The Internet is not a scapegoat

  We live in a miraculous age where half the world’s population now has access to a single technology – the Internet – to underpin people’s health and education. It can be a lifeline in the event of a disaster or disease outbreak, and is designed to be open to everyone, but not owned by anyone. The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the potential and importance of the internet by forcing the world to connect remotely, contactless and in real time.
  Unfortunately, we live in times of doubt and fear. You don’t even have to open the Doomsday Scroll to hear the argument that the internet is worse than any plague or war before it. The Internet has become a scapegoat for many of today’s problems, including terrorism, child abuse, and the end of democracy.
  Some even argue that the Internet is the culprit behind the decline of values ​​and even civilization, as if lying politicians and inflammatory speeches were impossible before the birth of Twitter. Likewise, excessive wealth concentration and excessively powerful monopolies are not products of the digital age; once upon a time, there were companies like U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, and the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company.
  Transformative technologies can have a profound impact on society and individuals. We are now in a period of social change, and this is undoubtedly due in part to the rise of the Internet, as this tool has created new opportunities.
  Some of these opportunities are of social value: it is now easier and cheaper for people to communicate with distant family members or friends. Others are bad for society: scammers will almost certainly find their way to make money. And some societal influences are ambiguous: traditional authorities and gatekeepers are losing their influence as people have more diverse access to information.
  While the harm people blame on the internet is neither unprecedented nor caused by the internet, Western governments are trying to regulate the internet as if it were fully responsible for it all.
  Considering the problems posed by today’s giant tech companies and their influence on business and public discourse, it has been argued that special rules should apply to these companies when they reach a certain market value or revenue level. But this is not the first time that corporate concentration issues have arisen. After Standard Oil began dominating the oil industry in the United States and many other countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, governments used antitrust policy to address corporate power, not “oil policy.”
  Many also expressed concern about the ability of political interference in particular countries and foreign actors as a result of the Internet. But attributing this phenomenon entirely to the Internet is neither prudent nor historically accurate. The United States, France, and Russia all experienced violent revolutions in the pre-Internet era. As the Soviet Union and the United States often did during the Cold War, long before anyone sent data to the Internet, countries’ political processes began to be interfered with by other countries.
  Political systems, especially democratic ones, depend on the effective functioning and legitimacy of their government; controlling the flow of information cannot solve the problem of popular dissatisfaction with the regime. This was the case in Russia in 1917, when information was printed on paper, but now it is in the form of data packets.
  Granted, some challenges are unique to the Internet. For example, this technology has resulted in faster communication than ever before, and it is extremely difficult to determine the identity of who is online (or even if it is a human). But if policymakers can be sure that the introduced regulation will not have a negative impact on the Internet itself, then these are the types of narrow issues that Internet governance might play a role in.
  The Internet is an ecosystem that we need to protect. When thinking about possible regulations, the best way to do this is to assess internet impacts, much like we do environmental or transportation assessments before deciding whether to build new infrastructure. The assessment can determine what benefits or harms a particular behavior brings to the underlying health of the Internet.
  Most importantly, we need to ensure that the Internet does not become a scapegoat for problems caused by the legal, economic and political systems in which it is used. The Internet must be a tool for all of us. This means that we must protect the integrity of the Internet as we protect any precious resource.