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Google CEO Eric Schmidt has publicly slammed state intrusion determining how civilians use the Internet. In the report by The Telegraph, Schmidt claims that “if they don’t listen to us it is at their peril” – very ominous indeed; which serves as a thinly veiled attack on governments throughout the world, most notably Iran and China, who have decided to step in and filter what can be searched for.
The importance of the Internet in the creation and subsequent proliferation of news has come into focus in recent weeks. Ordinarily secretive states with little or no foreign journalistic contact, have had their barriers smudged by increasing numbers of videos and messages from within their own populous. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been right at the cutting edge of this distribution; a process that has invariably also involved the world’s most popular search engine, Google.
The Internet has undoubtedly opened doors; allowing voices to be heard that would otherwise be muffled or non-existent. People from far-flung outposts right across the globe can communicate instantaneously and report on what is happening. Whilst the positives of this are clearly evident, the downsides are also hard to disguise.
In this regard, the web is very much like rampant ivy. As much as you try to trim or cut it back, it will always find a new way to grow and develop. If you ban one website, another will be created in its place. If you ban the Internet entirely, then you endanger damaging the foundations of your society. The Internet’s ever-increasing size and user-base makes it almost impossible to manage. Laws are in place worldwide to ensure that illegal usage is stamped out, but is this enough? Can censorship really help ensure that we aren’t exposed to content that is false or offensive?
The world is becoming increasingly reliant on the Internet. We go to it for our news and entertainment. People can share thoughts and views, exchange files to one another and even become minor celebrities.
Schmidt’s claim that the Internet is “the strongest force for individual self-expression ever invented”, is hard to argue against. Companies like Google and the aforementioned Web 2.0 giants are helping to feed this continuous growth; making it easier for users to gain access and share their world view. Controlling governments will always try to restrict the amount of foreign media consumed, but evidently now in the cyber-age this is a process that is far more difficult and complicated than ever before.
This muscle-flexing by Google does serve to further highlight just how much power the Internet now wields though. Whilst this particular discussion was seemingly a hegemonic opinion, it serves as a distinct warning to those who still treat the web and its potential with contempt. The Internet should remain a free resource and censorship should be done by the individual user, not the state that they live in. Those who wish to access it will always find a way.
What do you think? Should Schmidt be the man to talk about online censorship? Should governments be doing more to protect citizens from dangerous content? Can the Internet ever really be tamed, or is will it always remain a forum for free expression?