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The Internet Is Not the Enemy

Many of the problems people ascribe to the internet are neither new nor caused by it, but governments are seeking to regulate the internet as though they are. And even when internet-specific regulation might be desirable, policymakers need to be sure that it will not negatively affect the internet itself.

RESTON, VIRGINIA – We live in an age of wonder in which half the world now has access to a technology – the internet – that supports people’s health and education, can be a lifeline in a time of disaster or disease, and was designed to be open to everyone but owned by no one. And the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted both its importance and its potential by forcing the world to connect remotely, contact-free, and in real time.

Unfortunately, we also live in an age of fear and suspicion. You don’t even need to “doomscroll” to find claims that the internet is worse than any previous pestilence or war. The internet is the scapegoat for many of today’s problems, including terrorism, child abuse, and even the end of democracy.

But think about it. To believe, for example, that fake news is somehow the internet’s fault is to forget the state propaganda machines perfected in the twentieth century. Likewise, excessive wealth concentration and overly powerful monopolies are not products of the digital age; once upon a time, there were firms like US Steel, Standard Oil, and the British and Dutch East India companies. Some even hold the internet responsible for the decline of civic values and even civility, as though lying politicians and incendiary speech were not possible before Twitter.

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