Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. As a computer scientist and life-long advocate of open source material, he believed his invention could provide an unrestricted platform to bring the world closer together. He thought it would cross borders, bypass regulations and allow for a truly global community where ideas, opportunities and information could be shared.
Over 30 years later, in 2011, Berners-Lee wrote a piece for the Guardian Newspaper discussing how he feels the web has lost its founding principles. Today, the farming of information, censorship, misinformation, political interference and marketing schemes are all red flag issues, and solving them means tracing back to their root. In most of these situations, it is the heavy-handed, money-driven decisions of the elite that have paved the way.
In essence, the state of the internet provides a conceptual representation of the ideas and actions of the rich and powerful, described in a word, fear.
Control through media has been evident to a greater or lesser extent throughout history. The use of specific ideas, slogans and messages, spread across national channels, has been a key factor in securing conformism. So, unsurprisingly, when a worldwide vault of unrestricted information suddenly came into play, governments around the world took drastic action.
In the most extreme cases, such as North Korea, the existence of the internet wasn’t even acknowledged until 2003. Today, millions of natives still have still never accessed the web. However, it wasn’t just the elite of rigid dictatorships that fought the freedom of the internet. Online censorship is evident internationally.
In the United States, there are a whole plethora of websites on the blacklist, but no citizens know which domains have been blocked. This situation encourages misuse of power, as content could be censored due to its political leaning – something that is already common practice in China and other countries.
Furthermore, the US government now has the ability to hack and spy on online data without a warrant. It can even arrest people based on their searches and messages.
It’s not just the political elite who have dug their claws into the internet. Since its conception, the marketing power of our online world has been undeniable. However, as technology continues to complexify, the promotion strategies of big retail organizations have blurred ethical lines. Today, their campaigns border on information control.
Targeted advertising is a new phenomenon that has developed as a result of the vast amount of data we surrender to the internet. As we fill in endless registration forms, visit websites that track our activity and post on social media, marketing companies are forming a profile of us to tailor the advertisements we see.
This tactic is already used extensively on search engines and sharing websites, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, it’s slowly spreading. Sky AdSmart is a recently released TV box that customizes commercial breaks to fit the household and watchers.
While the internet once promised freedom of information, it is now largely used for commercialization. It’s clear the financial elite will stop at nothing to make a profit – regardless of the moral repercussions.
The Age of Twitter Wars
The internet has not only demonstrated how the elite retains their control, but it has also shown the general public a side of them that they would not usually see. The ‘Twitter War’ started as a vice for entertainment celebrities; they would hash out their feuds in Tweets with their fan-bases cheering them on. While this exhibitionist behavior is unsurprising from those who have dedicated their lives to being in the spotlight, as the trend spread, it raised questions about the appropriateness of the channel.
Donald Trump is probably the most notorious Twitter user currently. He regularly takes to the platform to express his largely unprofessional opinions. These posts have included accusations towards fellow politicians, insults to media personalities and potentially sensitive information about colleagues.
While Trump is not the first leader on social media (Barack Obama currently holds the record for the most twitter followers), he is the first to demonstrate the problem with the concept so clearly. This culture of sniping and jibes is one of the most shameful sides of Western politics, and the use of Twitter has only inflamed the problem.
Fears of Cyber-Backlash
Another key factor in the modern age is the concern of cyberwarfare. Though the world has yet to see its first full-scale cyberwar, the media is filled with predictions and examples of potential signifiers suggesting a future digital battleground, as well as a physical one. Guillaume Poupard, head of the National Cybersecurity Agency of France, has already warned that we’re heading towards a permanent war in cyberspace. However, is the political buzz about this topic a cause for concern? Or is it just a demonstration of anxieties of the elite?
Let’s look at the facts: although cyberbreaches are becoming increasingly common, they’re yet to have a large scale effect. Probably the closest we have come to actual warfare was earlier in 2017 when the British Health Service was brought to a standstill by hackers trying for a ransom payment.
Regardless of the lack of real evidence, governments have authorized unrestricted online snooping. Alongside this, some countries have even illegalized the use of proxy servers – a type of software that allows users to browse anonymously. We have seen numerous cases of arrests, simply for posting disagreeable content and any hack, no matter how minor, immediately throws the media into a frenzy.
Although the reality of the threat of cyberwar is still undetermined, it’s no secret that the elite fear the power of the internet in the hands of the people.
Those in power will always have a significant influence on the spread and censorship of information. However, with actions that so obviously shun the founding principles of the internet, the question is: how far we are willing to let them go? Has the time to come where we must fight for our online freedoms? Or is the internet still in the hands of its end-users?