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I want to write a short story where the internet is damaged so much that it isn't as integrated into everyday life. The internet isn't gone, but it's used mainly for communication that isn't commonplace, like between nations and for large businesses to transfer number and information.

The idea I was kicking around to make this happen in the story is for some sort of EMP to affect the main servers of one or two large web companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, or Amazon. Preferably one who's hosting or support keeps many other websites afloat. I know that their servers are probably spread across the world, but lets say that the EMP/several small EMPs destroy most of the servers and any other servers in the same area (like if San Francisco were to be hit with an EMP I'd assume that would hit several big names but not completely destroy each).

These sites going down causes instability in tech, with many other companies trying to fill the void that was left behind by these giants, but many can't handle the burden, and even when the big hitters do get back online, the public doesn't believe in its security like they used to and it slowly fades out of popular attention, with entertainment coming from less interconnected computers, like video games or movie tablets.

The goal is to find the most realistic way for this to work. I thought Google because so many websites allow you to log in through Google, and in combination with Facebook going down you wouldn't be able to log into most websites or apps. Amazon might be a good one too, since a lot of online retailers use their programming, if not host off of their servers. Maybe even the bureaucracy surrounding trying to prevent something like this but worse happening could play a role, or the economic impact of a site like amazon going down.

If taking out a tech giant doesn't work then maybe a bank or government sever hub? I don't want this to directly destroy the country or anything.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by sphennings, Bellerophon, Renan, Ash, kingledion Feb 2 '18 at 14:01

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ "some sort of EMP to affect the main servers of one or two large web companies" - they will recreate from backup. One EMP won't cut it and if you have more, then it is war. I don't think your way of making it happen is plausible. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Feb 2 '18 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like 1990. Dark times... $\endgroup$ – user47242 Feb 2 '18 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ You'd be better off thinking about what would happen if you cut off the main data interchanges. All companies have disaster recover plans for multiple scenarios - I think you'd want a more generalised infrastructure issue than a company wide one. $\endgroup$ – DrDanielSwan Feb 2 '18 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ Facebook going down would free so much time to Mankind. $\endgroup$ – mouviciel Feb 2 '18 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ There is a misconception here regarding 'EMP hits the main servers.' First off, the servers are not in San Francisco. Facebook's headquarters is in Menlo Park, about 40 km away; its not clear an EMP would have so much of an effect here. Amazon is in Seattle; the same EMP won't effect Amazon and the other three. Secondly, the servers are not at the headquarters anyways. Thirdly, there is no 'main server.' These companies live and die by keeping their services available, their distributed systems will withstand any EMP short of one that disables the entire continent. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Feb 2 '18 at 13:36
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Disaster planning already covers floods, fires, earthquakes, EMPs, solar storms, volcanic eruptions, and more.

Look to more direct causes: Some human agency on Earth deliberately degrades the network to further their own ends (those are up to you) using some combination of sabotage, (ongoing, various) cyber attacks, malware distribution, etc.

  1. One way is to simply change the mobile data carriers' business model (change in liability or regulation) to make phones too expensive or inconvenient as mobile data platforms anymore.

  2. Another way is to disrupt common data usage --email, social media, streaming, and GPS-- with their own problems, making them inconvenient and unreliable:

    Make e-mail unreliable with a somehow-super-clever way to craft spam e-mails that cannot be detected as spam by automated methods, leading to a new golden age of spam.

    Make social media a net negative experience with attacks against user databases, somehow-unblockable doxing-bots and troll-bots and lots more badly-targeted advertising.

    Disrupt streaming entertainment by raising the cost and making various attacks slow and occasionally stop delivery, like switches hijacked by a competing streaming service.

    Finally, disrupt GPS by having some other actor maliciously edit map databases, or set up false GPS emitters to skew the location...sending you to their Shop instead of their competitors.

Most of these are not worth doing today, or require a bit of handwaving. Most would promptly cause lots of lawsuits, regulatory actions, and/or law enforcement investigations. You will, of course, need to tweak society a bit in your fiction to make those actions seem more reasonable.

Which of the big Titans going down would be most detrimental? It depends upon your point of view...and which one you believe that you use most. Most folks would go into initial withdrawl over the loss of Facebook. The longest-lasting and most widespread damage would be caused by the loss of Google services that folks forget and take for granted (calendar, drive, login).

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd add a 3. bullet point of providers restricting bandwidth or raising charges for traffic to websites they don't "approve of" - i.e. websites who aren't affiliated with them and provide the same services as affiliated companies. Or just police certain websites based on the personal opinion of those in charge. $\endgroup$ – Real Subtle Feb 2 '18 at 13:52

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