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What is the Splinternet?

The term Splinternet refers to the idea that the internet is becoming increasingly fragmented  with various companies and countries developing their own digital ecosystems. Prevention of interoperability – with other networks or other service platforms – is at the heart of the splinternet concept. Fragmentation is catalyzed by a variety of factors, including technology monopolies and government mandated shutdowns.

One of the main drivers behind the Splinternet phenomenon is the rise of national intranets. A growing number of states seek to assert  control over their domestic internet infrastructure in order to protect national security interests or in response to ongoing socio-political events. Several dozen countries have implemented some form of internet shutdowns over the last three years, including temporary disconnections in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Iran in response to widespread protest movements, regional and service specific shutdowns in Russia, pro-longed disconnection of people living in Northern Kashmir and social media outages in Turkey, Uganda, etc… A large number of recorded disconnections in 2022 were in Ukraine – as a result of Russian military aggression destroying Internet infrastructure and isolating local and regional networks from the rest of the country.

Another factor contributing to Splinternet is the emergence of regional technology giants who dominate their home markets but struggle to expand globally. Companies like Tencent in China or Yandex in Russia have developed their own online ecosystems that are largely separate from those found in Europe or North America.

The rise of the Splinternet has significant implications for businesses operating on a global scale. It means they must navigate an increasingly complex regulatory environment as well as adapt their products and services to suit local preferences and customs. It also makes it more difficult for consumers to access content from other parts of the world, potentially limiting free speech and stifling innovation.

In conclusion, Splinternet is a growing trend that reflects both geopolitical realities and technological limitations. As we continue into an era where digital connectivity becomes ever more important, it will be crucial for governments, businesses, and individuals alike to find ways to bridge these divides while respecting local laws and customs.

SplinterPros vs SplinterCons

Selling points:

  • National security: Governments can protect their national security interests by controlling the flow of information and monitoring online activities of their citizens, preventing cyber attacks and espionage.
  • Cultural preservation: Countries can maintain and protect their unique cultural and social norms by filtering foreign content that may not align with their values.
  • Economic growth: Domestic internet platforms can prosper and create jobs, as they are protected from foreign competition.

Pain points:

  • Limited access to information: The Splinternet can restrict access to information and resources, limiting opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and education.
  • Censorship and surveillance: Authoritarian governments may use the Splinternet as a tool to control their populations by censoring dissenting opinions and surveilling online activities.
  • Economic consequences: The fragmentation of the internet can create barriers to global trade and commerce, potentially stifling economic growth.
  • Loss of a global internet culture: The Splinternet can lead to a loss of shared experiences and understanding between people from different parts of the world, potentially hindering global cooperation and empathy.
Geopolitical implications of the splinternet

The splinternet has significant geopolitical implications, as it could lead to the fragmentation of the global network and the creation of separate open and closed spheres.

A splinternet that is guided by politics rather than technology can lead to countries adopting different platforms and protocols on the same underlying architecture.

A major splintering of the internet could involve technically incompatible protocols – adopted by a critical mass of the world’s population, which could prove impossible to repair or reverse engineer.

The splinternet may be a natural progression of advanced technology but one that propels the international community forward too quickly without a unified approach .

The splinternet could also lead to a greater assertion of control by governments over their citizens’ cyber lives while maintaining a watchful distance from the internet’s core functioning.


The Splinternet is like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from different countries, regulations, and standards. Each piece is unique and cannot fit together with the others, creating a fragmented image. This fragmentation has significant implications for the future of the internet, as it may hinder global communication, collaboration, and access to information.

Electricity: The Splinternet is like a power grid that is divided into separate networks, each with its own regulations, standards, and access points. This fragmentation is caused by a variety of factors, such as government policies, censorship, surveillance, data privacy concerns, and economic interests. As a result, the current of electricity is disrupted, leading to isolated pockets of power that are not connected to each other. The Splinternet has the potential to significantly impact the future of electricity, as it could limit the ability to transfer energy and access power sources across the globe.

Playground: The Splinternet is like a big playground where all the kids used to play together freely, sharing toys and games. But one day, the kids started to build their own smaller playgrounds within the big one and put up fences around them. Now, each group of kids only plays with their own toys and doesn’t share or play with others outside their fenced areas. The big playground, which was once full of kids playing and laughing together, has turned into many little playgrounds, each one separate from the rest.

Islands: The splinternet is like a vast archipelago, where each island represents a different region’s internet. Once, these islands were part of a single, interconnected landmass, where information flowed freely across borders. But over time, tectonic shifts in the form of political, economic, and cultural differences have caused the land to fracture and drift apart. Now, each island has its own rules, regulations, and customs, making travel between them more challenging. Some islands are closely allied, allowing easy passage between them, while others are isolated, with high walls and strict controls on who and what can enter or leave. The once unified landscape of the internet has become a fragmented collection of isolated islands, each with its own distinct identity.

Writings on the splinternet

Splinternet: How Geopolitics and Commerce are Fragmenting the World Wide Web” by Scott Malcomson, OR Books, 2016

Standardising the Splinternet: How China’s Technical Standards Could Fragment the Internet” by Stacie Hoffmann, Dominique Lazanski & Emily Taylor (2020), Journal of Cyber Policy, 5:2, 239-264

Welcome to the Splinternet, A digital cold war in focus” by Mathias Behn Bjørnhof, Farsigh, 2022

Ethan Zuckerman: Welcome to the splinternet” The Prospect Podcast, 2022

The Splinternet is Here: How to Make the Most of it” By Anne Collier and Ranjana Kumari, CEPA.org