Today, we are living in an “Times of conflict” dominated by conflicts and tensions of all kinds. From geopolitical tussles between great powers to regional military conflicts; From hacking in the cyber world to trade wars affecting the lifeblood of the global economy, these conflicts span the traditional and modern, real and virtual, economic and political fields: Internationally, the ongoing tensions between China and the United States, the war between Ukraine and Russia, the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, and the instability on the Korean Peninsula constitute a complex “Times of conflict.”
When we discuss the regulation of the Internet, we are not only discussing a technical or legal issue, but also facing a question of power, freedom, rights and responsibilities. How to balance state power and individual freedom, how to protect citizens’ privacy while ensuring information security, and how to protect the openness and correctness of information while maintaining social order are all important issues to be solved in Internet regulation.
The need for Internet regulation
It is undeniable that social platforms allow more users to come into direct contact with each other, providing more new opportunities for communication and interaction between users. However, the dangers under the rosy vision are also obvious, as pornographic, obscene, violent, illegal, abusive and racially hateful content gradually appears on the Internet (Gillespie, 2018). The need for Internet regulation is that it can bring order and security to cyberspace in this “Times of conflict.” Whether it is targeting cybercrime or creating a better Internet community, Internet regulation has an irreplaceable role. Internet regulation also involves the authenticity and impartiality of information, which affects the public’s cognition and judgment of the world, and thus affects the values and ethics of the whole society.
In the “Times of conflict,” misinformation can have serious social, economic and political consequences. The recent European Union commissioner blasts X over disinformation track record is one example, and X’s report on its decision to withdraw its commitment to abide by a voluntary code of conduct on disinformation this spring has drawn the attention of regulators and watchdogs. This not only affects the control of disinformation on Internet platforms, but also aggravates international diplomatic relations, as a lot of misinformation about the war in Ukraine has emerged.
Artificial intelligence and Internet regulation
Some articles suggest that AI can participate in the monitoring and censorship of Internet content through machine learning: through deep learning and natural language processing technology, AI can detect and analyze users’ behavior in real time, and punish malicious, inappropriate or illegal content, so as to ensure a clean and healthy network environment (Gao et al., 2021). The authors argue that this kind of web censorship via machine learning is more effective than static censorship. In addition, in the face of online fraud, phishing attacks and other behaviors, artificial intelligence can quickly identify abnormal behaviors through data analysis and provide clues for law enforcement.
However, some critics argue that there are inaccuracies and biases in the AI system, according to an investigation conducted by a London police station in 2018 that used facial recognition technology to identify 104 criminal suspects, but only 2 of the 104 individuals identified were accurate (Reese, 2022). In addition to facial recognition technology of inaccurate, another example is the AI labels black men ‘primates’. These examples all show that AI systems are not perfect and have a lot to improve.
The risks of Internet regulation
Some argue that strict Internet regulation poses a danger to a fundamental democratic principle of free speech. China is an example of a country with strict Internet censorship, often referred to as the “Internet firewall.” From the perspective of governance, China’s Internet supervision measures have indeed achieved certain effects in ensuring social stability, combating cyber crimes and safeguarding the interests of its own company (O ‘Hara & Hall, 2018). But critics argue that strict Internet regulation, and government manipulation of online narratives that limit citizens to the state’s version of events, threatens not only citizens’ right to free speech, but also their right to privacy and political participation (Moynihan & Patel, 2021).
The potential for abuse of Internet regulation
Governments can use Internet regulation as a tool to stifle dissent, deprive civil liberties, and maintain power, especially during times of conflict or political unrest. Such abuses can have disastrous effects on democracy and human rights. Recently, Russia enacted new laws to combat “fake news,” punishing anyone who spreads “false information” about Ukraine with up to 15 years in prison. In addition, the law effectively criminalizes any public opposition to the war in Ukraine or independent journalism (Troianovski & Safronova, 2022). For Russia, enacting new laws to combat “fake news” and criminalizing the dissemination of Ukraine-related “disinformation” could be seen as a tool to try to control the narrative at home and suppress dissent and maintain power. In this way, domestic opposition is suppressed, and the government can ensure that the information received by the people is consistent with its national policies and positions. However, in a closed information environment, it is difficult for the public to obtain comprehensive and true information. This can lead to misunderstanding, confusion and excessive nationalistic sentiment. During a time of war, such feelings may further inflame tensions and may even lead to a further deepening of the war, depriving the two countries of the opportunity to restore peace.
When relations between countries become strained, information warfare becomes one of the main battlegrounds. In the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, both sides have sought to influence public opinion and international opinion through propaganda, information, and fake news. In this context, Internet regulation has been reduced to a tool to control, filter or suppress information that does not align with the government’s position. This was not the original idea of Internet regulation.
Given the risks and necessity of Internet regulation, finding a balance between the two is crucial. All regulatory frameworks may need to prioritize transparency and accountability to prevent abuse of power and uphold democratic ideals. One example is the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which, while strengthening user privacy, holds companies accountable for data misuse. At the same time, policies regarding Internet supervision should be developed with the participation of government agencies, civil society organizations, technology companies, and the public. This shared approach to policymaking ensures a regulatory framework that is broad and balanced for governments, companies, and citizens. In addition, technology and society are rapidly advancing and constantly changing, and Internet regulation should be reviewed and amended regularly to maintain its timeliness and impartiality.
In times of conflict, the conundrum of Internet regulation presents both unique challenges and important opportunities. While regulation is necessary to maintain social stability and the security of personal information, it is also inherently associated with personal freedom and the risk of abuse of power. Whether from the perspective of democracy, free speech, or national security, Internet regulation must strike a balance between protecting the public interest and preserving fundamental freedoms. This requires a transparent, participatory and dynamic Internet monitoring policy to ensure the security of personal information and social stability.
Gillespie, T. (2018). CHAPTER 1. All Platforms Moderate. In Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media (pp. 1-23). New Haven: Yale University Press. https://doi.org/10.12987/9780300235029-001
Gao, X. Qiu, M. and Liu, M. (2021). Machine learning based network censorship. 2021 8th IEEE International Conference on Cyber Security and Cloud Computing (CSCloud)/2021 7th IEEE International Conference on Edge Computing and Scalable Cloud (EdgeCom), Washington, DC, USA, 2021, pp. 149-154, doi: 10.1109/CSCloud-EdgeCom52276.2021.00036.
Moynihan, H., & Patel, C. (2021). China’s domestic restrictions on online freedom of expression. Restrictions on online freedom of expression in China. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/03/restrictions-online-freedom-expression-china/chinas-domestic-restrictions-online-freedom
Reese , H. (2022). What happens when police use AI to predict and prevent crime … What Happens When Police Use AI to Predict and Prevent Crime? https://daily.jstor.org/what-happens-when-police-use-ai-to-predict-and-prevent-crime/
Troianovski, A., & Safronova, V. (2022). Russia takes censorship to new extremes, stifling war coverage. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/04/world/europe/russia-censorship-media-crackdown.html
O’Hara, & Hall, W. (2018). Four Internets: The Geopolitics of Digital Governance (No. 206). Centre for International Governance Innovation. https://www.cigionline.org/publications/four-internets-geopolitics-digital-governance