The Truth About Eight Internet Myths, Part I

Few aspects of modern life have accumulated as much mythology as the Internet. In this two-part article, we’ll examine eight of the most common Internet myths

Internet myths often focus on the sheer freedom and complexity of that massively interconnected network of worldwide computer systems, and it’s no wonder. The whole thing is a bit much for any brain to comprehend, and sometimes it seems to take on a life of its own. The realms of possibility it opens up are amazing.

It’s true that you can find anything on the Internet these days, from recipes for chocolate sauerkraut cake to designs for starships. You even can order pizza, buy a 10-lb skull made of chocolate, or play poker against people from Australia. But there are some things that aren’t true, and we’ll cover a few in this article.

Myth 1: If it’s on the Internet, it’s free.

This Internet myth was far more common in the early days than it is now. Information may want to be free, but the people who own it may not want us to take it — hence high tech encryption, passwords, and other ways to lock away electronic data so tight that only hackers and crackers can get at it.

Even so, otherwise law-abiding citizens often consider it perfectly legal to steal images and graphics they find on the ‘Net, and of course that’s easier that taking encrypted data. But intellectual property rights like copyright still apply, so just because it’s easy to get doesn’t mean it’s legally or morally free.

Myth 2: The Internet was built by the military to survive a nuclear war.

You see this Internet myth a lot, including in the media. In fact, it was mentioned in an episode of the now-defunct TV series “Jericho” a couple of years back. But as attractive as the idea is, it’s not true — if only because the government didn’t really create the Internet (no matter what Al Gore says).

The Internet was actually put together by Pentagon-funded, university-based contractors who were already working on an information exchange network. The myth stems from a government report that suggested that, as a decentralized network, the existing Internet might be able to survive a nuclear attack.

Myth 3: The Internet and the World Wide Web are the same thing.

Well, no, though this Internet myth is understandable. In actuality, the World Wide Web, as a system of hyperlinked documents accessed through the Internet, is just a widespread application. It was invented in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Admittedly, most of us use the Internet almost exclusively to access websites — that’s why URLs almost always begin with a “www.” But you can also use the Internet to access ftp transfer sites, library indexes, Usenet newsgroups, games, and a large, constantly changing list of other applications.

Myth 4: The Internet is full of inappropriate material and junk.

It’s more accurate to say that you can find just about anything on the Internet, from the oddest flights of fancy to the sappiest poetry. Yes, questionable material is available, but so is little bit of everything else. Ultimately, this Internet myth is simply incomplete, because it focuses on just one aspect of Internet content.