Since its formation, the Internet has become a major media and information platform medium. Old media such as newspapers and television no longer areceive the attention they once did. Many people have downloaded and use numerous social networking applications on a daily basis. Perhaps the most significant difference between these apps and traditional media is that the apps allow individuals to freely generate content under the freedom of expression. In a matter of tens of seconds, people can broadcast to the world whatever text, images, or videos they wish. Except where special restrictions exist, such as in China, individuals are free to search for information and find what they want from the vast amount of content. The Internet has developed in the context of freedom of expression.
Today, however, freedom of expression on the Internet is controversial. Because everyone is free to generate content, a large amount of harmful content is being disseminated on the Internet. The purpose of this blog is to discuss who and how to regulate that content. In this blog, we will first identify why freedom of expression is an important thing to protect. Next, we will identify the problems facing freedom of expression on the Internet. It will then describe the responses currently being taken and their shortcomings, and provide guidance for the future.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental freedoms granted to individuals. Freedom of expression leads to allowing entities that stand in opposition to the majority and government . Everyone is free to express his or her opinions as a minority or to express wrong opinions. However, this is only if it is not slanderous and defamatory. In the case of expression that harms others or is grossly contrary to the public welfare, it is allowed to be regulated by authority. In the Internet, where freedom of expression is recognized, individuals are free to generate and receive content, and the Internet has come to play a media-like role.
Freedom of expression and the media themselves have existed since before the birth of the Internet, and the current Internet can be raised as an object of study for them. For example, the media in which freedom of expression is allowed exerts tremendous power over the public: the Executive, the Judiciary, and the Legislature are collectively called the “three estate,” but the media in which free speech is allowed are called the “fourth estate” because they empower minorities. The media, which is allowed to speak freely, is called the Fourth estate because it empowers minorities. In addition to these, the Internet, where freedom of expression is allowed, is called the Fifth Estate because of the power of individual transmission. (Dutton, 2009) We can also include the Internet in the discussion of the public sphere. These arguments tend to lead to a positive view of freedom of expression on the Internet, since the supposed speakers in these arguments are the minority’s spokespersons.
The Problem of Freedom of Expression on the Internet
In the previous chapter, we discussed the potential for freedom of expression on the Internet. In practice, however, things have not worked out that way. Because anyone can freely disseminate information, the Internet today is filled with a variety of harmful content, including cyberbullying, harassment, violence, hate speech, pornography, and more. Their impact is especially significant among the younger generation. Statistics show that 70% of children aged 7-18 have unintentionally viewed pornography, and 65% of children have been involved in cyberspace bullying. In addition, 20% of pornography on the Internet involves children. (GUARDCHILD)
Despite the numerous problems, as discussed in the previous chapter, freedom of expression is a fundamental right on the Internet, and simple censorship is not desirable. If censorship were allowed, information would be arbitrarily manipulated by platforms and governments, creating a monopoly on information. It is also unclear who draws the line and by what standard, what content is harmful and should be removed, and to what extent it is freedom of expression. Conflicts over freedom of expression on the Internet have already occurred, for example, a French court asked Yahoo! to block access to Nazi memorabilia.
The measures of dealing with harmful content
This chapter identifies who is currently processing harmful content and how, while ensuring freedom of expression. The first actors are the platforms, i.e., the companies that provide the speech space. They are doing content moderation as part of the governance of the platform. Employees or AIs check content for harmfulness and delete it if they deem it inappropriate. Typically, this action is triggered by user reports. (Roberts 2019, p. 34). There are several incentives for companies to engage in content moderation. They are the removal of illegal content, the improvement of the user experience, and the avoidance of criticism and controversy. Especially for companies that operate platforms where user-generated content and advertising coexist, improving the user experience through content moderation is a directly profitable action.(Gillespie, 2018, p. 5)
Another key actor is the government. Government regulation and legislation directly affect the behavior of businesses. When the Internet was first established, it was independent of government regulation and developed freely. However, as the Internet and Internet-based platforms entered people’s daily lives, the influence of the Internet became well known. This began to create a phenomenon known as the tech rush, represented by distrust and bashing of technology. From Trump’s election fraud to Facebook’s actions, concerns about privacy and security, data misuse, algorithmic transparency, and fake news on the Internet are growing daily. With this tech rush have come new regulations such as the US s. 230 Communications Decency Act. Governments in democracies, due to the constraints associated with their formation, have tremendous advantages in representing the voice of the majority, so they will actively impose new
regulations like this one if there is a growing concern among the people.
Shortcomings of the measures
The previous chapter described actions being taken by companies and governments. This chapter describes the challenges associated with those actions. First, we discuss the challenges of moderation content.Companies tend to hide the existence of content moderation. They pretend to ensure the freedom of expression, but behind the scenes they engage in content moderation. content moderation is hard to notice, so companies can hide its existence and convince users that they have freedom of expression. (Gillespie, 2018, pp. 6-7). And it is up to each platform to decide what rules to moderate content based on. Another issue related to content moderation is labor: since full automation of content moderation has not been achieved, workers will always be needed. They are prone to mental issues as they have to keep watching violent content, and developing countries and subcontractors in weak positions often take on the task. (Sarah Roberts, 2019) On the other hand, the problem with government regulations is that they are extremely slow. Furthermore, their regulations can stifle innovation.
So far, we have described what actors are currently primarily governing content. Today, in addition to corporations and governments, NGOs also play a major role. However, the governance of these single actors has not been able to solve the aforementioned issues. Therefore, the way to solve them is through cooperation among several actors. Each actor has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, companies excel in speed, but it will be difficult for multiple platform companies to cooperate with each other. Such coordinated cooperation is made possible by the presence of government. NGOs are also close to citizens and can pick up the voices of minorities, which are often overlooked by corporations and governments. Finally, I would like to emphasize the need to educate individuals. In reality, there is little incentive for citizens to actively cooperate in Internet governance, as long as they are willing to use useful services. However, without the cooperation of individuals, governance is impossible. It is necessary to make people aware of how influential and difficult it is to control the Internet in today’s society, and to gather the cooperation of each and every one of them.
Bill Dutton, ‘The fifth estate emerging through the network of networks’, Prometheus, 27 (1), pp. 1–15.
GUARDCHILD. (n.d.). Internet Statistics. https://www.guardchild.com/statistics/
Gillespie, Tarleton. (2018) All Platforms Moderate. In Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media. Yale University Press. pp. 1-23.
Okoniewski, Elissa A. “Yahoo!, Inc. v. LICRA: The French Challenge to Free Expression on the Internet.” American University International Law Review 18, no. 1 (2002): 295-339.
Roberts, Sarah T. (2019) Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pp. 33-72.