The Great War blog series

Chris Riley
3 min readMar 20, 2021
Spartan warrior in armor and spear standing over a cliff, against an orange sky background

I’ve been on a great writing kick over at R Street, most recently finishing up a 6-part blog series on what I call, with intentional dramatic flair, the “Great War” for the future of internet governance. It’s a composite of (at least) six distinct wars, so in addition to the overview post setting up the series, I wrote a post on each of the battlegrounds as I see them. I’m posting here to link out to them, and to include some favorite snippets from each. At the end of the day, though — despite all the fighting (and the significant underlying problems motivating it) — I remain an optimist!

From the overview: “While we are in a time of intense political strife, there is a light at the end of the internet governance tunnel. … But today, that light is hard to see. And the mirage-filled battlefield on which the future of internet governance is being shaped has many dimensions to it.”

  1. Part 1: The Internet vs Democracy: “In this story, the terrifying villain is the business model of targeted advertising, enriched by decades of largely unchecked data collection and behavioral profiling. According to this narrative, the designers and abusers of these engines of manipulation keep us from realizing democratic free will. I sympathize on some level… Unfortunately, the dominant rhetoric of today tends not to improve understanding of the underlying problems nor provide a path toward their resolution.
  2. Part 2: The Internet vs the Free Market: “Increasingly, we appear headed to the kind of dangerous false binary narrative that brings myopia and frustrates constructive dialogue. Here, the question is often posed as “are you for, or against, breaking up big tech?” Those are inherently fighting words, and a war is not the right way to reach good policy outcomes.
  3. Part 3: The Internet vs Journalism: “[T]he question of sustainability of news business models has been reforged into a great war between the internet and journalism, and governments are beginning to choose sides. … But a war is not the right way to reach good policy outcomes. It will accomplish no more than inefficient wealth transfer and continued obscuring of the brutal truths that must be confronted before a true sustainable future for journalism can be developed.
  4. Part 4: The Internet vs Truth: “The path to truth online has always been murky, and to be brutally honest, we humans are not always trying to find it. … [T]he internet connects people, and we tend to trust other people, especially people we know. That very openness has itself contributed to the degradation of truth.
  5. Part 5: The Internet vs Happiness: “So is the internet, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, both the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems? Let me offer a different metaphor: The internet is the salt of our modern earth. It makes things better, and we need it; it is fundamental to our economy and to our society. At the same time, it’s reasonable to say that too much can be harmful.
  6. Part 6: The Internet vs Itself: “Of all the individual wars shaping the future of internet governance, perhaps the one most likely to result in a transformation of the status quo — for better or worse — is the battle of the internet versus itself…. Every story is more compelling with a villain, and the most nefarious villain in the war for internet governance is, in fact, the story itself.



Chris Riley

Disruptive internet policy engineer, beverage connoisseur, gregarious introvert, contrarian order Muppet, and proud husband & father. Not in order.