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#Keepiton-A graphic journey from internet architecture to shutdowns

English title #Keepiton-A graphic journey from internet architecture to shutdowns
Applicant Freyburg Tina Margarete
Number 198916
Funding scheme Agora
Research institution School of Economics and Political Science University of St. Gallen
Institution of higher education University of St.Gallen - SG
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.12.2020 - 31.03.2021
Approved amount 47'727.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Discipline
Political science
Science of management
Communication sciences

Keywords (7)

digital rights; Africa; education; internet; visual narratives; shutdowns; ownership

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Im Jahr 2011, als die Welt die Proteste in Kairo beobachtete, wurde der Zugang zum Internet aus politischen Gründen fast eine Woche lang blockiert. Während wir ständig über unsere Mobiltelefone und Computer mit dem Internet verbunden sind, wissen wir allgemein nur recht wenig über die Infrastruktur auf der die Internettechnologie basiert und die Rolle, die Staaten und Telekommunikationsunternehmen dabei spielen.
Lay summary

 

Inhalt und Ziel der Forschungsarbeit

Mithilfe von Illustrationen und animierten GIFs möchten wir unterhaltsame Erklärungen anbieten, die erlauben, besser zu verstehen, was das Internet eigentlich ist. Wem gehört es? Wie können wir miteinander verbunden werden? Aber auch, warum und wie es einigen Regierungen gelingt, unseren Zugang zum Internet zu manipulieren, um den Informationsfluss in Krisenzeiten, insbesondere bei Wahlen, zu kontrollieren. Wir sind dabei primär an der Schlüsselrolle der Internet Service Provider (ISP) interessiert, das heisst der Telekommunikationsunternehmen, denen die Telekommunikationsinfrastruktur gehört. Diese Akteure spielen eine Hauptrolle bei der Verteidigung unserer Rechte, inklusive der Meinungsfreiheit und dem freien Zugang zu Informationen, im digitalen Raum.

 

Wissenschaftlicher und sozialer Kontext des Forschungsprojekts

Unsere Mini-Illustrationsserie zielt darauf ab, die jüngeren Bevölkerungsgruppen anzusprechen, die mit dem Internet geboren wurden, aber oft nicht wissen, wie diese Technologie funktioniert. Der Zweck der Bereitstellung unserer Illustrationen auf einem Blog, einer Website und durch Klassenbesuche besteht darin, über die Architektur des Netzes zu informieren und die Benutzer:innen besser darauf vorzubereiten, ihr Recht auf Zugang zum Internet zu verteidigen.

 

Schlüsselwörter

Internetinfrastruktur, Zugangsbeschränkungen, staatliche Kontrolle, Meinungsfreiheit

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 19.11.2020

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
En 2011, alors que le monde observait l’énergie émanant des manifestations au Caire, l’internet était coupé, pour des motifs politiques, pendant près d’une semaine. Alors que nous sommes tous connectés à internet, jour et nuit, grâce à nos téléphones mobiles et ordinateurs, il n’y a que très peu de compréhension par rapport à l’infrastructure qui régit la technologie d’internet et le rôle joué par les états et les entreprises de télécommunication.
Lay summary

Contenu et objectif du travail de recherche

A travers un travail d’illustration et de GIF animés, nous désirons proposer une explication ludique pour mieux comprendre de quoi internet est fait. A qui appartient le ‘web’ ? Comme est-ce que nous pouvons être connectés les uns aux autres ? Mais aussi, pourquoi et comment, certains gouvernements parviennent à manipuler notre accès à internet, afin de contrôler la circulation d’information en temps de crise, notamment d’élections. Nous nous intéressons au rôle clé des Internet Service Providers (ISP), les entreprises de télécommunication, à qui appartiennent l’infrastructure des télécom. Ces acteurs, en chair et en os, ont un rôle à jouer pour défendre la liberté d’expression.

 

Contexte scientifique et social du projet de recherche

Notre mini-série d’illustrations a pour but d’interpeller les plus jeunes populations, nées avec internet, mais souvent ignorante du fonctionnement de cette technologie. La mise à disposition de nos illustrations sur un blog, un site web et à travers de visites en classe, a pour but d’informer sur l’architecture du net et de mieux préparer les utilisateurs à défendre leur droit à l’accès.

 

Mots-clés

Infrastructure d’internet, restrictions d’accès, contrôle étatique, liberté d’expression
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 19.11.2020

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Project partner

Natural persons


Name Institute

Abstract

With the internet shutdown during the 2011 Egyptian uprising, at the latest, it became clear that the internet is no resource that political activists can necessarily rely on. At the same time, Egyptian internet access proved remarkably resilient and survived in one way or another for up to seven days despite sustained efforts by the regime to take it down. Today, state-mandated disruptions of access to internet services, especially social media, are frequently reported in the news. Still, many commentators (academic and journalistic) often have difficulties in explaining why governments cannot simply “pull the plug” on the internet and why telecommunications companies often vary in their response to shutdown requests. To understand who controls and can hence manipulate internet access, we must understand the inner workings of the internet, that is its physical infrastructure, ownership, and resultant implications for the provision and suspension of internet services.We argue that ownership of the internet infrastructure, especially of internet service providers (ISPs) is key to explaining incidences of state-ordered shutdowns. As ISPs control the gateway through which data flow in and out, they present the most important and most obvious gatekeepers to the internet. Most direct forms of control of internet access require ISPs to comply with government requests and manipulate their services. Acknowledging the role of ISPs and focusing on shutdowns at times of political contestation across African countries, our research produces a more realistic understanding of the political dimension of the internet. Such refined understanding promises to not only advance scientific inquiry; it also crucially informs possibilities of companies and citizens’ engagement to mitigate negative externalities of internet expansion.In this project, we develop web-accessible, gif-animated visual narratives that contribute to a better public understanding of the architecture of the internet and the link between ISP ownership and internet shutdowns. Combining the benefits of visualisation with powerful metaphors and character-driven stories, visual narratives facilitate the dialogue between research and the public by making scientific subjects more comprehensible and engaging for a wider audience. They also help researchers advance scientific understanding by taking an unorthodox perspective. We create a mini-series of graphic short stories, with each individually addressing a pivotal sub-question and combined offering an easy-to-read contribution to the debate over manipulation of internet access, one of the most pressing issues in digitalising societies. We use these stories to enter a dialogue with the general internet user, with a focus on young people as next-generation users and multipliers for a wider public through an interactive blog and social media, but crucially school and university teaching as well as science communications events. Our communication will be in German, French, and English.We believe that our research on the interplay of the state, ISPs, and political activists in the complex story of internet shutdowns is ideally suited for graphic short stories targeting a non-academic audience. Today, the internet has become embedded in almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives, changing the way we work, search for information, and interact with others. People tend to take access to these internet services for granted and forget that its provision is controlled by a variety of actors with different interests. While the key features of state control of internet access are more pronounced in authoritarian contexts, crucial insights into the complexity of the internet’s infrastructure and its political dimension are universal. Graphic short stories can educate the common internet user by highlighting important questions about the relationship between macro-social, -political or -economic dynamics and everyday experience in an intuitive and engaging manner.
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