If you look at Twitter at the moment, talk of free speech is high on the agenda. Since Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform in October, the (former) world’s richest man has been vociferous in his defence of free speech, claiming that the social media platform should become a town square where everyone’s voice is given equal weight.
That has pleased some social media critics but has caused deep concern among others.
Moreover, there have been those who claim that Twitter has now implemented Musk’s interpretation of free speech, which is not necessarily the same as the broader definition of free speech.
However, our goal here isn’t to talk about Twitter, as countless articles have discussed Musk’s influence on the platform. Rather, the Twitter example is interesting in how internet freedoms are viewed as a whole.
Just how “free” should the internet be?
Should it be outside of government control?
Is there even a starting point that people can agree on?
The last question, look at a starting point, is the best place to start. Most people agree that there need to be laws that govern the internet. But the debate is so much broader than that.
Just google “should the internet be regulated,” and you will find books and articles all debating that question. And in truth, interesting arguments are made on both sides.
Respecting National Laws is a Starting Point
The majority of people believe the starting point should be legislation for the protection of users.
Take, for example, online casino gaming. A national internet regulation might dictate that you can only play at a licensed casino site. And going further, at a local level, this might mean regional regulation.
If you live in Ontario, Canada, you could legally place bets at an online casino with an Ontario license. Logically, it’s hard to argue against this, as the gaming operator will adhere to the laws and social norms of where the player is based.
Most people would agree that the above example is useful as a barometer. Yes, there are proponents of complete internet freedom, but that opens up a new can of worms.
Online betting is legal in Ontario, but it is not legal in, say, Qatar, which has been in the spotlight recently due to hosting the FIFA World Cup. Thus, we come up with a logical conclusion that internet freedom should broadly follow national law.
At this point, we should circle back to social media, which has become a hot-button topic for internet freedoms and free speech.
If we can argue that a casino is a business that should adhere to licensing laws, what do we say about social media platforms? Sure, they are businesses; you just have to look at the billions in revenue these companies earn.
But the problem is that many users don’t see it as a business; they see Musk’s vision of an online Town Square, which poses a problem.
The Future Holds Many Challenges
The phrase often associated with Voltaire, “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”, is regularly trotted out as a clarion call to an anything-goes approach on social media.
As a quick aside, we should say that Voltaire never actually said these words. Nonetheless, the basis of the quote is then taken to extremes, with users believing it gives them the right to be abusive, racist, threatening, and so on.
But perhaps the most worrying thing is that many people don’t understand that the bigger problems are ahead of us.
Today, you can google something on the internet, and the popular search engine will present you with a set of results. It’s up to you if you believe that the truthful answer lies in Wikipedia, The New York Times, or whatever else Google throws up for you.
But in the near future, we will have AI telling us answers.
Just look at the innovations OpenAI has made with ChatGPT, a machine learning application that was arguably the biggest story in tech in 2022. It will tell you anything you want to know – like the successor to Google Search – but without backing it up with sources, as Google does.
ChatGPT is also a very impressive liar – this is worrying.
The point, as such, is that we may soon move to a post-truth internet, one where it is not easily discernible to judge what is factual. Technologies like deep-fake videos will be so advanced that even the evidence from our eyes and ears will not be enough to tell us what is going on.
How do we regulate all this?
How do we protect users?
How do we respect national laws?
There are no easy answers.
What are your thoughts on the future of technology and the regulation of fact vs. fiction? Do you believe that we are doomed to a world of questionable data, or is there a better solution?
2 thoughts on “Online Freedoms: How Do We Ethically Regulate Technology”
I hate that it had to happen to my favorite social media tbh. I think you bring up some really good questions, personally I don’t know how I feel about government involvement, because it can do so much bad but it can also do some good, so should we give up some of our freedoms for that? That’s a deep and scary question tbh. Rules should exit on social media, especially safety ones though. National laws in general should be respected online automatically though.
Like, before on Twitter anyone who was a sex offender was banned, now they are allowed to be loud and proud and that was all Elon’s doing. Their was a guy literally bragging on twitter recently about what he did to a little girl then turning around and blaming her for it, it was gross.
I see the government trying to take on more tiktok, and paypal/cashapp over here than trying to keep the citizens safe though.
Definitely no easy answers. I know I don’t have them.
That’s the fine line with social media – finding the balance between protecting those using the platform and allowing for freedom of speech. Personally, I think that the laws should definitely be respected automatically as well. But, even that becomes a grey area when you consider the fact that different countries have different laws. So, someone could view something illegal in their country that was legal in the country of the one posting.