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Rosa Miriam Elizalde: The main switch

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friendly network, former president of CBS News, made it clear that before pontificating on free speech, one simple question needed to be answered: Who controls the main switch?

In the war between Russia and Ukraine the answer is quite obvious and has left a terrible feeling of what the powers of political manipulation, human stupidity and revenge can achieve when disguised as a greater cause. How they can even condition justice and, even more so, truth.

When I speak of a main switch, I am not referring to a metaphor. In the Internet age, with mega-corporations that own the routes and the data, there is literally a device that allows information to pass or not, and that is used at will against millions of people.

Few have noticed that the prohibitions and blockades that the big technology companies have applied to Russia already had a testing ground: Cuba. Twitter, Facebook (now Meta), and Google don’t work here like the rest of the planet, and it’s not by chance that the most popular publications on the island appear on the first pages referenced by search engines. Algorithms designed to reduce or omit the scope of media, words and information, while Apple, Spotify, Amazon and most of the more than 450 US companies that have sanctioned Russia, cannot trade with Cuba due to the laws of the US blockade. The fake newscyberattacks and the war for knowledge and information, so expensive these days for NATO, have been common currency of the United States to crush the Caribbean island and this has happened without causing too much alarm.

The digital and informative iron curtain is not a new invention. However, it is unprecedented for Internet backbone providers to disconnect their customers in a country of 144 million people like Russia. It was done by Lumen and Cogent, two backbone giants ( backbone) biggest in the world. These companies make up the exclusive Transit Free Zone (TFZ), a small group of global telcos so big they don’t pay anyone else for transit (international bandwidth).

That the switch has entered the scene shows that the Internet is not the infinitely elastic and virtual ghost that people imagine, but a physical entity that can be deformed or broken at the convenience of the interests of a group, a government or a military conglomerate like NATO . In fact, the West’s intervention in the conflict has accelerated the reshaping of the Internet, from a global system to which the entire world has been connected, to a fractured universe.

Experts tremble because the war in Ukraine seems to definitively establish the splinternet, as the fragmentation of cyberspace into disparate kingdoms intervened by autonomous political blocs is known. Or shaped by some other power, like the oligopolies of technology and electronic commerce, or by countries trying to keep their distance from US control.

The ostracism that punishes Russia actually seriously threatens the architecture of the Internet, a global network of networks with distributed power that there is no way to break into a corner without destroying information routes and without congesting the highways that remain standing.

The great paradox of all this is that, having spent so much time and effort supposedly trying to break through the iron curtain of the Russians and the Chinese in the name of freedom, Western policymakers and hawks The military are isolating themselves from the world at a forced march, while dismantling the network that they themselves created. It is cheaper to destroy than to build walls. The metaphor of cyberwall for Russia falsely suggests that, once digital barriers are removed, new ones more convenient to the Atlantic alliance will be erected in their place and that Vladimir Putin’s reaction to shield RusNet, the national network, is crazy and clumsy. Nothing is further from reality.

Regardless of what comes after this conflict, the Internet as we knew it is dead. Those who have their hands on the main switch should admit that they are playing with fire and that, while showing their true authoritarian nature, they reveal perhaps the most expensive and inefficient way to exercise power.

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