The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom
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Updated with a new Afterword
“The revolution will be Twittered!” declared journalist Andrew Sullivan after protests erupted in Iran. But as journalist and social commentator Evgeny Morozov argues in The Net Delusion, the Internet is a tool that both revolutionaries and authoritarian governments can use. For all of the talk in the West about the power of the Internet to democratize societies, regimes in Iran and China are as stable and repressive as ever. Social media sites have been used there to entrench dictators and threaten dissidents, making it harder—not easier—to promote democracy.
Marshalling a compelling set of case studies, The Net Delusion shows why the cyber-utopian stance that the Internet is inherently liberating is wrong, and how ambitious and seemingly noble initiatives like the promotion of “Internet freedom” are misguided and, on occasion, harmful.
the demands of their respective Internet cultures. As such, they have proved successful at attracting local audiences and, more important, complying with the censorship requests of their own governments. The politicization of Web 2.0 services is likely to amplify the role of local clones of global sites. “There’s this hubris [among Americans] that drives the belief that what matters in China is Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. Ultimately, that’s not what matters. ... It’s Weibo, Kaixin or
Institution, has offered a powerful example of how we tend to underestimate the power of economic forces in conditioning the social impact of technologies. Imagine, he says, a hypothetical academic conference about the social effects of television convened in the early 1950s. The consensus at the conference would almost certainly be that television was poised to strengthen community ties and multiply social capital. Television sets were sparse and expensive, and neighbors had to share and visit
burning of Ayatollah Khomeini’s portrait in the aftermath of the Iranian protests is a case in point). Nor is the decentralized nature of communications always good in itself, especially if the objective is to make as many people informed as fast as possible. In a 2009 interview with the Globe and Mail, the East German dissident Rainer Muller noted how beneficial it was that the nation’s attention was not dispersed in the late 1980s: “You didn’t have people looking at 200 different TV channels
boosted the power of the Huxley-inspired dictatorships. YouTube and Facebook, with their bottomless reservoirs of cheap entertainment, allow individuals to customize the experience to suit their tastes. When Philip Roth was warning the Czechs of the perils of commercial television, he was also suggesting that it could make a revolution like the one in 1989 impossible. Ironically, the Czechs had been lucky to have such hapless apparatchiks running the entertainment industry. People got bored
of the Streisand Effect. Herostratus’s ultimate punishment—that is, in addition to being executed—was for his act to be forgotten, on strict orders from the Ephesean authorities, who banned anyone from ever mentioning his name. And here we are, discussing the story of this narcissistic pyromaniac thousands of years later (the Ephesean authorities could not foresee that Herostratus would be immortalized on his own Wikipedia page). Even though it’s publicity-conscious Hollywood stars,