Amy's Blog

Refelction: A History of the Internet

I was very fascinated to see the different ways that people have conceptualized the shape of the internet. My senior research is on social media which, as we all know, has become the anchoring internet experience for much of the world. But I don't think people realize how disconnected the world has become because of platforms like Facebook. Looking at the diagrams of a centralized, decentralized, and distributed network really brought this idea home for me.

In the Middle east specifically, I would describe the internet as looking like a centralized network with Facebook as the central hub. Here, I use the term Facebook as a catch-all for Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp-- which are all owned by Mark Zuckerberg and hold a monopoly on the global market due to their anti-competitive practices. As a result, in Egypt, the vast majority of research and communication is done on one of these three platforms.

When we talk about the World Wide Web, we often forget the "world" part lends itself to differences in usage. So while it might not be exactly fitting in the American context, I felt that the analogy of the Panopticon was an apt way to describe the Internet's situation in Egypt.

Because everything is controlled by the government in Egypt, having a de-facto centralized network thanks to Facebook means that people are watched in all aspects of their internet citizenship. Egyptians can't currently use the internet the way you or I could.

For example, I could write "I hate President Biden" here, which isn't necessarily true but for the sake of the example let's say it is. Chances are, I'll never face any repercussions for this exercise of 'speech'. If someone my age were to log into Facebook and share the same sentiment about the Egyptian president on their timeline, they would likely be arrested.

I'm very interested to explore the concept of handmade websites as a way to decentralize expression in countries where freedom to post isn't a given.

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