Knowledge and participation for everyone. Cyber attacks and abuse of personal data. The Internet is a curse and a blessing, it is good and bad. The Internet is what people make of it.
Nothing is good or bad by itself. It’s people who use something to bring joy to others or to abuse them. Work can bring sense of life or destruction. Music can lift up or accompany a fascist regime. Religion can create strength and love or hate and death.
This is also true for technologies as the Internet. Often arguments are either strongly for or against the Internet. Defendants see justice and equality arriving but critics see a degraded society and control through collected data. Both are right.
Centuries ago the access to education was restricted because books were incredibly expensive. Books still cost money and libraries have limited resources. With the Internet though information is just a click away. People with a device, Internet connection and a little time can benefit from this world’s knowledge. They can even learn new skills. Free online courses by universities or coding websites are just two examples.
Not only is it possible to obtain information but to create and distribute. Software and distribution became so easy to use that almost anyone can create and share their writing, pictures and videos. It has great positive impact on a person when they realise their own ability to create and achieve something they had put their mind to.
One of the most beautiful things is that people share their knowledge over the Internet. Mostly without any financial reward people give advice in blogs and videos. Cooking, wrapping your hair, playing an instrument, coding – there is no aspect of life people don’t offer help.
Through sharing people connect to one another. These connections span around the globe. People who cannot meet in person are able to meet online. Bringing people together is the best medicine against prejudice and hate, especially in the current climate of growing fear.
Also, people who don’t feel a sense of belonging in the majority of society can connect digitally to others with similar experiences. Minorities build online communities and transfer them to the face-to-face world. Queer people find their partners and friends online. Or indigenous people in different corners of the globe support each other. The Internet can bring more love to a person’s life.
The means of learning and connecting make it easier to organise. From local to global people use the Internet to demand justice, save the environment or reveal suppressed information the public needs to know. Organising actions as well as donating is much easier.
And the bad
But the amazing tools of creating, sharing and organising are also used for harmful content. There are people who distribute violent or pornographic content. Firstly it means people were harmed to create such material. Secondly such content has the capability to deeply disturb others, make them indifferent to violence or encourage violent deeds. It is particularly tragic if young people come across such material, maybe without social support to reflect upon the things seen.
Not only civil rights activists, but criminals, racists and extremists organise themselves over the Internet. They use social media to recruit new followers. Parties on the right wing spectrum often have many more Facebook followers than established parties. It looks like political groups with inhumane agendas use the Internet more successfully.
Also governments abuse the means of the Internet. As Edward Snowden revealed, the National Security Association (NSA) vastly collects and analyses data without obtaining warrants. The NSA’s databanks contains data by Americans and Non-Americans who are not suspicious of any threat to security. Anyhow, mass surveillance is not successful to fight terrorism. If attacks were prevented in the past it mostly was mostly the success of traditional police work.
The abuse of data is increasingly crucial as more and more of people’s lives leave digital traces. Google searches, messaging, sign ups, likes, articles read, metadata: All this contains private and sensitive information. Data like medical treatment, union membership, travelled places must not be abused and hold against a person.
Even if customers provide data voluntarily there can be long-term dangers to society. Some health insurance companies would like to reward clients who collect and provide health data. However, people with preconditions or who are not willing to collect their fitness data must not be punished with higher or not affordable or even no health insurance. This could harm people and their families. Health must not be a privilege. This is just one example why citizens and governments should be aware of long-term consequences of collecting and sharing data.
As well as with health also a job and social security should not be a privilege. The Internet connects employers with a global workforce. Low wages, short-term projects at short notice and excessive competition might be the results. Such insecurity in planning and income has devastating results for people’s well-being and family life. But employers have responsibility that workers have a decent living and should decide accordingly.
Whether individuals, businesses or governments: It is people who use the Internet for the benefit of the many or for destruction. The Internet is just a medium. It’s people who make the Internet a curse or a blessing.
So the discussion about the Internet is less a tech question and more a question about human behaviour. There will never be a satisfying technical solution to fight hate and violence on the web. If people have strong relationships and a sense of life chances are much lower that they would fall into abusive behaviour.
A huge factor to people’s decent living is the world of work. It’s in the hands of employers to use the Internet for good purposes or to exploit the workforce.
Governments must truly embrace democracy and human rights. To create fear and thus justify mass surveillance will strip citizens of their privacy and freedoms.
With this ambiguity only one thing is certain: The Internet will not go away. People have to make it work. The solution rests with us.