Carving up the internet in May 2017

Just how divided and controlled will the internet become?

Balkanika_emanningbxI’ve been tracking the trend of internet balkanization for several years.  Many nations have been attempting to carve up internet access in various ways, from local filters to ISP arrangements and China’s Golden Shield.  New political developments during the past few weeks pushed this trend to new levels of potential impact.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched a process to undo net neutrality.  This, despite a flood of comments urging the Commission not to do so.

Many people have weighed in, like Peter Suber.  John Oliver is still on the case: (don’t forget gofccyourself):

So Americans and anyone else connecting through US networks might end up with a multi-tiered internet, blocked out by political connections and favorites.

Meanwhile, last month the Turkish government blocked that country’s access to Wikipedia.  Several weeks ago the block was upheld by a national court.

Turkey’s telecommunications watchdog said last week that access to Wikipedia had been blocked, citing a law allowing it to ban access to websites deemed a threat to national security.

The block on the site was prompted by two Wikipedia entries accusing Turkey of links to Islamist militant groups, local media have reported. The communications ministry has said Wikipedia was attempting to run a “smear campaign” against the country, saying some articles purported that Ankara was coordinating with militant groups.

At about the same time the British prime minister, running for re-election, published a campaign manifesto calling for greater control of the internet.  That means ramping up government control over access and content, using the language of safety.  “A DIGITAL CHARTER … we will make Britain the safest place in the world to be online.”
Balkan mountains_jeanpierrecauchon - "Long before that, crashing tectonic plates created most impressive ridges along the 400-mile-long Dinaric Alps as they laced the edge of the eastern Adriatic with craggy islands and shores. Natural barriers such as this have helped historically kept the area "Balkanized" into separate states not known for getting along. Bosnia in particular has trouble getting to the sea."

In harnessing the digital revolution, we must take steps to protect the vulnerable and give people confidence to use the internet without fear of abuse, criminality or exposure to horrific content. Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline. It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically…

In addition, we do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability.

This is about an open statement of control and access control as bureaucrats can emit.

May’s manifesto also describes using state power to push for digital companies to reshape and restrict content and access:

We will work with industry to introduce new protections for minors, from images of pornography, violence, and other age-inappropriate content not just on social media but in app stores and content sites as well. We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm. We will make clear the responsibility of platforms to enable the reporting of inappropriate, bullying, harmful or illegal content, with take-down on a comply-or-explain basis.

We will continue to push the internet companies to deliver on their commitments to develop technical tools to identify and remove terrorist propaganda…

So three countries, including the world’s hyperpower, are pushing to carve up what remains of the open internet.  Their governments are aggregating more power to themselves to directly shape user access, block content, and mobilize local businesses to expand that mission.

What can we learn from these movements, looking to the future?

  • Conservatives (Britain’s Tories, America’s GOP, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party) seem especially interested in internet restriction, citing a mixture of national power, law and order, respect, and safety.  They can even describe their actions as pro-liberty. Will their labor/left/liberal opponents fight them on this topic, or will they support language of protecting vulnerable users? Or will non-traditional politics emerge, like more Pirate Parties and John Oliver followers?
  • Would-be carvers might not be above thuggish behavior.
  • ” ” ” can use terror attacks like yesterday’s to forward their cause.
  • Given how many governments are interested in balkanizing the internet, we should expect the human default experience of the digital world to be one of limited and/or biased access.  To answer this post’s opening question, “Just how divided and controlled will the internet become?”  Quite.

How should educators respond?

(photos by Elizabeth Manning and Jean-Pierre Cauchon)

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3 Responses to Carving up the internet in May 2017

  1. VanessaVaile says:

    Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    The high cost and deep consequences of losing net neutrality is an adjunct advocacy issue.

  2. VanessaVaile says:

    I’d include European link tax attempts on the list

  3. Pingback: After net neutrality: how should educators respond? | Bryan Alexander

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