Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to “close up” the Internet is proof he lacks even a baseline knowledge of how the Internet works. It’s also an idea exclusively used by authoritarians, experts tell The Daily Beast.
“We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some ways,” the GOP frontrunner said in a speech Monday evening. “Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.”
Now a “lot of different people that really understand what’s happening” are attacking the plan, calling it “authoritarian,” “stupid,” “out there,” “dangerous,” and, maybe most important of all, “not feasible.”
Daniel Calingaert, the executive vice president of the human-rights organization and government censorship tracker Freedom House, says Trump’s plan is one that has been enacted only by authoritarian governments.
“What he is calling for is what authoritarian governments like China and Iran and Saudi Arabia do. It is not feasible,” he told The Daily Beast. “Even those governments don’t rely on tech alone to close off the Internet. They abuse laws to pressure ISPs, web hosts, and individuals to take down websites and comments.”
Is “closing the Internet” really just for despots and those looking to clamp down on speech?
“The point is that this is not what democratic states do,” said Calingaert. “This is the pattern that Freedom House has followed and documented, and it’s only authoritarian governments that are trying to wall off their countries from the global Internet.”
And that, in part, is because only authoritarian governments would effectively gut the rights of a private sector to “close it up.”
Here’s a pro-business Republican’s nightmare: moving the power of the Internet entirely out of the hands of private companies like Verizon, Comcast and even Google, and putting it immediately into state-controlled media.
That’s not an exaggeration. That’s precisely what would have to happen.
“It’s not feasible technologically,” said Calingaert. “It would require changes in the law that are extremely unlikely to happen. The vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of elected officials, are firm believers in a free Internet.”
Trump’s vision of how the Internet works is a simply childlike, moronic interpretation, based on a premise that the Internet can be shut off like a light switch or a one-way communication platform like TV or radio.
“It’s very dispersed in how it functions,” said Calingaert. “That very structure facilitates the flow of information.”
Even if Trump doesn’t care about the human rights and “foolish people” who care about freedom of speech, rejiggering the Web into something that could be “closed up” would threaten the very basis of the consumer web and, with it, the global economy. It would require companies like Comcast to cede to unprecedented government regulation, place upon them almost inconceivable technological demands, and inhibit their ability to make money.
(Oh, and it would be unconstitutional.)
“That kind of pressure is unlikely to work on U.S. companies. Just look at how they took pushback by the Obama administration on backdoors for encrypted communications. This is much more than that,” said Calingaert.
Or, in much simpler terms, spoken by a person who “really understand what’s happening,” this is a flatly stupid plan only capable of being proposed in a country that protects the free flow of stupid, impossible ideas spoken by a stupid person.
“When Trump mocks freedom of speech, it’s particularly ironic because our Constitution defends the rights of all Americans to say what they want—including his right to make stupid and insulting remarks,” said Calingaert.
Tim Karr, senior strategy director at FreePress, works exclusively to make sure the Internet’s freedom is protected against attacks like Trump’s. Usually, he says, they’re not so brazen and easy to shut down.
Also, they’re not usually ideas that would immediately put an end to the Internet.
“Trump clearly knows very little about how the Internet works,” said Karr. “He has deferred to Bill Gates to help him understand it all, when the answer is clear to most everyone: The Internet is inherently an open platform. To make it less than open would be to kill the entirety of the Internet.”
That he knows “very little about how the Internet works” will likely come as a big surprise to Trump. In his presidential announcement speech, he cast himself as an Internet business tycoon.
“I have so many websites. I have them all over the place,” he said. “I hire people. They do a website. It costs me $3.”
Those $3 websites that Trump hires people to “do” could not exist on Trump’s infantilized version of an imaginary state-run Internet. And his new plan would not help in the fight against terrorists, says Karr.
“To ask the U.S. to create a firewall that restricts access to certain pre-approved content is akin to what China has done with its ‘great firewall,’” he said. “That’s not a direction the U.S. should be taking. The way to respond to the threat presented by ISIS is with more democracy not less, more openness, not censorship.”
In Trump’s speech Monday night, the candidate also said he would prohibit Muslims—including American citizens—from entering or re-entering the United States.
On Tuesday, defending the comments on the morning shows, the GOP frontrunner frequently cited Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s World War II internment camps of Japanese Americans as justification.
“What I’m doing is no different than FDR,” he said on Good Morning America. “He’s one of the most highly respected presidents. I mean, respected by most people. They named highways after him.”
Freedom House was created in 1941 by Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, along with FDR’s Republican opponent for the White House, Wendell Wilkie.
“Eleanor Roosevelt was the lead author for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was instrumental to the founding of Freedom House,” said Calingaert.
“[Trump’s] ideas are completely anathema to her beliefs.”