Internet Infrastructure under Attack

Speakers: Samantha Bradshaw Laura DeNardis

July 4, 2022

Internet Infrastructure under Attack

This video is part of The Four Domains of Global Platform Governance, an essay series that examines platform governance from four distinct policy angles: content, data, competition and infrastructure.

When discussing platform governance, much of the focus is on the content moderation and data policies to address mis- and disinformation, hate speech and violent extremism. The servers and networking and interoperability standards, such as domain names, operate within regional and domestic jurisdictions. So, while the content and data may seem to flow across borders, the supporting internet infrastructure becomes an important area for regulators to consider, both as a target of disinformation and as a tool for upholding domestic laws regarding online free speech and safety.

In their essay, Samantha Bradshaw and Laura DeNardis look at the role of internet-connected devices (the Internet of Things), such as smart home devices, that could be weaponized by hackers to erode trust and further spread mis- and disinformation online. They outline the importance of maintaining trust in the infrastructure layer.

Laura DeNardis: Disinformation is not just about human content — it’s also about manipulating and co-opting the technical infrastructure that underlies everything.

Samantha Bradshaw: It’s easy to forget about the physical infrastructure of data centres, networking and cables wrapping around the world that make up the internet. But the internet doesn’t exist in the cloud — it lives in the physical realm and within geographic regions where domestic laws apply. In the essay Dr. Laura DeNardis and I wrote, we look at how disinformation can affect the internet’s underlying infrastructure.

Laura DeNardis: The internet is no longer just entered through a screen. It has diffused into the physical world all around us. Policy makers primarily view the disinformation problem as one of human speech issues in social media, and these really are critical issues that involve the nature of truth and democracy. But an even more consequential issue to society is that disinformation is being interjected into more invisible digital architectures.

Samantha Bradshaw: When we view platform governance at the infrastructure level, we open up a much broader discussion about how systems are designed and operated; what servers or services could be blocked or limited; and what hardware, such as 5G technology, can be deployed.

Laura DeNardis: Already, infrastructure is routinely co-opted to moderate content. This is why cybersecurity across all layers of technical architecture has to be part of the disinformation discussion.

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The Four Domains of Global Platform Governance

In the span of 15 years, the online public sphere has been largely privatized and is now dominated by a small number of platform companies. This has allowed the interests of publicly traded companies to determine the quality of our civic discourse, the character of our digital economy and, ultimately, the integrity of our democracies. This essay series brings together a global group of scholars working in four distinct domains of the platform governance policy discourse: content, data, competition and infrastructure.