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Dictators in digital world

Book>> The net delusion, how not to liberate the world • by Evgeny Morozov • Allen Lane • Rs 1,000

By Ananth Nayak
Published: Tuesday 15 February 2011

THE NET DELUSION, HOW NOT TO LIBERATE THE WORLDAfter the WikiLeak revelation, cyber activists went to town claiming the disclosures as another indicator of internet-fostered democracy.

Within days Western governments and their friends in the cyberworld clamped down on WikiLeaks. The not-so-thinly-veiled attacks on the whistle-blowing site and its charismatic founder, Julian Assange, by Western governments was covertly and overtly supported by entities like Amazon, the two major credit card companies MasterCard and Visa, the online payment solutions provider Paypal and several other entities with strong commercial interests who have a direct stake in the way Internet works for all of us.

Web censorship remains a thorny issue and the worldwide web is not always the harbinger of democracy, argues Evgeny Morozov in his book. A year ago, Morozov would have been dismissed as a cynic.

imageIt seemed that Twitter and Facebook could coordinate an effective democratic resistance to authoritarian regimes like Iran. But today, little remains of that optimism except the pathetic symbolism of Twitter’s green tinged user-photographs and dwindling band of Western opponents of the current Iranian government who still claim their location as “Tehran”.

The root of the problem is that cyber activists see neat parallels with the role of radio propaganda in undermining the Soviet Union. This oversimplification of history has led to the erroneous conclusion that promoting web freedom will have a similar effect on authoritarian regimes today.

Morozov is alive to digital content, suddenly available to the Chinese, Iranians, or Egyptians. But authoritarian regimes can misuse the web and television. Allowing East Germans to watch American soap operas on West German television reduced people’s interest in politics.

Ananth Nayak is a software consultant in Hyderabad

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