The Internet Helps Build Democracies

The revolts in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Burma, Xinjiang, and Iran could never have happened without the web.There aren’t many ideas that unite former U.S. president George W. Bush and his successor, Barack Obama. But one safe topic for conversation would be Internet freedom and the power of technology to foment democratic revolutions. In mid-April Bush welcomed to his new think tank in Texas six dissidents who used Web tools to oppose dictatorships, applauding them as examples “of how the Internet can be effectively used to advance the freedom agenda.” Obama, meanwhile, has made Internet freedom a centerpiece of his foreign policy, and in a speech in Beijing late last year hailed “access to information” as a “universal right.”This kind of talk taps into a wide vein of techno-utopianism that has been around since at least the dawn of the Web. The Internet is disruptive by nature, rapidly overturning business models and mores, so it was natural for tech-savvy foreign-policy thinkers to believe that dictatorships, too, would fall with the click of a mouse. That, of course, didn’t happen. In fact, quite the opposite is true, say a growing number of cyberskeptics. Autocrats have “mastered the use of cyberspace for propaganda,” says Evgeny Morozov, one of the smartest and best-known cyberskeptics. Worse, they’ve learned to mine online information, such as Facebook profiles, for intelligence purposes. “The KGB used to torture to get ahold of this data,” says Morozov. “Now it’s all available online.” In short, say the cyberskeptics, the Internet will lead to the entrenchment of dictatorship, not its end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.