The internet is one of mankind’s biggest achievements in recent decades. Together with the World Wide Web, life has been made easy in various ways for example in communication and knowledge sharing. As teachers, it is now easier and sometimes more convenient to search for information that will be used in our classes – thanks to the internet.
Despite the enormous benefits of the internet, it is now becoming increasingly common for businesses, organisations and governments to make decisions that could undermine the way the Internet works. It is however unfair to blame them for these decisions since they could be simply responding to the way we as users also use the internet, sometimes to the detriment of other users.
Either way, this will eventually result in what we call the “splinternet”.
What is the Splinternet?
In simple terms, the splinternet is the opposite of the Internet. While the internet is a global network of interconnected computers, the splinternet is the idea that the open, globally connected Internet we all use splinters into a collection of isolated networks controlled by governments or corporations.
What this literally means that an internet user in Country A can only access what their country allows to be accessed. The many networks that make the Internet today would no longer work together. This would alter our daily experiences online and restrict who can access and contribute to this global resource. It could also have devastating consequences on trade, national economies, innovation, the free flow of information, international humanitarian efforts, and for us teachers – education.
How could the splinternet affect you? A few examples.
We all know how social media has made it fun and easy to interact and share experiences across the globe. With the splinternet, you can’t access a photo-sharing app because the business that owns this app is blocked in your country.
Email is one tool that has helped make communication easy between people separated geographically. An email sent will arrive instantly to a recipient thousand of miles away with the possibility to receive a reply immediately.
With the splinternet, your email could bounce because the email service provider in your friend’s country uses servers in a country that was disconnected from the global Internet.
The internet made it possible for businesses to expand beyond geographical boundaries. You can buy or sell a product to someone thousand of miles away. But with the splinternet, your platform could be blocked in another country making it impossible for shoppers to access your products.
But what can cause the splinternet?
Among the popular reasons is when a government tries to disconnect the networks within its borders from the global Internet. For whatever reasons, this could have negative consequences on the users. The more governments drive a wedge between networks and the Internet, the closer we get to a splinternet.
Governments and businesses are increasingly making politically motivated decisions that could disconnect networks in other countries from the Internet’s infrastructure. A single decision may not cause a global splinternet. But just as each raindrop contributes to a flood, every policy, regulation, or business decision that fails to protect what the Internet needs to exist contributes to the growth of the splinternet.
What can you do to protect the internet?
The fact that you’ve read this article to this end shows that you care about what the internet is and possibly wish to protect it’s existence. While you may not be individually able to stand up to big corporations and governments against negative policies, your membership to the internet society could be a step good enough.
Join the Internet Society today and save the internet.
This article was adapted form the original explainer by the Internet Society which can be accessed here.
Stephen Dumba is the National Coordinator of the ICT Teachers’ Association of Uganda. Besides teaching ICT, he repairs computers and builds websites. Steve is a speaker and facilitator at tech events and and CEO of senior1.org and a consultant on education technology.
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