15 Biggest Internet Controversies of the Past Decade

Dec 20 2009 by Cameron Chapman | 37 Comments

The Internet has been a breeding ground for controversy from the start. Part of this is a result of the fact that the Internet is the great neutralizer; it empowers everyone to have a voice.

As the first decade of the new millennium ends, let’s examine some of the most infamous and scandalous events that started, happened, and/or escalated on the web.

15 Biggest Internet Controversies of the Past Decade

If we missed something, tell us in the comments and let’s have the last great Internet controversy of this decade.

1. Climategate

When hackers gained access to a server used by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, they leaked over a thousand emails and other documents that call into question much of the data that has been used to support climate change models and predictions.

Climategate

This controversy is still ongoing, with one side calling it a smear campaign, and the other, asserting that it shows collusion among scientists to manipulate data. Some have even begun to contend the validity of man-induced climate change.

The situation challenges the reputation of the scientific community as a whole, and whether this is an isolated incident or rampant practice among all fields of science.

More coverage of the controversy:

2. The Great Firewall of China

Censorship has always been a hot button issue in society. China is probably the most notorious country to practice strict online censorship garnering the moniker, "The Great Firewall of China".

The Great Firewall of China

Other sites have cropped up to try to get around the censorship and provide access to blocked sites. There are also sites that let you test whether your site is blocked.

Censored material includes sites that incite Chinese citizens to resist or break their constitution, criticism of laws or regulations of the Chinese government, sexually suggestive material, talk about gambling and violence, and more.

The censorship has come under fire from governments around the world. President Obama has openly criticized China’s censorship programs. The biggest event that brought the situation to light occurred during the recent Beijing Olympics, where foreign journalists’ ability to report freely was blighted.

More coverage of the controversy:

3. Amazon removes sales rankings of gay and lesbian books

In the spring of 2009, a number of authors and site users were outraged when they learned that Amazon had stripped the sales rankings of thousands of gay and lesbian oriented books on their site. This meant that books aimed at gays and lesbians would not be able to show up on Amazon’s search.

The issue was proclaimed as a technical error that affected more than 57,000 books in other categories. Amazon issued an apology and restored the sales rankings.

More coverage of the controversy:

4. Google Street View invades privacy

Google Street View takes photos while driving through various towns and cities around the world, creating an alternate view within Google Maps.

Google Street View invades privacyvia Google Sightseeing

That also means they’re snapping photos of people, often on their private property, and sometimes in not-so-flattering situations. While so far Google has prevailed in lawsuits targeting the service, it does raise a number of interesting privacy issues.

More coverage of the controversy:

5. Google Books indexing copyrighted material

When Google announced in 2004 that they wanted to index the content of millions of copyrighted books from university libraries as part of the Google Books project, publishers and authors took to protesting the decision by claiming copyright infringement.

Google Books indexing copyrighted material

In 2005, a group of publishers and authors, including Penguin and McGraw-Hill, sued Google over the project. A settlement was reached where users will be able to purchase out-of-print books in digital format through Google or access them in subscribed libraries and universities. The settlement has been given preliminary approval, though final approval is still pending.

More coverage of the controversy:

6. The Net Neutrality debate

The prevalence of Net Neutrality is a big concern to people who use the Internet. In the U.S., net neutrality is practiced universally though there are no laws in place to guarantee that it remains that way. Nothing prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from charging consumers different rates based on the sites they visit or the services they use.

The Net Neutrality debatevia Looking Glass News

There have been five different bills in the U.S. Congress over the past few years, and heavy lobbying by corporations on both sides of the debate. So far, no laws have been passed regarding net neutrality.

For the most part, many technology bloggers and other sites have come out in favor of protecting net neutrality.

Full disclosure: the loss of net neutrality affects websites such as the one you’re reading now. Help us by reading up on the issue and being proactive in voting for government representatives that support your rights to a free Internet.

More coverage of the controversy:

7. Internet Service Providers throttle bandwidth consumption

Bandwidth throttling is a common practice among some ISPs to restrict excessive consumption of service resources, specifically when they’re using file-sharing services. ISPs proclaim that it helps ensure all their customers have reasonable bandwidth access, but critics assert that it’s unethical and unfair to consumers that have to pay the same price for less service.

More coverage of the controversy:

8. The Digg Revolt

In 2007, Digg users posted the encryption keys for HD-DVD. Digg took the keys down on advice from their legal team. Digg’s users revolted, posting links to the codes and voting them up to the front page.

The Digg Revolt

In the end, Digg listened to its users, stating they’d rather do what their users wanted, even if it meant the site would be shut down.

9. Pedophiles on MySpace

MySpace has long been popular with teenagers. Underage children use the social networking site to share photos, post videos, and document their events in their lives. At one point of MySpace’s existence, adolescent users could make their profiles public, accessible to anyone.

Pedophiles on MySpace

Parents, and those concerned with child welfare, were outraged when incidents emerged of adults preying on young users of the social networking site. As a response, MySpace took measures to protect users under the age of 16 by making site adjustments such as restricting anonymous viewing of their user profiles and blocking unknown users from sending them messages.

While the problem won’t be resolved completely, MySpace has taken a more proactive role in ensuring the safety of its younger participants. Of course, MySpace is not the only social networking site out there that is experiencing this problem.

More coverage of the controversy:

10. Prostitutes on Craigslist

Craigslist has an adult services category that allows users to solicit adult-oriented services from site users. It’s really no surprise that prostitution rings conducting illegal activities would eventually take advantage of the favorable situation of anonymity on the web. It has made the job of cops so hard that some have sued the site for being the largest source of prostitution.

Though Craigslist’s purpose for the category is well-intentioned, promoting free speech and a fostering an open-minded community, the Internet is the biggest magnet of unscrupulous characters, and it was only a matter of time before the situation would escalate into the eyes of mainstream media.

Prostitutes on Craigslist

More coverage of the controversy:

11. Filesharing gets hammered down for copyrighted materials

Online file sharing has been happening since the early days of the Internet. But 2000 brought the first major lawsuit and take-down of a file-sharing service. Napster was sued by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) for facilitating the transfer of copyrighted material in December 1999, and was finally shut down in July 2001.

Other popular P2P services have suffered similar fates. The Pirate Bay, a torrent-indexing site, has been involved in a number of lawsuits. The site’s servers were raided by Swedish police in 2006.

In 2009, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde were all found guilty of "assistance to copyright infringement" in Swedish courts and sentenced to a year in prison and a fine of over $3.6 million.

Filesharing gets hammered down for copyrighted materials

More coverage of the controversy:

12. Protesters use social networks during Iran elections

Iran’s election protesters and demonstrators took to Twitter and other social networking sites in the wake of the 2009 election to organize themselves and garner support for their cause. Though the situation precipitated out of the web, it was escalated and brought to mass media attention via the Internet.

Protesters use social networks during Iran elections

More coverage of the controversy:

13. Facebook’s Privacy Policy changes

In February 2009, Facebook altered their Terms of Service to allow them to use and retain any content posted to user accounts indefinitely and without limitation, claiming ownership of its user’s content once it’s uploaded to their site even after a user’s account is deleted.

Facebook's Privacy Policy changes

Unsurprisingly, this caused quite a stir among users. Others formed groups on the site itself, calling for the ToS to be reverted back.

Facebook asserts that they never intended for the change to be that far-reaching, and that it was a misinterpretation of the new terms.

Users weren’t buying it, and in the end, Facebook changed the ToS back to the original version, and has seen sought user input before implementing changes.

More coverage of the controversy:

14. Facebook deems breastfeeding as offensive

Facebook has a strong policy against what they term "obscene" content, something most parents would embrace. But many mothers went crazy when photos of breastfeeding moms were removed from the site due to the policy of censoring obscene content. It sparked boycotts, user groups, and even a protest (a "nurse-in") at Facebook’s headquarters. The most popular group, "Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!" has nearly 250,000 members.

Facebook wouldn’t budge on the policy.

More coverage of the controversy:

15. Blogger, Dooce, gets fired for blogging about work

In 2002, Heather Armstrong, aka Dooce (also the name of her blog), was fired for blogging about the company she worked for and some of her coworkers in a less-than-flattering manner. She’s possibly the first person ever fired for blogging, and definitely one of the most well known. There’s even a term that spawned from her experience: dooced (which means to lose one’s job because of one’s website according to Urban Dictionary).

Blogger, Dooce, gets fired for blogging about work

Since being fired, she’s turned Dooce into the sole source of income for her family. She was even named as one of the most powerful women in media by Forbes. The site still drums up plenty of controversy, as her posts are brutally honest.

More coverage of the controversy:

Conclusion

It’s unlikely the Internet will ever be controversy-free. And would we really want it to be? Many Internet users enjoy (at least in part) the controversy that is so prevalent on the web. We all have a chance to be heard, whether it’s in matters of global importance or the latest celebrity gossip.

If we missed something, tell us in the comments and let’s have the last great Internet controversy of this decade.

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About the Author

Cameron Chapman is a professional web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience in the industry. She’s also written for numerous blogs such as Smashing Magazine and Mashable. You can find her personal web presence at Cameron Chapman On Writing. If you’d like to connect with her, check her out on Twitter.

37 Comments

Matt Andrews

December 20th, 2009

This summary of “Climategate” is waaaaaay off the mark. Someone hasn’t done their research.

“emails and other documents that call into question much of the data that has been used to support climate change models and predictions”… er, no they don’t.

Re the link to the supposed 100 reasons why global warming is natural: that list is not worth the pixels it’s written with. It has been widely debunked.

“The situation challenges the reputation of the scientific community as a whole, and whether this is an isolated incident or rampant practice among all fields of science.”

That what is an isolated incident? Sending emails to each other? Because, y’know, there’s no actual evidence of anything more sinister than that, in terms of scientific practice. A couple of dubious comments about FOI requests, that’s it.

Bottom line is this: the emails and documents that were stolen and leaked show zero, repeat zero, evidence of scientific malpractice. Just because a bunch of climate-contrarian websites and gullible journalists say something doesn’t make it true.

This was an irresponsible summary that just repeats a whole lot of disinformation.

JOhn Woods

December 20th, 2009

Wow, no way dude are you for real??

RT
http://www.anonymous-web.cz.tc

Ryan Rampersad

December 20th, 2009

Out of all of these, I think the most important is Net Neutrality. It would hamper so many aspects of life and greatly reduce the advancement of the world, not only technology and the internet.

I also feel proud of the Digg Revolt.

Daryl Teo

December 20th, 2009

Australia Internet Filtering and Censorship.

Granted, still ongoing. But as the first Western nation to attempt something at the same scale as the Great Firewall of China it equally deserves a place on this list.

Someguy

December 21st, 2009

You forgot about Scientology vs Anonymous. It was a rather ubiquitous event that brought Scientology under a lot of public scrutiny and it is still ongoing.

TheBadger

December 21st, 2009

The 911 controversy has lasted pretty much all decade and it doesn’t get a mention? Come on!

Smashing Share

December 21st, 2009

Very interesting. Enjoyed reading all these internet controversies

Rob

December 21st, 2009

Nice read.

Thanks

Smashing Buzz

December 21st, 2009

Cameron you sharing amazing article on ideal topic which is really informative for all.

Ted Johansson

December 21st, 2009

You really should include the mistake EA recently made. http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/dice-restructures-battlefield-heroes-pricing

Murlu

December 21st, 2009

My biggest controversy? IE5/6 continuing to hold on while everyone wants it dead!

Peter

December 21st, 2009

very nice info :)

Vượng

December 21st, 2009

Wow, good job. Iam trying your article into Vietnamese, my tongue!

Henderson

December 21st, 2009

So this is like the last 5 years, maybe not even that. I though a decade has 10 years.

Lonn

December 21st, 2009

Nice article, but it should have been titled “15 Biggest Internet Controversies of the past 2 years”. With the exception of the whole Napster deal, everything you’ve listed is years old or less.

Dave

December 21st, 2009

I had never heard the Dooce controversy. I read the about page linked to in the article, then the latest post (recycling glass) and I think I might be hooked !

Well done ! Another thing I have to check daily to see whats new. tut

Bob Smith

December 21st, 2009

Um, nobody is convinced either way by “Climategate”. It’s much like the “911 truthers” or “birthers”, both of which generated far more press and attention (yet aren’t mentioned).

The scientific community argues that the emails in fact PROVE that they weren’t faking anything because they reveal only minor adjustments, if there actually were a grand conspiracy there would be more evidence of it in the emails and elsewhere. The hackers who copied the email already believed global warming was a grand conspiracy, and hold the emails as proof positive that it’s true.

Ultimately the view of the “skeptics” isn’t based on evidence, so it doesn’t matter what the emails say. Those who disbelieve in man-made global warming do so for the sole reason that they believe changes to laws to reduce man-made global warming (cap and trade, for example) will cost them money. This is why the only people really objecting are oil companies, fiance companies (that make money off oil exploration), and those who oppose environmentalism in general because it costs them money.

Hurr Durr

December 21st, 2009

The dicks who stand to make trillions of dollars and power over the entire world still seem to find apologists willing to post links to NewScientist to “prove” nobody was trying to subvert the scientific process for MASSIVE PROFIT. Nobody destroyed data in response to FOIA requests, nobody bullied scientific journals in order to keep out dissenting studies, there was no I’ll-peer-review-your-article-if-you-peer-review-mine chicanery, there was no scrubbing of inconvenient temperature data from Russia or Antarctica, there was no tricks to hide the decline, there was no arrays of flub data, the head of the IPCC doesn’t stand to make a metric shitton of cash off of warmerism, wikipedia wasn’t scrubbed by warmist scientists with admin rights, thre is no temperature decline over the past ten years that wasn’t described in emails, there aren’t record low temperatures or record snowfalls all over the globe (even in Australia where its currently SUMMER), the leaked programs that model the climate data are’t amateurish trash riddled with “fudge factors”…. NewScientist told me! What a load of shit.

rexusdiablos

December 21st, 2009

Firstly: Fantastic compilation and subsequently a fantastic read.

Secondly: Can you please remove the first comment submitted by Matt Andrews? There are many zealots pervading the internet with disinformation on the viability of anthropogenic global warming.

Everything you’ve stated is sound and accurate. You’ll notice that the net is replete with shills and disinformants who are all too willing and ready to pounce on any free discussion pertaining to Climategate. You can identify a shill quite easily by their level of aggression, absolutism and blind defiance of reason.

The stats were doctored. Simple as. This is and always has been about the centralization of power using a global carbon taxation as the vehicle. Don’t just take my word for it. Research the number of times ‘global governance’ has been called for in this year alone by our world leaders.

Jon Crim

December 21st, 2009

Interesting list – The Net Neutrality debate is super important for all of us on the internet. If you aren’t involved in the debate you should definitely get on board.

Cameron provided some great resources, here’s another:

http://www.freepress.net/media_issues/internet

Al Stockbridge

December 21st, 2009

What is really sad is that all this useless controversy prevents people from seeing the real problem of our time. There is so much useless debate there is no recognition mankind’s ruinous end has arrived. Blah, blah, blah, superfulious reference, blah, blah, blah, half-truth, blah, blah, blah, I’m right your wrong, blah, blah, blah…. ad infintium.
“I saw three unclean inspired expressions that looked like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the wild beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are, in fact, expressions inspired by demons and perform signs, and they go forth to the kings of the entire inhabited earth, to gather them together to the war of the great day of God the Almighty.”

Is it ok to use the G word on the Internet? It might be controvesial….

peet

December 22nd, 2009

global warming? – IT’S A SCAM

Tony

December 22nd, 2009

It’s funny how I have never heard of two of the top controversies.

Indulekha

December 22nd, 2009

Twitter was hacked (proly for the 2nd time) over the weekend.

Nice list tho :)

jesse

December 22nd, 2009

One of the writers from Kissing Suzy Kolber, one of the more popular sports blogs out there, got fired from his job at WaPo when he came out of the blogging closet.

WC

December 22nd, 2009

I love how climategate deniers claim that all ‘skeptics’ are just in it for the money.

Seriously, I have absolutely NO money tied to the climate in any way shape or form.

What I DO have is a rational mind that has not been satisfied. I don’t trust a bunch of experts that doctor data and then refuse to release the raw data to the public. That they would then permanently erase the raw data is even worse. No true scientist would ever erase the raw data.

Those same scientists also claim you need a PhD in a related field to understand the data… Uh… No. That’s just a piece of paper. Someone could easily have all the knowledge they need without having gone to college for it.

Finally, they also makes remarks about how they are afraid that distrust in climatologists will spread to other scientific disciplines… It doesn’t need to, because other disciplines don’t have any problem sharing the raw data, the proofs, and everything else. That climatologists have gotten away with not-sharing for so long is amazing.

Yes, this article provides an accurate and unbiased view of both sides of the climategate controversy.

Sadly, I suspect AGW might actually be real… But the horrendous actions of the AGW-supporting scientists are making it impossible for everyone to make up their own minds. They’re trying to dictate facts by the power of their pieces of paper, instead of trying to prove everything by the scientific method.

Kermonk

December 22nd, 2009

Hey, easy with the libel Cameron, “that call into question much of the data that has been used to support climate change models and predictions.” – that’s a blatant lie. Those (10 year old!) emails do no such thing. Most if it is debating among a few scientists, and the rest is venting over all the inbred idiots who keep denying facts.

mrcommenter

December 22nd, 2009

with how the internet has transformed over the past two years, the next list of these are going to be even more crazy

makeminegrape

December 22nd, 2009

AND HOW ABOUUT ALL THE POLAR BEARS DIEING AND NO ONE CARES THEY DELETED MY POSTING AT PRISIONPLANET CAUSE HALLLIBURTON CAN NOT MAKE MONEY ON POLAR BEARS ONLY AL GORE CARES AND SO DO I.

Simon O

December 22nd, 2009

Blasphemist!!! =P

(You had to know you would get a good tounge lashing from some greenie about the climategate mention)

Imokon

December 24th, 2009

I am surprised Anonymous isn’t on there anywhere.

RaulJones

December 29th, 2009

Y’know…*none* of this stuff really matters.

Terence

December 29th, 2009

I’m surprised that the proposed mandatory filtering of Australian internet at an ISP isn’t on here. It is an issue that still has not been resolved. And the politician stephen conroy is still trying his best to push it through.

Jennifer

December 30th, 2009

Climategate is no such thing. It’s a manufactured controversy.

You also left off two huge stories: Anonymous vs. Scientology (the same people helped coordinate on twitter and still helps Iranians use the internet anonymously) and the Lori Drew case.

Jennifer

December 30th, 2009

And yes, the Australian web-filter. I thought that was here, but appears not.

Josh Hale

November 28th, 2011

I honestly didn’t even know about some of these controversies. It’s insane how little can set off a huge internet news story. Honestly, I think people need to calm down a little bit and let things go.

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