Fake news and Isis propaganda have raised concern about the power of the web. But with cyberspace controlled by a handful of giant firms, can governments ever hope to curb them – and is that even desirable?
“Enough is enough,” said Theresa May outside 10 Downing Street after the London Bridge attack last month. “When it comes to taking on extremism and terrorism, things need to change.” And one of those things was the behaviour of internet firms, which should not allow extremism a place to breed. “Yet that is precisely what the internet – and the big companies that provide internet-based services – provide,” she continued.
May’s speech was only the latest example of the frustration among governments with the way that the internet, and internet companies, seem to elude and ignore the rules by which everyone else has to live. From encrypted apps used by terrorists (but also by peaceful activists) to online abuse, and fake news to hacking and radicalisation, the friction between the two sides is growing. France and Germany have implemented fines for companies that allow Nazi content to remain online, while in the US the FBI demanded that Apple write software to hack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers, and took the firm to court when it refused.