Problematic content spreads on digital platform
In today’s 21st century, with the rapid development of the Internet and the increasing popularity of various network applications, the Internet has been everywhere and all the time. People living in today’s Internet information era are gradually accepting the life style of living in the online society. However, “Every technology or gift of science has a dark side.” (Negroponte, 1995). The Internet brings people a lot of information, on the one hand, people can learn a lot of things they didn’t know before, even if they happened on the other side of the world. On the other hand, it also gives people access to a dark world full of bullying, harassment, violence, hatred, pornography and other inappropriate content when they sit safely at home. Cyberbullying is the most common and widespread form of harmful online content, and it refers to the use of social media by a person or a group to repeatedly attack and hurt a victim. According to a survey conducted by UNICEF (2019), as many as one in three young people in thirty countries and territories experience cyberbullying, and one in five young people skip school because of cyberbullying and violence. Cyberbullying has had a huge impact on victims, and studies have shown that people under the age of 25 who are subjected to cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to commit self-harm and suicide as their peers (Newman, 2018). Ryan, an American autistic boy, was bullied by his school classmates because of physical and learning problems. He met a so-called good friend on the Internet, but this people only wanted to show what he shared to others to laugh at him. Therefore, he hanged himself at the age of 13 in agony (NBC 26, 2015).
“Father Shares Story of Bullying & Teen Suicide” by NBC 26. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kBoavZ7MVE
So who exactly is responsible for stopping this problematic content from being spread on the Internet? And how should it be stopped? This article will discuss what should be done to stop the spread of harmful content from three perspectives: governments, digital platforms and individual Internet users.
Government regulation is the most important method
Although the Internet all over the world eliminates the geographical boundaries and blurs the boundaries between countries and regions in a certain sense, it does not and cannot destroy countries and regions, so no institution or network organization can replace the position of the government. Whether in terms of public demand for a networked society or in terms of funding, the government should be actively involved in playing an indispensable role in building a peaceful and healthy networked society. In 1996, the United States enacted the first set of official laws, the Telecommunications Act, to regulate the Internet (FCC, 2013). Then more and more countries are realized the dangers of the powerful power of the Internet, and each country has formulated different laws and regulations to restrict what people do in the online society according to their own different management methods. In recent years, Germany has no longer made it impossible for people to be punished for making all kinds of malicious remarks in the online society as in Western countries. On the contrary, in order to fight against extreme right extremism, Germany has directly initiated criminal proceedings against people who have made hate speech, resulting in heavy fines or prison penalties. (Satariano & Schuetze, 2022). However, when the government has too much power, the government may use its power to manipulate public opinion on the Internet to achieve its goal. In India, the world’s largest democracy, the government only allows speech that supports itself and the ruling party. The media has become a microphone for the ruling party, shutting up about the fact that the government is illegally persecuting the underclass and even backtracking and pinning charges on people (Bhurtel, 2020).
“Dran – Free Speech Painting” by urbanartcore.eu is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 .
The government should formulate more perfect laws and regulations on Internet behavior to make people realize that harmful behavior on the virtual network is also regulated by the law. The government should also strengthen the management of the digital platform to prevent the platform from becoming a machine for some groups to manipulate public opinion because of their interests. The government need always reflect on whether its actions are appropriate and beneficial to society, and not move towards authoritarian control.
Platform regulation is the primary means
If the government plays the most important role in the regulation of the Internet, then the digital media platform is the main party responsible for preventing the spread of harmful content. The platform is the most important part of building a network society, it is like a building in the city, accommodating everyone. When everyone wants others to see their opinions and communicate with people they don’t know, a large number of users are created. Of Australia‘s 21 million people aged 13 and over, approximately 19.2 million use Google and 17.3 million use Facebook each month (AHRC, 2022). The popularity of platforms has resulted in huge benefits for their companies, and the fact that these platforms automatically collect, store and analyze vast amounts of user data and content data which expands their responsibilities. Platforms have to comply with the law and do reasonable activities under government regulation, but they also have to protect their users and meet their needs in a timely manner to avoid losing them (Flew, Martin & Suzor, 2019). Platforms have had to become the guardians of the internet, using automated censorship systems and a large number of human reviewers to screen and remove all content published on them. However, the moderation of platforms will also be a lot of controversy. According to Gillespie (2018), in 2016, Norwegian journalists published an article reflecting on the war, with pictures of several children who had been seriously injured in the war, shouting in pain, still followed by Vietnamese soldiers with guns. One of the most prominent was a naked girl who had no clothes to cover her full of wounds.
‘The Terror or War’ & Huynh Cog Ut’s Camera’ by CC Chapman is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .
Such a picture brings a great visual impact to the viewer, people will most intuitively feel the cruelty of the war, and reporters will easily achieve the goal of asking people to reflect on the war. But this shocking photo with underage nudity has undoubtedly become a part of the platform content moderation that will be deleted. It is difficult for platforms to censor the countless content published every day, and the automatic censorship system will only mechanically delete all content with tags such as violence, pornography, hatred, etc., at the same time, it is also difficult for platforms to judge the meaning behind such controversial content.
The platform should recognize that most of the content needs to be manually reviewed before it can be properly screened, and auditors should undergo collective training before working. The platform should pre-audit the content before it is uploaded, rather than waiting until the content has been published on the platform for some time before making a judgment.
Users’ personal self-regulation is the most basic method.
The huge number of users of the Internet is the source that enables the spread of all kinds of problematic content, and no matter how much the government and platforms regulate it, it is inevitable that there will be fish in the net. If users can aware that their actions are inappropriate and hurtful to others, and they can stop doing so in a timely manner, then fewer and fewer people will spread harmful content, only then can the many dangers posed by the Internet be addressed at the root.
Inappropriate content such as bullying, harassment, violence, hatred and pornography can be found in many places on the Internet, and the degree and content of access are not the same for different people. Therefore, a more comprehensive regulation of the Internet can only be achieved with the cooperation of government agencies, media platforms and Internet users to stop the spread of such content.
Australian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). 5 Current issues of ‘Internet censorship’: Bullying, discrimination, harassment and freedom of expression. Retrieved 14 October 2022, from https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/5-current-issues-internet-censorship-bullying-discrimination-harassment-and-freedom
Bhurtel, B. (2020, April 29). Corporate media a serious threat to Indian democracy. Asia Times. https://asiatimes.com/2020/04/corporate-media-a-serious-threat-to-indian-democracy/
Federal Communications Commission. (2013, June 20). Telecommunications Act of 1996. https://www.fcc.gov/general/telecommunications-act-1996
Flew, T., Martin, F., & Suzor, N. (2019). Internet regulation as media policy: Rethinking the question of digital communication platform governance. Journal of Digital Media & Policy, 10(1), 33–50. https://doi.org/10.1386/jdmp.10.1.33_1
Gillespie, T. (2018). All Platforms Moderate. (2018). In Custodians of the Internet (pp. 1–23). Yale University Press. https://doi.org/10.12987/9780300235029
NBC 26. (2015, June 17). Father Shares Story of Bullying & Teen Suicide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kBoavZ7MVE
Negroponte, N. (1996). Being digital. Hodder & Stoughton.
Newman, C. (2018). Young victims of cyberbullying twice as likely to attempt suicide and self-harm, study finds. Swansea University Prifysgol Abertawe. https://www-2018.swansea.ac.uk/press-office/news-archive/2018/youngvictimsofcyberbullyingtwiceaslikelytoattemptsuicideandself-harmstudyfinds.php
Satariano, A., & Schuetze, C. F. (2022). Where Online Hate Speech Can Bring the Police to Your Door—The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/23/technology/germany-internet-speech-arrest.html
UNICEF poll. (2019). More than a third of young people in 30 countries report being a victim of online bullying. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-poll-more-third-young-people-30-countries-report-being-victim-online-bullying