The internet is a ubiquitous aspect of our modern lives to the point that we often take it for granted. That has allowed some rather big misconceptions to take hold and be commonly believed.
1. Free Speech Exists on the Internet
Freedom of speech is an oft-misunderstood concept, so it is unsurprising that those various interpretations would make their way to the World Wide Web as well. Depending on where you live, you may indeed have the right to free speech online in theory. In the U.S., for instance, the courts have ruled that the internet is a free speech zone. The issue is that the nebulous internet is actually made up of resources that are owned and operated by many different private companies. Even in the U.S., those private organizations are under no obligation to provide you a platform for your free speech. The only way you truly have free speech is if you own and operate your own server and thus platform.
2. Internet Platforms Are Not Responsible for Users
This misconception is woven into the one discussed above. Many people believe that since free speech exists online, internet platforms must be free of responsibility in order to secure it. This is true to a point. If you post something illegal online, the platform through which you posted it is not immediately culpable. But if a pattern of behavior is established, then from the perspective of U.S. law, the platform is responsible. No one would argue that a site that hosts child pornography is not responsible for its users.
3. Anything Posted to the Internet Is There Forever
Broadband internet providers are not liable for what you post online. Common advice from modern parents to their children is to be careful what you post because once you do, it is there forever. The central wisdom there is sound. Once you post something, you lose control of it. Is it actually online forever? No. Even internet archive efforts like the Wayback Machine cannot document everything, and there are security companies that get paid a great deal of money to scrub content.
4. Your Identity Is Safe in Incognito Mode
Incognito mode—perhaps inadvertently if you are not a cynic—is one of the great tricks played on the casual internet user. While it does limit the specific information that is relayed between you and servers to which you connect, there is to plenty of exchange to identify and track you. If you want real anonymity online, the closest you will get is paying for a good VPN service and connecting through it. Using a good VPN can help you protect your identity even when you are using amazing torrenting platforms like The Pirate Bay.
5. You Are Being Personally Tracked
There is some personal tracking for sure. An example is Google recognizing your shopping interests in order to post you advertisements that may interest you. But overall, data is collected more generally. Google and other tech behemoths like it are much more interested in big data than granular data. If someone does track you individually, it is much more likely to be another individual.
Honorable mention in our collection of top misconceptions about the internet goes to the idea that you will get the download and upload speeds that your internet service provider advertises. This is not necessarily the case in the U.S. where ISPs are allowed to advertise the best-case scenario. This is an issue that cable and DSL subscribers often encounter because those networks have limited bandwidth and so real-world speeds can be greatly affected by population density and peak traffic.
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