The Three Internets

For years, the world thought of the internet as a borderless zone that brought people from around the world together. But as governments pursue very different regulatory paths, the monolithic internet is breaking apart. Now, where there had been one, there are at least three internets: one led by the United States, one by China, and one by the European Union.

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  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Director, Podcasting

Asher Ross - Supervising Producer

Markus Zakaria - Audio Producer and Sound Designer

Molly McAnany - Associate Podcast Producer

Episode Guests
  • Anu Bradford
    Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization, Columbia Law School
  • Adam Segal
    Ira A. Lipman Chair in Emerging Technologies and National Security and Director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program (ON LEAVE)
  • Tarah Wheeler
    Senior Fellow for Global Cyber Policy

Show Notes

In its early years, proponents of the internet heralded its ability to transcend national borders, equalize access to information, and even promote democracy. Many predicted that any attempt to regulate freedom of speech on the internet would fail.


Now, governments the world over are pursuing vastly different regulatory frameworks, and the dream of a single, free internet is fading. In the United States, freedom of speech and a laissez-faire approach have led to enormous success for companies such as Apple, Google, and Amazon. At the same time, many analysts say, the U.S. internet is rife with misinformation, toxic content, and “surveillance capitalism.” In China, the Great Firewall and an army of content moderators have successfully brought the digital realm under control of the Chinese Communist Party. And in Europe, regulators have had surprising success implementing protections for data privacy and the “right to be forgotten.”


Will one model eventually win out? And if not, what will a balkanized digital world mean?



From CFR


Jason Pielemeier, “Reinvigorating Internet Policy by Doubling Down on Human Rights,” Net Politics


Justin Sherman, “Russia’s Internet Censor Is Also a Surveillance Machine,” Net Politics


Kathy Huang, “Where Is the Red Line on China’s Internet?,” Asia Unbound


From Our Guests


Adam Segal, “Confronting Reality in Cyberspace: Foreign Policy for a Fragmented Internet,” Council on Foreign Relations


Adam Segal, “The Coming Tech Cold War With China,” Foreign Affairs


Adam Segal, The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age, PublicAffairs


Adam Segal, “The Internet Is Fragmented. What Should the United States Do Now?,” Net Politics,


Tarah Wheeler, “In Cyberwar, There Are No Rules,” Foreign Policy


Tarah Wheeler, Women in Tech: Take Your Career to the Next Level with Practical Advice and Inspiring Stories, Sasquatch Books


Read More


David Silverberg, “How China-U.S. rivalry Is Dividing the Internet,” BBC


Joshua Park, “Breaking the Internet: China-U.S. Competition Over Technology Standards,” The Diplomat


Joy Dong, “China’s Internet Censors Try a New Trick: Revealing Users’ Locations,” New York Times


Moisés Naím, “A World With Three Internets,” El País


Sarah Cook, “Countering Beijing’s Media Manipulation,” Journal of Democracy


Watch and Listen

Russia and China Are in a Battle With the U.S. Over Control of an Obscure Tech Agency,” All Things Considered, NPR

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Thirty years ago, Rwanda’s government began a campaign to eradicate the country’s largest minority group. In just one hundred days in 1994, roving militias killed around eight hundred thousand people. Would-be killers were incited to violence by the radio, which encouraged extremists to take to the streets with machetes. The United Nations stood by amid the bloodshed, and many foreign governments, including the United States, declined to intervene before it was too late. What got in the way of humanitarian intervention? And as violent conflict now rages at a clip unseen since then, can the international community learn from the mistakes of its past?


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