The Great War for the future of internet governance has begun.
Twenty-five years ago this week, John Perry Barlow published “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” declaring that the future of the internet would be a place of anarchy where governments could not impose their will, and where they lacked both legitimacy and the practical means to implement their authority. That utopian dream persisted for a while, but history has since made very clear that Barlow was wrong.
We appear, in 2021, to be in the midst of a war—or rather, several different wars wrapped up into one, the Great War for the future of internet governance. In virtually any dimension of “internet governance”, pitched battles are being fought through policies, products and press. Left versus right; centrist versus extremist; United States versus Europe; West versus China; big tech versus, well, pretty much everyone.
None of these artificial binary narratives capture the full truth. When you look under the hood at any one of them, it’s easy to come to a conclusion that neither side of the debate is entirely wrong—and no side, at least in its abstracted up, media-ready public rhetoric, is entirely right either. While these seem like battles where a side must be chosen and a winner determined in order to move forward, such thinking is myopic. The right answers come when we can break through our rigid policy paradigms; seek deeper technical, economic and sociological understanding of underlying problems; and have honest discussions about the consequences of various possible solutions, mitigations that can be made, and sometimes, hard balances that must be drawn.
While we are in a time of intense political strife, there is a light at the end of the internet governance tunnel. In the United States, bipartisan agreement on major tech policy issues has never had so much potential. Even the seeds of trans-Atlantic harmony over major issues including privacy, competition policy and content regulation have been planted and are growing.
But today, that light is hard to see. And the mirage-filled battlefield on which the future of internet governance is being shaped has many dimensions to it. This series of blog posts will look at one fight at a time, and begin to unpack the positive possibilities for reform that lie therein.
INTRODUCTION – The Great War for the future of internet governance has begun.
PART 1 – The Great War, Part 1: The Internet vs Democracy
PART 2 – The Great War: The Internet vs the Free Market
PART 3 – The Great War: The Internet vs Journalism
PART 4 – The Great War: The Internet vs Truth
PART 5 – The Great War, Part 5: The Internet vs Happiness
PART 6 – The Great War, Part 6: The Internet vs Itself
Image credit: NicoElNino