The advent of the Internet and social media has changed our lives, changed society. There are many positive aspects to this revolution, but there are very many serious downsides to it too. The way the world is going, it’s hard to know whether it has been a force for good or bad.
A major downside to this Internet revolution is the fact that privacy is to a large degree a thing of the past. With billions of people now on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, every little tittle-tattle, no matter how unimportant or trivial, is on the Internet for the whole world to see and share.
We also have the proliferation of extreme violence and porn on the Internet – material which can be accessed by any child who can operate a smartphone (never mind by an adult).
It wasn’t that long ago that you could go down to the pub for few drinks and hear, in comfort, some great yarns and funny stories – but such innocent days are now gone. The minute someone raises their voice, there is a smartphone in the air to record it. The same has happened with sing-songs. People are now afraid to open their mouths in case it appears on social media within minutes.
But there is a far more serious and sinister side to the Internet than this latter example. Up to last week, nobody beyond his own circle of family and friends had ever heard of Brenton Tarrant. Tarrant, a 28-year-old fitness instructor who is originally from Australia, is the suspect in the Christchurch massacre. From what is now in the public domain, it would appear that he rationalised that if he took his semi-automatic weapons to a couple of mosques and began shooting people while having a video camera strapped to his head, the whole world would soon know who he was. That a twisted and sick individual could bring such a deranged plan into homes and to the phones of tens of millions of people around the world for their 15 minutes of fame is grotesque.
Last Friday morning, within minutes of getting into work, I was sent the video of the killing spree. I didn’t watch it – instead immediately deleting what I had received – but it goes to show that, despite the authorities having the footage removed from the Internet, once it is put there in the first place the damage is done. We had a situation here in Ireland recently when horrific photos of a fatal traffic accident in Dublin were shared on social media without any regard for the victim’s family and friends.
Surely these huge tech companies, which make annual profits that run into billions, have a responsibility to police what’s going on to their platforms. At the moment, it’s open season. At present, all these companies are self-regulating – which is a very dangerous situation. However, it is probably true to say that governments around the world are powerless to do anything to stop what appears online. These Internet companies now how have more power than governments.
The big worry about all this is that there are other sick individuals all around the world who are prepared to do anything to gain notoriety and have millions of people watch their evil deeds.
Surely these tech giants have within their organisations clever people who would be able to come up with a way of filtering out this kind of stuff, preventing it from getting online. If nothing is done, what happened in New Zealand is going to be repeated many times over as the lure of such widespread coverage appeals to the very sad and dangerous people who want their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame.
The Internet has certainly been a wonderful invention for the human race – but we are paying a very high price for it on a number of fronts.