Sunday, February 21, 2010

The internet as a tool for tyranny

An interesting look at how communication technology/social networking can act to diffuse discontent against autocratic governments forestalling change (WSJ):

the role that the Internet played in the recent events in Iran shows us why: Revolutionary change that can topple strong authoritarian regimes requires a high degree of centralization among their opponents. The Internet does not always help here. One can have "organizing without organizations"—the phrase is in the subtitle of "Here Comes Everybody," Clay Shirky's best-selling 2008 book about the power of social media—but one can't have revolutions without revolutionaries.

Contrary to the utopian rhetoric of social media enthusiasts, the Internet often makes the jump from deliberation to participation even more difficult, thwarting collective action under the heavy pressure of never-ending internal debate. This is what may explain the impotence of recent protests in Iran: Thanks to the sociability and high degree of decentralization afforded by the Internet, Iran's Green Movement has been split into so many competing debate chambers—some of them composed primarily of net-savvy Iranians in the diaspora—that it couldn't collect itself on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution. The Green Movement may have simply drowned in its own tweets.
I'm not sure how much I agree though. Personally, while I suspect that it may delay change - because the Internet allows information to proliferate faster, a larger consensus might make changes less violent - at least that'd be my personal speculation. Further, the internet, is merely a tool that can be used as effectively or ineffectively as people choose. Alternatively, is the takeaway that we should be restricting access if we want change?

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