate line between freedom and emancipation of thought and pure bad content. Culture and social awareness are both evolving with the development of technologies and the liberation of productivity. For example, the internet has promoted the normalization of LGBTQ in many areas. Recently, women in Iran are also using the internet to prompt female freedom and basic human right by posting pictures of themselves revealing their hair. This online protest has extended offline and it has aroused tremendous attention. There are many news articles about this revolution too. Though the local government will certainly disagree with such online actions, they are not harmful and should be encouraged.
It can be concluded that the legislation and regulation of the internet are not keeping up with the internet’s expansion and development. Therefore, certain countermeasures must be taken to address this problem. Platforms can put more effort into identifying problematic content, put more human resources into designing the account regulation mechanism and dealing with content-related complaints, and design more products for content reports and restrictions. For example, if you search images in Bing, there is a button for reporting inappropriate images, which is missing in Google research.
For those content that is not spreading on platforms but in the form of a website, it is the government’s responsibility to shut it down. The government should design a set of grading strategies to determine whether the content is suitable for all, suitable for adults, or purely harmful. It should also initiate legislation to set proper punishment for spreading harmful content online. For example, photos of a classified crime scene, the video of killing and torturing, peeping photos, and others. However, there was also news about local governments cooperating with companies to issue yellow or red health QR codes to people so they cannot be in public places and protest against the companies. These behaviors will need supervision and regulations from higher authorities.
The internet has permeated every aspect of our lives and it is still an area without fully functioning supervision and legislation. There is much harmful content circulating and spreading online. Therefore, it is imperative for platforms and governments to take responsibility for driving harmful content off the Internet and returning the Internet to its original purpose which is sharing and communicating.
Abbate, J. (2017). What and where is the Internet?(Re) defining Internet histories. Internet Histories, 1(1-2), 8-14.
Castells, M. (2002). The Internet galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, business, and society. Oxford University Press on Demand.
Gerovitch, S. (2008). InterNyet: why the Soviet Union did not build a nationwide computer network. History and Technology, 24(4), 335-350.
Grimmelmann, J. (2017). The platform is the message. Geo. L. Tech. Rev., 2, 217.
Murphy, R. H. (2019). The rationality of literal tide pod consumption. Journal of Bioeconomics, 21(2), 111-122.
Nelson, B. M., & Schultz, P. L. (2019, 2019/11//
//). The Tide Pod Challenge: Responding to The Threat of Viral Internet Phenomena [Article]. Journal of Case Studies, 37, 43+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A630169118/AONE?u=anon~84ebf2d3&sid=googleScholar&xid=2ae7a92a
O’hara, K., & Hall, W. (2018). Four internets: The geopolitics of digital governance.
Schafer, V. (2015). Part of a whole: RENATER, a twenty-year-old network within the Internet. Information & Culture, 50(2), 217-235.
Society, I. (2022). The Internet Ecosystem. https://www.internetsociety.org/
Wang, T., & Jia, F. (2021). The impact of health QR code system on older people in China during the COVID-19 outbreak. Age and Ageing, 50(1), 55-56.