On the Internet, users are not only consumers of content, but also producers. Since the birth and development of the Internet, essentially interactive media has been viewed as a platform for free expression. The Internet does not have an absolute regulatory authority that can rule the entire system, so the most people believe that people can express their beliefs on the Internet without fear of having to agree with others, no matter how much they do not conform to the popular trend. In reality the Internet also has a pattern of authoritarian rule. In the realm of an authoritarian internet, surveillance and identification technologies help ensure social cohesion and security (O’Hara & Hall, 2018). There are also huge differences in the management mode of the Internet by different governments. But at this point the controversial voice emerged, due to excessive censorship of content by platforms, the Internet has not reached the ideal state of freedom.
What kind of phenomenon has resulted？
Under government surveillance, some governments seek to police the Internet to control content, protect national security or ensure compliance with local government laws. The Great Firewall of China, for example, is a combination of legislative action and technology implemented by the Chinese government to regulate the Internet within the country. The technology limits access to foreign sources of information and requires foreign companies to adapt to domestic regulations (Contributors to Wikimedia projects, 2023). The move is typical of the extent to which government authorities control Internet freedom. The Chinese government hopes that the Internet will boost economic development, but because it encourages diversity of thought, it may undermine the country’s political stability (Punyakumpol, 2011). For the Chinese government, the Great Firewall is meant to stabilize economic development while isolating Western ideology. It is a tool used to control public opinion for reasons of national security, one of the forms of regulation needed to stabilize the government. But at the same time, it is at odds with Internet freedom. Many people believe the Internet should remain a freedom from excessive government control, arguing that strict regulation stifles free expression. This phenomenon reveals that the government’s excessive management of the Internet will gradually cause the Internet to be not accord with ideal state of the Internet, which runs counter to the principle of advocating freedom expression on the Internet and produces conflicts.
In addition, in terms of Internet regulation, there are often conflicts between privacy and surveillance issues. Privacy-conscious individuals and organizations believe that personal data on the Internet should not be invaded, and privacy should be strongly protected. But at the same time, the government believes that because of national security concerns, the government needs to access the data of Internet users in the region to avoid voices that harm national security and disrupt politics. So differing philosophies and conflicting interests may lead privacy advocates to complain about data breaches and resist mass surveillance. The South Korean Coast Guard’s slow response to the sinking of the Sewol passenger ship on April 16, 2014, resulted in the deaths of 304 people, including but not limited to high school students (Lee & Choe, 2014). However, behind this tragedy, the South Korean government chose to cover up their mistakes in the Sewol incident by “covering the mouths of the people”. After public criticism, President Park Geun-hye announced that messages posted on Kakao Talk, a popular messaging app, that insulted her or spread rumours about her would be cracked down on (Brandom, 2014). This shows that even though South Korea, a more supposedly democratic country, does not block access to outside information, as China does, it is difficult to maintain the government’s reputation without violating users’ privacy. This shows that the censorship system in Korea is also very strict. The government’s negligence in the Sewol disaster resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives, while the government chose to take extreme and damaging measures to safeguard national security, resulting in public discontent. At the same time, the cooperation between the government and enterprises has also brought a certain degree of damage to enterprises. Interestingly, software that protects privacy will inevitably have more supporters and users, thus generating more benefits. South Koreans are flocking to German app Telegram after Kakao Talk announced it would check users’ privacy (Brandom, 2014).
Why the conflict?
It is obvious that these conflicts involve the confrontation between individual rights and public power, and the media has certain social responsibilities in the wide communication. The most serious consequence of freedom of expression is the destruction of public order and national security. Internet surveillance is the best political tool when citizens are afraid of government surveillance and censorship, even if it may infringe on public rights in terms of freedom of expression and privacy, and they avoid mentioning and discussing sensitive topics (Hazel Kwon & Raghav Rao, 2017). Government regulation of the Internet is inevitable. As the widespread dissemination of the Internet in today’s society is an obvious fact, and the Internet mainly plays a role in controlling public opinion, so the media need to bear a large part of social responsibility. The government cannot completely interfere with the representations and ideologies of the media, so they must choose to undertake the right of supervision to manage the development of mass communication, just like the Great Firewall of China, to prevent the ideology of Western culture to prevent the harm to politics. For the government, this is the necessity of regulation, but it will not have any benefits for Internet users who pursue freedom of expression but bring conflicts of interest. Moreover, the scope and standard of monitoring and censorship for the development of the Internet are difficult to be accurate and without any discrimination, such as racism and sexism, so it is easy to arouse public anger when the normal rights and interests of users are violated. If the diversity of expression is not achieved while it is censored in a biased manner, then the government’s interest in regulating freedom of expression and the public’s profit in it is very easy to conflict.
Furthermore, the meaning and purpose of surveillance is also influencing the government’s theft of private data from Internet users. Government surveillance usually involves the collection of data, such as tracking users’ behaviour and collecting users’ personal information, and it is difficult to prevent users from feeling that their privacy has not been violated when it comes to browsing history and communication history. Non-public government surveillance increases the risk that the government may access and misuse personal information, thus creating greater concern for Internet users who are concerned about government surveillance (Dinev et al., 2008). As part of the investigation, users’ personal information and communications are reviewed without their knowledge, raising concerns that privacy will be compromised. Moreover, the government’s censorship of information and the monitoring of privacy are non-transparent, and people cannot fully trust that their privacy is kept secret. The lack of transparency in surveillance and the disclosure of data brings more concerns to users, even in legal cases, it is not fully reasonable to monitor personal information. If users can’t be assured that the government is monitoring their information and protecting their privacy, then users’ dissatisfaction with surveillance will be eternal.
Government censorship and surveillance of the Internet may affect the experience and profits of many Internet users, and it is inevitable that the Internet will have conflicts under this model. However, appropriate content censorship on the Internet is necessary to some extent, and it is necessary to manage the user experience of the platform and avoid excessive public controversy and criticism, to provide Internet users with a better experience and create a good Internet environment, which is the necessity of regulation. However, the Internet should not be excessively controlled and restricted by the government, which will lead to conflicts with the profits of users, otherwise it will have counterproductive consequences.
Brandom, R. (2014, October 6). Surveillance drives South Koreans to encrypted messaging apps. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2014/10/6/6926205/surveillance-drives-south-koreans-to-encrypted-messaging-apps
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Hazel Kwon, K., & Raghav Rao, H. (2017). Cyber-rumor sharing under a homeland security threat in the context of government Internet surveillance: The case of South-North Korea conflict. Government Information Quarterly, 34(2), 307–316. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2017.04.002
Lee, S., & Choe, S. (2014, April 16). Students among hundreds missing after South Korean ferry sinks. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/17/world/asia/south-korean-ferry-accident.html?_r=0
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Punyakumpol, P. (2011, June 1). The Great Firewall of China: Background. Torfox. https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/2010-11/FreedomOfInformationChina/the-great-firewall-of-china-background/index.html
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