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[News] Nations cracking down on Internet access

While those of us in the West sometimes have to deal with slow Internet, eventually we’re back to doomscrolling with the best of them. But in Russia and China, things aren’t that easy and carefree.

The New York Times reports that Russia continues to clamp down on the Internet, starting with Internet Service Providers. As we’ve reported recently, Russia has been forcing social media companies to remove content. But this time, in addition to bullying Big Tech, Russian government officials are installing equipment at ISPs, to serve as digital flood gates, often under lock and key.. With these devices, if a platform puts out content Russia doesn’t like, the government can reach for the spigot and slow down sites like Twitter to an infuriating crawl

Why is this happening in Russia? According to the NYT, President Vladimir Putin, who once called the Internet a “C.I.A. project,” thinks the Internet is a threat to his power. Given that opposition groups and protesters use the Internet to organize resistance to his regime, he’s not entirely wrong. 

But the government’s actions are about more than just elections. Curtailing citizens’ access to international news, culture and entertainment sharply restricts their ability to make connections with people internationally. In other words, it’s a form of control over the social, intellectual, and cultural life of its citizens, which in turn helps reinforce political power.

It also puts pressure on social networks to abide by governmental demands. By installing tech that gives the government an ‘off switch,’ Russia can demand that companies like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter take down content — or go offline throughout the country. Indeed, after Russia throttled Twitter earlier this year, the company removed content the government found offensive. It’s important to remember that until now, Russian online culture has been filled with variety, something that could soon end, returning Russia to the isolation last seen during the Cold War era.

Meanwhile, in China, we’ve already reported on the departure of LinkedIn, which was the last real holdout among global social media companies. Now, as Wired reports, the Chinese government is taking aim at the entertainment industry. China wants to take steps to restrict what shows and other content is available to Chinese youth because it is concerned that online celebrities are poor role models.

Hongwei Bao, who researches LGBTQ issues and art in China, notes how “these draconian cultural policies are bound to alienate a younger generation in China,” especially those who identify with “urban, popular, and celebrity cultures.”

Making matters worse, Russia’s actions, which were themselves inspired by China, provide a blueprint to other countries considering restrictions on Internet freedom. Laura Cunningham, an expert in Internet freedom who once worked within the US State Department, noted, “Russia’s censorship model can quickly and easily be replicated by other authoritarian governments.”

And we’re seeing how increasingly common it is for governments to restrict Internet access and content as a way to maintain order and political control. The NYT describes how countries such as India, Myanmar, and Ethiopia have cut off the Internet in the face of protests or violence. 

If that wasn’t enough, countries are now using espionage to quell dissent. Ali Al-Ahmed, the leader of the human-rights organization Institute for Gulf Affairs, is suing Twitter. He claims that two Saudis who worked for the company (and are currently under indictment by the US federal government) used their positions at the company to access Al-Ahmed’s account and send information to the Saudi government that in turn led to activists’ deaths.

How countries use—and restrict—the Internet continues to evolve. Will Russia be able to strangle the life out of Western social media? That remains to be seen. China has just three ISPs, while Russia has thousands, which makes things a bit more complicated. Furthermore, the Russian government had to back off an unpopular effort to block Telegram in 2018. 

Meanwhile, China’s entertainment restrictions may be largely for show. Wired describes how young people have found ways around restrictions in the past, and suggests that Chinese fans will continue to follow celebrities they like rather than the ones the government considers appropriate.

In other news

  • We’re going back to the moon! With the successful efforts to connect the Orion space capsule to its Space Launch System rocket, NASA has announced the Artemis 1 mission to the moon, scheduled for February 2022. This would be an unmanned test mission that would pave the way for the first manned moon mission since Apollo 17 in 1972. In a statement quoted in The Guardian, NASA said, “Artemis 1 will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis 2.”

    With NASA going back to human-crewed moon missions and flying cars going mainstream, it makes you wonder what else the human race will make with technology in the future!
  • It could be aliens. It’s funny. People sit up and notice when the head of NASA hints of a possible connection between 140 military sightings of unidentified flying objects and alien life. Futurism writer Jon Christian reports that Bill Nelson, NASA’s top boss since May this year, made some ‘eyebrow-raising’ remarks in a recent speech to university students. When asked what pilots are seeing when reporting UFO encounters, Nelson said he’d seen the footage and in some instances, “they don’t know what it is, and we don’t know what it is” and added, “we hope it’s not an adversary here on Earth that has this kind of technology.” But then, without any gap in emphasis, he went into questioning what might be ‘out there,’ saying, “who am I to say planet Earth is the only location of a life form that is civilized and organized like ours?” When asked if he meant an alien life form existed, he replied, “You know, it’s uh, hard to say?” With the new James Webb Space Telescope and other missions such as those to Mars and NASA’s planned Artemis missions, space exploration is clearly on NASA’s radar. Who knows what—or who—they might encounter?
  • World’s first drone transport organ operation. Doctors in Toronto performed a lung transplant delivered by drone, which took only six minutes to go across town. This was much faster than conventional transport by vehicle or plane, and many predict quick hops across the city via a drone will soon revolutionize the chances for those undergoing transplant procedures. Time is everything when it comes to organ recipients accepting another organ into their body, and the fresher the organ, the better the chances are for survival. Toronto General Hospital was chosen to be part of this historic test flight because it completed the world’s first lung transplant in 1983. Patient Alain Hodak, 63, volunteered for the drone delivery hoping that others would benefit from faster delivery times and lower emissions for the climate. Himself an engineer with an interest in drones, he’s doing well after a successful operation. For more, check out CBC-Radio Canada footage that shows the unpiloted drone making this historic flight.
  • Newfoundland Viking legend proved by solar storm. The site of L’Anse aux Meadows in northwest Newfoundland is famous as the place where Vikings traveled from Iceland to North America a millennium ago. New dating techniques using radiocarbon examined three wooden objects found at the site that were cut by blades made of Viking metal. Scientists could prove the cuts were made in 1021 AD because a massive solar storm in 992 AD left a distinctive ring. As Medievalists.net wrote on their blog, Professor Michael Dee of the University of Groningen discovered “each of the three wooden objects exhibited this signal 29 growth rings (or years) before the bark edge”. Now we know for sure that Norse Vikings had traveled to Canada in the 11th century. The stuff of legends! 

Tip of the week

What does it take to get back a strong sense of wellness in your day-to-day life? For many of us, taking a break from the online world could be a significant step forward. With stories of government interference and Internet spies making headlines, our curated news feeds can also serve up a lot of stress. Fortunately, there is an easy-peasy way to take a break from the internet and nourish your mental wellness.  

Turn off your social media notifications. 

When you’re getting endless notifications from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Telegram, and dozens of other networking apps, you might be surprised just how often these push notifications pull you back online for no good reason. 

According to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes about 23 minutes to get your focus back after an involuntary distraction. Yet in the United States, an average smartphone user gets over 45 push notifications each day. If you click on every single one, that adds up to over 17 hours of distraction. Turn off your social media notifications, and you could get hours back in your day to focus on wellness. 

What’s the best way to use your offline time? Rest, of course! Get some extra sleep, doodle in a notebook, or practice meditation. You might feel tempted at first to open up Facebook and see if anyone liked that cat photo, but hey, those likes will still be there after you take some offline time for yourself. 

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Jackie Dana avatar

Jackie Dana

Jackie has been writing since childhood. As the Namecheap blog’s content manager and regular contributor, she loves bringing helpful information about technology and business to our customers. In her free time, she enjoys drinking copious amounts of black tea, writing novels, and wrangling a gang of four-legged miscreants. More articles written by Jackie.

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