Recent years have proved that hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories on social platforms have become a cause for concern. The larger the internet grows, the more difficult it has become to maintain, as every new medium creates concern about its effects on society. Social media platforms like Whatsapp and Twitter allow information to spread very quickly globally, regardless of if they are authentic or not. Therefore, some people believe tech companies should be regulated. Even the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, requested for “more government-mandated rules”. So this creates the big question, is it time for the internet to be regulated?
Government regulation can take different forms like commercialization (a move to protect commercial interests and restrict access to copyright-infringing content), surveillance, enforced self-regulation and child protection. As tech companies continue to allow harmful content on their platforms, it has become clear that self-regulation has not been effective. Regulation is important in fighting terrorism and facilitating child protection. Allowing tech companies to regulate themselves by removing such content could mean the evidence is lost when persecuting individuals.
The New Zealand Christ Church massacre was streamed online, and in response, the Australian government introduced new laws. Similarly EU laws dictate social media platforms have a responsibility to remove harmful content and if they fail to do so, they will be held liable. Meaning, companies like Facebook and Google can be fined and face jail time by failing to remove violent content on their platforms. In content regulation, which is more complex, self-regulation and legal regulation work best together.
Furthermore, the introduction of regulation means the government can use this to tackle misinformation and fake news on the internet and tackle the widespread increase in the use of platforms for political advantage. Advancements like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have been effective in finding child abuse and terrorist content. However, critics say they are not effective when it comes to political speech. The United Nations rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression has recommended a body to deal with online content moderation, which would require human intervention before an account is suspended. This would be a form of human regulated AI.
On the other hand, the regulation of the internet brings about human rights concerns of censorship and overclocking, freedom of expression, which are all fundamental rights. What makes the internet so powerful is freedom, a place with relatively no rules. Moreover, what might be considered freedom of speech in certain countries might be blasphemous in others. The principle of democracy makes it difficult to exert control over freedom of speech.
More concerns on regulation include fears of one countries standards becoming the censorship standards for the rest of the world. This could mean one nation can impose it’s laws by choosing to prosecute owners of the website for violating the country’s laws even though the website or authors are not citizens of that particular country. Imposing national laws on non-citizens means foreign users do not have a voice in the lawmaking process.
Regulation is not straightforward because the internet is fast-paced, with new developments and platforms created daily. Meaning it happens more quickly than regulators can attempt to regulate them. So, is it time for the internet to be regulated? What do you think?
Marsden, Meyer and Brown (2020)
Arin Owoturo (2020)
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