BY FONG TAI LAM 520424319
The Internet has evolved continuously over the past decades. Initially, it serves the purpose of a free space that allows the free flow of information and is governed by the users themselves and no governments involved. However, as time goes by, the purpose and features of digital platforms have changed a lot. It is no longer only governed by the users, but also the platforms and governments (Abbate, 2017). This has caused huge awareness and controversies among the public that content moderation could bring both disadvantages and advantages to the public. In my opinion, content moderation definitely has brought more good than harm.
To begin with, we must define what is governance. Governance draws attention to the complex processes and interactions that constitute patterns of rule. Governance as peace-making rather than confrontational (Kieron O’hara & Hall, 2021). Regarding the definition of Internet governance in relation to content moderation, content moderation by the platforms themselves not only helps combat cyberbullying, and avoids the spread of misinformation and hate speech, but provides a way for the vulnerable to stand up for their rights. For instance, one of the widely used social media Instagram set a comment filter that filters out offensive comments and even emojis (Jahan & Oussalah, 2023). The algorithm is an automatic learning machine that constantly updates its database based on the users’ data that it has collected to make sure it keeps up to date. Besides the automatic filtering that the algorithm functions as the platform also provides a function that users can customize their own comments regarding their personal needs. There is a chance that the algorithm might not be updated enough to detect offensive slang, as a result, customized filters are useful for users to better protect themselves from cyberbullying or sexual harassment, especially for celebrities.
Apart from the filtering function for restriction, social media provides a platform for the vulnerable and minorities to speak up for themselves. For example, after multiple women in Hollywood recounted their accounts of sexual harassment and assault, notably in the entertainment sector, the #MeToo hashtag became widespread on Twitter and Facebook in October 2017 (Burke, 2023). An international outpouring of testimonies from sexual assault survivors followed this viral incident. The spread of the hashtag helps the victims to gain more awareness from the public’s view and help eliminate the sexually inappropriate culture in the entertainment industry. The informal institution of speaking up on digital platforms plays a role of governing like formal institutions like laws to alert people to the consequences of committing sexually inappropriate actions. Besides, the #blacklivesmatter hashtag went viral online due to a black young teenager getting shot by white police when he was complying with the commands that the officer was telling him to (Black Lives Matter Movement | World News | the Guardian, n.d.). The controversy went viral online worldwide and made people reflect on the discrimination that colored people have been suffering in America and whether the police in America overuse power. These two examples showcase that online moderation isn’t just filtering out inappropriate content, but it does help spread educational or important information that could benefit the world.
In addition to informal governance by platforms themselves, there is formal governance by different governments that protects both the individuals and the country. Take China as an
example, the 2017 adoption of China’s Cybersecurity Law gives the country’s authorities considerable authority to control and prohibit internet behavior. Users’ data must be stored inside China’s borders by internet service providers and online platforms, and acce(Qi et al., 2018). Additionally, this law requires internet users to register using their true names, enabling law enforcement to more efficiently monitor online activity. The law aids in locating people and organizations that support terrorism and extremism. Authorities can identify and stop people from becoming radicalized, as well as demolish extremist networks before they can engage in damaging acts, by monitoring internet activity. For instance, if there are online talks encouraging extreme ideas or plotting terrorist strikes, police may quickly respond, apprehending those responsible and stopping prospective assaults.
Apart from avoiding terrorism and extremism, data localization and real-name registration help law enforcement authorities fight against internet crimes including fraud, identity theft, and harassment. Authorities are able to follow those who are involved in unlawful operations, which helps to stop and prosecute cybercriminals. As an illustration, if a user engages in online fraud or identity theft, law enforcement may identify them using the registered information, assisting in their capture and deterring others from doing the same crimes.
Moreover, the law gives Chinese authorities the ability to carefully watch internet activity, enabling them to spot and address possible security risks. The government can respond rapidly to cybersecurity crises, stop cyber espionage, and defend vital national infrastructure from cyberattacks by having real-time access to user data. By obtaining pertinent user data, the authorities can quickly identify and neutralize the danger of a cyberattack on a government institution or a critical utility under the Cybersecurity Law.
The above examples prove that online moderation could benefit the public’s interest. However, there are still some different views from society criticizing that online moderation might breach privacy and exploit the freedom of speech. One of the examples is that several VPN (Virtual Private Network) apps were deleted by Apple from the Chinese App Store in 2017 (Ververis et al., 2019). People can exercise their right to free expression and access unfiltered information by using VPNs to get over the Great Firewall of China and access prohibited websites. However, because VPNs may be used to get around the country’s internet censorship, the Chinese government has strong laws against them. The removal of these VPN apps by Apple was strongly criticized. Apple was criticized for unintentionally aiding China’s censorship policies and for restricting the freedom of expression and privacy of Chinese residents by adhering to Chinese restrictions. Users who rely on VPNs to communicate securely and have unrestricted access to information realize their options for expression are limited.
Despite causing uproar, Apple’s removal of VPN apps from the Chinese App Store does not inherently violate the values of free speech and privacy. While VPNs allow users to access unfiltered content, governments frequently restrict them in order to protect national security and control over potentially damaging content. In China, the government’s limitations on VPNs are intended to discourage unlawful activity, prevent cybercrime, and promote social stability. As a worldwide corporation, Apple must traverse complicated legal environments in numerous nations while complying to local legislation in order to function inside their markets. The withdrawal of VPN apps might be understood as a commercial requirement rather than an attack on free expression. Users’ privacy and freedom of expression are nonetheless guaranteed by the law. Furthermore, it is critical to understand that the right to free expression does not always imply an unlimited and uncontrolled internet. Responsible content moderation is required to combat negative actions like as hate speech, cyberbullying, and disinformation, therefore making the internet a safer place for all users. As a result, while VPN limits may limit specific parts of online activity, they are part of a greater attempt to strike a balance between freedom and security, as well as responsible digital citizenship.
Abbate, J. (2017). What and where is the Internet? (Re)defining Internet histories. Internet Histories, 1(1-2), 8-14. https://doi.org/10.1080/24701475.2017.1305836
Burke, T. (2023). Get to Know Us | History & Inception. Me Too Movement. https://metoomvmt.org/get-to-know-us/history-inception/
Black Lives Matter movement | World news | The Guardian. (n.d.). The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/black-lives-matter-movement
Jahan, M. S., & Oussalah, M. (2023). A systematic review of hate speech automatic detection using natural language processing. Neurocomputing, 546, 126232. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neucom.2023.126232
Kieron O’hara, & Hall, W. (2021). Four internets : data, geopolitics, and the governance of cyberspace. Oxford University Press.
Qi, A., Shao, G., & Zheng, W. (2018). Assessing China’s Cybersecurity Law. Computer Law & Security Review, 34(6), 1342–1354. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clsr.2018.08.007
Ververis, V., Isaakidis, M., Weber, V., & Fabian, B. (2019). Shedding Light on Mobile App Store Censorship. Adjunct Publication of the 27th Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization – UMAP’19 Adjunct. https://doi.org/10.1145/3314183.3324965