The internet can be a somewhat confusing construct at times. It can be anything and everything to someone looking for information, yet at the same time, it feels as though one has to navigate a labyrinth of unwritten rules to use it properly or to make the most of it. Not everything can be trusted, and what or who you can trust keeps changing as websites change hands. Editors have different standards, and companies that buy websites might have their own agendas. That means even information about the internet itself can become tangled up and misrepresented.
Furthermore, the internet is a newer development that has grown rapidly. As a result, many people may not completely understand how it works. What might be the case a decade or even five years ago might not be the case anymore, leading to some confusion. These misconceptions spread (because anyone can share information online) and become facts. People can take advantage of this, and we want to make sure that isn't the case for you.
Therefore, while we cannot list every myth or misconception people have about the internet, here are some of the most common:
The Connection Itself
To start with, let's go over some misconceptions about the nature of the internet or your connection. Everything might not be as perfect as believed, and hiccups can occur. Here is what you can and cannot expect from the Internet:
1. Everyone on the Internet Is Connected
One would think that the Internet is an entirely open highway of information in which anyone can talk to anyone with little restriction. However, the internet you are using to read this probably looks a lot different than that used by people in another country. The Great Firewall of China is just one example, and North Korea only has about 35 websites available to browse.
As much as you might want to make friends all across the globe, that might not be so easy. Even if you know multiple languages in the resulting countries, there might be restrictions on who you can talk to, or who they can talk to. The websites you use might not be allowed in certain countries, and while there are things such as VPNs and TOR, those things might not be permitted, and their use can result in severe penalties. Additionally, even if you can communicate, not all topics might be on the table.
Furthermore, many of the major websites worldwide will have regional or country-based variants, and in many cases, for a good reason. There isn't much use in Americans shopping on India's Amazon page. While Wikipedia pages of all types are available, the site defaults to your home country for the most part. Social media is usually more open, but naturally, the default settings and focus will be on people speaking your language or around you.
In short, be aware that the internet does not contain everything one can find on a computer and that there might be more than one for all intents and purposes.
2. You Will Always Get Your Advertised Download and Upload Speeds
As much as you might like to know that all your downloads will be lightning-fast because you pay for the good internet, not everything will be the same. You might have noticed this yourself already, but there might be times of the day where things seem slower, perhaps peak times when everyone is using the internet.
Generally, when you see an offer that lists the download speeds, that is the maximum download speed you can expect or what the ISP will limit you to. This is especially the case with cable or DSL internet providers, which have more limited bandwidth. The actual speeds will fluctuate, and you may not get everything you want or the level of consistency you'd like.
Each ISP has a different variation between the advertised speed and the actual speed. Your location and other factors also matter. However, you will want to look for a speed of at least 80 percent of the maximum. Anything less, and you should consider talking to your service provider or even switching providers if they do not address the issue. While there must be some leeway, you should get what you are paying for. When measuring, be sure to use a speed test and not just try to guess it yourself based on file downloads. There might be other factors at work.
3. Your Connection Downloads Everything at the Same Speed
As great as your connection might be, the server-side also matters. If you have a high-speed connection yourself, it doesn't necessarily mean the same is true for the site you're downloading from.
There are numerous potential reasons for this, but here are a few of the most common:
With all of the above, you can be confident that not all downloads will be equal in speed. While your connection matters, sometimes you might just have to wait.
Platform and User Moderation
What can and cannot go online? Who determines these things, and what can sites do to users who break the rules? Are there even rules to begin with? While the internet might be considered something of a wild west, there are some trends to follow and some misconceptions to clear up.
4. Internet Platforms Are Not Liable for Their Users
Many people might think that platforms, networks, and forums are completely free from responsibility for their users. After all, so much content is being created and shared that it is impossible to moderate it all perfectly. Additionally, the platform is not the creator, and many people want there to be a distinction. While this is the case most of the time, with the platform's power also comes some level of responsibility.
After a certain point, if a platform knowingly keeps up inappropriate content or even outright encourages it, then it could be held liable, if only by the public. There are reasons even the most permissive of sites still have some guidelines, and anything blatantly illegal like child pornography or certain other graphic depictions will be taken down immediately, lest the authorities take extreme interest. Sites can get shut down, and with good reason.
Content platforms have started taking the initiative in blocking misinformation or more extreme rhetoric. It is a clear sign that platforms are feeling pressure from users. While before, they would have let many things go unaddressed, more policies are being enacted to the effect of restricting misinformation. Whether they are doing it of their own volition or due to the implied threat of future legislative regulation remains to be seen.
The level at which platforms are liable for content is a sliding scale that has yet to a standstill as both the public and legislators are figuring out the proper balance. Too much responsibility on platforms can mean platforms just do away with user input altogether or heavily restrict it. It wouldn't be worth it to them.
In real-world terms, a venue would not be responsible for someone running up on stage, spouting obscene language, or performing lewd acts. It would, however, have some degree of responsibility if it did absolutely nothing to stop this. How much this is determined in the court of public opinion versus courts of law will vary, but in some countries, we see a shift towards countries holding platforms responsible.
Internet Platforms are Completely Responsible
On the opposite end of the scale, some people might believe that platforms are legally responsible for every last bit of content posted or even that ISPs bear responsibility. This also cannot be the case. Enforcing such a thing would be unrealistic and mean the end of the internet as anyone knows it. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider," and this remains a strong protection for ISPs.
To put it again in real-world terms, a bar cannot stop something from happening on its premises. Still, they are responsible if they allow or encourage such things to happen, especially if they are illegal. It can partially be about the context and the effort to remove problems as soon as possible. Whether this will change with content filtering technology is yet to be seen, but it will likely be an ongoing battle. As one term is banned, another with the same meaning will pop up, and so on.
This will be an ongoing topic and one that is open to interpretation. The situation is far murkier than some commentators would have you believe, so don't get fooled into thinking it is an easy issue.
5. The Internet Has Free Speech
Many users might think that the internet has blanket free speech protection. Effectively, people believe they can write what they want without censorship. Whatever comment section or social media post there is, it is an open invitation to any words or images they want to put up there.
However, most sites online are run by private companies. They are free and able to run their sites how they please, including censoring and moderating whatever people put on their site. Much like how a private business has a say in what types of behavior are allowed on its premises, a private website can control what is said on its comments sections, etc. It is not even limited to clearly offensive speech; it can be just anything they dislike or disagree with. Most sites just stick to generally objectionable material, but they have every right to moderate as they please.
There are certain restrictions in that the government cannot easily restrict speech in any space. Free speech protections exist in that regard. However, this applies only to the relevant citizens and countries. As such, it can be quite an entangled scenario determining what is and isn't protected online.
6. Everything Stays on the Internet Forever
What is here today on a page can be gone tomorrow. Theoretically, this article could disappear from the internet with just a few clicks.
Many people think anything they put online will stay until the end of days, as parents often warn their children. In truth, if something were to happen to the server, the website got taken down or stopped paying the bills (it happens more than you think), then you will be out of luck. For this reason, you may want to have backups of everything you care about as opposed to relying solely on online resources. You cannot control the internet, but you can control your hard drive.
However, that is not to say that you can delete something online and consider it gone forever. The origin of this saying also lies in the fact that something put online, whether photos or a poorly advised social media post, cannot be so easily forgotten or erased from the internet. You do not have complete control. Someone can easily make a copy or take a screenshot of what you put up, and there is little you can do about it. There might be some legal protections to get it taken down if you find it, but you cannot control what is on other people's hard drives, and you must take action and be constantly vigilant if you want something gone.
There are also archives such as the Wayback Machine, which will save copies of previous versions of web pages. However, it is not perfect and is not constantly saving copies, so something can easily be missed.
So once again, the myth has some truth to it, but it is not all-encompassing or as absolute as some would believe.
Security and Privacy Myths and Misconceptions
When using the internet, whether individually or at work, there are few things more important than security. Many people also care deeply about their privacy online and keeping their info off the net. Seeing as the two concepts are intertwined online, we wanted to put to bed a few common misconceptions here:
7. You're Safe if You Have a Firewall
Firewalls are an excellent addition to any security setup. They can automatically scan incoming data, block out what might be malicious, and generally keep you safe. There are so many attempted hacks, cyberattacks, and other activities going on every day that it's hard for most people to comprehend. However, if you turn your firewall on and don't think about security at all anymore, you're doing it wrong.
In truth, much of the danger in terms of scams, viruses, and malware comes from social engineering instead of brute force hacking. After all, it is much easier to have someone give you the key to their house rather than trying to pick the lock or steal it outright. If you see a phishing scheme in your inbox or social media messages and you give someone personal or even financial information, there is nothing a firewall can do about it. Once you let the virus in, it will be hard to get it out, even with special security tools.
Always be incredibly careful of what you are downloading and clicking on online. If something seems suspicious or too good to be true, then it likely is.
8. No One Can Track You in Incognito Mode
Incognito mode (or the equivalents in other browsers) is not as clever as you might think it is. Many people believe it is something like a curtain to hide all traffic from tracking from any source. This is simply not the case. All it means is your browser does not keep what you search for or what pages you visit in your history. The site still knows someone from your IP address visited a website. Your data is not encrypted in any way, and you gain few, if any, security benefits.
Effectively, it makes sure nothing is tracked on your end. It will erase your history, cookies, and form completion data when you close the browser. Still, if you think no one can track your IP address just because you are using Incognito Mode (or whatever its equivalent is in your browser), then you will be sorely disappointed.
If you do not want your actions to be tracked online, you will be better off using a VPN or TOR. These will hide your IP address from prying eyes and encrypt your traffic. Using both in combination is the best solution if you want to erase your tracks.
Note, however, that no matter what you do, if you provide the information, then you can be tracked. Don't put your personal information into forms if privacy is a concern for you. If such things are required, you can use a throwaway email address and throwaway information.
9. Everything is Being Personally Tracked
While we are on the topic of tracking, there is a lot of tracking done while you are using the internet. There are likely cookies active right now in some of your tabs, monitoring things such as what you are looking at, what you are putting in your cart, your webpage preferences, and more.
Some of these are helpful and make your website experience much easier. Some are outright necessary for websites to work correctly. Others might be more for marketing purposes or be outright malicious, though outright malicious cookies designed to hurt your system are unlikely to be found on the more popular websites.
All these cookies, the data you put into forms, and what you allow programs and apps to access all allow for tracking on some level. Have you ever wondered how ads you get online often seem so tailored to you? It's the cookies and the data collected on you.
And while this revelation isn't exactly comforting, it is not personal tracking or someone out to get you, as some people might think. You can rest assured that no one is looking at your name specifically and creating this grand dossier on you, your family, and everything else you care about. There simply isn't enough manpower in even the largest tech companies to do that.
It's all simply automated and works by algorithms. You may still wish to take measures to combat it, and we encourage you to do so to feel the need. You can often go into settings on websites and turn off tailored ads or marketing, and there are usually privacy features to use as well. Yet despite all of this, there is unlikely to be another person on the other side of the screen. You are a number and a marketing lead as far as companies are concerned.
eCommerce and Shopping
With so much online shopping nowadays, especially given the pandemic, we found it important to note a few common misconceptions about online shopping.
10. You Don't Need to Pay Taxes Online
Taxes can be tricky to figure out online, considering items can be shipped nearly anywhere from anywhere. This has led some people to (perhaps conveniently) believe that online transactions are not subject to taxation, or at least sales tax. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The source of this misconception also likely comes from the early days of the internet where eCommerce was figuring itself out, and it was a grey area no matter what side of the equation you were on. Even shops with the best intentions did not know what to do, and automated systems weren't as advanced as today.
Now that eCommerce has been around for decades; there's a clearer framework to work from and general guidelines and checks to use. Taxes may be a bit different depending on what state you are in or what state the company is based in (though this is more likely to affect them more on the backend), but sales taxes are still a thing. Furthermore, there is a legal precedent for states to collect them now. Unless you live in a place without sales taxes, calculations must be made. There is more oversight over the matter, and location tracking is more common.
11. Website Optimization Matters Little
Many website and business owners still believe that content and the base product matter the most when it comes to eCommerce, to the expense of everything else.
The idea that good content and products are king is true to an extent. An excellent and beautiful website that has poor products or lousy content will not do particularly well in the long run and will be at a disadvantage, all other things considered. However, the truth is that without some optimization, people aren't going to find or stay on your site for very long. People are not willing to wait more than a few seconds for a webpage to load, and even that is pushing it.
Whatever the topic, there are likely dozens to even thousands of other pages fighting for the same attention, and there are plenty of other competing products. One has to get noticed to succeed online, and optimization is a crucial component to getting noticed.
12. The Website or Online Retailer is the one Selling or Handling a Product
When you go online to a site such as Amazon or even Walmart nowadays and buy something, what company do you think is responsible for everything? While in many cases it is Amazon or the company themselves, that's not always the case. As part of a bid to open up options, these websites allow other parties to sell goods on the platform. There are rules, of course, but ostensibly the site makes money, and the seller account also makes money.
In other cases, an e-commerce site might outsource some (or all) of the shipping process to other companies, and they will rely on them to handle the products from the warehouse to your door. The products may or may not be subject to their inspection, and they likely have some oversight over the process, but they are somewhat removed.
The exact determination of this will vary from website to website. Some might have a note that you are instead buying from a certified seller, and others will be a little more obtuse about it. They will be operating under the assumption that you know you are ordering from a general marketplace of sellers.
While more people are aware of this as time goes on, they might still be concerned about their products, blame inconsistencies on the website in general (which, in truth, they are responsible for to some extent), or not know where they are getting products from. Pay attention, so you don't get a nasty surprise.
Remember: Don't Believe Everything You Read Online
We clearly cannot go over every misconception to be found online or about the internet. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and it will be up to you to separate fact from fiction.
- Beware of confirmation bias. Just because you want something to be true does not mean it is so. Seek out reputable sources and opinions from all sides of an issue.
- People post misinformation on social media all the time. Just because someone is your friend does not mean they are right.
- With the lines between opinion columns and factual reporting blurring on some websites, it is vital to read bylines and carefully examine what you find.
- Some misconceptions come from outdated information. Technology regularly changes, and what was not possible even a few years ago is now possible. Check to make sure your information is up to date.
Overall, just be careful and vigilant about what you hear and what you read and try to keep yourself up to date with the latest in technology and the internet.
There are plenty of things people get wrong about the internet, and plenty of people are happy to spread misinformation online. Be careful to check your sources and take everything with a grain of salt. After all, without verification, you do not know whether what you are reading is the truth or the creation of a 12-year-old trying to be funny. We hope that this article cleared some things up for you and that you can move forward with a clearer idea of what the internet is and is not.