Citizens should fight for their online rights in 2019

Gabriella Pinos/ Staff Writer

From scandals to algorithms to devious government schemes, 2018 been nothing but eventful for the world of technology.

Tech giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon have shown their true colors this year; with the start of every month, it seemed like another scandal about social media destroying its users’ trust came to light.

The second half of 2018 was not short on these moments either.

In August 2018, it was revealed that Google planned to launch a censored version of its search engine in China the following year. If released, the engine, known as Google Dragonfly, would be available on Android devices and would blacklist words and phrases in accordance with Chinese government censors, according to reports from The Intercept.

On Dec. 18, The New York Times published an investigative piece about Facebook providing users’ friends, private messages and contact information to partners like Amazon, Yahoo and Microsoft to advance the platform’s interests.

On Dec. 27, 1,400 pages from Facebook’s rulebooks were shared with The New York Times, revealing errors and biases in the ways Facebook moderates content on its site. These rules, many of which are out of date, have frustrated thousands of Facebook’s worldwide moderators and put the platform’s role in monitoring free speech into question.

And then there was a report by cybersecurity company New Knowledge, which showed that Russia targeted U.S. citizens through social media platforms to interfere with the 2016 presidential elections. While the threat of Russian interference still looms over the Internet, at the time, African Americans and left- and right-leaning groups were especially targeted, according to the report.

From the news articles and reports published in December alone, it’s not surprising to see how much user information has been exploited in 2018, or how tech companies are struggling to maintain their reputation with users.

It is, however, disturbing to see just how much of an impact the actions of a few companies can have on our lives. The secrets Facebook and Google alone have hidden from the public have left its employees confused and betrayed, and that’s aside from the millions of users whose personal data has been misused from these sites.

But that doesn’t mean people aren’t doing something about the way social media has treated them this year.

In August 2018, about 1,400 Google employees signed and released a letter asking the company to be more transparent about the Dragonfly project, which was developed in secret. In November 2018, another letter written by Google employees was released urging for Google Dragonfly to be cancelled. With so much internal and external backlash, work on the search engine was shelved, according to a Dec. 17 report from The Intercept.

The ethical and moral battle between government, citizen and social media will continue so long as the internet exists. The good news is, we as citizens can do something about it.

So, in 2019, our New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t just include losing weight, traveling or getting a new job. We should also strive to raise our voices when our rights are violated online, whether by the government or the platform itself. Doing so can not only help inform our fellow users, but maybe even put a stop to these actions.

Let’s ensure that we the people come out on top in the battle against our online rights next year.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of Panther Press Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


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