Friday 24 May 2019

Editorial: 'We must reclaim internet as force for common good'

'The dream of the internet as a pristine information superhighway may now seem a little naive' (stock photo)
'The dream of the internet as a pristine information superhighway may now seem a little naive' (stock photo)
Editorial

Editorial

Inventor of the web Tim Berners-Lee recognised its power to transform governments, businesses, and societies for the better. On March 12, the internet celebrated its 30th anniversary, but Mr Berners-Lee used the occasion to rail against the abuse of his creation. "All kinds of things have gone wrong. We have fake news, we have problems with privacy, we have people being profiled and manipulated," he said.

He called for a "contract" to make the internet safe and accessible for everyone.

Three days later came the New Zealand terror attacks, in which 51 people were murdered by a white supremacist. What added to the unimaginable pain and suffering of survivors was the fact the slaughter was live-streamed on the social media website Facebook. Facebook removed one and a half million copies of the atrocity within 24 hours.

But there was worldwide outrage that even eight hours after the event, it was still accessible on YouTube. When Google attempted to remove the footage, it came under an unprecedented online assault by individuals primed to do so.

The revulsion of right-minded people around the globe was unanimous, but there was also a sense of anger. How could something intended to bring people together be twisted so perversely to tear them apart?

An attempt to address this question was made yesterday at an event called 'Christchurch Call' in Paris. It was co-sponsored by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Addressing the gathering, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the internet was a "wonderful thing", but that it could not be allowed to be corrupted to spread hatred and fear and to promote terrorism.

He noted this country was the European base for many leading social media firms and online service providers. For this reason, our country has a particular responsibility to call out hate speech, which UN secretary general António Guterres has warned is spreading online like wildfire.

"We are determined to ensure that the online environment is as free as possible of all illegal content and the real-time proliferation of criminal activity," Mr Varadkar added.

Social media has stood by as platforms were weaponised and hijacked by extremists.

Internet behemoths making billions out of their online businesses have a responsibility to police content and prevent the net becoming a tool of terror.

Technology companies have been castigated for being far too slow to remove violent or atrocity-related content from platforms.

The dream of the internet as a pristine information superhighway may now seem a little naive.

When former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the net was "the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had", he was looking to a future of total freedom for the exchange of ideas and information.

Any effort to subvert or destroy that freedom has a chilling effect, which must be countered, no matter what the cost.

Irish Independent

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