The History of the Internet's Future

By now, you probably know that the golden age of Internet culture has fallen, but did you know that the Internet as a whole is actually dying? A study in 2021 showed that only 57.7% of users on the Internet were human, with harmful bots making up 27.7% of the Internet. Recently, the rise of bots on the Internet has been growing, with the proportion of humans being the lowest it’s ever been in the last eight years. People are now estimating that since 2021, bots now make up 64% of the Internet, leading to influencers like KAROMETRY popping off recently by using a fake AR version of herself to sell to fans, allowing followers to pay one dollar a minute towards the CBT4 version of herself, signifying how fake the Internet’s become in recent years with anything actually real being censored into silence. Just recently, big tech, the media, and government-funded third parties were actually proven to all be colluding to censor Americans’ freedom of speech, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What we see today on the Internet is a far cry from what it was just 10 years ago. Originally, the Internet was a form of expression; it was a place where anyone could be themselves, completely liberated from the world of government censorship and corporations, while permeating all the information in the world to everyone. Even though the Internet was born out of a military research project funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, now known as DARPA, the whole goal of the Internet was to create a network that could survive a nuclear attack. However, this quickly grew into something revolutionary because, soon, in the 1970s, the concept of packet switching was developed which allowed data to be broken up into small blocks or packets and sent over the network. This made the network more efficient and reliable. Then, in 1974, the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol was first introduced, which became the standard language for data transmission over the Internet, setting the groundwork for the birth of the World Wide Web.

As the Internet expanded beyond the scope of military and academic fields, private users started to use it. So, in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, invented the World Wide Web, a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet. Once the 90s came around, the Internet truly went mainstream. In 1991, the World Wide Web was made available to the public and it exploded in popularity. Businesses everywhere jumped on it. It was a new gold rush as the Internet was seen as a tool that would empower individuals, promote freedom of expression, and facilitate the growth of businesses. The first web browser, Mosaic, was launched in 1993, and Mosaic made the web much more accessible to users. Because of this, the Internet birthed its most iconic companies, such as Amazon in 1994, Yahoo!, eBay, and eventually Google in 1998.

It was in the same period that the Californian Ideology was taking off, a term coined around the mid-90s by media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron who used the term to describe a new political and social philosophy emerging from the San Francisco Bay Area, the heart of this booming Internet industry. They described this philosophy as being a blend of the free-willing spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies, mixing up the counterculture radicalism of the 60s with new economic liberalism. This ideology was catalyzed by the liberating and freedom-loving technology of the Internet. In fact, this is why companies like eBay, Yahoo!, PayPal, and Google were often associated with this ideology as they championed the power of the Internet to disrupt traditional industries and democratize access to information and services around the world.

And because of the huge potential of the Internet, this birthed the rise of social media in the 2000s with sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter transforming the way people communicate and share information. Back then, there was no censorship; the Internet was the wild west. This is when we saw the birth of Internet culture, with icons like Pepe the Frog being born.

Now, Pepe the Frog initially emerged in 2005 in Matt Furie’s comic, “Boy’s Life.” The comics featured Pepe and his anthropomorphic animal friends, embodying typical college lads. One comic showed Pepe responding to a question about his restroom visits, to which he retorted, “Feels good man,” a phrase that would later become synonymous with one of the earliest social media sites, 4chan. The frog quickly grew in popularity with 4chan users, resembling the average 4chan user’s attitude at the time. By 2009, Pepe and his catchphrase had entered the realm of popular culture, securing an entry in “Know Your Meme.” With Pepe’s increasing popularity, various versions of the frog started appearing, including sad, smug, and angry Pepes, which further catapulted Pepe’s fame across all platforms like Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, and any other social media platform that you can think of.

However, Pepe’s meaning started to morph through 4chan’s binding spirits of expression, edginess, and free expression. Pepe began to symbolize more than just a meme. It was beginning to become an emblem of free speech, radical thought, conspiracy theories, and just your average Internet user who appreciated and loved the Internet. This time, these were the golden years of the Internet. Even 4chan itself was never even a business; it was just born from the efforts of a 15-year-old, Christopher Poole, who sought to connect with fellow enthusiasts of Japanese culture, using the Internet to create a new type of community. In fact, this was such a bad business model that Poole was actually losing money with a debt of over twenty thousand dollars. But this didn’t matter because 4chan was never actually about profits. It was about uniting like-minded individuals to discuss Japanese culture and anime, offering a perfect outlet for marginalized individuals across the globe to express their passions freely, being connected with anyone, anywhere. Internet culture was booming, and soon…

Internet culture was booming, and soon the scope of 4chan’s discussions quickly expanded to include video games, music, literature, fitness, politics, and sports. At a time when the Internet was mostly used by outcasts, it brought together individuals from every niche. This was a period before iPhones, tech talk videos, and the corporatization of the Internet, making this community of outsiders on 4chan revolutionary.

Unsurprisingly, 4chan was the breeding ground for trends in Internet culture. It was the pioneer of this, with many early memes coming from 4chan and defining the Internet landscape. One example, aside from Pepe the Frog, was the Lolcat meme, combining a cat’s image with text. As these memes entered the realm of public consciousness, it became clear that 4chan was no longer just a haven for niche groups. Its influence was infiltrating popular culture.

Over time, 4chan’s memes evolved into trolling. For instance, the infamous Rick Roll was born when a 4chan user shared a YouTube link which was supposed to lead to a GTA 4 trailer, but instead directed users to Rick Astley’s song, “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Another example is when the bizarre song by Tay Zonday, “Chocolate Rain”, was posted to 4chan, and 4chan users all came together to boost its YouTube ranking for fun, so much so that it became a mainstream song and went viral everywhere.

An infamous trolling episode involved a marketing campaign by Mountain Dew, where customers voted for a new name for their drink. All of the 4chan users banded together to rig the vote, demonstrating their ability to disrupt mainstream marketing campaigns and popular culture as a whole.

However, the trolling didn’t stop at harmless pranks on businesses. 4chan users would also embark on extreme forms of trolling against corporations, governments, and any group they perceived as harming the world. A group of anonymous 4chan users formed the group now known as Anonymous. At first, they began orchestrating mass trolling events, which finally brought 4chan into the mainstream spotlight. They infamously targeted the Church of Scientology in 2008, launching a DDoS attack on their websites while also Rick Rolling the church.

Anonymous began publishing YouTube videos in a robotic voice, which went viral, sparking global protests against the church. They didn’t stop there. Anonymous went on to disrupt major banks, support Wikileaks, aid the Arab Spring riots, and even hacked 485 Chinese government websites in protest against their oppressive treatment of citizens.

4chan, once a haven for weebos and memes, expanded its reach to set precedents for real-world accountability. They were pioneers of free speech. What began as an outlet for marginalized views was now a platform challenging tyrannical governments and predatory organizations, giving a voice to the voiceless. This was the golden age of the Internet.

However, around the mid-2010s, the “dead Internet theory” claims the online world became a repetitive and homogeneous capitalist machine where almost everything became recycled, and nothing was original. As the Internet evolved, it seemed that many of the utopian dreams and Californian ideology became rotten from the inside.

The Internet has created new, even more predatory and exploitative ways of running a business. Airbnb and Uber are often cited as examples of the sharing economy or gig economy, where services are provided by individuals on a freelance or part-time basis, often through a digital platform. However, one of the best marketing strategies for these companies is to co-opt the idea of community for their own economic benefits.

For example, Uber drivers are considered independent contractors rather than employees, which means they are responsible for their own vehicle costs and don’t receive benefits like health insurance or paid time off. Similarly, Airbnb hosts take on the risks associated with renting out their homes, such as property damage or problematic guests, all while contributing to rising rent costs in major cities globally.

“Link rot” is a term used to describe the phenomenon where hyperlinks on the Internet become obsolete or broken over time. This can occur for various reasons, such as when the webpage the link is pointing to is removed, deleted, or restructured, or when the domain is not renewed or there are server issues.

According to a recent study by Old Dominion University’s Department of Computer Science, nearly 11 percent of shared resources will be lost after the first year of publishing and after that, 0.02 will be lost per day. This means that over the course of 20 years, it’s estimated that 98.4 percent of links on the Internet may experience some form of link rot, meaning that a huge portion of the information that you see online is effectively disappearing. This isn’t just limited to casual browsing or general information, this has serious implications for various sectors, including the legal and academic fields.

For instance, more than 50 percent of U.S. Supreme Court’s opinions contain dead links, completely wiping out various sources to support any arguments or decisions made. This is critical because if these links are broken, it becomes incredibly difficult to verify the information or to follow the reasoning of the courts. Similarly, over 70 percent of Harvard academic journals contain some sort of link rot. These academic journals rely on numerous citations to support their findings. Without this, all academic integrity is lost. If these links are broken, it becomes incredibly difficult to verify any information online or even to build upon this research.

In any case, this challenges our idea of the Internet as an everlasting record of humanity. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing though. In fact, link rot reflects the way everything else changes over time. Just like the cells in your body, new web pages and links are born while the old ones die off to be replaced. However, the problem here is that we’re not keeping track of the important parts, and we’re not replacing the old Internet with anything of value. It’s the content of the new Internet, the Internet that we see today, that counts.

When you take a closer look at the state of the modern Internet, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that it’s dead and that it’s been this way for some time. To understand why the Internet has died, we need to look into the “dead Internet theory”.

The “dead Internet theory” is a relatively recent idea that originated from an obscure online forum. The theory was first proposed in a post that suggested that the Internet as we knew it died around 2016 or 2017, with the post claiming that the Internet is now largely controlled by artificial intelligence and bots that generate content to manipulate people’s thoughts and actions. It suggests that many online influencers aren’t even real, but simply paid shills or part of government disinformation units. Quickly, the theory gained traction and was picked up by various online communities, and eventually made its way into mainstream media discussions.

According to the theory, we’re living in a real-life Matrix designed to distract us from the truth that we’re just drones in a digital ant hill. We live, work, and die so that the wealthy and powerful can grow more wealthy and powerful. Despite its dubious origins, the dead Internet theory resonated with many people’s experiences of the Internet. It seemed to capture a sense of disillusionment and unease about the changes that have occurred in the online world.

The core idea of this theory is that the Internet changed from the creative and quirky world of the late 90s and early 2000s to a repetitive, homogeneous, empty capitalistic machine. You see, according to the theory, almost everything we see online is just looking to generate clicks for financial gain. Personal websites and blogs have become redundant due to the rise of social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, and many creative ideas have fallen by the wayside, replaced by an empty, hollowed-out, corporatized version of the same thing.

Currently, 43% of all Internet bandwidth is consumed simply by six mega corporations: Netflix, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. These companies, controlling almost 50 percent of the Internet, have developed algorithms and conducted billions in research to know how to addict you, to draw away your attention. They are the largest players in creating our dopamine-fried generation, developing the foundations for our constant seeking of stimulation.

According to a recent study, when participants were left alone with their thoughts for 15 to 16 minutes, about 50 percent of these people found the experience incredibly boring. So boring, in fact, that when given the option to self-administer an electric shock, a significant number of participants chose to do so rather than just sit with their own thoughts for six minutes. Our generation, a generation that has grown up on the modern Internet, has become so accustomed to constant distractions and noise that we often escape into the hands of these companies, because we never want to be bored. We have been trained to never want to be with our own thoughts.

Yet boredom and solitude, being with your own thoughts, are what foster creativity and ingenuity. Historic figures like Isaac Newton and J.K. Rowling made historic discoveries or created noble works of art during periods of solitude and boredom. Just staring at your wall for 10 minutes can give you more insights about yourself, your habits, and your future than any social media site can possibly provide.

Yet while you have your dopamine fried, your attention span destroyed, and your thoughts decimated, this then allows people to collect all of your data, chop it up, and sell it for billions. And who is this data even going towards? Websites generating a culture of freedom, limit, and authenticity? No. It goes to those who are robbing your future potential by destroying your dopamine and mental health.

For instance, Instagram, from its inception, has promoted a culture of photoshopping your face, leading to the widespread use of the term “Instagram reality.” There’s even a subreddit with over a million subscribers that exposes the fabricated, idealized life that is so commonplace on Instagram. It’s not just faces and bodies that are fabricated. It’s even people’s audiences. It’s remarkably easy to buy bot accounts as followers, a practice that a ton of celebrities engage in. For instance, it is estimated that Ariana Grande has over 65 million fake followers.

All of these deceptions contribute to an unrealistic standard on Instagram. Despite growing awareness of these facets, they still subconsciously impact your mindset and mental health, as Instagram’s 500 million regular users face a daily bombardment of unattainable standards, leading to the subconscious and conscious comparison to others’ perfect, yet fake lives. There are consequences to this. According to recent research, among the five major social media platforms that young people use, Instagram was rated as the most detrimental to users’ mental health, having the most severe effects on people’s body image, along with depression and anxiety.

All of this is due to Instagram’s toxic culture of perfectionism, something that has generated untold billions for Mark Zuckerberg. What’s even more disturbing is that Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, has been intentionally overlooking these issues on both platforms. In late 2021, an internal presentation for Instagram and Facebook employees was leaked, revealing shocking content and implications. The presentation not only showed that Instagram is harmful to young people, but also that Facebook has conducted detailed research on its effects. The most damning statement it makes is that Instagram is “harmful for a sizable percentage of teens, particularly teenage girls.” For instance, 40 percent of teens now feel unattractive due to Instagram.

Yet the strangest part is that these teenagers are completely aware of the detrimental effects of Instagram but are still addicted to its algorithm, compelled to use it for the fear of missing out. This traps hundreds of millions of people into a vicious cycle of constantly seeking the next dopamine hit.

The fear of missing out traps hundreds of millions of people into a vicious cycle of constantly seeking the next dopamine hit and feeling left out if they’re not continually chasing this dopamine high. Fear of missing out leads to striving to outdo others, causing a vicious cycle that completely destroys self-esteem and depletes the dopamine left in your brain. What’s even more alarming is that the evidence of this damaging cycle isn’t enough for Facebook. They are intent on exploiting even more of the population because it generates them hundreds of billions of dollars, as evidenced by their plans to release a version of Instagram for children under 13.

This disturbing move was only delayed by the leak of the presentation; otherwise, it probably would have been launched by now. Even though Facebook is very aware of how unsafe Instagram is for teenagers, they’re now targeting even more vulnerable and naive younger children, clearly demonstrating Facebook’s disregard for its users. The only reason they paused the release of this children’s app was due to public backlash. But once that subsides, it’s likely that we’ll see the release of Instagram Kids soon after.

Bear in mind, this company controls Instagram, WhatsApp, and has over three and a half billion users across all of its platforms. Half of the entire world’s population is now being influenced by this company. How is this power being utilized? It is used to destroy your mental health, ruin your future potential, damage your body image, and isolate you from your community. The more these negative emotions are harnessed by Facebook, the more it fuels division among people, aggressive political divides, Internet drama, and more addiction to the platform, creating more negative emotions for everyone.

But if you thought things could get any faker on the Internet, wait until you see this. Right now, we’re about to enter the next stage in Internet culture, a stage that’s arguably worse than the one we’re already in: the age of AI and deep fakes. From Twitch streamers morphing into adult film stars to Joe Rogan endorsing fraudulent products, and even some deep fakes that could genuinely trigger a massive global conflict. These deep fakes are now appearing all over the Internet.

In one particularly damaging example, a clip circulated on Twitter, amassing over 8 million views, that seemed to announce the drafting of young men and women for war. This was a deep fake, but its potential to ignite real-world conflicts due to the power these deep fakes have over vast numbers of people is incredibly damaging.

It’s unsurprising that countries like Russia are already starting to experiment with deep fakes as weapons. As early as 2021, European Parliament members were taken aback when they discovered that they had been talking to a deep fake of Putin critic Leonard Volkov. They thought they were speaking to the critic, only to find out that it was just an AI robot. The fact that this happened demonstrates the true threat of deep fakes and how they can undermine democracy.

Deep fakes are not only used for propaganda. They can be used for blackmail, to destroy people’s careers, or even scam people. There have been countless instances on TikTok where Joe Rogan deep fakes promote shoddy products, only for people to realize later on that it was just a deep fake.

The recent report on the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency uncovered the ugly truth about government censorship. While the CISA was originally made to prevent cyber attacks on the U.S. government’s critical infrastructure, they began monitoring and censoring U.S. citizens on social media, colluding with big tech companies to spy on and suppress posts supporting certain viewpoints or ideas.

The report alleges that the CISA outsourced their work to a shell company to evade detection and exploit legal loopholes. The CISA even started using a new term, “malinformation,” to describe factual, true information spread without adequate context. This was used as justification to flag and censor the truth.

The report provides substantial evidence like email exchanges and records of meetings to show how deep and widespread the censorship became. However, the report hasn’t been definitively proven yet. The most important point illuminated by the report is the use of the term “misinformation” as a label to censor anything the government doesn’t want people to hear. The CISA decides what is and isn’t misinformation based purely on what they want people to believe.

This should not be a right-wing or left-wing talking point; everyone suffers in a repressed and corrupted society. Most countries have some sort of CISA alternative controlling public discourse. In the UK, it’s called the “Nudge Unit” and in Australia, it’s the Behavioral Economics Team.

These attempts to control speech stand in direct opposition to the values the Internet once represented. What used to be a culture of freedom, expression, and community is now slowly dying, suffocated by the glossy sheen of corporate and government influence.