The Wild West

If corporations don’t rule the internet, who will?

The internet has become a basic human right. There is a major problem though; the internet is controlled by corporations. Relax, I am not a conspiracy theory nut. What we are talking about here is a system that was created using public dollars now being used to further the agendas of private corporations.

The internet as a basic human right

The internet is a global system of interconnected computers that communicate with each other (rough definition). Nowadays, the internet is used to keep in touch with loved ones, pretend to live a lavish life through social media posts, find work, learn, actually work among other activities.

Freedom of speech vs censorship and algorithms

Most internet companies tread a weird line between censorship and freedom of speech. Twitter and Facebook come to mind with how they censor and block accounts. Donald Trump’s accounts were blocked and Russian media accounts were restricted. Nigeria had to ban Twitter in the country after the social media giant censored the President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweets and account. Herein lies the first challenge.

(We are not here to be judge and jury of whether Trump, or Russia or Buhari was wrong or right). Our goal is to look closer into the problem, if a world leader or celebrity publishes information that can lead to endangerment of people’s lives or well-being, who will regulate that? Does it need to be regulated? Does regulating such so called dangerous information impede the freedom of speech of that individual?

Facts vs Opinions

Jack Sparrow and the boons
Whose boons? Your boons? [Disney]

Before we go on, we need to distinguish the difference between fact and opinion. But before that, we need to define whose fact is more factual than the other. So whose facts are we sticking to? My facts or your facts? Herein lies major challenge number two. Even with fact-checkers, facts can be twisted to support any narrative.

Everyone has an agenda

The issue is that everyone has an agenda and will use the tools at their disposal to further that agenda. So whoever we decide will “rule” the internet, people will still riot and scream bloody murder. It is impossible to please everyone after all.

The role of net neutrality

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are a large part of what is wrong with the internet and telecommunications. When ISPs invest in infrastructure to provide connectivity to customers, they should not be allowed too much freedom. If they don’t like the rules, they can take their ball and go home! What ISPs do, making mobile data packages for Facebook cheaper than wider internet access packages shapes how people use the internet. This practice not only drives growth for Facebook, but for most people, the internet starts and stops at Facebook.

taking my ball and going home
Pictured: ISPs when we talk about net neutrality

When a single website becomes our source of communication, news and entertainment, we have created an all powerful behemoth. In the case of Facebook, one that is going to sell your twelve year old’s private data to the highest bidder so they can use it to manipulate elections. ISPs need to be regulated further and there should be no extra charge to access any website on the internet using ISP packages.

Making the final decision

Now we need answers to our questions. The first is who will be the fact checkers and which facts are they going to use? If we say the government will be part of the fact checking process, we have just given power to the politicians. If we say set up an independent body, that brings in all sorts of problems. When Donald Trump posts his controversial tweet, what do the regulators do? Spend hours debating and voting if the post is harmful or not? If the post is live, then the damage is already done. Taking down the post while a decision is being made has a negative effect. For example, a post may be time sensitive and taking it down, deciding that it is safe, then putting it back up would make it irrelevant. We are at a stand-off.

Maybe the current way is the best? Corporations decide on what they let on their platforms based on the pressures they get from investors and advertisers. This does not seem to be working very well either.

The next option is to let the internet be the wild west. Anything goes and no one needs to bother with regulating internet content. This is probably the worst option of all the options available. There are people who believe anything on the internet is fact. Then we have children. Even with parental controls, if children want to go to a specific part of the internet, they will always find a way. As a parent you can never realistically follow your child everywhere.

However we dissect this problem, we seem to always lose. It is then upon us to decide which way to lose is better than the other. Our $0.02 is let the corporations regulate their platforms but have oversight in case they abuse their power. When a post is taken down or account blocked, there should be a review on a case by case basis. If found in violation, there should be fines. We are not talking about a $2,000 fine for Twitter here. Make the shareholders feel it. Shareholders are like the mafia. If you go after their money, they will implement drastic changes to secure that money.

What is your take on this?