After the war is over

It is impossible for anyone to say with any level of certainty what the post-pandemic world will look like. Some pundits believe everything will be completely different. Rather more seem to be saying nothing much will change or things could get even worse as the ownership of key sectors of the economy become concentrated in fewer hands. This will happen because the companies that had the deepest cash reserves will come out stronger, gobbling up or completely eliminating potential or actual competitors who could not weather the downturn that was caused by the virus.

I am not going to  engage in crystal ball gazing at that stratospheric level but I will hazard one prediction.

Ronald Reagan’s words will look a little off

In 1986 Ronald Reagan  famously said

“The nine most dangerous words in the English language are ‘I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.’ “

This kind of thinking is deeply embedded in the tech industry and among its surrogates.  It finds a perfect match in the later (1996) “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” which still holds sway in much of Silicon Valley.

Of course it is important not to conflate or confuse how one responds to a public health emergency with issues arising under very different policy headings but, in a world where it is increasingly difficult to draw neat lines of demarcation I suggest the following.

Among the wider public and the media one of the consequences of the pandemic will be a a greater willingness to acknowledge the importance of the state as an actor uniquely positioned to define and defend the public interest. This will embolden politicians and Governments. And rightly so.

I say that even though I think few Governments will be seen to have got everything right in terms of their handling of Covid. Some might yet be completely undone by it if their incompetence or delay in acting is shown to have cost large numbers of lives. But we will all have received a sharp reminder of how important the state is or can be in holding the public ring.

Specifically, in respect of the internet the way scammers and misinformation merchants added to the collective misery by exploiting large numbers of people’s fears or ignorance while the big platforms seemed unable to prevent it, will  further weaken the platforms’ and tech’s hold on the body politic. Lobbying can only get you so far in a world without friends or in a world where your only friends are people on your direct or indirect payroll.

Finally, if the fears being expressed by law enforcement and child welfare experts about what is happening to children during this period of prolonged engagement with  technology, turn out to be true, rather than seeing online child rights and protection as a niche issue to be addressed in happier times, I can see the clamour for effective measures being given a major, urgent boost.


About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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