There was a time when the internet was an experiment in anarchy, but it is increasingly becoming an experiment in “stateness”, meaning police-order. Social networks are in crisis. Our governments are losing patience with them, grilling geek after geek to demand they be more loyal to the nation-state and take a more active role suppressing apparently foreign points of view.
The unplugging of the entire internet by NATO countries to stop vaguely defined “Russian trolls” – a nationalistic smear for rebellious social media users living not in Russia but our own countries – cannot be ruled out. As laughable as this possibility may seem to internet users, Western leaders are dead serious about the issue. They consider users who mock them online as existential threats. That they may eventually give up and unplug everything will be touched on here, but it also needs more consideration at a later date.
For now, the focus must be on what might happen to the major social networks. If they are profoundly reshaped by geopolitical tension and paranoia, will they be of any continued use for publishing anti-establishment slogans and views? How will the new Cold War affect the freedom of writers and independent creators to express themselves through social networks?
Lawmakers in the US, the UK, the EU, and other NATO-aligned political structures are wrathful towards social networks due to the influence they indiscriminately offer anyone who signs up to them. Since the US election of 2016, we have watched staff from Twitter, Facebook and Google get grilled by screaming American and British lawmakers. The ageing lawmakers, not willing to take any chances in the “neuland” of the internet (so described by Angela Merkel) treat social networks with the utmost disdain and hostility. For them, the internet is a war-fighting domain, a battlefield of states with fixed front lines, a red zone where insurgents snipe at them. For them, the objective must be to silence anyone who disagrees with them and glorify anyone who does agree with them.
According to the traditional paranoid geopolitical mindset, social networks have to even be regarded as unwitting hostile actors. By offering people the chance to choose their own sources of information and even reproduce those sources and share those sources to others, social networks undermine loyalty to the nation-state, making it harder to spread Nineteenth Century ideas of loyalty and incite new petty wars with other nation-states. Our fossilized politicians, longing for the day when every young man had to complete mandatory military service and longed to die for the flag, seek to lobotomize the youth and restore nation-state loyalty to execute warlike aims against geopolitical foes Russia and China.
While hostility of ageing politicians towards social networks may be worrying, their complete intellectual failure and lack of understanding of what they are dealing with is encouraging. Their obsession with the current major social networks – Twitter and Facebook – suggests that they regard social media in the same way that they view news media. In their view, social networks are just some other big companies that need to be reined in. Just one or two big actors need to be forced to conform to the regime’s ideology, like the well-behaved top news journalists broadcasters, and the politicians’ authority will be restored. The “trolls” will be defeated. The youth will start to respect the bleary-eyed generals and politicians who were kept awake at night by them.
Unfortunately for every internet creator, the reactions of Twitter, Facebook and Google have been cowed. All are eager to prove their nationalist loyalty, particularly to the US state, because their websites’ physical infrastructure is based on the territory of the US state. They have the American regime’s gun to their heads, just like the television stations. Google serves the Pentagon loyally, but may be incapable of preventing its platform’s exploitation by the Pentagon’s enemies and critics due to the sheer number of targets flooding their scopes.