April 12 2019

Rise of ‘Splinternet’: Web Will Fragment as Governments Set Own Rules Restricting Content

Dreams for a connected global internet are increasingly threatened by regulations being brought in by governments around the world, experts…

Dreams for a connected global internet are increasingly threatened by regulations being brought in by governments around the world, experts have warned.

Plans to restrict content are fragmenting the world wide web, a system created with the promise of connecting people by offering universal access to information.

China has walled off some western services for years and experts are now warning over plans elsewhere in the world to filter content, leading to nationalised internets.

That includes the UK’s plans to hold executives personally liable for posts on social media that are harmful or illegal, revealed in a government white paper on Monday.

They say this would put the country at the ‘far end’ of internet censorship and further fuel the ‘splinternet’ – a term circulated for a decade or more that has gained popularity in recent months.

These moves come as Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has called for a ‘common global framework’ of internet rules.

The web’s creator Tim Berners Lee has also launched a ‘Contract for the Web’ that establishes an ethical set of principles for the internet.

The New Zealand Christchurch mosques massacre livestreamed online has heightened the sense of urgency in some countries, with debates in the US and EU on curbing incitement to violence.

A new Australian law could jail social media executives for failing to take down violent extremist content quickly.

And a proposal unveiled in Britain could make executives personally liable for harmful content posted on social platforms.

Free-speech defenders warn it would be dangerous to let governments regulate online content, even if social media sites are struggling.

The UK proposal ‘is a very bad look for a rights-respecting democracy,’ said R David Edelman, a former White House technology adviser who now heads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s project on technology, the economy and national security.

Similar ideas have been discussed by lawmakers in Washington.

‘The internet is already fragmented in material ways, but each regulator around the world thinks they know how to fix the internet,’ said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.

‘I think we will see a tsunami of regulations that will lead to a further splintering of the internet.’

Elsewhere, critics pounced on a bill in Singapore to ban ‘fake news,’ calling it a thinly veiled attempt at censorship.

‘It is not up to the government to arbitrarily determine what is and is not true,’ said Daniel Bastard of the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

‘In its current form, this Orwellian law establishes nothing less than a ‘ministry of truth’ that would be free to silence independent voices and impose the ruling party’s line.’

According to human rights watchdog Freedom House, at least 17 countries approved or proposed laws to restrict online media in the name of fighting ‘fake news’ and manipulation, and 13 countries prosecuted internet users for spreading ‘false’ information. (Read More)