Social media for propagating terrorist ideologies: It's time we chose between an open internet or a walled garden

There's no middle ground or sitting on a fence, you can either be for government surveillance or be ready to face a brutal, gory and open-minded internet.

There's long been crystal clear divide in the way in which Apple and Google deliver their services. Apple will ask you to pay a pretty penny for top-notch services like iCloud while Google simply gives it to you for free. All you have to do is sign up, and Google will use (not "sell" as mentioned on their website) your personal data, which allows for better targeting of their ads at you, using their ad network. In short, it is all about a 'give and take'. Rarely do you find an act of kindness online (truly free services like Wikipedia, but for productivity), because at the end of the day, all of these services are run on servers and they need money to run and maintain. Bottomline is that you either get a free service online, or one with ads running below it.

A similar binary exists when examining the internet and the monitoring of extremist activities on it. There's no middle ground or sitting on a fence, you can either be for government surveillance or be ready to face a brutal, gory and open-minded internet.

Tech companies (social media in particular) have been facing pressure to moderate extremist content that is discussed, propagated or shows up online. In fact, British prime minister Theresa May on Sunday told the BBC, "We cannot allow this ideology the safe place it needs to breed.

"Yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies... provide." She was of the idea that certain areas of the internet should be blocked out.

Soon after, Home Secretary Amber Rudd shared similar thoughts when she gave out two points to curb the spread of extremist content online.

She told ITV, that the first method was to ensure that they take down the material that is radicalising people. However, it was the second point that caught everyone's attention.

"And secondly, to help work with us to limit the amount of end-to-end encryption that otherwise terrorists can use," she said.

Clearly, the "us" translates to surveillance, which goes against the privacy. Handing over the keys to the government is not a good idea and is a topic that has been debated upon time and again.

Apple, too was in such a fix not to long ago. The Cupertino tech giant stood up to not providing encryption details that would give the FBI the backdoor to opening up an iPhone connected to the San Bernardino mass shooting case. It is understood that the government can never get enough, but from Rudd's solution, a mass surveillance system with no privacy is the only way out to curb the radicalisation of people, that comes with getting exposed to such content online.

China has a radically different approach to the internet. China has extremely strict moderation policies where the Cyberspace Administration of China routinely blocks websites, blogs or information deemed sensitive by the Chinese government. Its 600 million odd netizens get filtered access to the web, and in a recent move even filtered news.

With social media at its peak, and users demanding more, interesting features, firms will have to give in to survive.

Live video streaming is a hype today, but it also comes with some downsides. The Falcon Heights shooting, the Steve Stephens murder and the Chicago gang rape are going to be the raw incidents that the Live audiences will need to get used to. Facebook's recent rule book leak by The Guardian also revealed how the social media giant has a clear cut rule book that strangely allows for an animal cruelty videos to be published and viewed with a 'disturbing' warning. Oddly, it has its reasons for allowing these.

Keeping in mind global internet penetration and how much of an influence social media has on users, there is indeed only so much tech giants, like Google and Facebook can do.

While some are strictly okay with surveillance and filtered internet experience, others prefer a raw and unfiltered version of it.

In the end, monitoring is always a tight-rope walk. Tilt a bit towards better moderation and you get called out for filtering the internet. Take moderation lightly and you get pulled down by the government. Sitting on the fence is not a healthy option either.

Agreed, that social media is one way of getting extremist ideologies across, heavily encrypted WhatsApp messages and smartphones help with the same. So why come down heavily on tech firms, for monitoring something as vast and as open as the internet? Postal letters are a good example of something that is low tech and is very difficult to monitor. That post can be monitored and checked is known. But given the man hours of time that would go into it, it's not something that is done very often or thoroughly. Would you shut down the postal service for a letter delivered that lead to a terrorist attack.

“Just because some accidents take place on a highway, you don’t block the highway.” said Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad after his ministerial address at the Raisina Dialogue earlier this year. Another perspective could be explained with a road junction. You could either follow its rules, and stay safe, or you could choose to just walk carelessly and meet with an accident. This does not mean that the road crossing is at fault or that the road needs to be blocked.

Perhaps it's time we made a choice, and stood up for ourselves. We should either be ready to accept the consequences of the raw and open internet or simply give in to a walled garden (filtered internet) the way the Chinese do because you simply cannot have both.

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