In a corner of the internet, there’s a theory that might give you pause. It’s called the “Dead Internet Theory,” and it suggests something surprising: the internet, as we know it, actually died around five years back, and no one really noticed. This theory suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) has pretty much taken over the internet. Now, like many online conspiracy stories, this one’s gaining momentum thanks to a mix of true believers, sarcastic jokesters, and folks who are just curious. But what makes this theory stand out is that it’s not all fiction. It’s a concept that invites us to dig deeper into our digital world and think about what happens when AI becomes the main player.
Imagine scrolling through your favourite websites, posting on social media, and watching videos online, all while unaware that the vibrant online world you think you’re interacting with has, in fact, slipped away. This is the heart of the “Dead Internet Theory,” which suggests the internet, as we know it, has been quietly overtaken by an overwhelming surge of automated activity and generated content. According to this theory, the web is now predominantly driven by intelligent bots—computer programs designed to mimic human actions—working behind the scenes to manipulate algorithms, enhance search results, and sway consumer behaviours. These digital actors are even accused of being pawns in the hands of government agencies, shaping public opinion in ways that challenge and push some authoritarian agendas. Believers of the theory pinpoint the “death” of the internet to around 2016 or 2017, saying this is the point in which distinguishing between genuine human engagement and algorithmic manipulation becomes impossible.
The truth is the internet is not dead, however it is a lot closer than I originally imagined. According to the cyber security firm Imperva, nearly half of all internet traffic in 2022 was bot activity. This number is on the rise each year, especially with the explosion of online chatbot services like ChatGPT. And when paired with image generating software ‘Midjourney’, believable ‘fake’ images have become cheap and plentiful in a way that was never possible before. This has led to a digital landscape where text and image-based content can be conjured up in less than five minutes, often requiring minimal human input. While the internet might not be “dead,” these trends certainly highlight how it’s evolving into a place where automation blurs the line between authentic human interaction and machine-generated content.
So, how can we tackle the growing problem of bots taking over the online world? It’s a tricky issue, and while some solutions have been tried in the past, the bots keep getting smarter. They can act like real people now – they chat with others, comment on posts, and even create profiles that look like a human’s. It’s become so confusing that even regular folks struggle to tell if an account is real or just a bot. One big idea to fight this is to use ID verification, similar to what you do with banking apps. You’d take pictures of your ID and yourself to prove you’re a real person. The system would then double-check that your pictures match and that your info is legit. But there’s a catch – this idea focuses a lot on individuals, and it’s not clear how companies fit into this plan. It’s a complex puzzle that will require a complex solution, and unfortunately that solution just isn’t ready yet.