Tech This Week | Banning TikTok is another nail on coffin of internet exceptionalism

This has been a busy week for the web. Earlier this week, India banned TikTok (together with 58 different apps from China). This was adopted by Airtel and Jio blocking entry to DuckDuckGo (a privacy-first search engine). If we zoom out, there’s a sturdy argument to be made that each of those developments are half of a bigger sample. That’s, each these developments are detrimental to the particular standing we have now afforded the web for thus lengthy.

Let me put this into context. For the reason that early days of the web, there was a long-standing perception that it’s an distinctive phenomenon. Jeff Koseff’s guide, The Twenty-Six Phrases That Created the Web, explains this fantastically. On the threat of obliterating all nuance, the guide itself is a few regulation that makes it onerous for individuals to sue web corporations.


The important thing purpose why this regulation survived and was strengthened in its earliest years was that for the American ecosystem on the time, the web was an trade that wanted to develop. Consequently, it shouldn’t be topic to regulation which could hinder its progress. And this was inherent within the regulation, a number of court docket rulings, months and years aside.  These rulings, together with standard tradition, gave start to web exceptionalism. Which, in my view, peaked when John Perry Barlow, songwriter for the Grateful Lifeless and founding father of the Digital Frontier Basis, wrote a ‘Declaration for Our on-line world’.  The Declaration addressed the Governments of the Industrial World. It acknowledged that “We’re making a world the place anybody, anyplace could specific his or her beliefs, regardless of how singular, with out concern of being coerced into silence or conformity,” As well as, “Your authorized ideas of property, expression, identification, motion, and context don’t apply to us. They’re all based mostly on matter, and there’s no matter right here”.

So the Declaration was the motto of Web Exceptionalism, and Part 230 the software that made this message a actuality. And credit score to the US for being far-sighted sufficient for enabling this trade to develop with out regulation.

Nonetheless, India adopted a distinct path. Within the US, Part 230 was made regulation in 1996 and have become the enabler totally free speech on the web. In India, the Info Know-how Act was put in place in 2000. Part 66A of the Act (struck down by the Supreme Court docket in 2015), had a chilling impact on free speech on the medium. Whereas each these provisions are totally different of their goal, scope, and method, they do effectively to spotlight the distinction between India and the US in relation to the web.  India by no means adopted a stance on web exceptionalism as strongly as america.

India’s method is finest summed up by Tim Wu and Jack Goldsmith of their guide, ‘Who Controls the Web? Illusions of a borderless World’. The pair have been surrounded by literature on globalization, most of which argued that because of the web, governments would diminish in relevance. However all of these arguments missed, or undermined the position of governments and the facility they needed to form the expertise of the web.

Because it seems, Wu and Goldsmith’s argument proved to be prophetic, particularly within the case of India banning these apps. The state has outdated web exceptionalism and as an alternative used it as a weapon. Make no mistake; the motion towards Chinese language Apps shouldn’t be about information safety however is a political manoeuvre. Had safety points been the case, these apps would have been banned a very long time in the past.

On the opposite finish, China is the flag bearer of presidency energy trumping the web. The Individuals’s Republic has its personal web ecosystem in addition to a digital firewall. In additional methods than one, the ‘Declaration for Our on-line world’ didn’t attain China.  This brings us to zooming out and taking a look at this intersection between the web and geopolitics as being half of a bigger sample. Within the earlier days of the web, its functions appeared nebulous and there was curiosity relating to the place the way it was going to form our lives.

However quick ahead to 2020, and the web is a extra mature conception in individuals’s minds.

In addition to, the digital financial system has additionally inextricably linked with the ‘conventional’ financial system.

With that, comes the next diploma of consideration and presumably regulation.  We see this all through current historical past. From China’s firewall to the US retaliating as France making an attempt to tax American web giants to the US interfering within the semiconductor provide chain to get a bonus over China, to India now utilizing these apps as a software of retaliation towards China.

The writing is on the wall for web exceptionalism. For higher or worse, web exceptionalism, as a phenomenon, is slowly however certainly dying. India banning TikTok (and the opposite 58 apps) is simply the most recent nail in its coffin.
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