Elsagate — the recent propagation of YouTube videos with violent and sexual content aimed at children — has generated a lot of concern about corporate accountability, financial incentives and how parents expose their children to media and technology. At the core of these concerns is the internet and a network that invites systemic, lucrative abuse on a massive scale. The inherent flaws of the internet, issues that have been brought to light by Elsagate and other similar trends, need to be addressed soon before this technology gains even more control over our society, or else the consequences will be even worse.
Elsagate happened largely because of increased reliance on automation. YouTube does not, and cannot, review every video that is uploaded, so it uses algorithms to decide which videos get ads, which are suitable for children and so on. These algorithms can be manipulated by people with the incentive and ability to do so at the expense of children caught in the loop. A system has been created that is too massive for oversight and too driven by human behavior to be trusted. The system is home to around one billion websites and at least 4.66 billion individual web pages. The internet encompasses almost every aspect of our lives, and it is reasonable to assume that its influence will only continue to grow. Controversies like Elsagate and the influence of fake news in the 2016 presidential election have helped to illuminate how reliant our society is on the internet, from the tendency of some parents to let YouTube raise their kids to the faith many people have in legitimate-sounding Internet media. The system has also been entrusted with becoming the primary means by which our society shops, communicates, keeps track of its money, educates itself, consumes art and documents its thoughts.
Any system that has been given such monumental responsibilities will by its nature be too large and anarchic to regulate, and will consequently invite harmful, and often criminal, abuse. This image is often used to illustrate the true size and scope of Internet content, and how beneath the thin layer of sites most people use every day lies a vast network of credit card theft, drug trafficking, arms trafficking and child pornography.
Net neutrality has been in the news a great deal lately, and while the threat posed by greedy ISPs is real and demands public attention, it is important to realize that the Internet is besieged both from the outside and from within. It has been allowed to grow with fundamental flaws, and if we are really going to continue granting it control over society then major, comprehensive changes have to be made on the government, corporate level and individual levels.
Email Henry Cohen at [email protected]