It's Time To Fix The Internet


What is the internet? The Macquarie Dictionary defines it as "a series of tubes that you can send stuff down really fast to other people’s house that is probably magic or something". So yes, it is true that modern dictionaries are a bit weird. But the more important issue is that the internet is, in essence, a tool. Much like a hammer, or a screwdriver, or a Howitzer. It is a tool capable of enormous good, and of enormous evil. Without the internet I would never have met my wife. And yet without the internet I would also have never heard the song "Friday" by Rebecca Black. This electronic beast has therefore granted me the greatest of joys, and yet in some ways completely ruined my life.

It is this dual nature of the internet, the double-edged sword, the two-headed serpent, the reversible underpants of online life, that makes it so difficult to navigate the modern world. Recently the perils of the internet were hammered home to us all by the South Australian government’s decision to pass laws specifically targeting cyber-bullying, a development that really demonstrated the sorry pass to which our civilisation has come.

How did we sink so low? When I first "logged on", all those years ago, such distasteful concepts as cyber-bullying were unknown. Cyber-sex, yes. That was all the rage, and maybe that’s the difference. In the 90s, the web was about positivity and love, now it’s about negativity and hate. Back then we would go online to express our feelings, to connect with other human beings from around the world, to learn to type quickly and accurately with one hand. How times have changed. Today it seems people only go online to belittle and humiliate others, and as amusing as this is, it can go too far.

Look at the incident in which more than 200,000 people registered to attend a party on Facebook. Imagine how horribly that could have turned out! Admittedly it was probably always going to be all right, since nobody ever goes to events they say they will on Facebook. At my last birthday party more than 20 people said they would come, and it ended up just being me, watching the Golden Girls and crying every time old women hugged each other. So I guess the fact that Facebook is a haven for FILTHY LIARS is a blessing in disguise.

Even so, it seems a pretty low act, assuming someone’s identity to invite people to their party. We’ve had low acts in the past — murder, rape, domestic violence — but have we ever had acts this low? Think about what it would be like to have 200,000 people come to your birthday party. You’re right: it’d be awesome. But think how quickly you’d run out of Pepsi. And nobody would eat the vegetarian pizza. It would be a disaster.

What’s the solution to such problems? The father of the girl in question says it came about as a result of her misunderstanding Facebook’s privacy settings. So obviously part of the solution is finding a way to make teenage girls less stupid. But that’s not all. We need to be kinder to each other, gentler to each other. We need to stop allowing the ease of access to the world that the internet allows us to release our baser natures.

It’s that ease of access that is the killer. Once upon a time, to abuse a journalist you needed to write a letter on paper, go to the post office, buy a stamp, go the box, put the letter in, go home, seethe quietly, write another letter, buy another stamp, go home again, take a photo of your genitals, buy another stamp, go home, etc, etc. It was a rigmarole, and after a few weeks I decided that frankly Laura Tingle was not worth the bother.

But today, with the internet, if you want to harass a journalist, there is a comment field beneath every article! You can hurl your abuse with almost no effort whatsoever, and send your offensive photos as an attachment to an email, and if you’re really malicious, set up a fake Twitter account to make everyone think Laurie Oakes eats live frogs. It takes but a moment, and you can spew your hate out to the whole world. We were so much happier when we had to keep our hate inside ourselves, bubbling and fermenting away until it could be released in a healthily violent way.

The point is, people, this is not what the internet is for. As laid down in the Official Rules Of Internetting written by Al Gore in 1934, the internet basically exists for three things:

1. Arguing about which Doctor Who is the best one.
2. Exposing innocent children to graphic depictions of hot BBWs taking it hard from three studs.
3. Compulsive gambling.

I think it’s time to return to these core principles. And we don’t need to do it with laws, but with a change of attitude. Be nicer. Be gentler. For example, after reading this article, before posting a comment, maybe think to yourself, "you know what, I might just take a break from being an irretrievable arsehole today". Maybe decide to go a day without pwning a n00b, because you know what? Words hurt. Even if they’re not real words, but random assemblages of characters without any real meaning used by people too lazy to learn any kind of human language. They can still hurt, even as they engender an overweening sense of superiority.

It’s a sad time in history. Goodness, the new South Australian law could even make it an offence to post offensive photos online, even if they were originally taken with consent. Just think about whether you want your children to grow up in a world where they can’t send a few snaps of their icky bits to a circle of close friends without fear of them ending up on Facebook or Even worse, think about whether you want your children to grow up in a world where being nude on the internet is considered shameful. Do we want that kind of puritanical Sharia-ism overtaking our healthy natural desire to shake what our mamas gave us?

If we want the internet to become a tool of tolerance and happiness, we have to stop it being a tool of cruelty and abuse, lest it become a tool of oppression and censorship, which would frankly bring the total to three tools, and how many bloody tools do we want? If we’re not careful the whole damn double you double you double you will become a veritable Sidchrome set of moral opporobrium and P2P bestiality networks.

It’s a grim future, and it awaits us all, looming up like a poorly designed MySpace page, if we don’t learn to be nicer, to be kinder, to be less inclined to start Twitter accounts called Ben Pobjie’s Goitre. Can’t we all get along? For the sake of freedom, dear Lord, we must.


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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.