From Thinking Outside the Boxe’s Sydney Correspondent: The internet was developed by Bob Kahn and others as far back as the early 1970’s when it was known as ARPANET. Submission to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities from the Cambridge Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Group The definition of the term “internet” was not however created until 1995. Of course even as recently as 1995 there was no way that people could have foreseen how the internet would evolve.
Since its commercialization the internet has revolutionized our lives, particularly the way in which we communicate. It is interesting to note that Email has played a large role in the development of many aspects of the internet. Additionally, an important feature of modern cell phones is an interface which allows you to easily access the internet. Many websites also contain functionality that supports this. For example you can take a photo on your phone and instantly upload it to your Facebook page. The term Web 2.0 (the ‘social’ Web) reflects how much of our lives are now lived and shared online. This final point also has a darker flip side that will be examined below.
There is no doubt that being able to communicate easily with friends and family, and to be part of a worldwide social network, is in many instances, a positive experience. However, this must be weighed against the increasingly obvious dark side of the internet. Disturbingly, many websites seem either powerless or unwilling to do anything about it. On June 8 this year, Britain’s Daily Mail reported that Nicola Brookes was targeted by internet ‘trolls’ (people who post comments in order to be confrontational, although they use more subtle tactics as well) on Facebook after posting a picture supporting an X Factor contestant. Brookes won a high court case ordering Facebook to reveal the identity of the anonymous users who had abused her. Brookes began her legal battle after both Facebook and police would not do anything about the abuse. It will be interesting to see if this precedent leads to changes in the way Facebook operates and whether more victims of online abuse go to court in an attempt to unmask their tormentors.
Sadly, the internet has become the playground of ‘trolls’, bullies, criminals, and paedophiles. In the case of bullies and ‘trolls’, these cowardly individuals hide behind their right to free speech, and the anonymity that the internet so readily provides them. Since the actions of bullies and ‘trolls’ tend to overlap in the realm of cyberspace it is worth examining both groups together. As the Daily Mail article referred to points out there is no lack of examples of online bullying and harassment. In fact it points to a survey which revealed that over 50% of internet users have been abused online or via text message. In the past, victims of bullying could at least console themselves with the fact that their homes provided a refuge and a chance to escape from their tormentors. In this age of rapidly advancing technologies and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter bullying becomes a relentless assault that can only be avoided by becoming a technological hermit. This is not the kind of life that many of us would choose to lead (even Nicola Brookes still has a Facebook account). Facebook has over 955 million users, as of June 2012 which means that not only are all the bullies there but your friends are too.
Most, if not all people, would say that one of the most annoying aspects of the internet is the amount of ‘junk’ email they receive. Perhaps the most insidious of all forms of junk email are scams that have become increasingly sophisticated. We can be surprised at the number of highly intelligent individuals who fall prey to these scams and hoaxes but this is only because they are so well conceived and executed. Even so it is incredible to consider that internet scams cost American citizens $550 million dollars in 2009 according to an article in the LA Times. A curious twist on the internet scam phenomenon comes from the Sydney Morning Herald. A story in February 2012 reported that an Australian woman had stolen $30,000 from Nigerians engaged in an internet car sales scam. The woman pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated fraud.
Earlier I noted briefly that the internet has allowed individuals to communicate with other like minded people across the globe. Generally this is a good thing. However some people in society share one interest in particular that no culture on this planet tolerates, and that is paedophilia. The internet has allowed international paedophile networks to share and distribute images of young children, and even stream acts of abuse live to other members of their network. Paedophiles also have regularly used the internet to ‘groom’ young children for the purpose of child abuse. Once again it is the anonymity of the internet that has assisted in facilitating this. This grooming is often done via social networks and other internet channels such as email. Fortunately it is the very anonymity that paedophiles exploit that has helped police to catch them and shut down paedophile rings. This is done when police infiltrate paedophilia networks by posing as children.
People hold widely divergent views on pornography. Some enjoy it, while others detest it and believe it is sinful. As the previous paragraph demonstrates there are some forms of pornography which are abhorrent to virtually all members of society. Whatever your opinion it is worthwhile mentioning pornography because of its prevalence on the internet and also how easily it can be accessed. It is a subject that also feeds into the debate on the sexualisation of children. An IT World article in February 2012 published some statistics about porn that show how widespread internet pornography really is. Some of these facts include: 12% of websites (nearly 25 million) are porn sites; $3075.64 is spent on porn every second; and Sunday is the most popular day of the week for viewing porn. These statistics come from an Online MBA study conducted in 2010.
The question of whether or not the internet should be scrapped really depends on whether or not the negative aspects outweigh the positives. As the example of pornography illustrates what is a positive for some is negative for others. Yet some of the darker aspects of the internet such as cyberbullying and criminal enterprises would be denounced by the majority of internet users. As the internet assumes a greater and greater role in our everyday lives perhaps it should not be surprising that is exploited and utilized by the same perpetrators, criminals, and bullies who have existed for decades in the online world. The internet merely provides them with a new platform. If we accept that the internet is being exploited in this way then surely there is a responsibility for Governments, law enforcement agencies, and website owners themselves to minimize these things. At the moment it is clear that not enough is being done in order to enforce the law and protect innocent people online. Of course it has to be acknowledged that the rapid growth in technology makes this difficult but it might be this very fact that is the strongest argument for the internet to be scrapped.