There has been plenty of drama and literature about how a so-called "Cyber War" may begin. The author Dan Brown, more famous for his tales about Robert Langdon such as Da Vinci Code, even spun a yarn back in 1998 entitled Digital Fortress which you can find at your local library perhaps. To understand what is happening we first need to build a chronology.

Facebook is a company based in the United States of America and that detail of location is key to this plot. Since the Internet has a global reach legislators from countries beyond the United States of America have wanted to question Mr. Zuckerberg himself. After ducking their calls, initially members of a committee from the UK House of Commons came across the ocean to grill Zuckerberg in Washington. Members of the Digital, Culture, Media, Sport Committee were investigating Russian interference in elections at the time. That testimony took place in February 2018. We can then fast forward to Zuckerberg facing multiple hearings before committees of the US House of Representatives and US Senate in April 2018. Again, members of those committees were asking questions concerning Russian interference. Similar questions were put to Zuckerberg in May 2018 by EU officials.

After that point, pressures begin to build in our chronology. An "international grand committee" met in London in November 2018. According to reports by Canadian television network Global, there were representatives from nine nations at this meeting. The report indicated that Canada, Ireland, Brazil, Argentina, Singapore, Belgium, France, Latvia, and the United Kingdom all had legislators represented to question the head of Facebook. He did not personally attend but was represented by Richard Allan, a company vice president. The report also shows one of the first indications of discussing an international accord to regulate Facebook. That idea was put forward at the meeting by Canadian federal legislator Charlie Angus of the NDP, Canada's socialist party.

With the fire being lit in 2018, some benzene was added to it in 2019. In mid-March 2019 an Australian male broadcast on Facebook Live a shooting rampage at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. That person has been charged in the New Zealand court system with terrorism charges. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, telecommunications provider Telstra blocked websites hosting footage of the attack. Internet Service Providers across New Zealand blocked any websites with footage of the attack as well at that time. The Verge reported that the blocks would not be removed until the footage was removed from those sites.

A technology commentator in New Zealand, Paul Brislen, wrote on March 25th that the time had come to regulate social media while also noting that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also promised to take action. Much of his discussion revolved around taxing and regulating foreign companies like Facebook until they could essentially no longer operate in New Zealand unless they bent to New Zealand demands. This was followed on April 3rd by a report that New Zealand didn't receive the assurances it wanted from Facebook about changing its livestreaming function. Australia passed a new law the next day to fine companies up to 10% of their global revenue if they don't remove violent content on a timely basis. New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs reports that the video of the killer's rampage remains online in a variety of locations.

In May in Paris the French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led a summit concerning online extremism. It resulted in a document called the Christchurch Call. Former US Senator from Massachusetts and current US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown spoke to Radio New Zealand explaining the United States government did not sign on due to our Constitution's First Amendment and other legal conflicts. Other countries took it as a non-binding start to creating a global regulatory framework for social media.

Our chronology brings us to the extreme point of May 28th. POLITICO reports that even though a committee of the Canadian House of Commons issued a subpoena for Mark Zuckerberg he will ignore it. Two Facebook officials showed up instead at the most recent meeting. The new twist in the game is that, building off all the coercive measures in the Pacific, former Facebook investor Roger McNamee propounded to the committee that countries other than the United States of America that have problems with Facebook or other social networks should consider nation-level blocking so that local alternatives might develop.

Now that we have a chronology, we can lay out the case. A conflict has been brewing. If you sew together all these events, Facebook is in an increasingly ugly position. While not necessarily under domestic pressure it has pressure coming from outside the United States which is a problem if it wants to operate globally.

A cyber war need not be kinetic and appears to be shaping up as economic in nature. Currently the stock market is driven hard by the FAANG group of stocks which stands generally for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. Out of those five companies, one produces physical goods to purchase and one is a retailer. The other three produce electronic intangibles for a global market. If the United States gets hit with what would effectively be targeted economic sanctions towards a specific company that may have offended local sensibilities, how are we going to react?

Blocking Instapundit or Legal Insurrection may not move the needle much on the national economy. Blocking Facebook would appear to cause a bit of a plunge, though. A multilateral blockade of one web property to essentially quarantine it would be a fairly drastic action. Although the people proposing the blockade would want alternatives to grow there is a problem where people equate Facebook as being the sum total of the Internet. How would the population in the United States react when they regard a certain company's services in that manner? There currently is not enough data to speculate.

The world seems ready to shift paradigms without a clutch. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri recently wrote we would be better off altogether without social media. With Washington distracted by who is the more stable genius and which judge will be the next to issue a nation-wide injunction that will eventually be overturned, it is time to start thinking about where we want companies like Facebook and the rest of the FAANG group to exist in American life. The rest of the world is more than happy to dictate that to us but decisions about American companies should be made in America.

At this point we are left with the possibility of the imposition of collective punishment if someone violates another country's social norms while using a social network. A coordinated multilateral blocking of a site's domain would effectively result in a platform still existing in the United States but being made to vanish for at least part of the rest of the world. We are not at that point yet but even having that idea on the table should be giving us pause to reflect.

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The Coming Cyber War by Stephen Michael Kellat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.