The Internet and its ‘failure’ to spread democracy

30 March 2004

An interesting New Republic article on why the Internet won’t topple tyranny. I don’t agree with everything it says on how the spread of the Internet will not bring liberty or democracy to opressed peoples, but it’s an eye-opener anyway. I think that it’s far too early to judge its effectiveness, or tell exactly how much effect it has had – the Internet hasn’t been a major part of life in the West for a decade, yet alone in more repressive countries, and to judge changes in world politics against the same rate we expect from the Internet is unreasonable.

But it highlights well how many governments (particularly the Chinese) have managed to successfully control the Net (and with the help of technology made by US companies), and makes a good point about how the solitary usage of the Internet, and its more anarchic nature actually make it harder for widespread solidarity movements to form exclusively around it. It hints to the wider point that the anti-globalisation coalitions, in their current form, are doomed to fall apart and fail thanks to their members’ disparate beliefs. Ultimately it says that single-issue groups and Western technology companies will be the only instigators of political changes brought through the Internet. I still need to think about the issues raised before making a full informed opinion on the matter…


3 Responses

There is a modern expectation that democracy and liberty and common sense are supposed to be imparted to the masses by The Powers That Be (usually cited as corporations and politicians), and those Power have failed The People. I’d like to remind the world that democracy and liberty found their first enduring voice in the Magna Carta, when the people denounced the absolute power of the king of England. It wasn’t some company or political party that had to benevolently or dutifully grant freedom. The people stood up and claimed it. Fast forward to 1776 and witness the single most critical event in the history of freedom. No powerful organization gave the colonists their freedom. They demanded it and took action to get it.

Why do modern media outlets continue to try to place the burden of freedom on those who historically never give it? They can’t give it. Freedom must be taken. The burden rests squarely on the shoulders of the people. What the HELL does the Internet have to do with it?

“The people” never wrote the Magna Carta, it was negotiated by a cabal of barons and the Church. Similarly the Declaration of Independence was drafted by a collection of wealthy landowners (and slaveowners), with their own militias, effectively barons in their own right. It’s nice that both documents happen to guarantee human rights and freedoms in law, but they were never the fruits of popular movements. But that’s irerelevant. The entire point that the “Internet is freedom” advocacy brigade makes is that the Internet hands back the means of information production & transmission into the hands of the people and so can help spawn grassroots movements to take back their freedom, precisely of the kind that you advocate, while the article I link to argues this is a false premise.

You might be interested in Martus, which is using the internet to help defend human rights. Not a complete argument toppler, but an interesting part of the case for the defence.