The internet can rightly be considered as the most important invention of the modern age, equal in importance perhaps to the invention of agriculture in the ancient times or the printing press in the 15th century. As the internet became widely available in the last few decades, it gave rise to possibilities that dramatically transformed the way people live. The internet is responsible for so many movements and innovations, from enabling social media and intensifying cultural exchange to connecting economies and accelerating globalization. But like many other powerful tools and movements, the internet is a double-edged sword: it brings great benefits yet at the same time poses dangers. Though it has changed the world for the better, it has also been misused by many with malicious intent. For example, it can be said that the internet has had a hand on the rise of positive and negative effects of globalization. Countless people have already fallen victim to such perils, especially those who are vulnerable. This research paper looks at some of the hazards of modern technology. While the internet and associated technologies have vastly improved the lives of people around the world, it is essential to recognize the hazards they pose including the spread of fake news, cybercrime, and threats to mental health.
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One of the significant hazards posed by the internet is the spread of fake news. The internet is in many ways a wonderful tool for accessing information. Most media outlets including newspapers, magazines, television networks, and radio stations have online presence; there are also thousands of databases from where people can acquire journal articles; countless companies, from small businesses to multinational conglomerates, have also built their own websites. In this age, information is just a few clicks away on the internet. Yet while the internet is the repository for almost all human knowledge, it is also home to misleading information. Fake news, in particular, has emerged as a pervasive problem across the world. Fake news can be defined as factually incorrect information designed to appear true or legitimate. Fake news is created for various reasons including generating profit, influencing readers regarding public issues, and discrediting individuals.
While there are ways to determine the reliability of news, far too many people still fall for untrue information. For example, the online poll agency Statista determined that 49% of adults in the United States have unknowingly fallen for and shared fake news. Meanwhile, another 10% have admitted to deliberately sharing fake news despite knowing that the information is untrue (Watson, 2019). This high number of people who fall for fake news is indicative of how dangerous fake news is. For example, fake news is a source of confusion for a lot of people. In a survey conducted by Statista showed that 67% of respondents claimed that fake news caused them a great deal of confusion, as opposed to only 8% who did not experience confusion over reading fake news (Watson, 2020). Such confusion, in turn, can cause real damage. One such example is the case of misinformation on the current coronavirus pandemic compromising the health and the lives of people (Vijaykumar, 2020). Studies show that the elderly are more prone to believing fake news than younger generations due to cognitive decline (Hambrick, 2018). If such individuals fall for fake news, they may fail to use information in protecting themselves against the virus. This is just one example of how misinformation in the internet age can have grave consequences for society. These grave consequences, in turn, point to the need for educating the public on how to evaluate sources and content on the internet.
Apart from the dangers posed by fake news, the internet and associated technologies also pose the threat of cybercrime. Cybercrime is a broad term that refers to criminal activities taking place in cyberspace. Such crimes include identity theft and financial fraud among others. As global internet usage expands, more transactions are conducted online. Online transactions, of course, necessitate the input of information on the internet. Many people, for instance, choose to shop and pay bills online. Some people, however, make a living out of exploiting systems vulnerabilities and stealing from individual and organizational targets. For example, recent statistics show that in 2018 alone, there were 1.7 million cases of fraud and 651,000 cases of identity theft that were reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers and companies lost a total of $14.7 billion the same year (Insurance Information Institute [III], 2020). Such crimes are not limited to the United States. According to McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the global economy loses around $445 billion every year due to cybercrime (III, 2020). The staggering amount of losses proves just how pervasive this problem is. In many cases, victims of fraud and identity theft are individual consumers.
Cybercrimes are usually committed by individuals and groups. Various ways of committing fraud and identity theft exist, and one such tactic is stealing personal information from databases. One such case is the infamous data breach on Yahoo in 2013. In what is considered the largest data breach in history, hackers stole the personal information including names, birthdates, email addresses, and telephone numbers of over 3 billion accounts (Swinhoe, 2020). Another famous case is the data breach on Facebook that leaked the information of over 50 million users. This breach comes on the heels of a recent scandal over the revelation that a British analytics firm named Cambridge Analytica harvested information from 87 million Facebook users. It is believed that the information was used to tweak political advertisements the users received (Isaac & Frenkel, 2018). Such occurrences highlight the dangers posed by the internet. While online presence has become vital in the modern world, users and organizations must remain wary of weaknesses in systems and hackers’ evolving capabilities.
Finally, internet users are also susceptible to social media’s negative effects on mental health. Social media has taken the world by storm. Whereas there were only a handful of social media platforms available in the early 2000s, social media today dominates cyberspace. According to the Pew Research Center, only 5% of American adults used social media in 2005. This number grew more than ten-fold by 2020, jumping to an astounding 72% (Pew Research Center, 2019). There are some obvious reasons behind social media’s success: it serves as an online platform for interaction with family and friends, personal space for self-expression, and gateway to information among others. However, excessive use of social media has also been linked to psychological distress. One study published on the Journal of the American Medical Association found that longer screen time or the amount of time spent online is associated with higher rates of depression (Savvy, 2020). Researchers also speculate that negative emotions result from social comparison. Personal content on social media is usually filtered and designed to highlight only positive aspects of users’ lives. For example, people are more likely to share their purchases, travels, and accomplishments than their problems. This leads to users developing the inaccurate view that others’ lives are much better than their own. Social comparison, in turn, results in negative emotions (Pera, 2018). The association between social media use and depression is just one of the many issues noted over the years. In fact, taking time off of social media is one way of taking care of mental health. Already widely commented upon are other issues such as the promotion of unrealistic beauty standards, loneliness arising from poor-quality online interaction, and cyberbullying and harassment on social media platforms. All of these issues have been linked to declines in mental health among internet users.
The internet has undoubtedly changed the world. In just a span of a few decades, the world became more connected than ever before. It has improved communication, built global networks, and streamlined transactions, all to the convenience of society. But while the internet has had many positive effects, it has also brought about hazards. For one, the spread of fake news serves as a formidable challenge to delivering accurate information to the public. Cybercrime has also victimized millions around the world and has led to financial losses among consumers and organizations alike. Social media has been associated with mental health issues including depression. It is important to note, however, that the existence of such hazards does not mean that the internet is harmful. Neither does it mean that people should refrain from going online. The benefits of this technology still far outweigh its negative impacts. The solution lies in raising awareness of these hazards among the public and engaging stakeholders like companies and the government in developing practices that enhance protection of the public. The keys to harnessing the powers of the internet while minimizing its threats are technological innovation, education of the public, initiative from the government and private sectors, and vigilance of everyone.
Hambrick, D. (2018). “Cognitive ability and vulnerability to fake news.” Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cognitive-ability-and-vulnerability-to-fake-news/
Insurance Information Institute. (2020). Facts + Statistics: Identity theft and cybercrime. https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-identity-theft-and-cybercrime
Isaac, M. and Frenkel, S. (2018). “Facebook Security Breach Exposes Accounts of 50 Million Users.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/technology/facebook-hack-data-breach.html
Pera, A. (2018). Psychopathological processes involved in social comparison, depression, and envy on Facebook. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(22). 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00022
Pew Research Center. (2019). Social media fact sheet. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/
Savvy, J. W. (2020). “Does social media cause depression?” Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-social-media-cause-depression/
Swinhoe, D. (2020). The 15 biggest data breaches of the 21st century. CSO Online. https://www.csoonline.com/article/2130877/the-biggest-data-breaches-of-the-21st-century.html
Vijaykumar, S. (2020). Covid-19: Older adults and the risks of misinformation. British Medical Journal. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/03/13/covid-19-older-adults-and-the-risks-of-misinformation/
Watson, A. (2019). Level of confusion caused by fake news about the basic facts of current issues and events in the United States as of March 2019. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/657037/fake-news-confusion-level/
Watson, A. (2020). Share of adults who have ever shared fake news or information online in the United States as of March 2019. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/657111/fake-news-sharing-online/