When Donald trump first stated he wanted to "shut down the Internet", a few people asked me if he could do that.

How can I simply explain that the Internet is a Web and not a two way stream?

  • Ther are a number of great visualization sites. One example is this: opte.org/maps More info regarding your target audience would be great
    – Joe
    Dec 20, 2015 at 13:38
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    This question is misleading. Trump suggested shutting down the internet in the region controlled by ISIS, not the entire internet. Dec 20, 2015 at 17:09
  • @JonBentley Many people were mislead by it. Unfortunately, when people come to me asking for it advice, I don't correct them on anything else.
    – Hellreaver
    Dec 21, 2015 at 13:22

3 Answers 3


There are both technical and legal/political barriers to "shutting down the Internet."

The most important concept is that no one owns or controls the Internet. It is made up of many providers, some global, some local, all interconnected. The impetus that led to the modern Internet was to design a network that would survive a nuclear attack. If a part was destroyed, traffic would automatically be rerouted around it. So there's no one "choke point" that could be shut down. All of the major carriers (and most of the smaller ones) would have to be stopped in order to stop the Internet.

All the providers of the Internet (at least in the US) are private companies, which limits the government's ability to control them. It's difficult to imagine how companies like ATT, Verizon, Google, and Microsoft could be told to stop operating.

Many of these companies also provide telephone service as well as private networking. Those services and the Internet use the same links and equipment, so shutting down one would shut down the other. The economic consequences would be tremendous and there would be overwhelming political pressure to keep operating. Short of a complete overhaul of the American political system, I can't imagine that happening.

I think Trump's comment would be technically, legally, and politically impossible to carry out. What that may say about his knowledge and abilities as potential president I'll leave to other forums.

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    If I'm not wrong (I'm not in US), Trump never suggested for the companies you mention to "stop operating", but he suggested "maybe, in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way". Translated in more technical words, as I understand it this would mean that the US government would ask these companies to block incoming requests from a selected set of countries in order to keep the terrorists outside of the territory. Would this be efficient from a technical security perspective? Certainly not. But is this doable? It think so. Dec 20, 2015 at 19:21
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    The problem like that is that if, for example, President Trump convinces major carries to block access from Pakistan (a dubious proposition at best), it would be a simple matter for someone in a blocked out country to send the data to an intermediary in an allowed country. I'm sure you could think of similar workarounds. Even the Great Firewall isn't as secure as China would like it to be.
    – Ron Trunk
    Dec 20, 2015 at 19:46
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    That's why I said it would not be efficient from a technical security perspective, but Donald Trump is not an IT technician, he is a politician, he doesn't deal with computers but with people, and if something can give the people the feeling that the government is actively protecting them, then it could (don't get me wrong, I never said should ;) ) be an option to do it, it's just a matter of people feeling protected and secure. It's like hospitals around here (I live in Paris) where access is controlled only at the main gate. Dec 20, 2015 at 19:58
  • The rules could be technically carried out, but only if he were willing to commit to limiting all communications to US soil; every BGP route that leads in, across, or out of US territory would have to be dropped by every carrier within the borders. China's firewall attempts to censor data, but this would be a total blackout. The average citizen wouldn't even notice that most of the Internet is gone, but trillions of dollars in damages would result to international businesses, all in the name of stopping a few thousand people from communicating...
    – phyrfox
    Dec 20, 2015 at 20:57
  • ... and recruiting people within the borders digitally. Of course, every major carrier out there would be complaining about the costs of damages directly applicable to them, such as delivering streaming video, audio, and so on from various international sources. While the BGP rules could be pretty easily tweaked to exclude the US, and while the rest of the Internet would semi-automatically route around the US, any actual attempt to do so would be resisted by all major businesses and the rich, and there's no way politicians would want to commit political suicide.
    – phyrfox
    Dec 20, 2015 at 21:00

I would use an analogy to electrical power distribution. It can be shutdown locally for a while, but shutting power distribution down globally is infeasible (other than a major Earth catastrophe).

This analogy also illustrates why some governments can, in effect, shutdown or severely limit access to, on a country wide basis.


Internet as a whole can hardly be shut down. However, a government can effectively shut down the main accesses to some services: this is called censorship and is already applied by some governments, China being the classical example.

  • This answer offers only unsupported assertions, not an explanation.
    – nobody
    Dec 20, 2015 at 18:41
  • @AndrewMedico: My point is that, from a pure technical point of view, there are tools designed to accomplish such a thing. Explain how they implement this is out-of-scope here and is already covered in another post. Technically (I insist on this), one could imagine that for national security reason the US could block incoming connections to US hosted services (which includes most prominent social networks, etc.) originating from a selection of countries. There would obviously be workarounds, but they are mentioned in the linked post. Dec 20, 2015 at 19:08

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