“Russia Inches Toward Its Splinternet Dream” reads the headline on an April 1, 2022, story in Wired by Chris Stokel-Walker. It was no April Fools’ Day joke: The story describes how, in early March, Twitter users in Russia noticed that their internet connections had slowed to a crawl and eventually halted. “Then came the blackout”:
Twitter going offline showed how seriously the Russian state took social media’s role in amplifying dissent about the country’s invasion of Ukraine. And it demonstrated Russia’s progress in creating a “splinternet,” a move that would effectively detach the country from the rest of the world’s internet infrastructure. Such a move would allow Russia to control conversations more tightly and tamp down dissent—and it's getting closer by the day.
“Splinternet” is newly in the news, but the term is more than 20 years old. A nearly perfect portmanteau word, it was coined in 2001 by Clyde Wayne Crews, director of technology studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. In an editorial for Forbes magazine, Crews envisioned splinternets as essentially good things, asking, “How about more Internets, not more regulations?” He continued, libertarianally: