In light of Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony on Capitol Hill regarding Facebook’s use of data and role in foreign nationals influencing the American public with engineered news, many questions have been asked about just how we utilize the Internet in 2018.
We’ve come far from the days of digital bulletin boards and dial-up modems. Now, our interface with the internet is seamless, and reflexive. It touches every aspect of our lives, from relationships to business, art, science, recreation and finance. But is the system we place ourselves wholeheartedly into ultimately healthy, in its own right? And that begs a second question – is it healthy for us?
The Mozilla Foundation, a known open source pioneer and the creator of the Firefox browser, recently published a report on the health of the Internet. Their goal was to foster a wider understanding of the human experience of the Internet – from connectivity barriers, to economics, to security and privacy, to online harassment – and find out how those issues all relate to each other, and find the existing patterns in these previously separate experiences. In short, changing the perception of the Internet from a technology experience, to a fundamentally human one, with a very real impact on the well-being of people in a number of ways.
With Big Tech
Companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook have market share and influence the likes of which have never been seen before. They are seamlessly ingrained into almost all facets of our lives, from civil discourse & public engagement, right down to the contents of your refrigerator and washing machine. They built the internet through innovation, by dreaming big, and giving us exactly what we wanted. It’s not their wealth which makes them dangerous; it’s their market share. Are they now too big to fail, knowing that they take the convenience of modern culture, along with all of our personal data, with them?
With Fake News
One of the founding ideals of the Internet was almost true democracy and the openness of knowledge. In 2018, it looks more like targeted product placement and the manipulation of the data you’re shown based on how an algorithm believes you think. A growing number of people source at least 30% of their news from social media, one of the most malleable platforms for fake news. A story need not be ‘true’, it need only be ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ enough for the appearance of validity. Since some of these ‘news’ stories tend to be extreme or alarmist, to either side of the political spectrum, they become nothing more than propaganda for special interests at best, foreign spies at worst. Russian citizens were able to use Facebook pages to organize social protests, and even counter-protests to the original protests they had created. It’s no stretch to see the tools used in that case turned to causing outright violence and creating panic during disasters.
We are no longer separate from the Internet. It’s now a part of almost everything we do. It is very much a human system now. Keeping the Internet open, free, and diversified is the key to a prosperous and free 21st century.