[There was a video here]
Donald Trump uses the internet a lot, sure. But based on his answer from last night’s debate on how he would “shut down” parts of the internet to combat ISIS, he doesn’t actually know what the internet “is” or “anything about how it works.”
Not since Sen. Ted Stevens infamously described the internet as a “series of tubes” in a delightfully incoherent 2006 discussion of net neutrality (listen above) has a political figure revealed how little he knows about the web in such a delightful fashion:
BLITZER: Mr. Trump, you recently suggested closing that Internet up, those were your words, as a way to stop ISIS from recruiting online. Are you referring to closing down actual portions of the Internet? Some say that would put the U.S. in line with China and North Korea.
TRUMP: Well, look, this is so easy to answer. ISIS is recruiting through the Internet. ISIS is using the Internet better than we are using the Internet, and it was our idea. What I wanted to do is I wanted to get our brilliant people from Silicon Valley and other places and figure out a way that ISIS cannot do what they’re doing.
You talk freedom of speech. You talk freedom of anything you want. I don’t want them using our Internet to take our young, impressionable youth and watching the media talking about how they’re masterminds — these are masterminds. They shouldn’t be using the word “mastermind.” These are thugs. These are terrible people in ISIS, not masterminds. And we have to change it from every standpoint. But we should be using our brilliant people, our most brilliant minds to figure a way that ISIS cannot use the Internet. And then on second, we should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is and everything about ISIS. And we can do that if we use our good people.
BLITZER: Let me follow up, Mr. Trump.
So, are you open to closing parts of the Internet?
TRUMP: I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet. Yes, sir, I am.
ISIS is using the internet to recruit, yes—using it to recruit alienated, angry people at the margins of society who are vulnerable to the seduction of jihadism. “Closing parts” of the internet won’t negate the ideological appeal and military successes that have made ISIS alluring to certain young men and women.
But moreover it’s simply impossible to “close” “parts” of the internet—that’s just not how it works. The internet is a voluntary interconnection of local and regional networks—the United States can’t “shut down” Syria’s networks anymore than China could “shut down” Brazil’s networks. The Pentagon could disrupt or slow down the regional connections of our foes, but not deactivate another country’s “internet” entirely. Trump would do just as well to talk about carpet bombing or putting the internet in a headlock as he would closing down parts of it.
The Chinese and North Korean comparisons are wrong as well: Oppressive regimes can block their internet users from accessing sites and services outside their borders (e.g. Facebook), but that doesn’t mean Facebook ceases to exist. When Trump says “I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet,” he’s shit out of luck, because it’s not “our” internet.
Maybe the only thing dumber than this characterization of the internet as some sort of light switch in the White House is the notion that “our brilliant people from Silicon Valley” could somehow be a significant asset in the global fight against ISIS—although that’s a delusion shared by much of the political class.