It was in 1985 that Microsoft Windows became available as a user-friendly interface for computing. Apple had a user-friendly interface some years before that. I know that well, as I was an early Mac user. The Worldwide Web came alive in the first half of the 1990s and the internet followed into wide availability sometime shortly after, just a bit more than 20 years ago. Facebook was established in 2004, 13 years ago.
The whole activity of personal internet use has been a very fast development to the point in 2016 where over half the world’s population became internet users. When Facebook made its debut, only about 10 percent of the world’s population were internet users. In the last 10 years, there have been 3 billion new internet users.
The internet is a powerful tool without any governance. Individual nations can restrict what their citizens can access; China is the world leader in internet censorship. But China is not alone. Many other nations, including the UK and the US also carry out some filtering of accessibility: France and Germany censor content relating to the Holocaust and Nazi’ism; Iraq and Iran block YouTube. Surveys indicate that although there is a strong feeling that internet access is a “basic human right,” there is also a good measure of agreement that there is also place for some censorship.
Use of the internet for political purposes is currently, and I suspect will be for some time to come, a newsworthy item. In theory, the internet is an ideal medium for educating the masses in a democracy on things, like important issues in party manifestos that people should know in order to cast their vote for the candidate who will, at least in most cases, try to deliver what the voter wants for the nation.
Problem is that the internet is increasingly being used as a manipulative tool to colour and influence the feelings of “the masses.” Its use is being abused, and, indeed, it is wide open to abuse by governments or political actors, or in fact anybody. It is not necessary to attribute postings to individuals or organizations.
Misuse of the internet for political purposes is a hot topic. The problem is that given the level of activity that goes into social media and other types of internet postings, it becomes very difficult to know what to believe. It was argued by the Australian government in a review it made of the benefits and disadvantages of the internet, that TV and radio and even print media such as newspapers and magazines reflected some measure of objectivity and balance in their reporting. Even this is now thrown into question by commentary on the internet.
The majority of voters are generally insufficiently interested in politics or inadequately equipped for detailed analysis and questioning of “facts” thrown at them on their screens. They can be swayed by the more dramatic postings— they stick in their minds.
We have seen with the Brexit referendum in the UK that many of the claims made for one side or the other were deliberate fabrications [or were they?!]. It is increasingly difficult to determine which of the many claims may actually be factual—even opinion polls are open to challenge—constituency polled, phrasing of questions, timing of the poll.
As has been much written about, we are in a post-factual world in which emotions rule, populist politics underwritten by an inability to determine the facts.
What I find surprising is that nobody tries to do anything about it. The US Supreme Court ruled that due to the constitutional requirement for freedom of speech, “The truth or falsity of political speech should be judged by voters, not government bureaucrats.” The problem is that the voters are bombarded with so much information they cannot judge the truth or falsity of political speech.
Politicians are allowed to lie both at election time and post-election and thanks to the internet those lies are available to over half the world s population. So much for democracy. Isn’t it about time there were some control over internet postings, like the truth in advertising legislation ?
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org