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The End Game? Governments and Social Media Networks — Together — Will Govern The World?

You name it, and the Internet is centre stage in the debate around recreating our societies: the rights of privacy against the rights of society to protect itself; the rights of countries to define legal frameworks and control their citizens; the rights of law to define criminal activity; and the rights of individuals to have free speech. Basically, it’s old power structures versus new ones, and the next few years will see a massive struggle between the two.

I have grown up with the Internet. For me, it has evolved from screaming modems with AOL/Compuserve dial-up connections to finally take its place in rebuilding our society in a digital way. We have thus had a few decades of it finding its way and for us to fix its fundamental technical flaws. So from RFC (Request For Comment) documents, it is now all grown-up. In computer terms, we could define the time up to now as the boot-up phase. Now that it has booted up, we enter the real phase: the governance and control phase, and where the Internet moves from being a technical infrastructure for routing data packets to actually challenging every existing authority for true power. It has mainly defeated the power print and advertising industries and is now gunning for the legal industry and our existing governance structures.

So many questions will be opened up. Will the mathematics of cryptography win against the power of the legal industry? Can digital signatures overcome society’s blind trust in wet signatures? Do exist political and legal power structures have the power to control social media companies? Can we rebuild our health care and well-being infrastructures in a digital way, without it looking like a massive spying network?

George Orwell pictured a future world controlled by Big Brother, and where every thought, and every action, was closely monitored against the party line. For most, that world scares us. But, taken to the extremes the Internet we are creating could be used in a similar way, and where we now have the possibility to monitor the movements, the thoughts, and the actions of almost every person on the planet. For the most part, this network is used to sell us things, and to personalise our experience. It helps us by detecting fraud on our bank accounts, and allow us to hear other viewpoints which the broadcast media do not support. The Internet has freed us from the one-size-fits-all viewpoint of the world. From the idea, though, of distributed content and multiple suppliers of platforms, we have end-up with a few large — and ever-expanding — companies which control digital content.

Donald Trump’s removal from Twitter and Facebook is a seismic change on the Internet. In the past, it might be some angry people being abusive that were removed from social media channels, but Twitter and Facebook showed their true muscles by having more power than the US Government. Ultimately governments are responsible to those who have elected them, but who are social media companies responsible to? While the two are at arm's length, it is possibly a healthy position for free speech, but the minute that the two clash, there is only going to be one winner … governments. The end game could then be for the Internet to be fully regulated — and which would be an almost impossible task, without actually monitoring every single person and their actions.

So, I appreciate that I may be going against the grain here, but in seeing how easy social media companies can erase someone’s online presence worries me. I appreciate all the reasons that Donald Trump was removed from Twitter and Facebook, but there’s more to this than just an individual case. In our increasingly digital world, we turn mainly to the Internet for our news, our commentary, and to understand the viewpoints of others.

While we may not agree with the viewpoint of others, there is a right to free speech. Of course, when this breaches the law, there must be a plug which disconnects a voice from the channels in which they are communicating. But where do you draw the line, especially in a world which increasingly has little respect for borders and localised laws?

In an old-world, someone could be censored through newsprint and in broadcast media, and where they would struggle to get a voice. This suppressed a voice in a specific country or region of the world. But in an Internet Age, it is social media that allows every individual the opportunity to reach whichever audience they want.

And so we end up, with social media networks having much greater power than governments. Along with this, social media networks are having increased pressure from governments to regulate the content on their networks, otherwise, they will face massive fines. And so the ultimate end state then becomes governments and social media controlling the world, and suppressing content in a fairly generic way. In this way, we could see automated bots scanning for content for keywords, or whole content networks being taking down through because government entities or law enforcement agencies object to the content.

But the greatest flaw could be the lack of regionalisation of policies, and where a social media network, without any discussion with the owners of the content, pull the plug.

When an article requotes Douglas Adam’s with:

In the ’90s the Internet was created … This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

You get ready to read on [here]:

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This relates to an extended blog post by Riana Pfefferkorn and which tries to make sense of the increasing requirement for encryption, and the tension that this causes law enforcement agencies, and with the draft EARN (Eliminating Abusive and Rampany Neglect of Interactive Technologies) Act of 2020 [here]:

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Basically, we have now reached a point where the rights of citizens to privacy is pitched against the rights of society to protect itself. With the ever increasing problem of cybercrime, we must now fix the broken Internet we have created and build it properly, and with security at its core. This is done with data encryption, but this is increasingly closing the door on the ability to investigate data on devices. And so we see Police Scotland setting up places which break the security of devices, and which reveal virtually every aspect of someone’s lives.

Riana outlines that the development of the Internet saw great opportunities for Internet service providers and that Section 230 passed in the 1990s provided a way for them to develop without being held responsible for what was said or done on their platform. In this way, Twitter could host a site where its users could abuse each other, without being held responsible. It provided immunity for these companies. Along with this, the CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement) Act supported the opportunity for wiretapping within communication providers. But this wiretapping has little effect, as most of the communications involve encryption tunnels, and where there is no requirement for Web hosting companies to store the encryption keys involved. With the increasing using of end-to-end encryption, the only entities with the keys are the two endpoints.

Riana then defines that we are now in a phase of “techlash”, and where we are raining against the overpowering control of the Internet in our lives, and in the growth of surveillance capitalism. For many, she argues, that the immunity of the tech companies is now at threat and that the providers of these Internet services could now be held accountable for the bad things that they platform hosts. For every billion posts of family pictures on Facebook, there is a gunman who films himself live.

She outlines that humans are sometimes not nice people and that this is not new in our world. But their actions are made a whole lot worse in the Internet-enabled world. She even outlines that:

“Everything you hate about The Internet is actually everything you hate about people.”

So, go on, get involved in this debate, as it is the greatest debate of the 21st Century. Please go and give it a read:

I see many presentations defining an amazing future of technology helping in our daily lives, but we cannot avoid the overall power of the Internet, and the control it can exert on our lives.

In the future, a government of the world may decide that funny cat pictures are not allowed, and anyone posting these will be removed from the Internet. We then can have historical views of those who have posted cat pictures in the past, or that have been mocked-up.

For just now, the removal of the president of the US for his main media platform shakes our existing world to the core, and truly bring a world of digital governance, and which truly changes existing power structures. As with the advent of the printing press, whole power structures could be destroyed through the power of social media provers. On the other hand, the two may work together, and we may have to look to George Orwell on those things. One thing that is sure, the events in Washington truly show that we have passed the boot-up phase on the Internet … it now becomes real!

Professor of Cryptography. Serial innovator. Believer in fairness, justice & freedom. EU Citizen. Auld Reekie native. Old World Breaker. New World Creator.

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