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The Politics of the Internet 5 Democracy and the Internet

The Politics of the Internet 5 Democracy and the Internet Does the Internet promote democracy? Traditional thesis – Internet and globalization spread the market and democratic values. Force a choice between “free market vanilla and North Korea” (Thomas Friedman).

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The Politics of the Internet 5 Democracy and the Internet

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  1. The Politics of the Internet 5Democracy and the Internet • Does the Internet promote democracy? • Traditional thesis – Internet and globalization spread the market and democratic values. • Force a choice between “free market vanilla and North Korea” (Thomas Friedman). • Complicated to decide what the real effects of the Internet are. • Do authoritarian rulers just have to bow down to the unstoppable forces of free information?

  2. The Politics of the Internet 5Thinking about the Internet and democracy • Key questions. • What are the specific effects of the Internet in non-democratic countries? • Does the Internet necessarily enhance the power of citizens against non-democratic governments? • Does the Internet necessarily promote openness? • Are authoritarian governments unable to use the Internet for their own ends? • Is the usual way of thinking about these things (democracy activists vs. authoritarian governments) sufficient to explain what is happening?

  3. The Politics of the Internet 5Struggles over information • Need to think about 2 quite different sets of factors. • (1) Direct battles between Internet activists and authoritarian governments. • The Internet may not lead to instant democracy – but it does give new weapons both to democratic activists/outsiders and authoritarian governments. • Battle for democracy is often a battle over information/public perceptions. • Why authoritarian governments almost never have a free press. • The Internet transforms this battle – and how democracy activists and the government fight with each other. • (2) Indirect transformative effects on civil society. • Internet may create a new set of relationships – which are more difficult for the state to control. • May have both positive and negative consequences.

  4. The Politics of the Internet 5The weapons of choice • Democracy activists/citizens. • Often find it easier to organize among themselves. • “Hacktivism” as a form of civil disobedience • Have new ways to spread information domestically. • Have new ways to get information to outside world. • Governments. • Have defensive measures. • Can block websites/trace email/nationalize Internet • Have offensive measures • Can use Internet themselves – spread info/hack networks.

  5. The Politics of the Internet 5Naïve beginnings … • First flush of enthusiasm about the Internet. • Belief that it would spread democratic values and topple tyrants (Cyberlibertarianism). • True not only in developed world but even more so in developing world. • The Internet as a force for globalization. • Spreading Western values • Spreading the truth/resisting censorship

  6. The Politics of the Internet 5… meet the brick wall of reality • Little evidence of the Internet leading to the fall of tyrants. • Although it did embarrass some semi-democratic governments. • Chiapas revolt in Mexico – first revolution by laptop. • “Commandante Marcos” – rapid email contact with outside world. • Important to concessions made by the Mexican government – although these concessions not delivered.

  7. The Politics of the Internet 5Rethinking democracy and the Internet • Second thoughts about how the Internet empowers pro-democracy forces. • Focuses on specifics of how the Internet affects all actors. • Much more subtle – and less firm in its predictions. • Argues that the Internet does give new tools to democratic activists. • But that governments can respond – and may have tools of their own.

  8. The Politics of the Internet 5How the Internet affects activists • Internet is in theory of enormous help to democratic activists. • Allows them to communicate among themselves • Allows them to communicate with the mass public more easily. • Allows them to communicate with outside world (democratic countries) – and mobilize opinion there.

  9. The Politics of the Internet 5Communicating among themselves • Can use email and web pages to communicate among each other. • Web servers may be located in different countries. • Email much more difficult for authoritarian regimes to monitor, control and tap. • Especially when activists use codes and cryptographic techniques.

  10. The Politics of the Internet 5Communicating with the public • Can use the Internet to communicate with the general public. • Solves a key problem for pro-democracy forces in most authoritarian regimes. • The government has control of most other forms of mass communication. • Some countries have required permits for typewriters. • But activists can use WWW/email to communicate with general public (democratic spam mail).

  11. The Politics of the Internet 5Communicating with outside world • Getting case across to outside world is often hugely important to democratization. • “Boomerang effect” – pressures placed on government by outside actors. • Internet makes it much easier and cheaper to do this. • Allows information to be smuggled out of the country more easily – and then spread to others (often through exile community/other websites).

  12. The Politics of the Internet 5Tools of government • Governments, however can respond defensively in different ways. • Can seek to disrupt communications among activists. • Can seek to block them from communicating with mass public • Can seek to stop them communicating with outside world.

  13. The Politics of the Internet 5Disrupting communications • Governments can seek to block and track communications among activists. • Evidence that many authoritarian governments have sophisticated computer people doing this. • And US firms acting as subcontractors. • Activists may find it difficult to use cryptographic techniques in email etc. if nobody else does. • Stand out from other users of the Internet.

  14. The Politics of the Internet 5Stopping the mass spread of information • Governments may prevent message from getting out to mass publics. • Blocking of certain web pages/email from certain sources. • Can also block citizens from surfing web/monitor them. • Nobody except for government officials have access to the WWW in North Korea.

  15. The Politics of the Internet 5Control of Networks • Again, this is possible because of the ‘points of control’ that networks offer. • Countries can censor the Internet in various ways, at various different levels. • Through control of the backbone/single gateway • Through pressures on independent ISPs • Through state monopolies on ISPs (or exclusive contracts for ‘safe’ businesses).

  16. The Politics of the Internet 5Control of backbone/gateway • Some countries have single gateways to the Internet. • This allows them to monitor and perhaps control all communications in/out of country. • Example: Saudi Arabia. • All WWW traffic is forwarded to a set of proxy servers under the control of the Saudi Arabian government. • Can filter specific pages/web addresses • Possible to circumvent (dial up accounts outside Saudi Arabia – but expensive and inconvenient).

  17. The Politics of the Internet 5Control of Backbone II • China not only blocks specific IP addresses, it also has dynamic filtering. • Can block pages that contain specific words (Falun Gong). • Has also blocked access sporadically to search engines at sensitive moments. • Blocked Google before an important Party Congress. • Now seems to have forced Google (and Yahoo! and Microsoft) to cooperate more generally.

  18. The Politics of the Internet 5Control of ISPs • Iran: for many years, access to the net was relatively open in Iran. • Last year, authorities have begun to crack down, ordering ISPs to ban sites on official ‘blacklists.’ • Not as effective as exercising control at backbone level. • But increasingly, ISPs in Iran are being drawn into the net of government (large ISPs have government links).

  19. The Politics of the Internet 5Monitoring as a control methodology • China has been to the forefront of efforts to ensure that ISPs and online chatrooms etc are monitored for criticism of the party, praise of Falun Gong etc. • Makes ISPs self-police – or face shutting down or more serious consequences. • Has a substantial chilling effect on political speech. • Although limits are being pushed • Some kinds of borderline critical speech are tolerated (though hard to predict). • Certain kinds of political speech (patriotic speech) are considered acceptable

  20. The Politics of the Internet 5An active role for government • Authoritarian governments can also use Internet as a weapon – not just defend against it. • Can spread their own message using the Internet. • Official publications. • “Unofficial” forms of communication. • Can hack sites abroad that they don’t like. • Chinese government and Falun Gong movement.

  21. The Politics of the Internet 5The Internet in Putin’s Russia • In theory – Internet could serve as an alternative to a media sector that is only weakly democratic. • TV stations are controlled by government friendly forces. • Newspapers are either ineffective, or pro-government. • But the Internet doesn’t actually provide much in the way of alternative voices – why?

  22. The Politics of the Internet 5Indirect State control • Not censorship as in China • Govt owns the largest ISP, and plays a dominant role in the market. • Laws require that ISPs allow govt access to incoming and outgoing traffic. • Yet the government doesn’t use these to block traffic as in other parts of the world. • Instead, a softer approach.

  23. The Politics of the Internet 5Soft authoritarianism • Russian government has an Internet policy similar to that for the normal media. • Shadowy backers for many online news sources, whom the Kremlin can influence. • Denunciations of alternative voices as being catspaws for “foreign” interests. • This means that much of the information available online for Russians is, effectively, propaganda. • More subtle – but also perhaps more effective in the long run.

  24. The Politics of the Internet 5Countermeasures • Are there any available countermeasures through which it might be possible to encourage democratic activists and make it more difficult for governments to constrain them? • Yes – but have their own problems. • Proxy servers/anonymizers. • Counter-propaganda

  25. The Politics of the Internet 5Proxy servers/anonymizers • Possible to use anonymizers/proxy servers in order to make WWW access easier. • These servers allow one to access WWW indirectly, in a way that makes it difficult for outsiders to see where you’re surfing. • But have own problems. • Censors can block the anonymizers themselves. • Cat and mouse game of changing WWW/IP addresses. • May also have unexpected consequences.

  26. The Politics of the Internet 5IBB Anonymizer • In late 2003, the US International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) introduced an anonymizing service aimed at Iran, which was starting to experiment with censorship technology. • But wanted to avoid being overwhelmed with porn requests (also political embarrassment). • Thus introduced keyword based censorship. • Blocked access to many entirely innocent sites. • USembassy.state.gov • Georgewbush.com • www.hotmail.com

  27. The Politics of the Internet 5Counterpropaganda • Possible for outside actors interested in promoting democracy to create counter-propaganda for use in countries like Russia etc. • But this has its own problems. • Can be blocked by authoritarian regimes. • May be viewed with suspicion – esp. if it comes from government sources. • The US lack of success in promoting democracy in the Arab world.

  28. The Politics of the Internet 5A new kind of war • Result – no “simple” win for democracy against authoritarian governments. • But no easy win for authoritarian governments either. • Instead, a new kind of quiet war. • Fought with technological weapons – governments seek to block websites, communications, while activists try to circumvent control. • Fought in court of public opinion – as both sides seek to persuade others of their version of truth.

  29. The Politics of the Internet 5What we have learned • Early impression that the Internet would invariably promote democracy. • But reality is more complicated. • Internet gives new weapons to democracy activists and to governments. • New war being fought between the two of them – with new weapons.

  30. The Politics of the Internet 5What does this war mean? • No definite winners or losers. • But even so, it may have more subtle effects. Perhaps we need to look beyond simple fights between democracy activists and governments. • Effects on civil society. • China as case study. • China is becoming more nationalistic – in part because of forces unleashed by Internet. • But Internet also helps promote more diverse communication – even if it’s unlikely to lead to democracy flowering tomorrow.

  31. China • As discussed, China has perhaps the most sophisticated means of Internet monitoring/censorship in existence. • But also faces some fundamental dilemmas. • Wants technology-fueled growth • Has rapidly growing middle class with aspirations and demands • Problem for an authoritarian society – how do you take advantage of economic growth without allowing increased freedoms to your citizens?

  32. Chinese response • China has, despite its authoritarian tendencies, provided some freedom of action to citizens. • Key aim has been to prevent the creation of alternative political movements that could displace the Communist party from rule. • Democracy activists. • But also Falun Gong • Land protests etc. • Speech which doesn’t directly challenge the regime has sometimes been tolerated. • But this is a dangerous balance for the Chinese government.

  33. Birth of civil society • This may mean that civil society is emerging in China. • Civil society – a sphere of social relations independent of the state, but not necessarily directly political. • Clubs • Debating societies • Websites and blogs? • This isn’t necessarily a precursor to democracy – but may limit the power of the state. • Provides individuals with a means of commenting on politics. • Also may be valuable to an authoritarian regime, which otherwise doesn’t know what its people think.

  34. Positive examples (Washington Post) • China Youth Daily saga. • Official publication – but had run some material critical of the government. • Government crackdown included installation of new editor who was a party loyalist, plus incentives to please the Communist party leadership. • A prominent journalist protested – and his memo was rapidly leaked to the Internet. • Combination of text-messaging, blogs, bulletin boards and email saw it widely disseminated despite censorship efforts – prompting a partial reversal of policy. • But journalist in question was fired.

  35. Negative examples • Anti-Japan protests last Spring. • Considerable animus between Japan and China – partly thanks to WWII experience. • Boiled over this Spring due to a variety of controversies between the two countries, and led to anti-Japan protests in China. • At first, tolerated and perhaps implicitly encouraged by the Chinese government. • Soon, however, led government to be worried that it was slipping out of control – but had difficulty in reining protests in.

  36. What does this mean? • One reasonable interpretation of what is happening: • The direct battle between Internet activists and the Chinese government is at a standstill. • Internet not the surefire weapon for pro-democracy people that it seemed to be. • But indirect battle is shaping up to be the more important. • Creation of a civil society, outside the direct control of the state.

  37. What does this mean II • Some caution is warranted. • (1) This need not necessarily lead inevitably towards democracy – perhaps a Singapore solution. • (2) It may be countered, as in Russia, through clever pro-state propaganda. • (3) To the extent that it succeeds, may have its dark side – heightened nationalism etc. • But suggests that there are limits to the ability of authoritarian regimes to simultaneously embrace technological change and maintain control. • Democracy may not be dawning – but interesting things are still happening.

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