Does the internet reveal — or create — evil?
There's no shortage of hate and anger online.
And recently police said they are overwhelmed by the spread of child pornography online.
Now, it can be tempting sometimes to believe we'd all be better off if the whole internet thing had never happened, but before we get there, there's a fundamental question that needs to be asked: does the internet create evil, or simply reveal it?
Mike Dover wrote a book looking at the ugly side of technology and he spoke to 180 host Jim Brown. This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Is this technology creating the bad, or is it just shining a spotlight on it?
I've found it does two things. First it accelerates evil so if evil is there, it can intensify it and it can increase the speed of it or the reach of it. But it's also changed how we look at some of these sins, so what is considered sinful today may not be in ten or twenty years.
Let's talk a little bit about anonymity because a lot of the racism and sexism we see online is from anonymous sources. Is that an evil that's been created by technologythis anonymous platform?
Yeah, there's two aspects that come into play there. First, if people are anonymous or semi-anonymous, they will say things that are uglier than they would in real life. There's something called keyboard courage, and you may type something that you'd never say, so that's part of it. The other part is that if you have a belief that was societally unacceptable you can go online and find people who still are in the same fringe of that issue that you are.
When it comes to child pornography — obviously it existed before the internet, but police are saying they cannot keep up with the sheer volume of cases. Has the internet made that worse?
Absolutely. Just think how easy it is to share a digital file — so if you have this material that is digitized, it's very easy to move that around. That can also be shared around in private groups that are harder for the police to get to. And there's something called the dark web that Google doesn't access so if people are sharing material on that, it's much more difficult to get caught. In some ways, it's a crime of opportunity because there's somebody who has interest in that material and it's much easier to get they may be more curious to check it out. Whereas before, if you had to have that delivered through the physical mail, you had a much greater chance of being caught, and because you had to do more work to do that - people who were just a little bit interested wouldn't bother or take the risk.
So based on that alone — when you think of the damage it's doing to the most vulnerable people in our society — is the internet worth it?
Most of the research I've done in my career has been on the good parts. In this particular case, this is something terrible that has been enabled. Does that mean we should shut down the internet, I don't think so. That's really an over-reach.