Do we need a regulated internet?

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The internet. An ever-growing, intertwining mess of a digital world. Over recent years attention focused on some of its darker elements, garnering attention from many quarters such as Google, Coca Cola and even the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, who has promised to create a safer internet.

“Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.”

The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017

The most obvious parts of the internet to regulate are online messaging sites such as Twitter and Facebook and websites such as 4chan, made famous during the 2016 US presidential election, on which it doesn’t take long to find offensive content. For every cute cat video on the internet, there is an equally insulting rant from someone who doesn’t care about the thoughts or feelings of others. Is this a problem? Does the internet need saving?

Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and advocate for a more controlled internet

One of the main reasons for much of the offensive material posted on social media networks is the anonymity they provide. You don’t have to use your real picture, address, or even name. You can say what you want to say, or just post something outrageous, without any repercussions. These views will be visible to the world, for better or for worse. But anonymity has certain benefits too.  For every racist rant there is a beautifully written argument on a betterment for science, or a video of people helping each other, or someone truly expressing themselves for who they really are, not worrying about what others think because they are protected by this shroud of mystery. When no one can see who we are, we are truly free to be as we please.

The internet is toxic when there is disconnect between players and characters, most clearly seen in the online gaming community. Every day, millions log on to their favourite games to wind down after a rough day. Almost all are genuinely good, honest and loving people; but some are not. I’m sure most people have heard stories of people being called racist, homophobic or other such slurs while online. Or maybe had the pleasure of a 13-year-old telling you their opinion of your mother. I have heard many of the most creative insults come from this little corner of the internet. Players of these games can easily fall into the trap of becoming the characters they are playing. While taking part in these games we truly become part of the game, and some forget about the real world and the people who may be offended by a continuous stream of vulgarity.

How much of a problem is this? Are people’s rages in a video game a major concern? Should we even care about what these people say? I would say no. Not because I agree with what these people are saying – I doubt that anyone would – but simply because 99% of people playing these games don’t mean what they say. How many people are horribly offensive online but not in the real world? Millions.

People use the internet to vent their frustrations and escape the real world. People simply aren’t themselves on the internet; and why should they be? The internet is a whole new world in which someone can create a new life for themselves in a few clicks, and they can choose to live that life in a way which doesn’t affect the real world.

Finally, I must address the difficult topic of hate speech, most recently in the form of radical Islamic propaganda. This was pointed out by Theresa May as one of the major reasons her party would push for a more regulated internet. I see one major flaw with this, which is also present in the Conservative Party’s argument for stronger regulations on internet pornography. The only way to find this extremist, racist or homophobic propaganda on the internet is if you actually search for it.

This argument is one I rarely see brought up by politicians. While nearly all are keen to point out that with all the information it contains the internet is a cause for many of the problems in the modern world, they are very quiet when it comes to the fact that the people who want to see these pieces actively search for them. Now of course this doesn’t mean that the pieces themselves are not to blame. If there is a blatantly repulsive article online it should be removed, so as to stop any spread of hatred, but the article is only partly to blame. The blame also lies with the people searching for them.

People are quick to provide examples of horrific articles they found on the internet, stories of racism and other such hatred, however they never seem to point out how they found them. Look no further than your own experiences. When browsing the internet to find Berkeley Squares, did you find any extremist content accidentally?

The answer is no.

Is the online community toxic? Yes. Is that such a bad thing? In my own opinion, no. The internet is a wonderful place, full of people from all backgrounds with all sorts of views and opinions. It is the final form of freedom of speech. People can say what they want, when they want, without the fear of prosecution if they choose to remain anonymous. That is the beauty of the internet. People coming together to talk, spread information, and question others’ opinions. If you do not like what you see on the internet there is a very simple solution. Report what you find to be offensive and do not search for that part of the internet again.

Who are we to try and censor this beautiful place we have created? Or, maybe more importantly, why would we?