Although the last few weeks have been rather crazy, what with completing my MSc research project, going to Paris for Rock en Seine, writing up and submitting my thesis, finding a flat, moving into the flat and figuring out what to do with my life, I’ve still somehow managed to read a little as well.
The Net Delusion criticises the cyber-utopian perspective of the Internet as inherently democratising and liberating if it is freed, and in particular the important role of a free Internet in authoritarian countries. A prominent example Morozov uses is the so-called Twitter Revolution during the 2009 Iranian protests, which were hailed to demonstrate the powerful democratising abilities of social media. Following this, Hilary Clinton proclaimed Internet freedom to be an essential political tool that will ‘support the peace and security that provide a foundation for global progress’, and urged society to ‘put these tools in the hands of people around the world who will use them to advance democracy and human rights.’
In Morozov’s view, this is an ignorant and naïve approach to the implications of Internet openness. Most people aren’t political activist rejoicing over social media as a means of facilitating political change. We’re an Aldous Huxley-esque hedonistic bunch happy to easily stalk people on Facebook, stream television series, and catch up with the latest celebrity gossip. Moreover, authoritarian leaders may use the Internet as their own tool to limit democracy further (Hugo Chavez is on Twitter, for example), gaining control over a complacent and overstimulated population.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this controversial book (recommended by one of my project participants, in fact), which provided lots of brilliant insights into the implications of an unregulated Internet, positive and negative. It can definitely be a reality check for many of us in the Western world who perceive social media, blogs, etc. to be revolutionary tools that can change the world. Instead, they may make us even more passive as we are led to believe joining political campaigns on Facebook fills our political activism quota, reducing the number of people who actually go out into the streets protesting or write letters to influential figures. The Internet isn’t necessarily some fantastical world where boundaries are removed and activism reaches further. Rather, it may limit the potential impact of people who are left stuck in their comfy chairs in front of their laptops, clicking their activism away. Kony 2012, anyone?