Contributed by Joe Montero
It is happening by stealth. By this I mean the restriction of the internet on a global scale and in Australia. The obvious example today, is the blocking of news content on Facebook. If you look closely, it is not what many of us have been led to accept the narrative that this is merely an action by a greedy company not wanting to share profit with news outlets.
Facts are facts though. The restrictions were not imposed by Facebook. They were imposed by policy in Canberra. A policy that does not discriminate between big money news media and not for profit groups and individuals.
Hype led by Murdoch’s News Corp, the major beneficiary of the policy, has led a good number of Australians to believe, at least for now, that the inconvenience is all CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s fault.
The social media platform is guilty of its own sins and deserves to be taken to issue for them. But this is no excuse for turning a blind eye to bigger questions.
There is, of course, the added complication of the right of journalists to be properly paid for their work. More so, when their work is being increasingly digitalised. This must be addressed. No question about it.
At the same time, the content issue is much bigger than Facebook and the other platforms, which is better seen by linking it to the bigger picture.
Erosion of what can be reported has already become a reality. Trade disputes are worsening. The threat of and use of military threat to resolove politcal differences is increasing. There is growing economic instability, restriction of traditional rights, the impact of global warming, and growing public disillusionment with the political system and big power dominance. The push by those who have power to impose a new level of control is well and truly on.
The United States, Australia, and a few other countries have blocked Chinese platforms, tech companies, and those of other nations considered political or business rivals. Tic Tok and We Chat are at risk of suffering the same fate.
The Indian government has restricted Twitter and imposed bans on a host of apps, on the grounds of claimed national interest. Europe is floating temporary bans on US tech companies for violating its laws.
Other nations, notably China and Russia have their own Internet infrastructure, and that of the West has always had limited penetration, whether by regulation or preference of the population.
Our own concern is the system we log into. The above examples are only a part of the picture, and the future will bring more. The consequences are, the global Internet is beginning to fragment, into smaller and restricted national systems.
Part of this is competition for business expansion and imposing monopoly control of the dominant big media outlets. It doesn’t stop here. It is governments that are doing the restricting.
Scott Morrison and his government are certainly doing a job for their close friend, Rupert Murdoch, who intends to grab hold of social media and apply a user pays system.
It is also about much more than this. The Internet is being weaponised. Especially social media. The purpose is to serve the political agenda of maintaining political power in an increasingly uncertain environment.
This means the silencing of alternative voices. And for the rest of us, this is the most important issue. It imposes a duty to resist the encroachment. If the restrictions continue, it will force the silenced into finding new ways to ensure their voices are heard.
It might mean the eventual abandoning of traditional platforms and servers. The existing Internet runs on a narrow bandwidth of the electromagnetic spectrum. We know that the Dark Web exists outside this spectrum. There is much more. The trick is for enough people to know how to get into this new terrain and how to get together. The advantage is that it is not controllable.
We are stuck with what we’ve got for now. This compels us to manage the best we can. As they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.