Social Media Between Physical and Digital Territory

By Glauco Benigni* 

 “Electric speed mingles the cultures of prehistory with the dregs of industrial marketeers, the non-literate with the semiliterate and the post literate. Mental breakdown of varying degrees is the very common result of uprooting and inundation with new information and endless new patterns of information.” (Marshall Mc Luhan – Understanding Media – 1964) 

This statement, by the Vate Mc Luhan, already sheds light on the events of our hectic season and on the interpretations given about them by the mainstream media. However, the “mental breakdown” mentioned is not that, almost inevitable, of readers and viewers but, above all, that of the many politicians, journalists, jurists and analysts who, considering themselves as experts and vaccinated – or perhaps only paid to act as such- take positions and defend or attack subjects and institutions, believing, at least those few in good faith, to have fully understood what it is about. 

But they are often wrong.  

One of the issues that is not “digested” by the defenders of free expression is – among others – the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PHYSICAL TERRITORY AND THE DIGITAL TERRITORY.  The first is made of solid matter (soil, rivers, mountains, etc.), it is limited by natural or geopolitically agreed boundaries; there are laws and regulations and there are magistrates and courts that work to enforce them. The digital territory, called Domain, on the other hand represents a novelty in LEGAL HISTORY. Inside, there are ALSO objects and material infrastructures (cables, satellites, control units, etc. BUT its totality is mainly made up of infinite numerical sequences, which we call “content” (texts, photos, moving images, 2D / 3D, etc.); IT IS NOT LIMITED by boundaries of any nature and indeed, potentially extends to infinity; BUT most of all: IT OVERLAPS IN CONSTANT LATENCY to any existing physical territory. Furthermore, despite there are some specific laws and regulations here and there, for example, in the USA (Copyright Act), EU (GDPR), in Brazil (Marco Civil), such laws and regulations are not harmonized with each other, nor do they refer to INTERNATIONAL TREATIES and THERE ARE NO SPECIALIZED JURISDICTIONS NOR SPECIFIC COURTS in which the aforementioned rules apply on a transnational scale. Currently there are extensive dossiers, drawn up by the US Antitrust and the European Commission, to limit the excessive power of the Giants of the Web, but in both cases (physical territories) it would seem that the over-the-top lobbyists are slowing down the work with some success. Comme d’habitude!  

It follows that the DIGITAL TERRITORY, especially if it is not a “country code”, i.e., .It,.UK,.Fr, etc., but “generic top level domains” such as .com, .net, .info, .org, remains in fact a DEREGULATED TERRITORY or DIFFERENTLY REGULATED from the physical territory or REGULATED IN PROGRESS as  decided by the dominant stakeholders who have always acted on that territory, read: the Giants of Silicon Valley. For example, let’s analyze the “.com” territory. Here the owner of a Dominus .com, such as Facebook or Google- You Tube, like a landowner feudal lord of the past millennium, grants an end user to “cultivate” a tiny portion (a few megabytes within its billions of terabytes) under the conditions written and approved by the Dominus itself.  The Dominus also reserves the right to change them at will without giving notice. The user “accepts” and begins to “cultivate” his/her  digital garden (profile, FB page, blog, YT channel, etc.). The Dominus watches from within its cold and remote servers; it steals any data that interests it, resells the data to security agencies and advertisers and appropriates part of the user’s products when it considers them interesting. 

However, if the user does something the Dominus doesn’t like, the Dominus first subtly puts it in “shadow banning” and then deletes it permanently even without warning. In this way the Dominus can cause a lot of damage and can sometimes even break constitutional norms. Very often, therefore, it is not the user who breaks a law of his/her own territory but it is the Dominus who “anarchically” does not care about breaking laws in force on the user’s physical territory. It’s not fair, but the Dominus owner does it. He can do it, he keeps doing it. He even did it with such special user as the President of the USA the last days he was still in office. He does it by breaking a US law, but he doesn’t care, why? 

BECAUSE HE DOES IT ON HIS OWN DIGITAL TERRITORY. That “territory” that the Dominus has obtained from ICANN and the subjects that refer to it : ICANN is an organization originally promoted by the US Ministry of Commerce, but still under private law. Well, if it can be said that the CREATORS OF THE DIGITAL TERRITORY are above all the GIANTS OF THE WEB because they operate there.

It should also be noted that those who manage the “world digital domain registry” and those who register the assignments, do not have much to do with local GOVERNMENTS and the laws of PHYSICAL TERRITORIES. The only UN agency and global structure involved is the ITU – International Telecommunications Union, because it issues IPVs (the different versions of internet protocols). 

To tell the truth, it is not only the DOMINION OWNERS who CREATE the DIGITAL TERRITORY, although they make it believe it is.  Those who create “digital territory” are in fact precisely those billions of USERS who cultivate it from nothing, from the shapeless bits and bytes and give it a shape. But the “Users – Civil Society – the People” are voiceless in the debate.  As they are represented very, very clumsily by weak and uncertain organizations and their interests are often usurped by self-defined NGOs, which are financed by the multinational companies to silence the claims of the base to water down their complaints.  Is it clearer now? Let’s hope so!  

In essence, there are few reference scenarios in which to identify solutions: 

1) Not all country governments, for example, that of Russia, but also recently, of Poland, accept  the typical deregulation of the DIGITAL TERRITORY. They force the Dominus with harsh sanctions to respect the Laws of the physical territory in order to defend domestic users (the citizens). This solution, however, is applied only by very few states and there is a continuous tug-of-war between them and the Big Digital they are confronting.  The risk, always around the corner, is the shattering of the Internet. 

2) Internet governance is reached in the form of an international treaty, which, through the United Nations, is ratified by each member state. This is a path undertaken 15 years ago by Kofi Annan.  So far it has not had great effects other than the MAINTENANCE OF DIALOGUE between governments, companies and civil society and. Consequently, it has prevented the shattering of the Network. But is this enough?


*Italian professional journalist and writer, Bachelor of Mass Communication Sociology. For 20 years he has been a correspondent and media editor for the newspaper La Repubblica, then 15 years in the Italian Radio Television (Rai) where he was responsible for relations with the foreign press and for the promotion and technological development of Rai International.Article sent to Other Ne