Populists and propagandists are control freaks. They know a pandemic is a perfect setting for playing their games of curbing and closing, dividing and delinking. See them already hoisted on to the World Wide Web, attempting to clip the global wings of internet. A few of them have already done the job. Others will finish the job tomorrow post-pandemic. One thing for sure. The actions and inactions of populists and propagandists will make the internet more introverted and more inward-looking, more parochial.
Internet Concerns to Mount
These populists and propagandists are not going to bother about the internet turning into a non-caring non-entity when it comes to societal welfare. A real danger it is for tomorrow, pandemic or no pandemic.
As the internet turns antisocial in a manner of speaking, the whole bunch of authoritarians, autocrats, dictators, dissent-haters and tyrants will pummel the global internet network and the World Wide Web into submission to serve their partisan ends and political agendas. Tomorrow, it will be a cause for grave concern for privacy advocates as well.
Info Hegemony to Expand
Despite privacy concerns, internet will continue to be as oligarchic. Nonchalant, internet giants will only go on to tighten their grips around the World Wide Web. In the process, making the web more centralised and concentrated. A good reason why our fear of internet oligarchs is real. These oligarchs will spread their influence far and wide on the World Wide Web to erect barriers on the information sharing highway. They will continue to aggregate personal information of users and exploit them to expand their information hegemony and marketing dominance, besides bolstering their bottomlines.
Networks to Turn Closed
When push comes to shove, inventors and innovators will finally exit the internet space. As if these were not enough, authoritarian governments will go extra lengths to up the ante in this contest for control over the internet. Thirsting for information and hungering for authority, they will surely carve out their national webs, balkanising the internet further.
Such closed-door garden networks will go about merrily controlling, regulating, managing and monitoring the info-accessing and info-sharing habits of its denizens. China has carved out such a national internet already and it is public knowledge China’s Great Firewall controls information filtering into the country.
Islamic countries including Iran are known to have such a closed fundamentalist halal internet. Why, North Korea’s two-decade old Kwangmyong internet network is another example of closed internet spaces. Cuba and Myanmar too have similar closed internets. Tomorrow, India may have a similar walled internet for propagating Hindutva. Localised email and search engine services will be generously thrown in to bring the Hindus in India together.
Coloured Propaganda to Flourish
Russia has already begun patrolling its internet and exploring ways for erecting a digital border wall. Why, Indonesia too is about to launch its version of national internet, which is supposed to be a closed affair. Pakistan may follow suit. These actions will violate the open spirit of the internet with impunity. Now on, these closed and shut strategies will be in the name of the pandemic.
The numbers of such internet-introvert nations will continue to grow further along with cases of Corona infections. The tribe of internet deciders, which includes India, Israel, Brazil and Singapore, may influence the future of the internet and it will not make much of a difference. As national internets spring up elsewhere post pandemic, access to foreign media will be restricted, partisan national internet alternatives will be propped up and coloured propaganda will be unleashed on closed web spaces in the name of controlling the pandemic, keeping a tab on its spread and checking its devastating creep.
Fake News to Proliferate
By the way, this process of carving national internets, making the internet exist in pieces within several national borders, will shut the open internet. Worse, this process will transform internet governance into a propagandistic affair and will reduce the internet to a handmaiden of authoritarian governments. The result will be unpalatable to most of us. Malawares and misinformation, fake news and falsehood will become the cherished goals of national internets.
Dual Internets to Spread
At the same time, America-like regions may have dual internets post-pandemic. A Dual internet means an open internet for the home region and a closed internet for the rest of the world. Tech players including Alphabet and Microsoft may chip in to make the American dual internet a reality, sounding the death knell for the Tim Berners-Lee’s dream of a democratic World Wide Web and an egalitarian internet.
Sadly, the growing introvertism of the internet and the parochialism of the World Wide Web is evident everywhere now, and bound to grow further post-Covid. The introvertism and parochialism appears to run so deep in the collective psyche of nation-states, it will not go away. On the contrary, more countries will prefer to lead duplicitous digital lives. The secretive countries of this planet – Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Brazil, China and Mexico – may permanently have their internets of denial attempting to conceal more Covid info than what they reveal.
Elsewhere in the United Kingdom and India, websites are already knee-deep into anti-muslim propaganda blaming the minority community for the Corona spread. This minority-hate will be fuelled further by national internets tomorrow. Well, China and Egypt will throw scribes behind bars for speaking on Covid. Assaults on media and media freedom will rise. Partisan attitudes, similar to the ones on display in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, will harden. In Kashmir, the dissent-hating government may order the internet to move slower, preventing healthcare workers and supplies from streaming in. Islamic nation-states may blacklist WhatsApp and Skype permanently in the name of curbing panic news spreads.
Certainly, these instances of digital duplicity offer an acidic foretaste of things to come. The World Wide Web will thus turn narrower with a swarm of internet bans and restrictions, shutdowns and subversions by authoritarian regimes trying to throttle it. Will it be the beginning of the World Narrow Web?