Journalist and social critic
In fact, the Internet can actually empower those repressive governments in ways that overly enthusiastic Western commentators fail to appreciate when they spread the Gospel of Google. Morozov recently chatted about his new book, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, and how open access to information is far from a panacea for dictatorship. Excerpts:
How far back does the idea of freedom-through-the-media go?
It goes back to the 1950s and 1960s during the Cold War, when it was assumed that if countries adhered to certain policy and economic ideas that they would all become democracies. The media was supposed to encourage that transition and encourage public discourse. In the 1980s, some people began to see the role of the media in ending the Cold War. But historians take a much larger view, including many other important factors, military, economic, and social.
Are these lessons misunderstood from the Cold War?
[Media] definitely played a positive role, but if you were to go back in time to the 1980s, knowing what we now do, it is not for certain that you'd put so much money into Western broadcasting. In
Are comparisons with past technology fair?
Not entirely. Much of the important nuance is lost when people say that the Berlin Wall has been replaced by the Great Firewall of
Does open access to information benefit civil discourse?
Total censorship is impossible, but it has been replaced by a more subtle form of control which involves casting doubt on the accuser and making counter-accusations. Repressive regimes are empowered when they have more information about those who oppose them inside the state.
That sounds like standard spin doctoring.
Isn't the fact that these countries can no longer tell the "big lie" evidence that technology does equate with freedom?
If you want to measure progress based on autonomy and independence of the middle class to go on skiing trips, then sure, those people are doing fine. If you are willing to be silent in these countries, then you can surely have more autonomy than you could 30 years ago. But if you consider the situation for human rights workers or lawyers or dissidents who oppose these regimes and how much harder the Internet has made their work, then you have to come to other conclusions.
Is the idea that transparency is bad for repressive regimes based on an underestimation of their adaptability?
Yes, in part. It's also based on ignorance about how those regimes have changed. They are much more globalized and consumer-friendly. There was a popular saying that the demand for blue jeans brought down the Berlin Wall, because the communist regimes couldn't keep up with demand once their populations were exposed to those consumer goods. Now, most blue jeans are made in
Are you arguing that access to information doesn't equal the demand for it?
There was this idea that once Russians could use
Does increased information directly aid repressive regimes?
In some instances it does. The Russian government has an incentive to watch the blogosphere, to watch for and contain discontent -- and punish dissenters. There was a big push to develop mobile banking in places like
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