The Responsibility of the Individual

With so much information available on the web, there is no way for people to process everything. Since nobody truly owns the internet, the individual user can technically choose what kind of content they want to see. However, users are often unaware that they use applications that encourage them to think and act a certain way (e.g. for political purposes). For example, a couple years ago I downloaded this application that gave me a “digest” of news around the world; I thought that it was a more efficient way to glean information. I didn’t realize that it was a very liberal source that was subconsciously influencing the way I perceived the world. Although this is problematic, I don’t think that it can be prevented; it is impossible to have a completely objective news source that has to filter through all the news that happens around the world–how can anyone/anything decide what is more important to people without forming a subjective opinion or algorithm? This connects to the very difficult question of how to “govern” the internet.

In this respect, I don’t think we should put the responsibility of correctly monitoring the internet onto the big social media platforms and the government because there really is no correct way to monitor this thing that is the internet. Of course, I think to a certain extent, the government should require companies/websites to be transparent and display “labels” like the ones we talked about last week, informing the viewer that, for example, a certain video is a paid advertisement. But because the Internet is such an open system that nobody truly owns, it seems to me that putting responsibility onto the individual rather than onto the government (which can’t really exist in terms of the internet) would be way more effective in preventing problems like the potency of fake news outlets. If I knew that the “digest” I read every day had bias, it wouldn’t have such a powerful effect on me.

It is true that companies try to manipulate users, and indeed the government can/should lay out some general rules that try to stop this from happening, but the user needs to be aware of the information they expose themselves to. The topics discussed in this seminar have been extremely enlightening for me and I think that they are very important topics to be discussed. Perhaps implementing more of this discussion in elementary/high schools could be a step in the right direction.

1 Comment »

  1. Mike Smith

    November 8, 2017 @ 3:50 pm


    I’m glad to see how deeply you’re thinking about the issues and how it should inform your own behavior moving forward. This is the first step toward individual responsibility!

    You’re right about the mismatch between the Internet and governments. In many respects the company that produces a social media platform (for example) is in a better position to dictate/define (I’m not sure what the right word is) what should and shouldn’t happen on their platform than the governments whose citizens use the social media platform. We talked about open government, but what should be open about a company that produces a very popular social media platform? And it’s been interesting to watch countries force these companies to adhere to the countries’ norms and laws within geographic boundaries, which hold little meaning in the Internet world. Maybe the focus should be on the individual and his/her preferred citizenship rather than where the individual happens to physically be at the time of he/she uses the platform? Lots of questions and few answers.

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