Today’s major technology firms wield huge social and political influence across the world to the point that their actions, and the content they host, is often seen as a direct challenge to national sovereignty and the norms and power structures that support states. In regions and countries as varied as Europe, China, the United States, Australia and Russia, governments are proposing and—in the case of China, Russia, and Australia—implementing regulations that purport to protect the national interest by imposing new duties on the largest online players. Their effectiveness in economic or social terms is uncertain, and their impact on rights has been heavily criticized by civil society.
Western tech firms were sucked into the vortex of the Kremlin’s crackdown on opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s organization in the run-up to last week’s predictably dull Duma elections. Even though Navalny has been in prison since January 2021, and while many of his key associates have since been arrested or encouraged to leave the country, the Kremlin’s hard-edged approach left nothing to chance. It was the latest demonstration of famed Russian writer Arkady Vaksberg’s private observation to one of us nearly thirty years ago: “In Russia, it’s not enough to win. You need to win with cruelty.”
The economic response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has varied across the world, depending on whether countries have had fiscal resources and monetary room to address its challenges. Typically, in the first phase, resource-rich countries focus on containment.