We live in a world where information flows more freely and more rapidly than at any other point in history. Today, anyone can prepare a message that can reach an almost limitless audience and at speeds that were unimaginable in the recent past.
While we have built technological mechanisms that allow for a completely free flow of information, to do so anonymously and freely, there hasn’t been a sufficient focus on how to balance that free flow of information with a counterweight. The answer is not censorship. Rather, it must lie in building an understanding of the processes at work, and how we can balance the flow of information on the web without stopping it all together.
The Good and the Bad
The web has given us free access to limitless information, but that freedom has also lowered the quality of that information, even allowing for the spread of fabricated “fake” news from non-reputable sources.
The web has allowed us to take part in conversations safely and anonymously, anonymity that protects our privacy and allows us to speak our minds freely. But that anonymity is also enabling trolling and harassment that can make web platforms unwelcoming. Twitter is a main battleground in this regard. But of course, the problem extends far beyond Twitter. There have been several applications that based their entire experience around anonymity such as Yik Yak, BLINDSPOT, and Peeple that descended into playgrounds for bullying.
And then there is the Dark Web. Private browsers like Tor allow individuals to safely access the Dark Web without the fear of government suppressions, but those same tools are enabling cyber criminals and terrorists to operate freely, to plan and commit all manners of illegal and dangerous activity in the relative safety and privacy of the Dark Web.
So, how do we restore balance? The first step must lie in acknowledging and creating awareness that this problem exists. Then we need to leverage that awareness into strategies to deal with these areas of conflicting needs. We need to build tools to identify potentially problematic content and give that information to people so they can use it to make decisions.
- As relates to news content, no one wants to limit the amount of content available, so perhaps the solution may lie in creating a mechanism to rate individual outlets and helping people identify outlets they can trust.
- When it comes to anonymity and trolling, there is no simple solution. But identifying potential trolls and bullies can help, letting users decide to block or ignore them.
- The same thing is true with dangerous elements on the Dark Web. Here, the issue may not be so much a problem of identifying the dangerous sites and actors, but rather in finding them in the first place.
In all these areas, the first step is understanding that these issues must be weighed on a set of scales to achieve balance. Recognizing that these scales exist is the first step to making sense out of all the noise on the web and bringing back some semblance of balance.