The System: how the internet works and what is wrong with it

Book review: James Ball calls for urgently-needed regulatory and structural change

James Ball argues that “online power structures mirror almost exactly the offline power structures which preceded them”. File photograph: Getty Images

James Ball argues that “online power structures mirror almost exactly the offline power structures which preceded them”. File photograph: Getty Images

Back in that extraordinary period of fast internet growth in the 1990s, when a new type of business, the ISP (internet service provider), put millions online for the first time, it wasn’t hard to discern that this exciting, magical, mostly invisible network could change everything.

The overused word at the time and ever since has been “disruptive”. The disruptive internet would give more people a voice. It would drive democracy forward. It would enable small “nimble”companies (they were always “nimble”) to disrupt the powerful old-school industrial giants, creating fairer opportunities. It would perturb, even overturn, existing power structures.

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