29.11.2022

Internet Fragmentation: how to overcome global distrust?

Internet Fragmentation: how to overcome global distrust?

Internet fragmentation is becoming a serious problem that can degrade the functioning of the Network and slow down technological progress. It devalues the basic principles of the Internet and can transform it from an open communication platform into a fragmented digital space serving corporate or national interests. Now, when the effective functioning and even the existence of the critical infrastructure of the state, as well as the daily work and communication of people are largely dependent on the operation of the Internet, it is obvious that all stakeholders are striving to maintain the status quo. At the same time, we must remember that one of the main principles of the Internet is openness and interoperability, and efforts must be made to prevent them and allow the Internet to develop safely!

Some experts believe that fragmentation is already inevitable, as people perceive the Internet differently and have different experiences of using it, in particular because of the language they speak. Many countries offer their own national platforms, search engines and social networks instead of global ones, and the structure of the site may vary based on cultural and linguistic characteristics. But the main issue remains the same: how fast can Internet fragmentation develop in the current realities of global distrust? 

The speakers of the session were Jovan Kurbalija, head of DiploFoundation, Timofey Vi, head of the Strategic Directions Department of ANO Dialogue, Dr. Yik Chan Chin, professor at the Beijing Normal University, Milos Jovanovic, head of OpenLink Group, Tiar Salah Eddin, employee of the African Union Department for Peace and Security in Conflict Regions, and Wako Adugna Heile, entrepreneur from Ethiopia. The session was moderated by MAG Member from Latin America and head of ISOC Bolivia Roberto Zambrana. 

Timofey Vi spoke about fragmentation from the point of view of disinformation: how it affects the fact that users distance themselves from the global network and fall into an information bubble. He also showed some examples of fakes that the Russian society faced on the Internet, and spoke about the reasons for blocking the social networks of the Meta company (recognized as extremist in the Russian Federation). 

Jovan Kurbalija noted three main aspects that should be taken into account when we talk about Internet fragmentation. The first is the vulnerability of the Internet, in particular due to the lack of security of the international cable systems and other infrastructure that provide the Internet connection. The second is the opportunities provided by the Internet. Despite the difficult geopolitical situation, people, fortunately, can still communicate through the global network. The third is the impact of the global Internet on local societies, since the Internet can sufficiently change not only the economy, but also the cultural characteristics of certain regions. 

There has been a lot of talk in the expert community lately about using the Internet as a weapon, said Dr. Yik Chan Chin. "Internet fragmentation is possible not only on a national or regional basis, but also on a corporate one, since a huge number of DNS requests are processed not by local communication providers, but centrally by several corporations. The degree of influence achieved by technology companies allows them to compete with national and foreign governments by setting their own rules. The private sector has begun to play an increasingly important role in Internet governance. And now they themselves can shut down Internet access to virtually entire countries or parts of the population in a particular territory. And what should ordinary users do if private corporations operate within their own rules and values? It's a matter of trust. We cannot let users stop trusting the Internet," she concluded.  

Milos Jovanovic actually supplemented the speech of his colleague from China, noting that it is now very difficult to avoid Internet fragmentation, because some stakeholders are imposing sanctions in an attempt to isolate their opponents. Fragmentation is also a matter of national sovereignty. The main question is what the state should do if its citizens are disconnected from the Internet from the outside, and any attempt to prepare for such a potential scenario leads only to accusations of supporting Internet "fragmentation". Is it so bad if a country has a margin of safety for unforeseen situations that threaten national sovereignty?

The XVII Internet Governance Forum is held in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) from November 28 to December 2. The main theme and motto of the event – "Resilient Internet" – is a sustainable Internet for a common future, capable of withstanding any difficulties in the world and continuing to connect people in all parts of the world.