The Decline of Humanity on the Internet

Amit / 08 Aug 2022

The Internet has been centered around human interaction since its inception. From the very early email and chatrooms to the early social networks like Tumblr and Myspace, and now to the modern social media platforms: Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, et cetera. Easy to see, however, is how the online experience has tended towards the assumption of inhumanity. Right now, the Internet is gated by captchas and email verification, and yet bots are still rampant on platforms ranging from Email to Facebook and Twitter. The modern internet has become computer-first, human-second, and it shows.

The Loss of Humanity

We’ve become completely accustomed to the emerging bot-first internet — A couple of days ago I was messaged out of the blue by an old friend. My first reaction: “Was his account hacked?” In this case, the answer was no, but out of the four other times I can recall a similar train of thought, three of them were, in fact, a hostile takeover of the account. On top of this, nine out of ten of the friend requests I receive on Snapchat are from bot accounts. There’s no easy way to quantify the effect this has had on the average person and there isn’t an easy way to solve this problem either. Declining trust in other internet personas reduces empathic human interactions while also promoting the proliferation of misinformation.

One attempt to solve these problems that I’ve seen is using Government Identity verification for platform onboarding. An example that comes to mind is the South Korean Cyber Defamation Law. While this law intends to prevent defamation, a potentially unintended side-effect is that it also the difficulty of creating bot accounts goes from just requiring an email, to either hacking an existing account or creating a new one with a stolen identity. While this system has obvious flaws of censorship and privacy, it is still a viable solution, and for traditional social media, where identity is not kept private anyway, may not be the worst idea. This is also, in a nutshell, how KYC verification works for investment platforms as well.

However, the real use of government systems in the previous example is to provide an incorruptible “source of truth” for humanity. Other solutions are possible but must somehow also be able to verify the humanity of a user. In truth, I haven’t personally seen any viable alternatives that don’t end up relying on a single centralized entity to verify the humanity of a user. One space in which this is actively being researched is, surprisingly, cryptocurrency, with Proof of Humanity actively being researched for various applications.

Unfortunately, many such systems are doomed to fail unless forced upon their users. I think we can agree that no one would love every action being gated by another Captcha. And, it’s hard to sell: oftentimes the “healthy” solution is less appealing than others. How exactly would a platform that has humanity as a core value differ, and how could it hope to succeed over the status quo?

Whatever the use case, I believe that human spaces on the web are worth looking into, potentially providing unseen benefits to society, whilst also reducing harmful effects like misinformation, spam, and phishing. On the other hand, this idea may be a pipe dream, or end up providing no solutions to the problems that plague current social media. Who knows?

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