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This House believes the internet brings more harm than good
This House believes the internet brings more harm than good
The Internet is a network connecting computers across the world. It has its origins in military and academic projects dating back to the 1960s, but began to be more widely available from the end of the 1980s. The creation of the World Wide Web (1989) and web browsers (early 1990s) gave ordinary people easy ways of getting around the Internet. Over the past fifteen years, millions of different websites have been set up, giving people the chance to shop, do business, play, learn and communicate online. Over the same period it has become much easier, cheaper and faster to get online in order to do these things.
Now more than 30% of the global population have access to the Internet. Continent-wise, this breaks down as: Europe: 58.3%, North America 78.3%, Latin America 36.2%, Africa 11.4%, Asia 23.8% and Oceania 60.1%. These figures are growing all the time, as technology designed to access the Internet becomes both more mobile and much cheaper to produce. The arrival of the Internet has vastly changed the way in which people search and access information. News travels more quickly than ever, and current affairs can be discussed all over the world instantaneously via forums, blogs, and social networks. Search engines like Google and Wikipedia have now become ubiquitous starting points for researching anything from minor queries to academic reports. Many people also maintain social links through the Internet with services such like Facebook, Skype, and Flickr, to name but a few. Research in the UK has shown that the average adult spends around 22 hours 15 minutes online each month.
Some believe the Internet is dominating the lives of its users. Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way we Think, Read and Remember, that all this time spend online cannot be healthy, whereas other have cheered the increased possibilities for research, meeting new people and keeping in contact with one another. The strongly contested debate remains as to whether the internet is an active force for good in society or not.
|Points For||Points Against|
|The quality of information online cannot always be relied upon||The Internet has increased economic and creative prosperity in a leveled way|
|The Internet is a threat to privacy||The power that the Internet gives to citizens is good for democracy|
|The Internet has allowed a large amount of criminal, offensive and discriminatory information to be easily accessed.||The Internet helps to bring communities and the world closer together.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
The quality of information online cannot always be relied upon
The Internet has become a major source of information for many people. However, online information has usually not gone through the same checks as newspaper articles, books or factual television programming. There is a higher risk that some of the facts or quotations from a particular source in an article are false. Whereas newspapers might lose customers if people find out they have been ‘selling lies’, a blog and other online content can be easily created and uploaded as well as just as quickly being deleted. If people base their opinions on the information they find online, they could well be basing their opinion on false information. Take for example the 2006 conspiracy film Loose Change which has had millions of views. A report from the thinktank Demos in a report titled “Truth, Lies and the Internet: A Report into Young People’s Digital Fluency” state that the film contains a “...litnay of errors, misattributions, vague insinuations, subtle misquotes, and outright falsehoods...” Since the Internet gives equal space to material of greatly varying quality, the degree to which the internet can been viewed as being a total force for good is drawn into question. If an informed society is an empowered society it therefore stands to reason that a misinformed society is disempowered society.
The Internet gives millions of people access to information they would not otherwise have had, which is a huge benefit. People who read the news, offline or online, are not inherently dupable, they like all people do not simply accept messages they are, to varying degrees, critical of what they read and not simply passive. When people spend a lot of time reading online content they can differentiate between bloggers who are untrustworthy or extremely biases from bloggers who carefully refer to legitimate sources. The problem of bad information in news-making is not unique to the Internet; there are lots of trashy magazines and poorly researched news content in traditional print channels of communication as well. We learn in formal education to double-check our sources and not believe everything we read, and we can apply that skill while surfing the Internet.
It is not enough to say that the internet contans falsehoods to dismiss the value of the internet. All mediums contain falsehoods whether intentional or unintentional but there is a much broader picture that needs to be considered in terms of the ability of the internet to provide people with freedom of expression and freedom of information, if it being a free for all has the downside of some falsehoods then thaty is a price worth paying.
The Internet is a threat to privacy
Everyone’s privacy can be greatly harmed by the Internet. Some websites store information. Some ask us to fill in information which can be sold to other sites for commercial purposes. As the Internet gains more and more users the temptation for criminals to gain our private information becomes greater. Hackers can hide their true location when engaging in illegal activities online, so the likelihood of their being brought to justice is low. Whenever people post something online, it becomes almost impossible to erase, and with the proliferation of social networks posting personal information online is becoming second nature, this is a dangerous precedent. Take for example the posting of our locations online via geotagging, this for many is an action which doesn’t take much consideration, however, to demonstrate the danger of this designer Barry Borsoom setup the website PleaseRobMe.com which would grab geocaching data and tell people when a person’s house was potentially empty.
With the aid of the Internet then, we are symbolically sleepwalking into a big brother style existence, in an information age all data about ourselves is an important asset and one which needs defending. The infringement and degradation of our privacy as a side-result of the Internet should be of great concern, and it is potentially one of the most detrimental effects the Internet could have on society.
Privacy online is a big concern, but an educated citizen can navigate the Internet in a safe and sensible manner with minimal privacy issues, although as with being offline a the threat of crime can never be entirely eliminated. When we go online no-one forces the user to share private information, it is volunteered by the user in exchange for a free service, it is often a small price to pay for the services that can be received in return, such as free e-mail or free webspace. Of course privacy can be infringed in other ways, by unlawful access to personal files for example, but if protection such as firewalls are setup and users are careful about what they download privacy online can be easily maintained. It is misleading to say we are sleeping walking into a big brother existence, it gives in impression that the effect the Internet is having on society is conspiratorial, this is clearly not the case, people like the way the Internet can bring people all over the world together. Privacy is no more of a problem online than privacy is in the offline world, the issue is being overstated by the proposition.Improve this
The Internet has allowed a large amount of criminal, offensive and discriminatory information to be easily accessed.
The ability for anyone to be able to publish anything online without barriers resulted in a large amount of information which could not only be incorrect but could also be criminal, offensive or discriminatory if it were available to the general public. This sort of information would not usually be widely published via offline channels, but with the advent of the Internet it is very easily accessible by anyone like never before, and this is a dangerous president. A cavalcade of propaganda from extremist groups such as religious zealots or Neo-Nazis for example can be accessed by anyone around the world. This is dangerous as vulnerable people could easily be taken in and exploited if the discovered this material. It is quite often found that ‘lone-wolf’ terrorists, for example, have gotten their information and inspiration from the Internet. Garry Reid, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism in the USA states that “Enabled by 21st-century technology, extremists have optimized the use of Internet chat rooms, Web sites and e-mail chains to spread their virulent messages and reach a global audience of potential recruits”. But it is not only terrorists who are utilizing the Internet at a detriment to society. Various reports have linked a sharp rise in paedophilia with the growth of the Internet as it is an easy and often anonymous way to share such material with the world. The ability for anyone to publish anything online could clearly do considerable harm to society, which would have otherwise been much less prevalent and easier to control and regulate.
Freedom of information should mean freedom of all types of information, even if it is extreme propaganda from fringe groups such as neo-Nazis or Al-Qaeda. The public must be trusted to be able to make its own decisions on the value of such texts. What is great about the Internet is that points of view that would not necessarily get much publicity in traditional media can be aired and discussed online, from serious issues such as capital punishment to less serious ones like aliens. Of course one of the downfalls of such freedom is that illegal content such as child pornography can be made available in a way which it could not have before, but highlighting this issue is not entirely fair as it is greatly outweighed by the information available online that is perfectly fine and legal. This does not of course excuse the publication of such images. It is, however, a slight misnomer to suggest that the Internet is entirely free from the restraints of law. In issues of legality, governments can take action: they can either trace the origin of the images or force web space providers and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to take down the content. On the whole, having ready access to such a large amount of information, and being able to freely add and discuss it, is beneficial to society, because it is both liberating and educational.Improve this
The Internet has increased economic and creative prosperity in a leveled way
The Internet has brought greater prosperity, allowing not only established business more distribution channels over a wider geographical area but it has also allowed individuals through e-bay, for example, and small independent businesses to flourish. This has brought a lot more choice to ordinary people, and also driven down prices as people find it easier to compare different companies’ products. The main advantage to small businesses is that they can cheaply set up online and find a global market for their goods and services. By making it easier to work anywhere with an Internet connection, the internet has also allowed many more people to work from home and to share projects with co-workers across the whole world which has allowed for greater economic efficiencies.
The Internet has also provided a cheap and wide-reaching platform for independent creative people to share and distribute their work. This is done via self-promotion similar to small business, in the form of digital portfolios and self-hosted blogs as well as sharing content more generally, take for example the vast array of independent movies gets regularly posted to video-hosting websites such as Vimeo. The Internet has given anyone creative equal footing by which to compete as everyone has the potential to reach the same global audience.Improve this
The Internet has certainly allowed many new small businesses and independent creative people to win international exposure at a low price. However, the Internet is, on the whole, dominated by big companies taking most of the business while smaller organizations struggle. The Internet has in fact damaged independents more than it has helped, as offline shops struggle to compete with the financial savings of operating entirely online. This is also true for art and other creative pursuits, because independent offline art projects are being harmed by the convenience of simply posting work online digitally. The economic benefits being spoken of do exist, but they favor the already powerful conglomerates over independents, as those conglomerates can use their vast income base to dominate. It is especially bad when these big companies migrate online, because they shred important jobs, to the detriment of society. The lowered barrier to entry means that anyone can setup business online, but on the whole the majority will struggle to survive and only a rare few will flourish.Improve this
The power that the Internet gives to citizens is good for democracy
People often complain that their opinions are ultimately pointless as nothing will change. This trend can be demonstrated with the numbers of people going out to vote consistently falling, however with the rise of the Internet this trend could reverse. What the Internet has enabled is for everyone, in one way or another, to have the chance to truly have their voice heard. It has given them the ability to fully engage in topics that matter to them on a personal level. As this website and this very debate show, people can debate, share opinions, and start petitions in ways that were never truly available before. Not only is democracy being revived, it is also being demanded in countries that do not have democracy due to Internet access. This can be seen in what has been described as the Arab Spring, whereby the Internet was used as a tool to organize pro-democracy protest in a number of Middle-Eastern countries including Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, to name a but a few.
It is overly hopeful to suggest that simply because people now have another medium through which to discuss their views and opinions that they will necessarily go out and vote. The decrease in voting is a concern for western countries, but the Internet should not be seen as the panacea that will singlehandedly solve the problem. In reality, the situation is much more complex. Of course the Internet provides a unique platform to discuss ideas, but it is not revolutionary. The opposition paints a picture suggesting that grassroots movements could not happen without the Internet. This clearly is not true, as a brief look at history will show. While the Arab Spring shows a positive use of the Internet in aiding democracy, the same tools can be applied toward negative goals. Indeed, the Internet is not intrinsically geared towards aiding democracy. For example, much of the organization for the attacks and looting of at the UK riots in August 2011 was organized via social networks and blogs.
The Internet helps to bring communities and the world closer together.
With the ability for anybody to easily and quickly share rich information online, via a whole host of tools, the Internet serves bring people together. Firstly take for example social networks. Friends can remain connected to each other when miles apart. People can maintain and even create friendships without the barrier of geography. Additionally, social networks have a capacity to distribute news in a timely and targeted manner, directed at the people whom it mostly concerns, that is far greater than that of traditional media cannot compete. Secondly there are many instances of hyper-local news communities springing up online in which people can truly engage in their community, and help improve it. This model can and is extended to bigger areas, helping to engage society for its greater good. For example Fillthathole.org.uk, provides a nationwide portal for U.K. citizens to report road potholes. Thirdly the Internet brings the world together by not only encouraging direct communication with people from other countries, but also by being able to share and distribute information in a way which traditional forms of communication could not do.Improve this
This image of the Internet drawing people being closer together is simply an illusion. Sitting in front of computers rather than getting out in the world in fact isolates people from one another. Some academics argue that narcissism is the glue that keeps social networks together. If people didn’t believe that their views were important and needed to be heard, then social networks would be unable to function. Social networks encourage people to express what they are doing rather than reading what others have to say. If people want to feel integrated into their communities, they should get out and about and do something active for it. Complaining about things online will not result in direct action solving the problem. Although it is true that people all over the world are now theoretically able to communicate with one another more easily, that is not how the Internet is actually used most of the time. Many Internet users either read digitized versions of traditional information sources, and when they are on social networking sites, they engage most often with real-life friends, with whom they could easily spend face-to-face time. Language is the other major barrier to worldwide integration. While there are translation tools online, most people online will stick to communicating in their native language, and this is particularly true of English speakers. The idea that the Internet is bringing new people together is on the whole a myth.
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Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way we Think, Read and Remember. W.W Norton: New York; London, 2010
Curate this debate
If you are an academic or highly knowledgeable about a particular debate could you give an hour or two a month to curate a debate?