Is Restricting the Internet the Solution to Terrorism?

In the wake of the attacks in London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May (perhaps motivated in part by upcoming elections) said that she believed one solution to the spread of terrorism was to restrict the Internet;

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed—yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide. We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning”

So what do you think - is this true? Is it right? What could be done and what should be done?

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Also it rains too much so lets put plastic coats round all the clouds to counter that.


The internet has been restricted before – it used to be you had to be academic, military, or part of a very small “other” group to get on.

As I recall, there was terrorism back then too. Was there more terrorism? That I don’t know, although I do remember IRA, PLO, and Lebanese bombings being standard news fare. The only time martial law has been imposed in Canada – the October Crisis – happened in the 70s.

Even if we returned to pre-1995 internet restrictions (which must be more strict than whatever May’s proposing, because that would choke off all commercial efforts), there are ways to communicate without the internet. There’s old-school 1980s-style BBSs. There’s the post office. As late as WWII people still found carrier pigeons useful.

So no, I’m not convinced the internet is the problem.


I’m not convinced that getting three people some knives and a lorry together to drive into a bunch of people required a large international computerised network to organise.


It will make it harder for the powers that be to hear or see any protest, which appears to be the whole point of this sort of tyranny.

Some trumpite even mentioned how nice it was to not have any protests in Saudi Arabia. Presumably someone pulled him aside and reminded him that one must obfuscate the totalitarian aspects to make it palatable, until consent is completely unnecessary, which is probably any time now.


If we are going to talk about terrorism and the internet, though, their planning is kind of the shallow end. Maybe more of a real concern is the other thing: allowing ideologies to breed. May only notes Islamic extremism, but it’s not the only example where on-line radicalization plays some role; notably there is also the whole MRA-cum-gamergate-cum-alt-right constellation to appeal to disaffected white guys rather than disaffected Muslims.

I don’t think these kind of extremists only exist because of the internet, and naively restricting it is not any real answer to them. But I do think the way we built the internet might have some real impact on how they develop that is worth considering.

Edit to add: Just to be clear, May is being horrible about…well, more than just this, even.


I liken this idea to banning all private conversations.

Imagine if a law was propossed that made it illegal to talk with someone unless there was a government minder there taking notes.


Presumably, this is why trump call kim jong un a “smart cookie”. He’s jealous of the sweet totalitarian regime.

Yeah, no.

Things like this will only a) destroy the fundamental functioning of the Internet, b) make it easier to manipulate people by controlling what they are allowed to see, c)punish the average person disproportionately and d) do absolutely nothing to increase security or reduce terrorism.

The stupid part is how many people will believe that it will help, because they have no clue how it works.


A friend of mine studies the transmission of ideas in ancient cultures using software originally meant to simulate the spread of diseases across and between different communities. Much of it is over my head but I can say that people have been spreading both good and bad ideas longer than the life time of the internet. What it does do is greatly speed up the transmission and the distances that can be crossed.

His papers:

I just recalled a story about the early days of radio in the US and how every town had a crazy preacher that most locals ignored. But with the advent of radio these crazy preachers were suddenly able to reach a few crazy people in every other town.


There is only one easy remedy to “terrorism” which has always worked - don’t react. If you carry on living as if there was no threat, it has no coercive sway over you.

All of the other palliative measures exist only to make populations easier to manipulate, to consolidate control. To profit off of others’ attacks upon one’s own people.


I think the point she’s making is that the Internet makes communicating easier; that’s true of every kind of communication, of course, but it’s a problem when we’re talking about promoting hate, sharing tactics, and using the Internet for connecting and coordinating attacks.

I heard Jonathan Chaplin, author of Move Fast and Break Things on our local NPR the other day (podcast here), talking about this topic. He basically said that the Internet is not a place where free speech should be presumed - he quoted Lincoln (?) in saying “the constitution is not a suicide pact.” His arguments were compelling - not all speech is free speech, and certainly American free speech is it’s own particular beast, for better or for worse. It’s only because the Internet was developed by America that free speech is a right. Then again, perhaps it’s only because of America’s views on free speech does the Internet exist at all.


On the other hand, companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter should be taking more responsibility for their platforms.


I’m not convinced of that either. I’ve seen nothing from PM May, Tory MPs campaigning for re-election, nor from their apologists convincing me banning encryption and austerity cuts to intelligence and police forces are effective against Wajid, Omar, Barry and Hassan agreeing after services or some pickup football game to head over to Regent’s Park or one of their flats to do some planning.


I actually think of FB, Google, Twitter like “common carriers” of speech. They should not be legally allowed to limit speech in certain ways.


They like to present themselves that way, but unlike (for example) phones they choose what to show you. There’s also a distinction that needs to be made between the parts of the business that is the carrier and other parts of the business that use that carrier as a business (e.g. Adsense).


It strikes me as:

A BAD Thing happened, and something must be done.

This is something.

Therefore we must do This.


Clearly it works since terrorism didn’t exist before the internet.


It wasn’t just the US. If I recall my media history correctly, not only did Canada have the exact same problem, but there were transmission wars where different church groups would deliberately broadcast on the same frequency as their rivals, trying to drown each other out. They’d also raise money for and erect successively larger transmitters so they could have the biggest slice of the airwaves.