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How to Save the Internet

Although the idea of the Internet improving the world is often ridiculed today, digital technology can still be a force for good. But this will require keeping the Internet open and global in the face of efforts by governments to fragment it.

MANCHESTER – In a scene in the US sitcom Silicon Valley, digital startups compete for funding by presenting their ideas. In each presentation, company founders repeat the Silicon Valley mantra of “making the world a better place.” One founder pledges to make the world a better place through “software-defined data centers for cloud computing,” and another via “scalable, fault-tolerant distributed databases with asset transactions.”

Although the idea of the Internet “making the world a better place” is often ridiculed today, it’s easy to forget that this decade began amid optimism that new technologies would connect people, broaden access to information, and generate abundant new economic opportunities.

Coming from Syria, I experienced some of these potential benefits. In a country with limited space for debate, the Internet provided citizens with a forum to learn and discuss. And, following the 2011 Arab Spring protests, it played an important role in documenting events and sharing information. As millions of Syrians subsequently fled the country, the Internet became the only means of connecting them. A Syrian comedian joked that “Syrian society exists only on Facebook,” illustrating how the Internet became the only tool for people scattered around the world to maintain a sense of solidarity.

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