Who Is Responsible For The Internet’s Toxicity?

"INTERNET" by lecasio is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .

What’s the big issue?

The Internet, best described as a digital sphere with over 4.95 billion users on a daily basis (Wise, 2022), has become a necessity within our everyday lives. It was only through careful considerations and iterations that this medium has established its precedence, evolving over time to match the needs of its users.


Despite the plethora of changes within its evolutionary stages, the core principles of the Internet have yet to change: Freedom. The ability for users to communicate across continents, uninhibited by the physical barriers of geographical restrictions, was a core ideology that is still found present within many social media platforms that remain popular within current contextual periods (Gillespie et al., 2014). This freedom offered by an emerging digital space carried with it a quintessential trait; allowing for a safe haven to form, removing the influence of politics within public opinions transpired from these online communities (Lusoli & Turner, 2020).


Given the founding principles of this digital realm, a noticeable trend of toxicity, and aggression has begun to surface within a modern contextual standpoint (Subrahmanyam & Šmahel, 2010). The issue at hand has been highlighted substantially through the introduction of the internet, alongside the difficulty in tracing the origins of cyber-bullying (Subrahmanyam & Šmahel, 2010), but the matter stems from a deeper subject: Humans.


laughing eyes” by 2493™ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


Nature or Nurture?

The very reason in which humans partake in the act of bullying can be greatly attributed towards our inherent nature, the act of highlighting differentiating factors between individuals to boost personal perceived standings (Berger & Caravita, 2015). Commonly tied in with Machiavellianism, the act of harassment is believed to be a group phenomenon, a behaviour that is encouraged through the peers of a bully (Berger & Caravita, 2015). Given that the behaviour begins from an adolescent stage, the removal of any authoritative figure to correct the child’s thinking would continue to perpetrate the behaviour, creating a ‘classroom’ of youths that believe in the righteousness of their behaviour (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004).


The rate in which users are accessing the internet is increasing on an exponential basis, gaining more than 900,000 users everyday (Kemp, 2022). Given the huge influx of users accessing various platforms, the undoubted repercussion of this phenomenon is noticeable throughout all spaces of the Internet, with both good and bad habits being exasperated through this process.


“The consequence of these accelerations is complexity: Problems and issues, programs and technologies, all are becoming more complex – (Bradley et al., 2020)”


Within 2019 alone, over 54.3% of parents have reported that their children (aged 19 and above) have been cyberbullied. Whilst these statistics showcases a great majority of these bullying cases occurring within the premise of a school (Cook, 2022), the widespread adoption of social media usage within these contexts must be understood to better target the issue at hand. Given the advancement of social media, and the rising popularity of these platforms to ease the process of communication amongst students, the integration of these digital platforms undoubtedly constitutes a great deal of importance towards the daily lives of youths (Yildiz Durak & Saritepeci, 2019). The bullying, traditionally occurring within a physical realm, has evolved through technological advancements to occur on a digital space. With little to no regulations surrounding the issue of bullying, the behaviour is further enacted as these youth grow up.


Open Government Partnership Africa Regional Summit, 5-6 May 2016” by GovernmentZA is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.



The direct enforcement of this issue has been a greatly protracted conundrum, with the resolutions having direct conflict with the core principles of the Internet. Whilst the obvious resolution to the issue would be to directly implicate the perpetrators, the direct process of tracing these users proves to be one of a complex matter. With the added complexities of VPNs and encryption, the protection of one’s identity within this online sphere proves to be highly impenetrable, even under the influence of authoritative figures, involving both governmental and cyber-security agencies (Selwyn, 2007).  Despite the forthcoming difficulties that lie ahead under the premise of internet regulation, the control over these underlying issues proves to be one that carries significant weightage, not only in the stoppage of these harming materials, but also with regards to shaping the future of the Internet.


The obligation towards the moderation of content predominantly points towards two main groups of people: Governmental Figures, alongside massive corporations. Between these two key figures, a standard of both benefits and risks are applied by users of this free-spirited digital realm.



Governmental bodies are often looked at as the primary form of authority, given its dominant presence within the physical realm. The direct implications of bullying, alongside revenge porn and other harmful forms of media being shared across platforms, carry significant weightage within our personal lives in the physical world. With up to a 47% increase in suicide attempts within adolescents, aged between 15-19 (Vojinovic, 2022), key figures within governmental organisations have adapted the legalities revolving bullying, better suiting it to modern contextual requirements. The task in itself proves to be beneficial, with rules around online threats being ruled to be illegal (CCA, 1995). Despite this, the actual process of tracking these individuals carries certain complications, with anonymity being part of the Internet’s backbone structure.


The lack of support from users, on a global basis, towards a positive outlook on trusting governmental figures with their personal information is pertinent towards the issue of actual enforcement within the digital realm (Moon, 2003). The issue highlighted would point towards the inability to identify the individuals responsible for the overall collection of our data, within scenarios where the information has been misappropriated. The precariousness of the situation has greatly deterred governmental bodies to tackle the issue at hand, although drastic situations have been showcased by certain nations. A key example of this would be China’s approach towards the accessibility of the Internet. Users located within China face a constant process of monitoring, with a built-in algorithm that picks up on specific words, posing an unending level of threat towards their access of this cyberspace (Liang & Lu, 2010). Additionally, a strict level of enforcement is placed through a legal system, systematically blocking any form of pornographic material, unless deemed for medicinal purposes (Steinfeld, 2015). Whilst this process proves to eliminate the overall rates in which harmful material is shared, is this really the way to go?



The other obvious alternative would point towards the control of widespread media by the organisations that host these popular social media platforms, addressing the issue at the root of the problem. Whilst the core ideology of this concept proves to be relatively simple, the actual enforcement presents itself with a newfound set of complexities, only resolvable through AI (Cooper, 2022). The significant number of posts uploaded on a daily basis deems the challenge of having a staff vet through the uploaded multimedia to be unplausible, shifting the very dynamics towards an automated process (Kaput, 2022).


*laughing emoji*” by scossette is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


An integral part of AI relies on the process of data collection, allowing for a significantly more streamlined process, alongside holding each individual user accountable for the content uploaded to these sites (Roh et al., 2021). Whilst the constant stream of uploads reduces the risk of harmful content to be shared, the information being collected has a risk of being sold to other major organisations. This issue was highlighted by Techlash, a global phenomenon in which organisations such as Facebook, exploited their userbase through the sales of user information towards advertisers against the willingness and knowledge of these users (Atkinson et al., 2019). The distrust brought about by the aforementioned circumstances indicates a difficulty in regaining the trust of consumers within major corporations, reducing the likelihood of these organisations in reigning control of content mediation.


With the concern of these users being placed as a priority, the ways in which content moderation should be carried out would point towards a combination of the aforementioned strategies. Whilst algorithms and AI prove to be beneficial, there should always be a mediator that ensures the content being shared proves to be one that allows for the betterment of society, removing the possibility of unfairly removing content. Furthermore, these social media platforms should look towards the delegation of their processes towards NGOs, with the specific aim in mind focusing on a free space that promotes positivity, and away from the currently toxic trajectory we’ve been bound on.



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Yildiz Durak, H., & Saritepeci, M. (2019, January 21). Modeling the effect of new media literacy levels and social media usage status on problematic internet usage behaviours among high school students. Education and Information Technologies, 24(4), 2205–2223. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-019-09864-9