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Will We Watch The End Of The Free And Open Web?

These days, people are quick to attack the web for how it is, or more precisely how they make use of it. It doesn’t take a technical mind to notice that ‘browsing the web’ has felt less like an adventure, and more like being at the console for a nuclear power plant. Day-to-day things are boring, but every once in a while panic rises and simple mistakes can have disastrous consequences. People who were around to see it generally miss how the web was before corporate social media: small sites and small communities. We have forgotten the power of small niche online interactions.

Simple sites, created for fun or as quirky experiments. Among them even blogs containing unique treasures, galleries of personal photography and art. As online communities grew larger things became so much more serious, and the barrier between the far away alternate reality of the web and real life was fractured. This barrier would crack, and eventually break once a critical mass of people were nudged into not just being online, but being themselves online. It is quite ironic then, that much of the generations that brought themselves to the open web, may be the ones to see it’s demise. A light dims in the distance, as we begin to forget what it was even for.

The Media Matrix has caught up with the Internet Age. Large institutions are no strangers to this rich new medium of the millennium. Far from it, they’re already very far into the process of remolding what could have been into what serves their interests. No longer a refuge from censorship (to the degree it was), or even the insanity of the world, the Internet is far less free than it could be. Corporations lead the charge on surveillance, building all-pervasive real-time monitoring of every person who didn’t take proactive measures to limit contact. Governments chose to work to restrict dissent that threatens preferred policies and power. Despite the early Internet being well within living memory, it is no longer for individuals.

Internet War Measures

Snowden warns that this week, the NSA is being given control over the Internet. This is done through extending the powers in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) section 702, allowing the NSA to compel communications services to act as part of the country’s surveillance apparatus. The United States is not unique in this regard, there has been an ongoing assault on citizen’s digital autonomy that has only escalated since 2020. Late last year, the EU proposed regulation to back-door web traffic as well as build a digital identity framework.

Warfare has changed, and so too has the players. While nations still have conflicts with nations, governments are also becoming more tyrannical as they start to see the public as a threat to their uncontested power. This is made worse by private entities like multi-national corporations increasing their own power, locking large institutions into a negative sum game. No matter what the outcome, people will be worse off for the scramble. As geopolitical, economic, and other tensions rise we can fully expect for institutions to seize and abuse more and more power.

This means that the Internet is just another battlefield. To maintain untenable policies, institutions first seize control over information, then communication, and lastly the people themselves. The free and open web isn’t the reason why liberty is at risk worldwide, it’s merely one of the early obstacles to all kinds of atrocious acts. It’s easy to forget that many online services can stay very much intact while the ability for people to share vital information or cooperate can be taken from them entirely. Too many fall into the trap of believing that the web is entirely a tool of oppression, and underestimate it’s value for opposing tyranny.

Where Do Things Go From Here?

Structural assaults such as ISP-Level De-platforming and other interventions make the death of a single Internet for the world all the more certain. As corporations and governments develop their own great firewalls to micro-manage communication, the net will be fractured into a variety of splinternets. These “split internets” will be highly-controlled networks that one may be allowed access to use particular services. This is effectively the final-form of hostile cyberspace where any communications, content, or even access is completely under control of the operators. Such access can be gated behind authentication or even identification.

As this escalates, one can fully expect all but the most trivial discussion migrating to darknets while they still function. People themselves will either choose to work within an increasingly hostile and constrained digital environment, or will spend more and more time actively working to resist it. Eventually, this work will eventually culminate in small groups creating their own small internets. Community networks become much more important, and specialized tools will be highly sought after.

The great danger is if people entirely lose the ability to communicate with the outside world. While the tragedies of the world may weigh heavily on some, it is vital that people do not forsake the world or allow ourselves to be forsaken by it. If tyrants are permitted to perfectly isolate people from each other with the powerful tools that exist today, widespread atrocities are all but inevitable. This is the real challenge before us. Not to save a particular website, not to reform a particular service, or even to seize control ourselves. The single objective is to preserve people’s ability to challenge abuse of power and to victimize the defenseless. This requires getting serious and realistic. It is far beyond anyone to single-handedly resolve all of it. Instead it’s critical to prioritize actionable meaningful steps that can be replicated widely for maximum impact.

The Simple Heroics Of A Lost Cause

When one recognizes the value that a free and open web presents to those who wish to hold abusive authority accountable, the more precious even relatively simple things become. When one thinks of a hero, they often think of a champion who receives the praise of all the world and recognition in history. People forget the anonymous everyday heroes who make small acts of charity, cooperation, and hope. The independent web does not need to have the best servers, the most clever software, or even the best minds to make it thrive. It does not need to compete with corporate networks and government control. People working to create, learn, and share together is always enough to make a difference.

It’s easy to underestimate the resilience of the World Wide Web. For all it’s faults, and all the concessions made, it’s still an amazing hypermedia system. Just as regimes can destroy books, there will always be people who have preserved them. A single person, can have an immense impact to work to preserve and restore information, digital technology has made this phenomenally easier. As long as people have access to digital tools, there will be people willing to store and share important information. The beauty of simple web sites is that not only can they make use of many modern media formats, but they’re pure data. This means that they can be distributed all kinds of ways.

It’s time to seriously consider how you want to take part and make your mark on the future of cyberspace. Will people continue feeding data, money, and power to the machine until the end? No matter where things end up, we still have a choice today. We can choose what services we want to use, run or share. We can make deliberate decisions on which technology we wish to use and avoid, while supporting the right of others to refuse to be locked in. Your participation matters, and every little action has an impact that can build up over time.

Gabriel

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Published: Apr 18 2024
Tags: Technocracy Internet Operation: Chorus Operation: Hearth Operation: Shadow Remoralization

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