Why some countries are building ‘walls’ in the worldwide web

Why some countries are building ‘walls’ in the worldwide web
“Good luck,” he said, during a . “That’s sort of like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.”

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For people in democratic countries, the internet has been largely a wide-open marketplace of ideas for the last 30 years. However, some governments are starting to get uncomfortable with the risks posed by a truly worldwide web. They’re trying to wall off their own corners of the internet, while claiming that it’s to protect people from hate, fake news and foreign election meddling.

In reality, many of these regimes are using their power over the internet to silence criticism, stifle activism and punish anyone whom they deem to be a threat.

In Congo , for instance, the government shut down the internet while it counted the results of a long-delayed, much-disputed presidential election. Officials claimed it was to protect the counting process against foreign meddling.

The U.S. sanctioned several Congolese election and government officials on Friday in connection with their handling of the electoral process.

“These individuals enriched themselves through corruption, or directed or oversaw violence against people exercising their rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” the State Department said in a statement. “They operated with impunity at the expense of the Congolese people and showed a blatant disregard for democratic principles and human rights.

Several leaders with autocratic tendencies, including U.S. President Donald Trump , have threatened to exercise more control over the internet within their borders, claiming that it’s necessary to fight “bias” and “fake news.” However, these claims often become a pretext for greater censorship.

Experts say this trend could splinter the internet into something that looks very different from one country to another. The global internet would still exist, but some countries’ citizens would only see it through a government-approved filter.

“There is a trend toward countries exerting their sovereignty over what they think is the internet in their country,” said Richard Forno, assistant director of the Center for Cybersecurity at UMBC.

“Struggling democracies… have passed laws against ‘fake news’ that we know are being used against political opponents,” said Shahbaz, who publishes an annual report on internet freedom in most countries.

He says there are ways to regulate the internet so that its worst elements, such as hate speech and fake content, are suppressed. However, those same security measures make it easier for a government to attack free speech.

For example, Turkey , Iran and Egypt have temporarily blocked the internet within their borders during uprisings that were partially organized over social media. Turkey foiled a coup in 2016, then blocked several websites, including Wikipedia , after internet access was restored. Iran banned Twitter after a social media-driven uprising in 2009, and Egypt did the same after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Shahbaz says some nations, including Saudi Arabia , Egypt and the United Arab Emirates , are now looking to China’s Great Firewall for pointers on how to develop their own controls for the internet. Other nations are trying to make tech companies police the internet – and strip out anything the government deems to be offensive.

This is all part of a growing movement toward a more censored version of cyberspace, according to Elizabeth Stoycheff, a professor of communication at Wayne State University.

“Democracies around the world have to think seriously about how they’re going to handle the internet.”

Here’s how countries are trying to shape the worldwide web so that it’s safer – or at least, less disruptive – within their borders.

No country has more control over its internet use than China. The ruling Communist Party uses advanced technology and tens of thousands of internet censors to look at everything its 800-million internet users read and post online.
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