Zum Inhalt springen
A Globe depiciting a fragmented world
23 Juli 2019| doi: 10.5281/zenodo.3354252

Das Internet ist bereits fragmentiert

Die Internetgemeinde sorgt sich um die Fragmentierung des Cyberspace. Diese Befürchtung beruht jedoch auf sehr verkürzten Vorstellungen von Souveränität und Territorium. Rückt man diese gerade, meint Gastautor Daniel Lambach (Normative Orders), wird klar, dass das Internet bereits sehr viel fragmentierter ist als gedacht und trotzdem noch funktioniert.

Open web vs. fragmentation

There is much talk about the impending fragmentation or splintering of the internet into loosely coupled sub-networks. With various governments mooting plans to recreate national boundaries in cyberspace, e.g. through national Domain Name Systems or data localisation laws, many observers worry that the era of “open web” may be drawing to a close. A report to the World Economic Forum, with some understatement, calls internet fragmentation “a rather hot topic of late” (p. 7).

This debate will remind seasoned observers of the cyber-utopianism of John Perry Barlow’s infamous Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. But this narrative of antiquated nation-states encroaching on the virgin territory of an ungoverned and ungovernable electronic frontier is off the mark. Cyberspace cannot be conceived as separate from the “offline world”. States assert their authority over cyberspace by translating familiar territorial logics to this “uncharted territory” (Neuland, as it was once called by German Chancellor Angela Merkel). Corporations create territories through sign-up requirements and limiting interoperability between internet ecosystems. Private users and creators set up virtual territories in online communities, social media or closed chat groups.

The three assumptions of territorialisation

These are all examples of the same process. I call it territorialisation – the creation, maintenance and recreation of spaces. But it would be misleading to treat territorialisation as inevitably leading to a fragmentation of the internet. On the contrary, territorialisation has been a ubiquitous feature of cyberspace since its inception. And yet diagnoses of internet fragmentation still operate from three misleading assumptions: First, they are based on an outdated notion of territory and of the state as a national-territorial ‘container’. Second, the debate is partly organised around the notion of sovereignty and whether it, or some analogy, can exist in cyberspace. Third, that territories in cyberspace are fundamentally incompatible with the network character of the internet.

I want to challenge all three of these assumptions. First, territory and borders should not be thought of as static containers and immutable structures. We are better off taking inspiration from critical geographers like Stuart Elden who argue that territory is a political technology. So territorialisation is about more than just erecting boundaries, it is about claiming and exercising control through the definition, delimitation and inscription of space. Accordingly, territories in cyberspace can be shifting, adaptable, even mobile.

Second, discussions of sovereignty in cyberspace are mostly unhelpful political posturing. Territorialisation involves exercises of power that do not necessarily include formal claims to international legal sovereignty. Such moves may not even imply absolute control or some analogy to the much-vaunted monopoly of force – merely claiming control is already a meaningful act. Hence, territories can be functional, overlapping and non-exclusive.

Third, while the internet is constituted through networks, actors, whether states, corporations, civil society or individual users, tend to think of it in terms of spaces and territories. Barlow’s Declaration is as much evidence of this as the Neuland metaphor, as are debates about cyberwar/cyberdefense which rest on a conceptualization of national territory in cyberspace. This creates tensions, of which the “internet fragmentation” debate itself is one example. We are best served by not trying to resolve these tensions but by noticing the mutual effects of networks and territories. On the one hand, territories shape the architecture of links that constitutes the World Wide Web, e.g. through legal penalties for hosting or linking to illicit content. On the other hand, networks affect how territories can be constructed and used, for instance by making certain kinds of censorship more or less feasible.

Bottom line: The fragmented internet continues to exist 

In sum, it does not make sense to speak of a singular cyberspace that is in danger of breaking apart. It is better to think of the internet as a set of changing, overlapping and conflicting “cyber-territories”. For example, much of the recent back-and-forth between Facebook and German courts can be read in this way, as an attempt to enforce laws and regulations where a “national” (Germany) and a “corporate territory” (Facebook) intersect. Territorialisation is a persistent feature of the internet and is not going away.

Does this mean everything is fine and that warnings about the fragmentation of cyberspace are overblown? No, not quite. While we already see much more territorialisation that is not as destructive as the fragmentation discourse suggests, it does not follow that a substantially more destructive kind of fragmentation is impossible. Recent moves toward nationalised Domain Name Systems represent such a danger. Nonetheless, at least thus far, the internet has withstood a substantial degree of territorialisation and, absent far-reaching technical upheavals, will likely continue to work as before.

Dieser Beitrag spiegelt die Meinung der Autorinnen und Autoren und weder notwendigerweise noch ausschließlich die Meinung des Institutes wider. Für mehr Informationen zu den Inhalten dieser Beiträge und den assoziierten Forschungsprojekten kontaktieren Sie bitte info@hiig.de

Daniel Lambach

Aktuelle HIIG-Aktivitäten entdecken

Forschungsthemen im Fokus

Das HIIG beschäftigt sich mit spannenden Themen. Erfahren Sie mehr über unsere interdisziplinäre Pionierarbeit im öffentlichen Diskurs.

Forschungsthema im Fokus Entdecken

Du siehst eine Bibliothek mit einer runden Treppe die sich in die höhe schraubt. Sie steht sinnbildlich für die sich stetig weiterentwickelnden digitalen Infrastrukturen unserer Wissensgesellschaft. You see a library with a round staircase that spirals upwards. It symbolises the constantly evolving digital infrastructures of our knowledge society.

Offene Hochschulbildung

Wir erforschen den Einsatz von offener Hochschulbildung, um Wissen für alle in unserer zu fördern, zu teilen und zu verbreiten.

HIIG Monthly Digest

Jetzt anmelden und  die neuesten Blogartikel gesammelt per Newsletter erhalten.

Weitere Artikel

Das Foto zeigt Hände nebeneinander. Das symbolisiert die Integration von Geschlecht und Inklusivität in digitale Kulturpolitiken.

Geschlecht und Inklusivität in digitalen Kulturpolitiken: Erkenntnisse aus Berlin und Barcelona

Können Berlins und Barcelonas integrativer Umgang mit der Digitalisierung als Blaupause für eine neue europäische Kulturpolitik im digitalen Zeitalter dienen?

Das Bild zeigt bunte Puzzleteile. Sie repräsentieren, dass KI für den Umweltschutz nur ein kleiner Teil von vielen sein kann, um unseren Planeten zu schützen.

Ein kleiner Teil von vielen – KI für den Umweltschutz

Welche Rolle spielt KI in Anwendungen für den Umweltschutz? Dieser Blogbeitrag wirft einen Blick auf deutsche Projekte, die KI zu diesem Zweck einsetzen.

Eine Hand hält eine digitale Karte auf einem Smartphone. Dies repräsentiert GIS-Technologie und Geodaten.

Wege durch das Großstadtlabyrinth: GIS-Technologie und die Grenzen zwischen digitaler und physischer Infrastruktur

Mit der Entwicklung von GIS-Technologie stellt sich die Frage, ob digitale Karten wie physische öffentliche Infrastrukturen behandelt werden sollten.