Nothing may have had as bad of a year as the Internet.
The Internet has been hit with an onslaught of criticism and suffered several setbacks in 2016: from relinquishment of American control over web address management, introduced surveillance measures in the United Kingdom, social media backlash for users’ hate speech and terrorist affiliations, to censorship and fake news.
The Obama administration let a contract with an American corporation expire at the very end of September, so that a central portion of Internet governance control could be handed over to an international bureaucracy. (RELATED: Obama Admin Wants To Surrender US Control Over Internet To Global Bureaucracy)
Now countries like China, which have vastly different perspectives on freedom of speech than America, will have a say in how Internet addresses will be managed.
In October, a large portion of websites were shutdown for the majority of the Northeast in America. Now that power has been shared with other countries, such attacks could be harder to overcome and thus could become a severe and regular problem for America’s internet infrastructure, which is absolutely critical for a number of things like the country’s electoral process, national security and commerce. (RELATED: Internet Crashes Will Be Hard To Stop After Obama’s Internet Giveaway)
The U.K. passed a surveillance bill in November that significantly expands the government’s spying powers, namely over the Internet. The Investigatory Powers Bill is considered so expansive, it’s informally called the “snoopers’ charter.” The European Union’s top court ruled the measure was illegal because it calls for the “general and indiscriminate” retention of people’s online web traffic, but it remains to be seen if the ruling will ultimately matter.
“The U.K.’s new Investigatory Powers bill sets a chilling precedent for surveillance and online free speech in the West,” Ryan Hagemann, technology and civil liberties policy analyst at the Niskanen Center, told the The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Americans should definitely be concerned about the expansion of surveillance authorities in Europe, especially with the rising tide of ethno-nationalism and right-wing populism throughout much of the continent.”
Tech platforms like YouTube and Twitter have engaged in censorship by removing accounts such as ones associated with the alt-right — going against the companies’ usual mindset of being absolutely for free speech. (RELATED: Twitter Doesn’t Rule Out Banning Trump If He Gets Too Unruly)
In fact, there are a number of instances of Silicon Valley burying conservative news, from Facebook’s trending list, to Google’s search engine. (RELATED: Google Is Burying Negative Search Suggestions For Hillary Clinton, New Study Shows)
These same tech companies have been sued over the past year by a number of people, including the family members of the victims of the Orlando Night Club shooting, the Paris attacks, and Palestinian bombings. The plaintiffs in these cases argue that tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are complicit with terrorists because such evildoers use the platforms they offer, thus providing “material support.”
“Those lawsuits are going nowhere. Service providers can’t be held liable just for providing accounts to bad speakers who would use the accounts to convey bad messages. See, e.g., Fields v. Twitter,” Eugene Volokh, professor at the UCLA School of Law, told TheDCNF.
Yet, several parties are still suing these tech companies, potentially harming the sanctity of freedom of speech on the Internet. (RELATED: EU Threatens Massive Internet Censorship If Big Tech Won’t Come To Heel)
The FBI demanded that Apple unlock the iPhone 5c of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two San Bernardino shooters. A federal court at the time agreed and ordered that Apple do so, which CEO Tim Cook said would require creating a new technological tool.
Cook called it “unprecedented” and “chilling” since “building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a back door. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.” (RELATED: Turkey Is Reportedly Asking Apple’s Help In Unlocking iPhone Of Russian Ambassador’s Killer)
Cook states that if it had created such a tool, encryption, the process of encoding data so only the authorized parties can see it, would have been compromised, thus significantly harming people’s online privacy.
And there’s the fake news dilemma, where people are worried that uncorroborated stories are becoming too available for people to see on the Internet. People have called on Facebook to fix the problem since it’s a social media platform where news is disseminated. (RELATED: Facebook Wants To Hire 20-Year Media Veteran To Help Solve ‘Fake News’ Problem)
Mark Zuckerberg named Snopes, a media outlet, as one of the entities that will help them in labeling stories as “fake news.” This will likely lead to subjective censorship of conservative viewpoints, since Snopes almost exclusively employs people who are left-leaning. (RELATED: CAUGHT: Snopes Deliberately Omits Key Details To Protect Kerry’s State Dept.)
So while the bleakness for the Internet in 2016 was fairly apparent, what does 2017 have in store?
While Hagemann says its always difficult to make predictions, he thinks because of “the battles over encryption here in the U.S., the passage of the Investigatory Powers bill in the U.K., and the year-end focus on fake news, the Internet isn’t the electronic frontier it used to be.”
“The reality of politics and policy have crept into cyberspace. I think 2017 will be the year the last vestiges of cyberfrontier life finally wither away,” Hagemann explained.
So as the Internet becomes increasingly pervasive in society, so too will the questioning of its role.
“In the end, the Internet is just a reflection of the real world, warts and all. In the short run, I’m sure we’ll continue dealing with issues like fake news, terrorist recruitment through social media, and concerns over government surveillance. In the long run, however, I’m definitely optimistic for the future of humanity, in both the real world and the world of atoms,” Hagemann concluded.
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