In western society, the perceptions of the internet at first glance illude the glamour of a free, inclusive, and open system designed for citizens across the globe. A platform where usability and content is dictated and accessed across all levels of society, under the assumptions that it will govern itself.
However, you only have to look just below the surface to see the falsity of this assumption, in that internet governance is tightly controlled and influenced by different geopolitical agendas and capitalised on to increase geopolitical powers.
Today, as noted by Vladimir Radunovic (2022), the digital world in increasingly being driven by ideologies over efficiencies, being inextricably linked to its profound impacts on governance and the digitised society. These political trends are shaping the regulatory environment, and Radunovic calls for the need of regulators to adapt.
It’s clear to see the direct influence of governing bodies on the usability and structure of the internet through the ideologies of best internet governance practice. O’Hara and Hall (2018), outline four predominant ‘internets’, that’s governance style directly correlates with the political agendas and ideologies of the groups that govern then. These ‘four internets’ are; The Silicon Valley open internet system; the bourgeois internet; the authoritarian internet; and the US republicans commercial internet.
These internet systems are a key example of how political trends are shaping the regulatory environment. Ultimately the resulting social implicates of this new technology will depend on the economic, legal and policy decisions that are shaped by the internet as it becomes institutionalised (DiMaggio, 2001). Thus, when geopolitical agendas and power dynamics from governing bodies become intertwined with digital platforms and the internet system, social threats and negative consequences to society are given potential to arise.
Currently, its relevant to draw upon the geopolitical tensions between the US and China, as in the environment today, the internet system and tech innovation is spurring an armed race and growing distrust between countries, fostering significant political tensions.
Automatically, the two countries have very different ideas on how the internet system should be governed and utilised. Drawing on the differences between the ‘Silicon Valley open internet system’ and ‘Beijing’s Authoritarian internet system’, where the Silicon Valley system is largely deregulated, open, and driven by the technology itself, whereas the Authoritarian system is operating in a tightly controlled environment where the ruling communist party is the dominant player (O’Hara & Hall, 2018). These internet systems are directly correlated with the political ideals and agendas of the government and provide a stark contrast between each other.
Government intervention vs Government power grabs
It is crucial to note that there is a significant different in the government influence and manipulations of the internet system, versus the intervention and regulation of the internet. It would be naive to ignore that the internet gives rise to a plethora of social effects, particularly when operating as a free idealistic system.
Thus, it is not to say that government intervention and regulations are necessarily a bad thing, but is to an extent an important part in internet regulation.
Government regulation and intervention has been crucial on a plethora of social issues and concerns that have risen as a product of internet systems, and government intervention is necessary, this often falls to issues around cybercrimes, child pornography, cyber war and coarsening of public debate (O’Hara & Hall, 2018).
It is when the political agendas and geopolitical tensions utilise the internet as a system to accumulate or assert power on a national level, it transcends its idealistic purpose as an international leveling system.
Once again, the US asserts dominance over China in Power Play
This has become evident in recent times as innovation of the tech space and internet systems grows, fostering an inherent geopolitical ‘armed race’. Tensions in internet security and system control moves beyond just digital platforms, but have infiltrated the tech systems that enable them to exist. Undersea Subsea internet cables have been a central device in the US and China technology competition. The Subsea cables which are responsible for carrying a huge proportion of the worlds data has been a large component fuelling the U.S and China tech wars according to Brock (2023).
The US government launched a successful campaign to aid Americas SubCom, beating China’s HMN Tech to score a $600 million dollar contract to build the SeaMeWe-6 cable earlier this year. This was largely over the US governments concerns about the potential for Chinese to spy on sensitive information’s running through the cables, and According to Brock (2023), this included Washington pressuring foreign countries to shun or ignore the Chinese firm, in order to flip the contract to the American company SubCom.
It’s crucial to note that three years earlier, the Chinese company HMT has been selected to manufacture and run the cable, however, was overturned largely by the campaign launched by the US government.
This would have been HMNs biggest project to date, creating huge economic benefit and global presence for the Chinese company and the inclusive telecom firms that were to invest in it.
The Hypocrisy of the ‘Open Internet’
It is easy in the Western world to criticise the Authoritarian internet system, and give copious praise to the idealism of the open Silicon valley internet system. In the Western world today, aligning with the assumptions of human rights, in a free, equitable, and inclusive society, the Silicon Valley open internet system reflects the most ideal internet today.
However, it is so crucial to note the inherent flaws and inequalities embedded within this idealistic system, undermining the very ideals it advocates for. The system itself reflects the homogony of the US Silicon Valley, which is born from the white male American middle class, and has been monopolised by large US digital corporates like Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft and Amazon.
In reflecting back to the political tensions between the US and China, the US is faced with the dilemma of going against their own ideals and imaginaries of the Silicon Valley Open internet, in pursuit of geopolitical tensions and implications.
TikTok is a rapidly growing Chinese social media platform which proposes apparent rivalry to the Silicon Valley platform (Grey, 2021). TikTok has taken the world by storm to become the fastest growing social media platform today and the worlds most downloaded app.
Americas concerns with the platform lie in its potential threats of security breaches from the Chinese owned company, an article from the Georgetown Journal of International affairs (T. Chin, 2023) conveying the Congress and Bidens administration attempts in the US to go as extreme as taking actions in banning the platform altogether.
Beyond the US, Australia announced finding by a parliamentary committee assessing that TikTok could corrupt decision making, political discourse and societal norms, its algorithm structure providing a significant threat of for behavioural and political manipulation and proposing on of the most pressing national security concerns.
However, in banning TikTok, this would completely go against ideologies of the Silicon Valley Open internet system, whereby it advocates for an open and inclusive environment, where platforms are free to operate. In banning the app, this would only further elevate the geopolitical tensions between countries and the issues that could arise from such events could emerge as a range of long-term implications, including backlash for the right of free speech, global data transfers and significantly, as highlighted, the US- China relationship.
Thus, it reveals the stark connection and constant association digital platforms, and the internet system has with nations political systems and geopolitical relations, and how in succumbing to these geopolitical pressures, the digital system can contradict its own ideologies.
Thus, it becomes clear of the extent of geopolitical implications and agendas impacting the governance and control of the internet. Internet governance and government interference itself is an import aspect of ensuring protection and safety on the internet, however, it is when political agendas and power dynamic infiltrate the governance of the system that incongruencies and dangers arise, fostering increasing geopolitical tensions. As concluded by Turner (2021) the solutions lies in the ability to find a hybrid place where global inclusion and acceptance can allow both cultures and ideas to shape each other and enable new systems and governance to emerge.
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