Controlling flow of information is what every authoritarian wishes to achieve. This provides a lot of control over citizens. In the age of technology, authoritarians have been trying to gain control over the internet. When Hosni Mubarak’s regime blocked the internet service of telecom companies in Egypt during the Arab Spring of 2011, the traffic rolled down to almost zero. China has installed a great firewall to restrict access of some of the websites. Iran built a domestic service named halal internet, and pressuring content providers to host their websites on servers that are within borders of the nation. North Korea is trying to control the flow of information by keeping people offline. Only four percent of citizens have internet access. Cuba’s government forced online traffic to pass through government portals. None of them admit that they are restricting the access to information. They opine that these regulations are for public good.
Along with controlling flow of information, there is another reason to restrict access: economic gains of local brands. China’s great firewall has been built to boost profitability of Chinese giant e-commerce companies. Chinese citizens do not find Amazon to make online purchases. Social media giants Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Snapchat are absent in the Chinese market. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been planning to do something similar. However, there are major obstacles in executing the plan. The country does not have commercial and technological infrastructure to launch big companies such as Alibaba. Moreover, internet restrictions are charged as a tariff and caused losses than boosting the economy. According to a study from Brookings Institution, disruption in internet services resulted in loss of nearly $2.4 billion. The scenario in the U.S. is same. The only difference is the decision to control the flow of information has been taken by private corporations rather than government officials. These billionaire techies have been taking decisions behind the scenes on restricting access.
Ideologically driven decisions by internet corporations provide some improvement as compared to ideologically driven decisions taken by government agencies. Internet corporations do not suffer any major costs for their choices on whom to serve and whose access to restrict. But, the decisions taken by governments affect them in terms of economic loss. The Russian government has been putting efforts to build an internet it can control. It has been developing it as a tool for self-defense. There have always been reasons for developing a restricted internet. Iranian government outlined that it restricted access to protect culture of the nation. On the other hand, the Chinese government said it was a matter of national security. The U.S. regulators said they have been preventing spread of hate. Various reasons can be found to restrict access and control flow of information.
People putting restrictions on access think they know what others should be allowed to access. The restrictions face backlash sometimes, but sometimes, tyrant leaders have been elected and there remains no option than accepting what the regulations say. Digital technology has been perceived as a crucial source of economic development. However, restricting access of some of the websites will restrict economy from growing.