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Would the Internet Survive a Trump Apocalypse?

Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump and his supporters are pursuing platforms to create an altered America in a different world that is profoundly different in almost every respect from what has existed until now—it is a new world best described as the Trump Apocalypse. Would the Internet as we have known it continue to exist? The short answer is probably not. Here is why.

What we call the Internet is actually relatively fragile in terms of its assumptions and dependencies. It emerged as perhaps the principal facilitator of open, free global economic systems and information flows—in a word, globalism. It definitely made the United States greater in many ways—by design. At many levels, the Internet is also resilient. However, if the very bases and predicates of its existence disappear and are anathema under a Trump regime, the Internet goes away.

At the meta level, Trump and his supporters have made it abundantly clear on multiple fronts that the Internet is the enemy. Trump speaking several months ago proposed a tightly controlled Internet regime that is strikingly close to that of Putin’s. Trump stated to multiple media outlets that “we’re losing a lot of people because of the Internet and we have to do something… closing the Internet up in some way.” Will Trump be using Putin’s algorithms for what is acceptable traffic? Altering the architecture and establishing gateways, however, are hardly the only way Trump envisions altering the Internet.

He proposes abrogating treaties and other international agreements on which the Internet and global commerce are dependent. His outspoken disdain for international organizations and collaboration are without precedent—preferring instead to somehow simply establishing business deals where he demanded outcomes. How does that work where every nation controls its own Internet infrastructure? The America “being made great again” seems to resemble the world of telecommunications when he was born—where nations established carefully controlled gateways among themselves. An independent ICANN with multiple constituencies—don’t count on it under a Trump regime!

Trump envisions new legal paradigms where those criticizing public figures are more easily subjected to litigation. Where the press and other media are expected to serve as extensions of whatever is fed to them, unquestioned. Exactly how would government agencies under a Trump regime that are led by his appointees micromanaged out of the White House function? Would there be a hierarchy of Twitter directives from the Executive Office of the President for everyone to follow. What would Internet access to information or facilitation of policy making proceedings look like? Trump and his followers have a profoundly different, apocalyptic vision of the Federal Government and our legal systems. He has a supporting electorate who seem interested in little more than torching Washington. So what does this all mean in Internet terms?

For example, how would the U.S. Information Agency and innumerable government information resources—many Internet-based today - function? What dark vision of the world and what values would be projected via websites and social media? Trump’s prolific use of agent-based Twitter-bots to drive those dark messages to the nation already have been widely demonstrated by researchers. His inviting Russian intelligence agencies to hack U.S. computer accounts is a matter of record.

These are hardly excessive concerns. The Economist ranks Trump’s election among its top 10 global risks. The Executive Office of the President today wields enormous, almost unchecked Internet related powers and resources. In the past, substantial controls on the use of those capabilities have existed in large measure through common shared values and norms within the nation. It is rather clear, however, that Trump and a surprising number of disaffected, angry citizens supporting him are willing to provide a blank check to bring about apocalyptic changes that are predicated in large measure on eliminating the Internet as it has existed. In a hundred days we will find out.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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