Volume 95, No. 4, Summer 2023
By Beth A. Simmons & Rachel A. Hulvey [PDF]

The internet brings challenges that threaten national identities and the foundations of what it means to be a state. Well-known challenges include difficulties maintaining important national values, competition threatening local economic plans, and even the inability to maintain a meaningful informational environment for self-governance. These influences are plausibly understood as challenges to some of the basic functions of a sovereign state. Despite these challenges, we identify the social practice of establishing control over mercurial mediums. States have responded by erecting cyberborders with a collection of laws, practices, and internet architecture designed to filter digital information within the territorial jurisdiction of the state. We contend that new digital bordering methods largely reflect and reproduce the territorial identity of the state. Border allusions, informed by concepts of geography, walls, and territoriality, are rife in states’ official internet rhetoric. In policy and practice, states are not only guided by vertical relations between state and society, but also have horizontal orientations for controlling cross-border flows. We define these preferences as a state’s border orientation or the underlying state preference for preserving national identity by filtering global forces. These preferences explain the rise of legal efforts to control the entry and exit of data and explain national approaches to sovereignty online across regime types.