The Internet has been described as a tool for increasing the availability and communication of information. Not only that, but this benefit is available to everyone. The potential of the Internet is therefore seen as almost endless. The benefits are seen as almost endless. It is a revolutionary force with endless positives. This vision is increasingly appearing to be a naïve one.

Firstly, it is important to consider that the Internet is, to some extent, a reflection of society. It is therefore inevitable that it should harbor many of the unsavory aspects of humanity. By granting greater access to and ability to distribute information, it increases the power of each individual. This power was, of course, never likely to be used in an entirely positive light.

However, another important point to remember is that, for want of a better phrase, the Internet has a life of its own. It is a collection of users, so, as the individual users are in a group, they do not act as they would on their own. In addition, it is a new and unique tool for communication. This means it acts like nothing we have seen before. It is therefore incredibly difficult to predict what we will see on the Internet.

The blatant misogyny is one of the most shocking aspects of the world wide web. This was perhaps predictable, but the scale of and scope for hatred of women perhaps was not. Even if we looked past the sex trade and pornography, the degradation of ordinary women is taken to extraordinary lengths. Prominent and successful women are harassed, bullied and simply abused in an attempt to silence them. They have their privacy taken from them, their appearance mocked and, ultimately, their place in society questioned. This happens in both a casual and criminal manner. Perhaps most disturbingly is the lack of accountability that exists for this. Website administrators are not keen to censor their site to prevent this, or even to allow users to be blocked or tracked down.

I personally would have expected the Internet to have helped women. As a forum for information I think it should be easier, in practice, to promote positive messages for women. As a service open to anyone, I think it should be the case that the barriers women’s voices have to battle are less opaque. Perhaps this is where we see that the Internet is a reflection of society. Society is patriarchal, so it is naïve to believe that the internet will not be. This harsh reality is even clearer when we consider the prominence of crime in our society and online.

Crime is rampant on the Internet. The average person would be shocked to hear the full extent of the online trade in illegal drugs, illegal pornography and even illegal weapons. As I have alluded to, online crime was to be expected. Perhaps the scale was unpredictable though. This is coupled with genuine threats to public security. A platform has been created for the distribution of terrorist material. These vices provide a perfect excuse for the censorship and surveillance.

Internet surveillance is perhaps the most depressing revelation regarding the state of the Internet. The information individuals share is spied upon. The users of the Internet have their privacy violated. This is perhaps to have been expected. All governments monitor their citizens in some way. They all see power in the hands of individuals as potentially dangerous. This is not without reason, but the high hopes we had for a free Internet have been shattered.

The NSA and GCHQ have spied on their own citizens, as well as citizens of other nations. Autocratic regimes around the world censor large sectors of the Internet. In an unnerving similarity, American Internet whistleblowers are hunted down and face huge prison sentences. Pasts can be forgotten at request. Corporations collect large amounts of personal data for financial gain. The Internet is no safe haven for civil liberties.

Now that I have discussed many of its negatives, perhaps I should discuss some of the positives of the Internet. It is, after all, a revolutionary force, yes? It allows us to buy our food, clothes and anything else from wherever we need in the world. It allows us an easier method of shopping around for better prices on these products. It allows us to connect with old friends remotely, no matter where they are. It allows us to work remotely and access information for research remotely. It even allows me to submit articles to an online platform, which I found online, remotely. Many positives indeed.

There is one point we really must consider though. How revolutionary is this? How many of the things listed above were impossible before the Internet? Has it really changed our world to the extent that the telegraph or our washing machine did?

The last point is so crucial because it is so frequently overlooked. Ha-Joon Chang, an economist and bestselling author, has argued that the washing machine has, in fact, changed the world more than the Internet. It allowed domestic chores that took hours of hard work, carried out by hand, to be completed in a fraction of the time, by machine. Women were very often the ones that had been carrying out these household chores and, as it decreased the amount of time they had to spend in the house, it allowed more of them the opportunity to go to work. When you consider the societal change brought on by the Internet, it is difficult to argue that it can stand up to this revolution.

It is perhaps the case that I am being pessimistic. The negatives of the Internet are most likely outweighed by the positives. The world wide web is only 25 years old, so its future is very much ahead of it. It could change the world on an unprecedented scale one day. However, when we consider the potential it clearly does have, the way it has been described and the way it looks now, we should be ashamed of what it has become.

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