How could we create a better Internet?
James Muldoon, author and lecturer in political science at the University of Exeter, goes even further. “There is nothing necessarily progressive about decentralization,” he wrote in a recent article, Why Web3 Can’t Fix Internet. He thinks Web3 is “unlikely to significantly redistribute value, as it does not challenge the fundamental trend towards commodification that now dominates the web. Despite the analogy of public squares, too often crypto communities feel exclusive and impenetrable – more like private members’ clubs tacked to the side of Web2’s vast business complex.
“My view is that the internet is broken because it’s a business,” Ben Tarnoff, author of Internet for the people: the fight for our digital future, tell me. “In other words, the various dysfunctions and depredations of the Internet are inextricable from the fact that it is privately owned and operated for profit. If it is this profit motive that is breaking the Internet – making it suitable, not for public use, but for plunder by the wealthiest men in the world – then the insertion of digital token systems into communities in line will not be enough to radically transform it. As Tarnoff says, “a better Internet would be one in which people, not profit, ruled.
There is growing momentum behind the idea of deprivatizing the internet; to treat it as a public good. In his book, Tarnoff pleads for the creation of a public stack in which every layer of our digital media – even the pipes that carry internet across the oceans and in our homes – is becoming more democratic. Other activists and theorists think along the same lines. Some have argued for to break up platform monopolies in small enterprisesor, as James Muldoon suggests in his book Platform socialismdelegating ownership and control to workers and technology users as cooperatives.
Others like Alexander Monea, author of The Digital Closet: How the Internet Got Straight, suggest that platforms should be publicly owned. “I think the internet should be a public service,” says Monea, “including everything from its physical infrastructure and web access to the platforms that increasingly constitute our entire Internet experience.
So what would a public Internet look like?
“If I had to imagine it,” says Monea, “it would be a simple interface for sharing, interacting and discovering multimedia content, probably with a simplistic and/or rollback interface. » It offers a mix of “Reddit without the toxicity and Craigslist without the lack of accountability, perhaps with elements of Twitch and TikTok mixed in. But perhaps the best model we already have is Wikipedia.
Potentially, then, turning the internet from a private mall to a public library might mean it doesn’t look all that different. Users could still chat, create and share content and join communities, but the major change would be that it’s not monetized with targeted ads. This in turn would remove incentives to collect personal data through surveillance.
The bottom line is that, as Tarnoff says, “an Internet where the people rule” – from broadband networks owned by municipalities and cooperatives, to worker-owned, app-based services and self-sustaining social media communities – would mean considering the Internet as basic infrastructure and an essential service tied with water and electricity. “In a better world”, artist based in London Cecile B. Evans suggests, “the answer to ‘what would a better Internet look like? would be “(trans)nationalized”.
The fight for a better Internet is, fundamentally, inseparable from the fight for a better world. “When I see long breathless threads describing gonzo resistance tactics in reaction to the takeover of Twitter by an apartheid trust fund,” Evans says, “I wish people would stick to using that energy to imagine dismantling the version of capitalism that we find ourselves in.
Essentially, we can either have a democratic public Internet that prioritizes collective comfort and safety, or a commercialized Internet that benefits a handful of white men in California. To create a better Internet is to fight for solidarity and social justice. Another world is possible. And, as Ben Tarnoff says, “another social network is possible, but we must fight for it to be so.