Book review – The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov: Politics and the internet – Why dictators are going digital

The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. By Evgeny Morozov. Published in Britain by Allen Lane as “The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World”.When thousands of young Iranians took to the streets in June 2009 to protest against the apparent rigging of the presidential election, much of the coverage in the Western media focused on the protesters’ use of Twitter, a microblogging service. “This would not happen without Twitter,” declared the Wall Street Journal. Andrew Sullivan, a prominent American-based blogger, also proclaimed Twitter to be “the critical tool for organising the resistance in Iran”. The New York Times said the demonstrations pitted “thugs firing bullets” against “protesters firing tweets”.The idea that the internet was fomenting revolution and promoting democracy in Iran was just the latest example of the widely held belief that communications technology, and the internet in particular, is inherently pro-democratic. In this gleefully iconoclastic book, Evgeny Morozov takes a stand against this “cyber-utopian” view, arguing that the internet can be just as effective at sustaining authoritarian regimes. By assuming that the internet is always pro-democratic, he says, Western policymakers are operating with a “voluntary intellectual handicap” that makes it harder rather than easier to promote democracy. see:The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World by Evgeny Morozov – review
On 21 January 2010, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton made a speech at the delightfully named Newseum – America’s leading “interactive museum of news” – announcing “internet freedom” as a core foreign policy concern. “Information freedom,” she argued, “supports the peace and security that provide a foundation for global progress.” Evgeny Morozov has a blunt riposte to such ambitions: they smack of “excessive optimism and empty McKinsey-speak,” not to mention a “creative use of recent history”.Morozov, a young Belarusian-born writer and researcher now based in the US, doesn’t mince his words. But The Net Delusion is considerably more than an assault on political rhetoric; for, it argues, behind many of the fine words recently spoken in praise of technology lies a combination of utopianism and ignorance that grossly misrepresents the internet’s political role and potentials. Unless we are very careful, he suggests, the democratising power of new media will in fact bring not democracy and freedom, but the entrenchment of authoritarian regimes.

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