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The Internet: Social Impact

The origins of the Internet date back to research commissioned by the United States federal government in the 1960s to build robust, fault-tolerant communication via computer networks. Although the Internet was widely used by academia since the 1980s, the commercialization incorporated its services and technologies into virtually every aspect of modern life. Internet use grew rapidly in the West from the mid-1990s and from the late 1990s in the developing world.[4] In the two decades since then, Internet use has grown 100-times, measured for the period of one year, to over one third of the world population.

Most traditional communications media, including telephony, radio, television, paper mail and newspapers are being reshaped or redefined by the Internet, giving birth to new services such as email, Internet telephony, Internet television, online music, digital newspapers, and video streaming websites. Newspaper, book, and other print publishing are adapting to website technology, or are reshaped into blogging, web feeds and online news aggregators. The Internet has enabled and accelerated new forms of personal interactions through instant messaging and social networking.

From 2000 to 2009, the number of Internet users globally rose from 394 million to 1.858 billion. In 2014 the world’s Internet users surpassed 3 billion or 43.6 percent of world population. After English (27%), the most requested languages on the World Wide Web are Chinese (25%), Spanish (8%), Japanese (5%), Portuguese and German (4% each), Arabic, French and Russian (3% each), and Korean (2%).

The Internet allows greater flexibility in working hours and location, especially with the spread of unmetered high-speed connections. Many people use the World Wide Web to access news, weather and sports reports, to plan and book vacations and to pursue their personal interests. Educational material at all levels from pre-school to post-doctoral is available from websites. Examples range from CBeebies, through school and high-school revision guides and virtual universities, to access to top-end scholarly literature through the likes of Google Scholar.

Social networking

A risk for both individuals and organizations writing posts (especially public posts) on social networking websites, is that especially foolish or controversial posts occasionally lead to an unexpected and possibly large-scale backlash on social media from other Internet users. This is also a risk in relation to controversial offline behavior, if it is widely made known. The nature of this backlash can range widely from counter-arguments and public mockery, through insults and hate speech, to, in extreme cases, rape and death threats.

Some websites, such as Reddit, have rules forbidding the posting of personal information of individuals (also known as doxxing), due to concerns about such postings leading to mobs of large numbers of Internet users directing harassment at the specific individuals thereby identified. In particular, the Reddit rule forbidding the posting of personal information is widely understood to imply that all identifying photos and names must be censored in Facebook screenshots posted to Reddit.

Children also face dangers online such as cyberbullying and approaches by sexual predators, who sometimes pose as children themselves. Children may also encounter material which they may find upsetting, or material which their parents consider to be not age-appropriate. Due to naivety, they may also post personal information about themselves online, which could put them or their families at risk unless warned not to do so. Many parents choose to enable Internet filtering, and/or supervise their children’s online activities, in an attempt to protect their children from inappropriate material on the Internet. The most popular social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, commonly forbid users under the age of 13.