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Opinion 15-Jan-2020

Confronting the Origins of the Internet

Annie Mathews
Annie Mathews
Columnist

It is a sad reality that around 30% of web traffic is pornography.

Neither is this a new phenomenon: x-rated content has been the financial fuel for the web from the very start, its worth – at a conservative estimate – exceeding that of Saudi Telecom or Elisalat.

In the evenings when some people are spending time with their families, a large percentage of the population around the world is watching adult content, or even during the day, in the US access peaking during the nine-to-five working day.

So, is the internet then synonymous with indecent material?

For many internet users, it would seem so. The problem thus arises for you if you are in the minority that considers such content morally unacceptable: can you continue to use the internet which is powered by and proliferating such conduct?

When we are informed of a store’s use of child labour, you would (one would hope) cease making purchases there; using a browser or app (multiplied by millions or billions of users) is perhaps the most significant seal of approval made by a consumer which directly impact the generation of profit.

And yet, I would ask: what is the internet?

It is a near infinite collection of 1s and 0s bouncing between servers. Any ethical meaning we endow the internet comes from how we, collectively and individually, use it as a tool to achieve our aims.

As John Naughton wrote: ‘the growth of internet porn tells us more about ourselves than technology’.

I would not go so far as to call the faces of Silicon Valley scapegoats, but it is a much more comforting thought to blame the internet when you catch a glimpse of your son’s phone than confront the wider social context. An almost personifying quality ascribed to the internet risks relinquishing social responsibility.

It would be inaccurate to say that the internet is a neutral tool, like a chisel with which you can sculpt a beautiful vase just as easily as a grotesque gargoyle.

The internet, moulded by a flawed society encourages its users to use particular services, lures them into investing their time, money and data in exchange for wispy promises.

It is not a level playing field.

However, why we should not withdraw away from technologies and resort to typewriters (even though I am very fond of mine and use it when I grow tired of the glaring screen of my laptop) is that they do hold immense positive potential.

The internet can equally be used as a tool for upholding your faith.

It is easier to give Alms online: payments are often more secure than in person and causes are verifiable. Community outreach is possible and the global nature of the internet allows for the building and maintaining of faith communities around the world.

The internet has a multitude of meanings, uses and definitions for its billions of users. Despite the multi-billion legal and quasi-legal or outright illegal status of its contents, it exists for many to facilitate connections with families and friends, to nurture minds and build communities based on more than physical proximity.

An immense responsibility comes with using the internet: not only the apps that you use but even the links that you click contribute to internet traffic which converts into financial support.

30% of explicit-content driven traffic is unquestionably a lot, too much. But there is still so much worthy, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually enriching potential offered by the internet in the remaining 70%.

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