Recently, it seems that the mainstream media has a hatred for internet communities, trying to paint them in a poor light. Many people believe that socially awkward people, computer geeks, and losers are the only participants in social media communities. That may have been the case when the internet was starting to generate traffic — but that’s not the case today. Nearly everyone in the modern world is part of an internet community.
That said, the internet is not without flaws. It’s a mostly unregulated medium, where people can post essentially whatever they want. Over the years, this has led to a number of controversies that have divided households. Some of these controversies are jovial, but some of them are literally matters of national security.
Here are 15 Of The Biggest Internet Controversies Of The Past Decade:
15. The Ashley Madison Leak
What happened: Ashley Madison is a website that helps users cheat on their spouses. In July 2015, a group known as “The Impact Team” hacked into Ashley Madison servers and stole user data. A month later, on August 18 and August 20, the group leaked 25 gigabytes of data including the details of who had Ashley Madison accounts.
Creating an account on Ashley Madison was free, which led to a number of fake profiles being created. Someone could make a profile using my name to make it seem like I had an Ashley Madison account. In order to have that account removed, people had to pay the company to remove the profiles. The company claimed that once a profile was removed, it was gone forever, but the 2015 data leak revealed that to be untrue.
Why it was controversial: Following the leak, internet vigilantes took it upon themselves to figure out who had an account. They were sifting through gigabytes of data with the hopes of finding a celebrity that they could publicly shame for using the website. Thousands of United States military and government emails were registered on the site, and many vigilantes tried to extort members of the public for Bitcoins.
One company offered a search engine that allowed people to type in the email address or name of someone they knew to see if they had an Ashley Madison account.
People felt that they were doing the world a service by publicly shaming adulterers. Clinical psychologists and media experts warned of the dangers that this leak could have on people. Six days following the leak, at least three people committed suicide as a direct result of the leak.
14. Reddit Tried To Find The Boston Bombers
What happened: On April 15, 2013, two homemade explosives were detonated seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Three people were killed, hundreds were wounded, and 16 people lost limbs.
The country was on the hunt for the people responsible for such a heinous attack. Users on Reddit created a community, FindBostonBombers, dedicated to pooling their resources to beat the police in catching the Boston Bombers. It was completely unsuccessful, and the events of FindBostonBombers were recreated on the television shows The Newsroom and The Good Wife.
Why it was controversial: FindBostonBombers was a modern-day witch hunt. In a sheer act of desperation, users were clinging to any inkling of evidence that they could find to prosecute members of the public.
One such person was a 22-year-old Brown University student who had been missing since March. Reddit users went as far as to contact members of the missing student’s family to tell them that their son was responsible for the Boston Bombing. That wasn’t the case, and the missing student was found in Providence River near Rhode Island. His death was ruled a suicide.
13. Google Street View Published A Lot Of Private Content
What Happened: We’ve all seen the Google street view memes. As Google cars began taking pictures of every road around the world, people were able to figure out where the Google cars would be at any given time. If they timed it correctly, they were able to pose in humorous ways that would then be shared online. Other times, people, with the hopes of finding internet fame, would pose spontaneously as the car drove by.
Why it was controversial: Sure, it was cool that Google was mapping photos of every road around the world. But there was a lot of backlash from the public and governments about what Google was doing.
While some people wanted their photos to be taken, others weren’t so keen. There are photos of people sunbathing on their property, people leaving strip clubs, people picking up prostitutes, and people entering and leaving domestic violence shelters. Google has tried to comply with the concerns of the public, allowing people to blur images found on street view.
Provincial governments in Canada found Google street view worrying because they felt it would ruin the tourism industry. Residents feared the tourism industry would die because Google had painted their resorts, cities, and landscape in an unfavorable light because its cars had driven through when the snow had melted!
12. When Celebrities’ Private Photos Were Leaked
What happened: Starting on August 31, 2014, over 500 private photos of celebrities were posted to 4chan and other image-hosting websites. The photos were obtained by a group of computer gurus who took advantage of a security issue in Apple’s iCloud. Even when a celebrity had already deleted certain photos, the hackers were able to steal them from their icloud account because nothing really gets deleted off the cloud. Some of “The Fappening” victims included Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kaley Cuoco, and most recently, Emma Watson (allegedly).
The overall weirdness of The Fappening cannot be overstated. Essentially, the photos were leaked by individuals who trade celebrity nude photographs on the dark net. There’s somewhat of a stock market for celebrity nude photographs, and either someone wanted to crash the market — or almost everyone had the photos, so people felt the need to share them.
Why it was controversial: The internet became divided about whether or not it was immoral to look at the photos. While the photos were stolen from celebrities, many people felt that if celebrities didn’t want people to see those photos, they shouldn’t have taken them in the first place.
Ultimately, a number of websites (like Imgur and Reddit) agreed to stop hosting images of The Fappening on their websites out of respect for the celebrities involved. Regardless, you can find all of The Fappening photos via a simple Google search.
11. The Story Of Edward Snowden
What happened: Edward Snowden is viewed as an American hero by millions of people around the world. To others, he’s a traitor.
As a former government contractor, Edward Snowden had access to highly classified information in the National Security Agency. In 2013, Snowden stole this information from the NSA and leaked it to the media.
The classified documents that Snowden released revealed a number of global surveillance programs run by the United States government. A number of these documents revealed that the government was wiretapping every cellphone, watching every webcam, and recording every phone conversation that they were able to. There’s a very good chance that the NSA has a copy of something you’ve said or shared even if you aren’t an American.
Why it was controversial: Due to the nature of what Snowden leaked, he was charged with theft of government property and two counts of violating the Espionage Act. He’s one of America’s Most Wanted criminals and has had to seek asylum in Russia to avoid prosecution.
10. Those Unflattering Beyonce Photos
What happened: In 2013, Beyonce was given the opportunity to perform at the biggest entertainment event in America: the Super Bowl halftime show. The show itself was pretty incredible, and Beyonce fans were boasting on social media about how well their Queen had performed. It wasn’t until the following morning that the controversy began.
Why it was controversial: Internet users were taking and sharing online stills from Beyonce’s performance where she looked really unflattering. Beyonce’s publicist began contacting websites that were sharing these images, such as BuzzFeed, and asking them to take the images down.
There is a known phenomenon in the world of public relations called The Streisand Effect. Basically, whenever someone tries to censor a piece of information or remove it from the public, this draws more attention to what he or she is trying to remove.
In the case of the Beyonce’s photos, which the publicist wanted to remove from the internet entirely, more attention was brought to the unflattering photos. In fact, some websites share the photos every Super Bowl to spite that very publicist!
9. The Murder of Amber Lynn Coplin
What happened: Amber Lynn Coplin lived with her 13-year-old son in a Washington state apartment. She was dating 33-year-old David Kalac, a very disturbed individual.
In 2014, Kalac and Coplin had an argument in their apartment that eventually turned physical. Neighbors reported to hearing banging and screaming in the apartment but didn’t feel the need to call police at the time.
The following morning, Coplin’s 13-year-old son went to school. When he returned home, he took a nap, waking up a few hours later. Coplin’s son happened to notice that his mother’s car was missing and went to check her bedroom. When he opened the door, he found her dead on the floor. Her driver’s license was in the room, with ‘DEAD’ written across it. Additionally, ‘SHE KILLED ME FIRST’ was scribbled on a picture in the room, and ‘BAD NEWS’ was written on the blinds.
Why it was controversial: After killing Coplin, David Kalac stripped off her clothes, took photos of her dead body, and posted them to 4chan with the message “Her son will be home from school soon. He’ll find her, then call the cops. I jut [sic] wanted to share the pics before they find me.”
4chan users, being the unusual beings that they are, had mixed opinions about Kalac posting the photos online. Many users were asking for more information about the murder, which Kalac provided, and others were condemning the post altogether.
8. When YouTube Was Hiding LGBT Content
What happened: In order to crackdown on inappropriate content (and make YouTube more ad-friendly), YouTube began hiding a number of videos from the public. Most inappropriate videos can be viewed in restricted mode, but to view those videos, users have to toggle restricted mode on/off.
Why it was controversial: For a number of YouTubers, creating digital content is the way that they support themselves. If a video is deemed inappropriate, the ad revenue that the video generates pretty much becomes nil.
After YouTube began flagging more videos, a number of LGBT creators realized that their videos were being hidden — even to people who were viewing in unrestricted mode. This essentially meant that LGBT creators were losing out on ad revenue for no apparent reason.
Many times, the creators didn’t actually have any offensive content on their channels. Typically, the LGBT creators were vloggers who, in their videos, simply talked about what it was like to be in a same-sex relationship.
YouTube responded to concerns, saying that the videos were being hidden accidentally. That said, YouTuber NeonFiona noted that any video where she mentioned her bisexuality had been hidden but that none of the videos where she failed to mention her partner’s gender had been filtered.
It took weeks to somewhat fix the problem, which was more than likely a bug, to begin with, though incorrectly restricted content still exists. This fiasco turned the LGBT community against Google. A similar event happened in 2009 when Amazon accidentally removed the sale of gay and lesbian books from the website.
7. The Saga Of DaddyOFive
What happened: DaddyoFive was a YouTube channel that became popular out of the blue in the past year or so. The channel was filled with videos where parents played “pranks” on their children. Oftentimes, the parents picked on their son, Cody, by accusing him of doing a number of bad things. When Cody refused to confess to something he didn’t do, the parents became emotionally abusive. Furthermore, the parents encouraged physical violence between their children.
Why it was controversial: DaddyoFive was brought to the attention of YouTuber Philip DeFranco, who in turn, shed light on the situation. He called them child abusers and expressed his concern for Cody’s well-being.
DaddyoFive responded by saying that the videos were harmless pranks that the children enjoyed participating in. Despite that claim, there were a number of videos of the children crying, being pushed into book cases, swearing at their parents, and showing other signs of general unhappiness.
The DaddyoFive channel was stripped of its videos soon after. The parents of the children released a half-hearted apology video on their channel, saying that Philip DeFranco was the reason for their recent misfortune. They even went as far to claim that the children were in on the pranks and to say that Cody was really just a brilliant actor. Yeah, okay.
6. When PewDiePie Became A Nazi
What happened: In February 2017, The Wall Street Journal published a hit-piece on PewDiePie, claiming that he was promoting anti-Semitic behavior and that he was a very open white supremacist.
The Wall Street Journal published a number of images of PewDiePie dressed like a Nazi and performing a Nazi salute and a video where he paid non-English speakers to hold up a sign that said ‘DEATH TO ALL JEWS.’
Responding to The Wall Street Journal, PewdiePie released an apology video. He stated that the clips that The Wall Street Journal used were taken completely out of context.
Why it was so controversial: Fans of PewDiePie and fans of comedy, in general, were torn about what comedians can and can’t joke about. Many people argued that while some people found the YouTuber’s jokes offensive, he had a right to make whatever jokes he wanted because, well, that’s all they are.
Other mainstream media organizations sided with The Wall Street Journal, saying that it was completely inappropriate for PewDiePie, who worked for a Disney subsidiary, to pay people to hold up a sign that says ‘DEATH TO ALL JEWS.’
5. “The Dress”
What happened: “The Dress” is a photo that went viral on February 26, 2015. Almost everyone was sharing the dress on their social media accounts, asking people what they thought the color of the dress was. Some people saw the dress as blue and black, and others saw the dress as white and gold. How could people have seen widely different colors?
Why it was controversial: The photo was an unintentional optical illusion. Some people claimed that they could switch between seeing the dress as blue/black and white/gold, but there’s no way of actually confirming that.
The scientific explanation for this phenomenon is that some people were viewing the blue/black dress under a yellow-tinted light, while other people were telling their eyes that the dress was white/gold under a blue-tinted light.
4. When Instagram Started Selling Your Photos
What happened: In December 2012, Instagram updated their terms and conditions. One of the new changes to the T&C was that users agreed to let businesses pay Instagram to use the users’ photos for sponsored content or promotions, with no compensation to the users. In other words, Instagram was suddenly allowed to sell your photos to advertisers.
Why it was controversial: People tend to think that the photos, poems, posts, and videos that they post on social media belong to them. In a number of cases, the content that users share on social media belongs to the social media website that they’re posting it on. For some people, this isn’t news. However, for people who skip over reading the terms and conditions, this was a game changer.
One Instagram user took it to the next level, opening up an art gallery called “New Portraits.” The gallery primarily featured pictures of women, and due to a loophole in copyright laws, the ‘artist’ was able to sell each Instagram post for $90,000 each.
3. The CS:GO LOTTO Fiasco
What happened: Counter Strike: Global Offensive (otherwise known as CS:GO) is one of the most competitive first-person shooters on the market today. In addition to playing ranked matches, there’s a market on CS:GO where users can spend money to buy keys that unlock chests they acquire in the game. There are a wide variety of cosmetic skins in the chests that can be bought or sold on different websites. The rarer the skin, the more it sells for. Some skins even sell for thousands of dollars.
There are websites dedicated to this aspect of CS:GO. One of these websites, CS:GO Lotto, is essentially legal gambling for minors. Though users are gambling in game items, these items can be bought and sold for real-world money.
Why it was controversial: Two YouTubers, TMartn and ProSyndicate, made a number of videos on their YouTube channels promoting their site. In their videos, they showed viewers winning skins worth thousands of dollars, making it seem like a “get rich quick” scheme. In reality, the YouTubers were gaming the website to make it seem more profitable than it actually was.
The YouTubers repeatedly claimed to have no affiliation to the website — which was eventually proven to be false. TMartn and ProSyndicate were the creators of the website CS:GO Lotto and are currently battling a number of lawsuits.
2. When Memes Became Racist
What happened: Pepe the frog was created in 2005 by Matt Furie. Pepe was an innocent enough cartoon character that eventually flooded message boards and meme pages. He’s one of the more recognizable faces for meme fans around the world.
The harmless cartoon character became subject to criticism from the mainstream media after his image was used by right-wing users during the 2016 election. Pepe had his image altered to resemble Hitler and other racist caricatures and was generally used when right-wing internet users felt someone was being too sensitive about social issues.
Why it was controversial: The internet is now flooded with images of Pepe the frog supporting white supremacy and other alt-right political views. The creator, Matt Furie, tried to reclaim Pepe from alt-right activists but found little to no success.
In 2017, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) classified Pepe as a general hate symbol. The ADL, however, recognizes that Pepe was intended to be an innocent cartoon and is only offensive in certain contexts. In May 2017, Matt Furie published a comic on his Tumblr account where he officially buried Pepe. RIP.
1. The Sam Pepper Assault Allegations
What happened: Sam Pepper was one of the many pranksters who filled YouTube with fake content that he tried to pass off as real. He was generally unliked by members of the YouTube community, but he attracted an audience of more than 2 million subscribers.
One of his prank videos, which he claimed was real, involved him walking up to strangers on the street and trying to kiss them. Amazingly, almost all the women kissed him back, letting him stick his tongue into their mouths on a busy boulevard. Another video involved Sam Pepper walking up and pinching women’s butts.
With such a large YouTube audience, Sam Pepper was the main YouTube prankster to watch — until the allegations came out.
Why he was controversial: Six different women came out to the media claiming that Sam Pepper had sexually harassed or assaulted them. One woman, Dottie Martin, said that Pepper repeatedly tried to grope her during a date — which she explicitly tried to stop over and over again. Other women claimed that they had been groped or assaulted by Pepper at a YouTube gathering in London.
Sam Pepper’s attitude toward women became very obvious after these allegations became public. It’s bad enough pretending to sexually harass women for entertainment, but there’s no defense for doing it when the cameras aren’t rolling.
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