Why does the ‘Splinternet’ exist, and do I believe it should exist? Short answer… is no, the splinternet should not exist as it demonstrates governments taking control and abusing their power to monitor and manage their citizens. Described as “It’s no longer a concept, but now a dangerous reality” (Wright, 2019), the ‘Splinternet’ has shown to be an issue amongst politics as the evolution of the internet has caused a divide amongst countries. As governments have learnt how to manage the content their people can, and cannot, see due to technological advances and the desire to micro-manage how their people view the world and alter their opinions. The degree of control a government has over the content people view depends on the country’s individual internet transformation advancements. When the ‘Splinternet’ evolved it began the rise of technological nationalism and the banning of platforms. For example, Russian government banned LinkedIn, China banned Google and Facebook and India banned TikTok.
Chinese Government ruling with their ‘own version’ of social media platforms
Like any argument there will be positives and negatives to any situation. In this scenario, I believe having a structured and filtered stream of content is an unrealistic standpoint that doesn’t provide individuals with freedom of choice or allow them to have their own opinions and perspectives. They are purely directed by the content that is purposely put in front of them containing a biased view. Depending on where individuals live, they will receive a certain stream of content that they have access too or that has been manipulated to present a certain view, i.e., in a political context. China has sparked huge interest in the level of control the government has taken in the content they allow their citizens to view. They operate the Chinese internet totally different to the rest of the world. It’s a place with no Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube or Tinder (Elgan, 2019). In particular TikTok and WhatsApp have been “replaced” with their own ‘version’ of these apps known as WeChat and Douyin. The Meta Company refused access to Chinese government after they requested the ability to censor and moderate messages of its users (Haas, 2017). Instead, Chinese government developed ‘WeChat’, which enables them to monitor all user conversations. Despite owning the social media app, TikTok, they don’t allow access to it within their own country. Instead, they developed their version called Douyin. Former Google employee, Tristan Harris believes the Chinese government has recognised technology has the ability to influence children’s development (Nash, 2023). Through this establishment China has manipulated the content children view to be educational and provide learning pathways for example science experiment videos rather than mindless comedy content that would be on TikTok. On all forms of internet they have developed severe censorship including words and phrases they if posted get deleted immediately but the user will never know (Elgan, 2019). They call it “The Great Firewall of China”, and unfortunately have begun exporting their technologies to Africa.
The idea of micromanaging individual’s social media content intake allows governments to gain access to user data that they then can use at their own discretion. Typically using this personal user data to help learn their citizen’s response activity within the community, for example, a newly implemented public policy. Or mainly, to build knowledge on their people so that it allows them to take better control (Santani, 2020).
Why it’s important to understand the ‘Splinternet’
Milton Mueller raises the debate of whether the internet will become dominantly governed by nation-states or through a global model (Mueller, 2017). He asks the question of whether the internet will fragment, but I believe it already has. The ‘Splinternet’ is known to have caused the divide across the globe of the varying versions of the internet amongst different countries.
It’s become extremely important to make society aware of what is happening on and offline as they need to make decisions on their own and understand when and where their government is controlling them. Particularly when in involving consequences such as censorship, lack of knowledge among politicians and most importantly the cause of different internet systems (‘Splinternet’). Russia and China are two ‘Splinternet’ dominating countries that have the biggest impact on influencing content for the purpose of political gain (Lemley, 2021). Their governing bodies achieve this through their responses to scandals or ‘public shocks’ via sheltering their people from seeing content they deem as “bad”. This way they can redirect people’s thought processes and manipulate their response. This allows them to enforce laws they wish due to individuals being made to believe that is the right choice.
Issues have already arisen of individuals and groups retaliating against their respective governments in acts of hacking and spread of awareness. This will cause trust issues between governments and their people once they’ve learnt the knowledge of having restricted access online. People have found ways to break firewalls and access data. A huge increase of awareness has been instilled, in the hope of helping people realise what’s going on around them. Issues for businesses have also come to a head as they are suffering huge economic loss over countries banning their access and restrictions on communication make it impossible to conduct foreign trade.
Why the ‘Splinternet’ has been seen as good
However, in counterargument, the ‘Splinternet’ can be seen as a positive impact on society as it has the ability to provide important information to individuals as a way of protecting. Those countries are able to pass laws that can promote better safety on citizens. They have the ability to positively restrict harmful content and stop acts of bullying and cyberbullying. As well as, preventing the spread of fake news and misinformation that could be harmful on the government or citizens (Mad Creative, 2023).
Organisations have been developed to take action against the ‘Splinternet’ and encourage
“new guarantees for freedom of opinion and expression in the global space of information and communication”(Mad Creative, 2023)
In 2018, the Information and Democracy Commission was launched by a non-government organisation called Reporters Without Borders that aimed to implement this action.
Find out more at: https://www.mad.co/insights/the-splinternet
In conclusion, I strongly believe the ‘Splinternet’ is having a negative impact on societies as it is an unrealistic way of living. It has eliminated all forms of privacy, anonymity, and respect to all internet users in particular countries, which I believe all individuals have a right to. Governments essentially hold the power to eliminate the negative happenings around the world and hides problems that need solving. It is an unnatural form of controlling that allows governments to manipulate their citizens opinions and perspectives. As well as, inflicting political views in order to sway them into believing what the government wants them to. I believe, all individuals across the globe should have the same equal access to one version of the internet, thus, providing access to the same information, data, apps, and content. This will also promote further equality and non-biased political input and heighten privacy that all individuals are entitled to. I believe it is important in creating a realistic society where people aren’t controlled or manipulated to make certain choices based off what they are influenced by. However, this will be incredibly difficult to achieve as there are simply too many versions of the internet with too many outlets. The only action that can be taken is to spread awareness.
Blumberg, D. L. (2023, June 14). 3 ways the “splinternet” is damaging society. MIT Sloan. https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/3-ways-splinternet-damaging-society
Elgan, M. (2019, July 27). How I learned to stop worrying and love the splinternet. Computerworld. https://www.computerworld.com/article/3411947/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-splinternet.html
Haas, B. (2017, July 19). China blocks WhatsApp services as censors tighten grip on internet. The Guardian.https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/19/china-blocks-whatsapp-services-as-censors-tighten-grip-on-internet
Lemley, M. (2021). The Splinternet. Duke University. https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&u=usyd&id=GALE%7CA666103930&v=2.1&it=r
Mad Creator. (n.d.). The splinternet. Mäd • Make It Happen.TM. https://www.mad.co/insights/the-splinternet
Mueller, M. (2017). Will the internet fragment? sovereignty, globalization, and Cyberspace. Polity Press. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.sydney.edu.au/lib/usyd/detail.action?docID=4875231
Nash, A. (2023, July 14). Is tiktok different in China compared to the U.S.? A social media analyst compares it to opium and spinach. Deseret News. https://www.deseret.com/2022/11/24/23467181/difference-between-tik-tok-in-china-and-the-us#:~:text=Although%20they%27re%20both%20owned,the%20world%2C%20especially%20for%20children.
Wright, K. (2019, March 19). The “splinternet” is already here. TechCrunch. https://techcrunch.com/2019/03/13/the-splinternet-is-already-here/
York, D. (2023, May 19). What is a splinternet? and why you should be paying attention. Internet Society. https://www.internetsociety.org/blog/2022/03/what-is-the-splinternet-and-why-you-should-be-paying-attention/