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The Web Won't Topple Tyranny 513

An anonymous reader writes "Joshua Kurlantzick of the New Republic online writes that the internet--once heralded as a revolutionary force in politics--has turned out to be surprisingly nonthreatening to dictators and tyrannies. Reminds me of Howard Dean, and the trend to see technological change as a politically progressive force. Maybe this is not such a good idea?"
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The Web Won't Topple Tyranny

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  • Makes Sense... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kid Zero ( 4866 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:23PM (#8689819) Homepage Journal
    After all, the people don't control it. Revolution isn't profitable to those who do control it.

    • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Even though the people do not control the infrastructure, they can still communicate with eachother and that's all they really need. Cryptography and steganography can overlay a completely different structure on top of a restrictive network. It may not be fast, but revolutionaries don't share MP3s. The amount of information which is required for coordinating political action can hide in almost every inconspicuous channel.
    • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:14PM (#8690459)
      The Internet is like any other human advance. First the disaffected early-adopt it to destabilize the status quo and effect some change, then the status quo masters it, sometimes absorbing some of the disaffected into itself in the process, and uses it to perpetuate itself and then exploits it to enhance its control. This in turn encourages the disaffected to find another tool and so on...

      Hmm, this sounds somewhat fractally like the process of natural selection, come to think of it...

      • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:31PM (#8691671) Homepage
        The Internet is like any other human advance. First the disaffected early-adopt it to destabilize the status quo and effect some change, then the status quo masters it, sometimes absorbing some of the disaffected into itself in the process, and uses it to perpetuate itself and then exploits it to enhance its control.

        The guy who wrote the article does not seem to understand what drives change. I was visitng Germany on a monthly basis during the period when the wall fell, the guy does not have a clue why that happened.

        Sure dissidents and activists play a critical part in a revolution. But their role is secondary, try talking to some. I have met many of the 'leaders' of the year of miracles, what they were trying to do was to share information and ideas, that was what threatened the dictators.

        The Web opens up the communication channels in ways that it is almost impossible to control. The corrupt government of Singapore will get its due sooner as a result of the Web. I know rather a lot about the surveilance they use there having discussed it with some of the Mossad consultants who advised them. The whole state has been designed for surveillance. Every telephone call is logged and they perform network analysis to discover who is talking to whom. The houses are deliberatly designed to actively discourage private entertaining. Restaurants are heavily subsidized in order to encourage people to eat where they can be watched. The result is that any attempt to meet in private is sufficiently unusual to be very noticable.

        This all falls apart if the information does not need a dissident movement to make it through. Look at how hard it is to stop trolls on slashdot. Now imagine that you are a blogger in a 'police friendly' state like Singapore. You have to take some care to cover your tracks but it is not impossible. If the government is not corrupt, why do they need to threaten their critics. Police states suffer from obvious internal contradictions.

        And don't get me started about the idiocy of the great firewall of china. About the only use it serves is to reduce spam and virus outbreaks somewhat. The criticism that threatens the communist party cadres comes from inside the country.

        • The people who lived through the depression and got their MBAs before the fall, and scrounged for food like the rest of us, after, had intelligent, visionary MBA professors. They taught these students that "The moment a product is created, there's a demand for it, however small. The trick is to find it."

          Obviously this was a few years before someone tried to sell a piece of moldy toast on eBay. :>

          I don't know who posited the idea that the internet would help in any way to overthrow governments...was

        • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:4, Informative)

          by rynthetyn ( 618982 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:41AM (#8694062) Journal
          It's not the first time a columnist missed the reasons for change. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a book about globalization, where he attributed the peaceful revolution in Serbia to a desire to participate in the global marketplace and the feeling that Slobodan Milosevic was holding them back (he gives a ridiculous example about people wanting to be able to afford frequent visits to McDonalds, and apparently doesn't realize that the reason that they can't afford to eat there is because it's ridiculously overpriced). I have e-mail contacts in Belgrade, and those people participated in the demonstrations that led to the peaceful overthrow of the government. They didn't take to the streets because they wanted McDonalds, they took to the streets because they wanted freedom to walk down the street without being harassed by police cracking down on dissidents, because they wanted to speak freely, to be able to write e-mail without worrying about it being monitored, and the straw that broke the camel's back was when everyone knew Milosevic lost the election but he claimed he won and he wouldn't leave (before anyone makes a crack about Bush in 2000, the student in Belgrade that my sister writes to associated Gore with Slobo refusing to admit defeat and said "when that happened here, we had a revolution"). I don't know what kind of direct role the internet had in the revolution, but indirectly, it did play a role, if only because it opened up avenues to interact with the rest of the world and thus served as a way to counteract the extreme form of nationalism, us-against-everyone mentality that the government used as a means of control.

          Any channel of communication that takes place away from the oversight of a police state can help topple tyranny. Several years ago, the government of the Phillipines was toppled largely through the use of cell phone text messaging informing people of when a demonstration would be held--the revolutionary equivalent of a flash mob.

          It's not the internet itself, or any particular website that will help topple tyranny, but any tool that increases the flow and volume of information is going to hurt tyrants.
    • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Media Withdrawal ( 704165 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:25PM (#8690511)

      After all, the people don't control it. Revolution isn't profitable to those who do control it.

      Sure, access to and control of information are important, but they distract from the Internet's most revolutionary aspect: making it relatively easy to implement new systems of commerce and governance. In other words, the value may lie more with the new processes the Internet allows than with the content it carries.

      Unfortunately, Kurlantzick's article focuses mostly on content and access to content, so it misses this. It also misses the main element of Internet architecture: the revolution occurs at the periphery. As is often the case with disruptive technology, those who directly challenge the old order straightaway get swatted. They're not strong enough yet. The ones who will ultimately prevail over entrenched power will do so by finding and serving unnoticed markets and constituencies.

      Throughout history (especially in Asia) groups that were fussiest about counting beans tended to thrive and rule. Now the Internet arrives, and with automation so abundantly available at its periphery, places organizational powers once reserved for nations and large corporations in the hands of small groups and individuals.

      Because the technology is new, people use it like they did phone, radio and TV. That will change, as it has started to here in the USA. E-bay and have massively shifted commerce, and social networking sites are creating volunteer organizations and political caucuses out of thin air. These changes constitute a revolution that is gradually working its way inward from the periphery. Even in Asia, I expect, if you know where to look.

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:23PM (#8689820) Homepage Journal
    And cross-referenced with the list of subversive sites you have recently visited.
  • by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:25PM (#8689832) Journal
    no longer can recognize censorship as damage and route around it. Blame the router manufacturers.
    • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:05PM (#8690083)
      Blame the router manufacturers.

      If I take 4 drums of fuel oil and 2,000 lbs of ammonium nitrate I can plant 100 acres of corn with a tractor or build a car bomb. If I choose the latter it's the fault of the oil and fertilizer companies? I don't think so.
      • by coaxial ( 28297 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:18PM (#8690483) Homepage
        > Blame the router manufacturers.

        If I take 4 drums of fuel oil and 2,000 lbs of ammonium nitrate I can plant 100 acres of corn with a tractor or build a car bomb. If I choose the latter it's the fault of the oil and fertilizer companies? I don't think so.

        These are disanalogous situations. A more analgous situation would be, you buy the fuel oil an fertilizer, and the feedstore says, "Here's your free bomb making instruction manual. Wait, you're building it wrong. Here, let me show you... See how easy that was? Oh you want it placed under the building across town? Sure, we can deliver it for you. Here you go. Just press that button, and you're all set. Just remember, though, we're not responsible."

        The companies are in violation of the U.N. Human Rights Norm for Business (August 2003), which states, "enterprises shall refrain from any activity which supports, solicits, or encourages States or any other entities to abuse human rights. They shall further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights". They know when they sold the router/filter/firewall system whether or not it was going to be used to route intracompany emails or be part of the Great Firewall of China (or whatever country). The technical specs requested by the Ministry of Internal Security tell them that.

        While Cicso and the rest may not be actively imprisioning dissidents, they are knowingly enabling the totalitarian regimes to do so. That makes them an accessory to their crimes. Additionally one could make the argument that Cicso and the rest are in conflict with policies of the United States (and no doubt other democratic nations) when they provide goods and services that are actively used to counter the pro-democracy programs the United States (and other democratic nations).

        • Sorry but your analogy is even worse, I'm trying to recide if you're joking.

          Cisco does not change their product for China, they sell the same product to everybody, they provide all the same resources to everybody. If someone runs me over with their car intentionally then I cannot sue the car manufacturer nor should I be able to, they have no control over how their consumers will use the product. Just like cd burner manufacturers. Many people use their products legitimately and many do not, they should not

        • by bladernr ( 683269 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:16PM (#8690838)
          ... Human Rights ... router/filter/firewall ...

          I see your principle, but has browsing the Internet been established as a Human Right? If that is the case, were we all deprived of our Human Rights before the US Military (DARPA) invented the Internet?

          (If the answer is "Yes", I do find it a little amusing that the US Military is credited with creating a Human Right; it is usually accused of the opposite)

          While Cisco and the rest may not be...

          I also understand, and partially agree, with your point, but where is the logical end? Take the case of providing aid to the poor in third world countries. I know that some portion of that aid will be stolen by some dictator as tribute or whatnot, and, therefor, my sending aid is helping a dictator.

          Of course, Cisco's intentions are no where near as pure as someone giving aid, I'm just trying to point out an extreme end to the same line of reasoning. The Department of State (I believe) establishes export controls to police this sort of thing. If Cisco is not in violation of export controls, are they doing something that society has deemed wrong?

          • by coaxial ( 28297 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:59PM (#8691127) Homepage
            I see your principle, but has browsing the Internet been established as a Human Right?

            No, but free expression of politcal dissent is. The train of logic is that if you provide material support knowing that it will be used to arrest political dissidents, then you are an accessory to the tyrants' crimes.

            The Department of State (I believe)

            It's Commerce.

            establishes export controls to police this sort of thing.

            The export controls tend to deal more with things that can be used against the country of origin. How the exports are used in the country of destination, I don't think are typically dealt with. When exports are limited because of how they are used in the country of destinations, it tends to be an embargo because of some international crisis of some sort. (Or atleast that's been my observation.)

            Quite frankly, most of the time countries don't give a damn about the internal matters of foriegn countries. That's why cheap weapons continue to flow into, and commodities like diamonds flow out of countries with long lasting civil wars. That doesn't make it right though.

            If Cisco is not in violation of export controls, are they doing something that society has deemed wrong?

            While it's not against the law to say "get the hell out of my way bitch!" when you bump into someone all the street, it's not really something society smiles upon either.
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:27PM (#8690520)
      No, it is because the internet isn't armed.

      The internet is a source of gossip.

      Dictators are a source of guns.

      If you think the pen (or keyboard) is mightier than the sword, let's perform a little experiment, shall we? You grab your keyboard, I'll grab my katana. No, let's make it a little more even. I'll only grab my bokken.

      Please note that my bokken is rather less powerful than a black Ford Falcon full of armed thugs.

      The pen has its greatest power only where there is already a culture of liberalism, such as in colonial America and France.

      The pen did not repel the Turks from Vienna or drive them out of Greece. The Spartans found the pen to be rather useless at Thermopylae and the Athenians likewise at Marathon.

      The arrival of the written word did not topple dictatorships. If anything it strengthed them by allowing the transmission of written codes. The telegraph did not topple dictatorships. Nor the telephone. Radio Free Europe, while a great boon to many behind the Iron Curtain, is not responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union, and a similar project has had no effect at all in Cuba. The internet did not topple Saddam Hussien.

      To topple dictators you need guns. Recent evidence suggests that nowadays those guns pretty much have to be mounted on tanks and airplanes. Angry villagers with torches and pitchforks are no match for tanks and airplanes. They at least need shoulder launched missles.

      Thinking the internet can free Tibet or Burma is a wee bit of wishful thinking. Thinking it would do so in the infancy of the WWW is really kinda silly and smacks of cognitive dissonance.

      Maybe people want to think that it can because it frees them from having to think of guns. We've had some bad experiences with guns misapplied.

      If Burma is going to topple its dictatorship by using the internet, it's going to be to write posts saying, "Please, send us some frickin' tanks!. Oh, and a couple of A-10s would be handy, if you can see your way clear. And maybe some people to train us in their use. Don't forget the ammo."

      Of course Burma is in southeast Asia. Remember my mentioning bad experiences with the misapplication of guns?

      We're a bit, ummmmmmmmm, gun shy, when it comes to southeast Asia. Beating up Arabs sitting on rich oil fields who have been living on nothing but grass for two weeks is more to our taste these days. Asians like living on grass. And they fight back. And they're not good for headlines in an election year.

      Even with the internet.

      • by zagmar ( 20261 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @06:27PM (#8691321)
        To topple dictators you need guns. Recent evidence suggests that nowadays those guns pretty much have to be mounted on tanks and airplanes. Angry villagers with torches and pitchforks are no match for tanks and airplanes. They at least need shoulder launched missles.

        Wow, disingenuous much? You know what got the British out of India? Mohandas Gandhi and several million followers refusing to obey the laws that the British had enacted. Africa? It was not the Zulu rebellion, it was the expense of maintaining African colonies in general, when compared to the profits made by buying raw materials from Africans and selling them finished product. Radio Free Europe could actually be credited with a great deal of toppling the Soviet Bloc or not, but I gurantee you that it was not guns. It was the Soviets realizing that despite the possible penalties, people wanted Levis and Springsteen records. You are oversimplifying an incredibly complex issue, and at the same time insulting some of the biggest heroes the dispossessed of this world could have. Federico Lorca, a Spanish poet was murdered by the Nationalists because he represented a threat to their power. Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet, was hunted by the Pinochet dictatorship for the same reason. Mao didn't kill people with guns, he killed those people who were smart enough to disagree with him. Same thing in Cambodia, Vietnam, Tibet, and many other places. The intelligentsia is targeted because it takes education and communication to rebel, not violence. Dictators do not fear people who are prone to violence, they hire them and make great use of them. Dictators fear those whose words may inflame the populace to action. Because as anyone can tell you, if you kill everyone in the country, there's no one left to govern. I suggest you read a little history before making inane statements like the one you just did.

        That said, the internet won't end tyranny because in a situation of true tyranny, the people will have no access to the internet.
        • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:12PM (#8691572)
          Yes, I am quite familiar with Gandhiji. I'm making a book charka right now. I'm also familiar with the concept of nonviolent resistence. My stepfather was a concientious objector in WWII. That was a pretty radical idea at the time. I myself am a Buddhist and Thoreauian.

          You might find this hard to believe, but the British in India were not a repressive regime, as these things go. Gandhiji spent some time in prison.

          He didn't disappear in the middle of the night. That would have ended his nonviolence campaign in a flash.

          That's what happens in truly repressive regimes. Like Mao's China.

          You are right about the intelligensia though. Sam and John Adams were intelligent and well educated.

          They were smart enough to realize to start stockpiling guns and powder years before the revolution broke out. Which was possible only because they didn't leave in a repressive regime.

          Repressive regimes don't fear words. That's an entirely democratic concept. Repressive regimes simply kill everyone who speaks.

          Without fear.

          You don't have to kill everyone in the country. You just have to decimate them (look it up if you have to. I know the meaning of the word because I spend a good deal of my time reading history). People fall into line.

          It might even surprise you that about 10% or so of the population likes living in a repressive regime. Always have. Always will.

          There's no accounting for people.

      • Pen beats sword (Score:3, Informative)

        by Phronesis ( 175966 )
        Gandhi used the pen and other modes of nonviolent persuasion, while the British used machine guns against unarmed protestors. Who won?

        We hear lots about armed resistance against the Nazis, but few people write about things like the time 6000 women picketed the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin in 1943 and got the Nazis to release their Jewish husbands, or the fact that nonviolent confrontation of the Nazis by the Danes saved the lives of almost all the Danish Jews. This was far more effective than violent re

      • You don't know what cognitive dissonance is. Cognitive dissonance is a state of imbalance, for instance when a mother knows that a diet of chips and lollies will make her child sick, but she wants to make her child happy and her child won't be happy till it's had lots of chips and lollies. I cannot see how thinking the internet can free Tibet and Burma is a state of imbalance.
        • Cognitive dissonance is not always concious. The imbalance may be felt and expressed without any knowledge that one's beliefs and actions are being dictated by the imbalance caused by the dissonance, because one way to deal with cognitive dissonance is to repress the knowledge, leading to abnormal psychological states with no observable cause.

          A subtler form of cognitive dissonance by repression is that of avoiding the conflict altogether by refusing to acknowledge two things you know as facts are in confli
    • by PhotoBoy ( 684898 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:31PM (#8690540)
      But I thought all those online petitions *did* make a difference!

      Like that petition to stop the evil "Lord of the Rings" franchise from cashing in on 9/11 by calling one of the films "The Two Towers".
  • by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:25PM (#8689834) Journal
    The Internet has brought world news into the American household. Before, we only had the local media and a handful of cable news networks. It has already started influencing how the American people view politics, and elevated their level of interaction with it.

    It is doing the same thing that television did in the 60's, when it brought the Vietnam "conflict" into the living room in all of its horrendous glory. Now we get to read the BBC and get a different take on why the world hates us.

    • BBC News broadcasts are also distributed by many public television stations in the USA and also on the BBC America cable channel.
    • by pben ( 22734 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:57PM (#8690041)
      I am of two minds on that, if people are really looking for facts and views they can find them quicker. The rise of Fox News and talk radio shows that there is another group that is just looking for a filter that reinforces their viewpoint without any disturbing debate entering without being spun.

      I think most people are like me. We know that the pol are lying, if it isn't about not having sex it is about overthrowing another country's government. Go ahead and play your games just leave us out of it. The pol like it like that and most Americans like it like that. Democracy is fairly dead when only 45% of the registered voters vote and only 50% of the people register to vote.

      Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community. The pols just don't seem to get that little fact.

      • by zangdesign ( 462534 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:15PM (#8690138) Journal
        Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community.

        And there's the problem right there - if you don't participate, there's no way that politicans are going to pay any attention to you. Sure the threat that you could go out and vote is going to keep them from doing some things, but not forever. Without that vote, you don't exist for them - you don't matter, not really, not when it counts.

        I really wish we could just say "you boys go have your little fun and when you're done, wash your hands", but it ain't gonna happen.
      • by mishac ( 75996 ) <slashdot@misha[ ]om ['c.c' in gap]> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:17PM (#8690147)
        While I understand this point of view, it still bothers me. Yes the politicians are liars. Yes they screw up and often don't care about common people. But you live in a democracy. If you don't like it, change it. A real grassroots effort by the dissaffected in society could change things for the better. Instead people whine and forget that a democracy entails responsibilities, not just rights.
        • by iminplaya ( 723125 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:46PM (#8690309) Journal
          I would love to see people actually vote out the incumbants, just to see how the gov't would react. They voted in a medical marijuana bill in California. You are aware how the gov't dealt with that, right? Something tells me that they wouldn't think too kindly on people voting for real change. The Americans can maintain their illusion of freedom as long as they don't actually excersize it.
      • by OldManAndTheC++ ( 723450 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:37PM (#8690245)
        I think most people are like me. We know that the pol are lying, if it isn't about not having sex it is about overthrowing another country's government. Go ahead and play your games just leave us out of it. The pol like it like that and most Americans like it like that.

        This is a sad comment. For thousands of years people have struggled to gain their freedom from tyrants. Only within the last few hundred years have people been able to take part in running a country. And what do you choose to do with that power? Stand aside and let professional politicians hand the power right back to the ruling class. I guess when you choose to let others make your decisions for you, you get the government you deserve. Unfortunately I also get the government you deserve.

        Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community

        Is your own voice worth so little to you? You have sold yourself short.

        • "Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community"

          Is your own voice worth so little to you? You have sold yourself short.

          The problem is that it's both expecting way too little and -- in the current context -- expecting way too much. Their games involve screwing up the economy for the rest of us, because that's part of how they win, given the rules we've let them define. Poli

        • For thousands of years people have struggled to gain their freedom from tyrants. Only within the last few hundred years have people been able to take part in running a country.

          Are you so obscenely naive that you actually believe that? Sometimes I cannot believe the level of misinformation floating around on the internet. You know why the internet is worthless? The same reason democracy is worthless: the vast majority of people are incredibly stupid!

          Before a few thousand years ago, there WAS no civiliza

          • This is not even getting to the other major issue: it is the tyrants you condemn that created a civilization within which fellows such as yourself could do something besides hunt and gather fruit. Tyrants grabbed ahold of selfish, aimless people and forced them to be a part of his vision, or leave the tribe. In time, people flocked to the cities created and maintained by wise leaders. They would much rather trade some of their freedoms to live in a paradise free from constant threats of attack, and where

        • "And what do you choose to do with that power? Stand aside and let professional politicians hand the power right back to the ruling class."

          Ah, but only after being convinced by them that it was what we truly wanted.

          Perfect example: McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform.

          What the politicians essentially said: "Money has too much undue influence in an election, especially close to election day. We want to political control away from moneyed interests and give it back to you."

          What they really meant:
      • I am of two minds on that, if people are really looking for facts and views they can find them quicker. The rise of Fox News and talk radio shows that there is another group that is just looking for a filter that reinforces their viewpoint without any disturbing debate entering without being spun.

        No, the rise of Fox News and talk radio is due to the fact that roughly half of the people who are concerned enough to actually vote will vote Republican, yet the majority of the other news outlets range from

      • I don't want to debate the merits of Fox News or (Talkshow host insert name here). I find it really odd that the presentation of an opposing viewpoint is considered filtering for reinforcing views.

        Its very hard to have a market of Ideas, or a market of anything when there is only one thing for sale. I have always found the traditional media's monoculture disconcerting. Especially when it has become quite apparent that the media will not eat its own dogfood. When Walter Cronkite can get up on his high hor
    • by betelgeuse-4 ( 745816 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:58PM (#8690047) Homepage Journal

      The BBC world service was around long before the internet, and offered uncensored news in many different languages. However, it didn't ever cause any revolutions (as far as I know).

  • Funny quote (Score:5, Funny)

    by spellraiser ( 764337 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:26PM (#8689840) Journal

    From the article (on an Internet Cafe in Laos):

    Yet, despite its trendiness and high-tech appearance, the Internet joint conspicuously lacked one element usually associated with cafe life: any discussion of current events. Virtually no one in the cafe spoke with anyone else.

    Geez - geeks not socializing! What is this world coming to ?!

    • by spellraiser ( 764337 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:49PM (#8689994) Journal

      The article is actually rather detailed and well-thought. The author makes some interesting arguments about why the Internet has not been as great a vessel for democratic progress as some hoped it would be.

      One argument is that yes, geeks do not socialize. More specifically, the author argues that the Internet is inherently detrimental to social debate:

      Another shortcoming of the Internet is that it lends itself to individual rather than communal activities. It "is about people sitting in front of a terminal, barely interacting," says one Laotian researcher. The Web is less well-suited to fostering political discussion and debate because, unlike radio or even television, it does not generally bring people together in one house or one room.

      Another argument is that many governments have simply stifled the Internet completely, reducing its utility altogether:

      But the Internet's inherent flaws as a political medium are only part of the reason for its failure to spread liberty. More significant has been the ease with which authoritarian regimes have controlled and, in some cases, subverted it. The most straightforward way governments have responded to opposition websites has been simply to shut them down.

      It goes on to mention a great number of examples of such activities; including government policies in Singapore, China and Saudi Arabia, among other countries. I could not fail to be outraged at reading descriptions of such vile cencorship, which is unfortunately a fact of life for a great number of the world's Internet users.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:27PM (#8689846)
    Howard Dean was a success story for the internet. He gathered a huge amount of money and marshalled a decent amount of supporters.

    He lost because he stupid campaign manager blew all that money in the insignificant first two states of the primary, mostly fighting against Dick Gephardt-- who turned out to basically be a hopeless kamakaze attack steered into the Dean campaign anyway.

    If it hadn't been for incompetence on the part of said campaign manager, Dean would have won or at least made enough fo an impact you would not now be chiding the internet-oriented aspects of his campaign strategy.
  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:29PM (#8689857)
    People like to say "The Internet treats any form of censorship as damage and tries to route around it." and in most cases that's true. If a router is refusing to allow access to another address, the router before it will attempt to find another way to get the packets to where they're supposed to go.

    However, if the only ways out of the house/building/campus/country on the network are all controled by the same sensoring authority, there's no way to get there from here. So, Tyranical goverments just need to maintain control of all wires leaving their country, and prevent people from owning satellite dishes and then they'll be all set at blocking sites that they don't like.
    • Tyranical goverments just need to maintain control of all wires leaving their country, and prevent people from owning satellite dishes
      And that's the key, the more information that gets put on the internet, the more things/sites an oppressive government has to ban/censor. At some point, they're simply not going to be able to keep up.
      Banning something is reactionary, the information has to be available at some point in order for the government to notice it needs to be banned.
      No, the introduction of the
  • Exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jim_Hawkins ( 649847 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:29PM (#8689858)
    The main reason that the internet has not been a threat to dictators is that the dictators don't need to control the internet. They only need to control the computers that access the internet.

    This is no different than controlling any other type of media. (Control of presses/television stations/etc.)
    • You know, we have all these spammers spending thousands of hours trying to evade all kinds of filters and safeguards. The US government just needs to hire them and bombard the Chinese with appropriate propaganda. Just imagine:

      Subject: Supp0rt d.mcr4cy n0w!
  • by James A. M. Joyce ( 764379 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:29PM (#8689859) Journal
    Guess what - neither did the printing press, the telephone, radio or television.
    • by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:42PM (#8689953) Journal
      Don't be so quick to discredit those. Those things all had large effects, just not outright revolutions. Without the printing press, Martin Luther wouldnt' have been able to reach as wide of an audience, and the reformation would have died before it could get off the ground. As another poster pointed out, the television brought the horror of the Vietnam conflict to the homes of the American people and was the reason why it was so widely opposed after a few years.
      • As another poster pointed out, the television brought the horror of the Vietnam conflict to the homes of the American people and was the reason why it was so widely opposed after a few years.

        But the television didn't bring home the horrors of the North Vietnamese government to the homes of the American people - the thousands slaughtered or the over a million imprisoned in labor camps. Television, like any other medium, only shows you what you want to see.

  • Is this a surprise? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by igotmybfg ( 525391 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:32PM (#8689888) Homepage
    There's quite a difference between a person who puts up a blog and a person who, for example, leads an armed insurrection against a bastard dictator. I submit that the ability to type and the ability to forcefully overthrow a government have little in common...
  • by Roger Keith Barrett ( 712843 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:33PM (#8689896)
    Don't you think, though, that there is not one single factor that can bring dictators down but it's a set of smaller reasons.

    I think the Internet is a rather strong eroding factor. It isn't an instant fix, but it works to undermind the foundation of these regimes. Someone above said that "radio, TV, telephone" didn't do it either.. right, but the contributed. Nothing works all at once... all the communication together eventually brings it all down at once upon itself, like it did in the USSR.
    • The theory that media can bring down dictators is based chiefly on one premise: that if people knew what was really going on, they would refuse to stand for it. Unfortunately this isn't really the case. The people of Iraq knew very well what Saddam was up to; they knew about the torturing, the disappearances, the corruption, etc. From the perspective of the rest of the world, maybe we haven't always known, but we sure know now - and now more people than ever are calling the war in Iraq a mistake.

      It's s

      • P2P (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )
        The principle is that if people can communicate with each other, rather than rely on the mediation of the dictator, they are harder to tyrannize. In Iraq, Saddam stayed in the center of the "public". We'll never know whether the Iraqis would have gotten rid of Saddam once they got freer communicaion, because the US cheated them of their chance at an American style revolution, in favor of a murderous nanny "rescue" that disempowers the people yet again.
    • I do agree with you, but it's interesting to note the difference of the internet. Books, radio (in the strict radio-network sense), TV, you can't shout back at any of these. The internet not only lets outside influences in, it also allows dissidents to communicate with each other.

      The internet certainly won't bring down a regime on its own, but it can be more of an aid than anything before its time.

  • by Catskul ( 323619 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:34PM (#8689898) Homepage
    Quote from article:
    "But world leaders, journalists, and political scientists who tout the Internet as a powerful force for political change are just as wrong as the dot-com enthusiasts who not so long ago believed the Web would completely transform business."
    Anyone who thinks the web has not completely changed major business has to get their head out of their ass.
    "It has yet to topple--or even seriously undermine--its first tyrannical regime."
    How long does this guy think these countries have had the web, and what percentage of these people does he think use it there? And finally how long does he think it takes for something like this to change culture? Holy Shit Dude! Its like saying: "we started publishing an underground newspaper three years ago, and it has yet to topple Dictator so and so.." Real soulutions take time. Cultural change takes time. And it is WAY to early to be making judgements about the way the web is affecting these places
  • by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:35PM (#8689908) Journal
    I don't get this guy.. He's pointing out that he visited an internet cafe in Laos, and despite its existence, their oppressive regime still stands!

    How strange. Or?

    Most people in Laos can't afford to go to an internet cafe and read the censored news - or possibly gain access to the uncensored ones. How could it possibly make a difference?

    The internet is a medium, not a means. You need to have an organized opposition to effect change. You need support. You need a lot of things other than just the means of communication.

    Instead, he should be looking at the places were these kinds of things are in place. Such as Iran. And you will also see the use of the internet. And these places are progressing*.

    (*Although I'll be the first to admit to the recent setbacks in Iran. But on the other hand, the Ayatollahs wouldn't be acting if they weren't threated, would they?)
    • Here here!

      The internet is a tool for disseminating information, at speeds and in ways that the preinting press, radio and television could only dream of. But that's all it is. It's morally neutral.

      Just like paper books, the radio and TV it can be used to both enlighten (Radio Free Europe, CIA copies of Russian maps, Cathedral and the Bazaar, etc) or oppress/spread lies (Soviet-Era Pravda, Mein Kampf, CNN during the Iraq War, etc) or just to sell stuff like porn.

      It is how these tools are u
  • by mabu ( 178417 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:37PM (#8689922)
    But world leaders, journalists, and political scientists who tout the Internet as a powerful force for political change are just as wrong as the dot-com enthusiasts who not so long ago believed the Web would completely transform business.

    This is a classic example of a writer who had an agenda first, and then sought to write a story to back it up. The whole article is bogus.

    The Internet HAS completely transformed business. It has become a major source of a variety of political discussion and activism. Anyone who has been paying attention can see that.

    The mainstream political/business publications are resistant to anything which upsets the existing delicate balance, so they often hold new technology (i.e. things they don't understand, or can't control, or can't profit from based on the way they've been leveraging their power and control) to ridiculous, unrealistic standards.

    So if we put Internet kiosks in a communist country and the regime doesn't topple in six months, that's a failure of the Internet? Get real!

    I know this is nothing new, but am I the only one who doesn't see this new mingling of promotion and editorial which seems to now be totally dominant? An entity "proclaims" something IS the way it IS. Never mind coming up with a realistic explanation. Most people have such short attention spans they don't check the facts or read between the lines.
  • How fast? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:38PM (#8689925) Homepage
    After all, tyrannies live in the real world which doesn't move at Internet time. Even if information is available at the click of a mouse, opinions and knowledge still take time to spread--and then have to also act in the real world politics, laws, and other methods of change that take time.

    Did someone expect that tyrants could just be voted out with a web poll?

  • by keath_milligan ( 521186 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:38PM (#8689926) Homepage
    The kind of change the article is talking about can take years, even generations. Widespread access to the web hasn't really existed in most areas of the world but for a few years. Just as radio and television broadcasts didn't topple governments overnight, neither can we expect the web to be able to. But the web will play an important role in change. Those young people surfing pop-culture sites are really the bigger threat to totalatarianism - as they grow older, they'll start to look around and see what people in more liberal, western countries have versus what they have and realize the truth.
  • by replicant108 ( 690832 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:39PM (#8689930) Journal
    It is to be expected that where power is derived form force, the existence of the internet will have little political effect. On the other hand, where power is derived from propaganda the internet will have significant effect. This thesis is borne out if you look at recent political movements in the west, e.g. the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements.

    The number of people involved in the anti-war movement in particular was unprecedented, and depended largely for its success on the internet - both as an alternative news source and as a organisational tool.
  • Internet is not only the web, and not all the web is about big webs. Its also small forums, maillist, irc, and instant messagind. If people mix with other, will know about how cool is to live at a democracy country, and be jealous... ..the article is simplistic at first. The Internet is a powerfull tool, with unknom hidden effects long range. I suspect.
  • Freedom of speech undermines revolution. If you don't have the freedom to speak your mind, you build up anger that you can't release. Eventually enough people build up enough anger that they do speak out and with critical mass they form a revolution. After all, if free speech is outlawed, you better arm yourself if you want to speak out.

    Free speech generates a culture of back seat driver, couch potato swear-at-the-images-on-your television citizens. It's better to let out anger than leave it in. I thi
  • by heironymouscoward ( 683461 ) <[heironymouscoward] [at] []> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:43PM (#8689958) Journal
    It's true that the internet is not the cornucopia of freedom it was hyped up to be.

    But the underlying premise, that information is essential to liberty, remains true, and the internet as a technology (perhaps not as a product) is the best way of getting accurate and timely information.

    The very fact that the author was unable to access websites belonging to dissident groups proves the point. If the internet was irrelevant, these sites would not be blocked.

    In the past, a dictatorial regime would progressively close off the flow of free information to its populace, the better to feed them the diet of lies that sustain such regimes. These days, that is harder than it has ever been, and this is largely thanks to the internet, including humble email.

    I believe the internet has brought liberty to many people, it's just that the process is incomplete.
  • The New Republic. Isn't that the same magazine that employed Stephen Glass?

    For those of you who don't know the story, Glass was busted for making up dozens of stories out of whole cloth. The story that finally broke the camel's back was one he made up about a (ficitonal) teenage hacker who held a large (fictional) technology corporation hostage. He invented hacker conventions and fictional US infosec laws to back all of this up. Nobody at TNR figured any of this out-- it took an investigation by anoth

  • "Reminds me of Howard Dean, and the trend to see technological change as a politically progressive force. Maybe this is not such a good idea?"

    What? You attribute the collapse of Democratic support for Howard Dean as a way of advancing the argument that the internet is not revolutionary? Dean collapsed because of his crazy man scream and other gaffes, not to mention that his "I'm against Bush's war" wasn't enough of a campaign platform to rally behind.

    Its actually ironic that you brought this up regardin
  • Orwell saw that back when he wrote 1984! Ever considered how that whole editing process worked? Or the telescreens? That's technology for you!
  • laos'd world (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:59PM (#8690055) Homepage Journal
    What he got in Laos was not the Internet. It was a Potemkin [] internet (small "i"), where the government controls the access to controversial people. The Internet is not the threat to tyranny, people are, when using the Internet. The people of Laos are uniquely tyrannized, after their 1970s holocaust [] which killed millions of people, on the basis of their education and independence. And Laos is just now getting any kind of internet at all, or even foreigners. In a few years, after the inevitable noise in their tyranny signal buzzes the people with any alternatives to the official truth, confirming the crazy ideas of the bearded backpackers scrambling through their mountains, their government will have a lot more trouble monopolizing the minds of their people, leading to the dissolution of their _1984_ [] style dystopia. From which they will likely move to our own _Brave New World_ [] style dystopia.
  • by ShatteredDream ( 636520 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:00PM (#8690058) Homepage
    Let's use Iran as an example. The postings that I have read from Iranian activists who are fightin against the Mullahs say that if it were not for the support of the British, French and Russians that the Islamic Republic would be long gone by now. It comes as a shock to many that the U.S. isn't the only country in the world that props up evil governments for its own benefit.

    There is evidence coming out of both the Rwandan government and the U.N. to show that the French government all but carried out the Rwandan massacre. Its officers gave the orders and set up the scenario that made it possible. With a country like France knowingly carrying out those kinds of actions, no wonder many countries are having problems.

    The Internet only works as well as the ability of the citizenry to defend it against government control. Most countries are ruled by a governing elite that make America's look like statesmen. At least in America, the elite has to give a pretense of caring about the common man's rights. In countries ranging from the U.K. to Iran to China, the elite not only doesn't care, but often openly shows its contempt.

    It's a cultural conflict and that's why most geeks and nerds are so poorly equipped to understand it. The average geek/nerd's understanding of politics is basically like CmdrTaco's: "democrats good because they're not religious right, republicans bad because they are." It was sickly ironic that people like CmdrTaco supported Gore, since 2/3 of the things that were wrong with tech policy at the time could be blamed on the Clinton administration. That again illustrates why most geeks just "don't get it."

    Honest political analysis and insight takes a lot of time and effort. The geek mind can deal with it on an intellectual level quite well. The problem though is that society isn't ready for many of the changes. And by society I am speaking more in a liberal cosmopolitan sense.

    Most of the human race is nowhere near as liberal as the average American. That is why most geeks and self-proclaimed intellectuals fail when they try to apply American standards to developing countries. It's not that our cultures are completely equal because no culture is better than another, it's that the spread of liberalism takes time.

    If you want to protect the Internet, work on spreading liberalism around the world. Give money to the Reason foundation, to the Minaret Foundation if you're a Muslim. Buy copies of Reason magazine, Liberty and other liberal (ie neither conservative nor socialist) publications.

    The Internet represents the liberal "end of history" for communication systems. It cannot in the long run work in a world that is largely conservative or socialist.

    Disclaimer: I have for a long time been a harsh critic of the foreign policy establishment in America because of their tendency to betray our founders. Our founders would be horrified to see how illiberal America's foreign policy is today, so do not take me to be some wild-eyed zealot. I may be an American patriot, but i'm also a southern nationalist. For those from South America, remember that we Southerners too are at least semi-victims of "Yanqui Imperialism."
    • by danharan ( 714822 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:20PM (#8690158) Journal
      It's nice to see some people pointing the finger at others besides just he US government.

      To say the French government all but carried out the Rwandan massacre is over-stating it. Boutros Boutros-Ghali knew (got Egypt to start selling them weapons before being SG), the US knew, the Belgians knew, the Vatican knew and the World Bank knew. The French were bastards as usual (this coming from a French citizen), but you can't lay all the blame on them.

      In most cases, the French, Russians, UK and US have common foreign policy objectives. Burma and Iran could be democratic if any one of them would be so kind as to stop their support for nasty regimes.

      And that brings up a fundamental point the reporter seems to have missed: if we in the west can use the internet (not just the web- he apparently can't tell the difference) to pressure our governments to stop supporting dictatorships, and companies to stop doing business with them... we might actually see a bit more democracy.

      This is happenning slowly, and as pressure increases on dictatorships, we might see another wave of democratization.
  • WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CashCarSTAR ( 548853 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:00PM (#8690060)
    "Another shortcoming of the Internet is that it lends itself to individual rather than communal activities. It "is about people sitting in front of a terminal, barely interacting," says one Laotian researcher. The Web is less well-suited to fostering political discussion and debate because, unlike radio or even television, it does not generally bring people together in one house or one room."

    That's a big Whisky Tango Foxtrot. A huge one.

    Where has this guy been? The reason why the internet is so useful is EXACTLY that reason. It doesn't need people in one house, or one room. People can be comparing ideas and improving them from across the street, across the state or across the world.

    The world is run by ideas, and only by improving and refining those ideas can any progress be made.

    It's open source politics, that's really what it is. And to think that it's not changing things, might as well think that linux isn't changing things.

    Check out Eschatron [] or Daily Kos [] to get some of the best examples of this principle at work.

  • by Everyman ( 197621 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:04PM (#8690078) Homepage
    Techno-utopianism predates the Internet; it goes back to the Macintosh:

    "HyperCard is uniquely suited for activist causes. It goes without saying that its great ease of use and flexibility favors the underdog. Activist groups have often relied on people power and maneuverability to counteract the brute economic and political force of various Powers-That-Be; HyperCard can enhance both of these advantages."

    -- "Signal: Communication Tools for the Information Age (A Whole Earth Catalog)," Kevin Kelly, ed. Foreward by Stewart Brand. Point Foundation, 1988, p. 164.

    Today the same religious zeal can be found among Google cultists.
  • by DietVanillaPepsi ( 763129 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:05PM (#8690089)
    The internet has helped to relieve the political stagnation that occurs when news sources are limited to the major newspapers and television networks. On the internet, you can be exposed to so many differing opinions regarding political current events that it is possible to have a more fully-informed opinion (or at least believe that you do).

    The internet also provides an outlet through which the average somewhat Internet-savvy person can do their own pissing and moaning about the state of things.

    Those who live under tyrannical governments do not be an outlet through which they can express their opinion without their being repercussions, therefore the internet as a political tool is largely irrelevant in said countries.

    But the internet has been a tremendous tool in turning the tides against political apathy. That, or those who were already politically aware and active are just using a new tool to get their views out. Regardless, it can only be viewed as a good thing in terms of it leading to more political awareness.

  • by Hackie_Chan ( 678203 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:07PM (#8690100)
    but rather develop better democracies?
  • by Incognitius ( 690760 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:12PM (#8690123) Journal
    Well, there are several issues to be considered here before Mr. Kurlantzick gets ahead of himself.

    The internet is a relatively new phenomenon. In many areas of the world--especially Laos--it has not undergone mainstream proliferation. Many Laotians do not have access to the internet, and contrary to this article's claims, many of them are still illiterate. Those who can read can only read the Lao language. Until the Internet has mainstream acceptance among the mainstream of Laotians, there will be little revolutionary activity. This will take time, of course, because revolutions aren't born overnight. As says the historian Howard Zinn, "so far, human history has consisted only of short runs."

    This, of course, assumes that people want to revolutionize. Erich Fromm's _Fear of Freedom_ suggests that "individuals, and therefore societies, have an innate tendency to revert to systems of political and cultural restraint rather than to take advantage of opportunities for freedom or emancipation--and that they may actually seek out governments to control them rather than face the prospect of individual freedom." That Laotians do not revolutionize is not an inherent limitation of the internet but rather an inherent aspect of human nature.
  • by poptones ( 653660 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:12PM (#8690128) Journal
    So... china is realizing more and more the importance of cooperating internationally on trade issues... India, Spain (and other countries) are installing mega call centers and employing thousands of "new capitalists" all thanks to... the internet.

    What do they expect? Massive incursions of angry libertarian geeks? Dissidents armed with plotters and inkjet cartridges? All change takes time, but the fact you can now get employment in a tin shack in Africa making custom goods being sold in the US - and getting a percentage of profit from every item you make WHILE tracking those items yourself - just screams "empowerment thanks to the internet."

    What happens when the old guard in china dies? Or in Cuba? Does anyone really think the internet won't play a huge role in helping new political groups organize? What about the reporters in China who got news out on Tianninmin using cellphones, fax machines, email and other tools of the (then) infant internet?

  • by GileadGreene ( 539584 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:19PM (#8690154) Homepage
    While I agree with the opinions expressed by a number of the other comments about this story regarding the brief amount of time the Internet has been available in these countries, and the fact that the Internet has transformed business, I can't help wondering if there's not another component missing from this picture.

    It's all very well to talk theoretically about information setting people free, but the bottom line is that if you live in one of these countries and you make "dissident information" available online the authorities will very likely track you down. Similarly, if you are seen to be accessing the IPs associated with "dissident information" you will, at the very least, end up on some kind of watchlist. Sure, the availability of Internet cafes helps some - you obtain a veneer of anonymity by hiding in the crowd - but probably not enough to really let people speak out. What would really help is something like the old (and apparently now defunct) Freedom system that Zero Knowledge Systems put together, which used strong crypto to dissociate sender and receiver from each other. Of course, then the authorities will just pick up anyone producing encrypted traffic. But if all traffic ran through a Freedom-like system...

    Ok, ok, I know that's wishful thinking on my part. But I can hope, can't I? And maybe if enough of us living in countries that still retain some (political) freedom started to make use of Freedom, and encouraging businesses and news orgs to do the same, then it would begin to permeate the 'net as a whole. Sigh, there goes that wishful thinking again...

  • It's wrong to say that the Internet is not democratizing politics, and the author of the article gives evidence of this, in this paragraph quoted from the article:

    "The Internet has had more impact on politics in Malaysia than in Singapore," says Cherian George, who is writing a book on Internet usage in Southeast Asia. There are several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Malaysia committed to investigating the government;... As a consequence, when activists in Malaysia want to use the Web to highlight human rights abuses, George says, they can draw upon the information amassed by the NGOs from their networks of sources.

    Social change is often largely hidden for years before it shows obvious external characteristics. That's what happened in the former Soviet Union. The people did not have access to much information about the outside world, but the leaders had complete access. The breakup of the Soviet Union was largely due to Soviet leaders not believing in their own mental constructs, after years of experiencing the outside world.

    The internet hastens these hidden social processes. For example, all of China's leaders have completely uncensored access to the entire internet. This makes them more aware of their own mental rigidity.
  • by OneInEveryCrowd ( 62120 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:42PM (#8690278)
    In the early days of radio some people actually believed that putting radios in police cars would end crime and that radio was a force for world peace. When television was new it was assumed that it would be educational and raise the level of literacy.

    I don't see much difference between these earlier beliefs and current superstitious ramblings on by baby boomer journalists about the power of the internet.

    The internet eventually will make a difference in politics because it's how people communicate. It just won't be as magical or quick as some of these writers assume
  • I Disagree. (Score:5, Funny)

    by bfg9000 ( 726447 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:43PM (#8690288) Homepage Journal
    the internet--once heralded as a revolutionary force in politics--has turned out to be surprisingly nonthreatening to dictators and tyrannies.

    I can think of a few dictators [] and tyrants [] whose kingdoms are threatened [] by the power of the internet []. The internet is scary to some, exciting to others, because it's people working together. []
  • by bitspotter ( 455598 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:59PM (#8690369) Journal
    ...who explained to me that in a dictatorship, it doesn't matter what people think, because you have a gun to their head. If you can control what they do, then what they think doesn't matter.

    Only in a democratic system, where direct extortion is prohibited, does thought control become necessary. When people are relatively free to do as they please does it become necessary to control what they think - and that's what the media cartels have learned how to do.

    The Internet allows for the relatively free flow of subversive thought and criticism, which certianly sparks change in societies where force is not king. But in a dictatorship, That's not enough. Until the Internet traffics in guns, dictatorship won't care about it.
  • Perhaps SMS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Avumede ( 111087 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:08PM (#8690430) Homepage
    SMS may be the real revolutionary technology. They have recently been a huge factor [] in the upset in the Spanish election. Flash mobs have also demonstrated their power in producing spontantenous actions that are utterly unpredictable by the people in power.

    It may not serve to get foreign ideas into a populace, but it can greatly accelerate the spread of ideas in a way that is uncontrollable.

    I'm optimistic for the future.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:23PM (#8690503)
    First of all, "the Web" and "the Internet" are not interchangeable terms. I'm tired of hearing from writers who undertake to write about the social implications of technology which they don't seem to understand in depth, who seem to think the network is entirely contained within their web browser.

    To find things on the web, you have to look for them. Revolutionary ideas don't jump out of the web and slap you in the face. You have to go looking for them. Which means 1) you are somewhat inquisitive 2) you know at least enough about what you're looking for to have enough search terms to plug into Google or some other index.
    Which means you are already to some degree indoctrinated into the movement you want to read about. This is why political activism on the web today is something of a global circle jerk. The point of any real change is to bring new people into the fold and spread the idea that they don't need to put up with the tyranny they are living under. Once that idea reaches critical mass, people will get bolder about challenging the establishment, and take appropriate action.

    As a few people have pointed out, people aren't going to embrace that idea unless they are really being oppressed in a way that has affected them personally and perhaps traumatically. Tyranny is an acceptable way of life for a lot of people if they have their basic human needs met. They don't really know how much better their life could be because they've never experienced anything better and they don't miss what they never had. Or they are beat down by their oppressors to such a degree that they no longer believe they have the power to change things.

    So of course the web is not going to be a great vehicle for spreading new ideas. It's just the simplest and most accessible layer of the internet for armchair revolutionaries to utilize and bitch about. It CAN be a great medium for people who are already motivated and are actively seeking what's out there.

    So, the author is half right about the web, especially when he notes that it's an especially easy medium for the despotic governments to monitor and crack down on.

    What really will spread the cause of liberty and bring down the most oppressive and iron fisted dictators and oppressive governments in this world is japanese teenage girls with cellphones.

    You heard me right. Look there if you want to see the prototype for your revolution. That's right... Rural chinese people and disgruntled Saudi youth are not "gettin' a Dell", dude.

    Net connected consumer communications devices will become ubiquitous, and they will support new protocols which are designed from the ground up for social networking. They will support encryption and VPN, and will be all but impossible to suppress. Wireless and satellite have the potential to bypass a lot of the censorship going on at the network routing layer.

    I could give this writer a break for not having the vision to see where things are going, but there is simply no excuse for not seeing how they are today. The people who are living under bad government are lucky to be able to read, have water to drink, and electricity... let alone a computer, internet access, doughnut friday, and a copy of the New Republic.

    reply to sysarcathushcom

  • the new media (Score:5, Interesting)

    by corporatewhore ( 308338 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:53PM (#8690664)
    One of the more interesting points that I think is being overlooked is that the digital media makes the past mutable - look at the Time magazine article that was not just pulled but the entire online edition redone to remove all references to the article (GW1 on the first gulf war), effectively vaporizing the past in a very 1984-esque manner. Were it not for sites like the memory hole we might not even have been aware it was de-existed. Also, the new graphics technology makes it possible to produce almost any photo you would like to have (there was a thread on idymedia about CNN using a doctored photograph just today, for instance, though they aren't sure who specifically doctored the shot). History has become mutable (changable), and unless you were there and saw it you no longer can be sure of anything you read or see online. With this in mind, the internet has the capability to become quite the Orwellian tool for mass manipulation.

    While studying CS in school, our graphics teacher said the holy grail of computer graphics was to produce an image that was indistinguishable from a real photo. I asked him if he considered the social implications of such technology...he said "no"...that chilled me then, and still does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:02PM (#8690735)
    If political subversion becomes so mainstream that kids in Internet cafes are reading political articles, then this tyrannical government is probably already dead.

    Come on, be realistic! How many kids in the US go to political sites? Maybe 1 out of 1,000,000? How many kids in the US even know anything about politics? You might as well do like Howard Stern and go ask a stripper.

    The Web is not a panacea. People still need to care. In China right now, most people don't care, they will just live however they can and try to stay out of the way of the government. Some people where I work even want to go back to China because the living is so good now in their eyes. They don't give a shit about human rights, about the right to criticize the government, etc.

    The fact is that the Web is another facility for those who care to communicate. For example, e-mail was one of the things that kept the world informed about the attempted coup in Russia in 1996. During the Tiananmen Square in 1990, if activists had e-mail, I'm sure they could have been much more organized, and the people of China could have heard about it and the truth of how the army fired on their own people. The fact is that all other means of communication were completely shut down. I have friends from China who at the time knew nothing of the truth of Tiannamen square until they came to the US to study.

    In South Korea, there was a massacre at Kwang-Ju where the army killed dozens if not hundreds of protesters. Again, my friends of Korea at the time said they knew nothing of it.

    If more people had been connected to the web, and e-mails were forwarded like crazy between activists and then finally to the regular masses, maybe something could have been done?

    This is the power of the web, and it is available to many people... it's the activists job to sell to these people that change needs to occur.
    • For example, e-mail was one of the things that kept the world informed about the attempted coup in Russia in 1996.

      It was Soviet Union and 1991.

      Email, however, didn't help much back in 1993, when the Yeltsin actually used military force to get done with the parliament.
  • Makes sense... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by splerdu ( 187709 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:18PM (#8690849)
    You can't have a technological solution to a social problem.
  • by payndz ( 589033 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:29PM (#8691660)
    It's actually a very interesting piece, don't get me wrong. But the idea that access to information will somehow inspire millions to rise up and overthrow their oppressors has one flaw.

    99% of people in the world aren't interested in rising up and overthrowing their oppressors.

    Think about it. You may be being oppressed, and life may be shit, but it's *life*. You're still alive. Now, given the choice at your local newly-opened cybercafe, are you going to head for a pro-democracy website full of anti-government rhetoric, or are you going to check out for a look at what Madonna's up to? Remember, one of these choices could lead to you being arrested. Pick wisely now.

    It's much easier to get on with your life without worrying about such things. Unless somebody's actually coming to kill you *right now* for your ethnic group/religious beliefs/sexuality/whatever, in most countries you can at least have a life - friends, family, marriage, kids and so on - without the concern that you might be dragged off at any moment and thrown into a cell or shot in the back of the head. So why stir things up?

    (NB: I'm not suggesting for a moment that I think people *should* just knuckle under and accept whatever tyranny happens to be exploting them. The sad fact is, people *do* accept them, because it's much easier than the alternative - running around in the countryside trying not to get shot dead.)

    Governments - of any nation - are more powerful now than at any time in history. And the people who enforce the actions of those governments have guns. And tanks. And helicopter gunships. And a whole bunch of other weapons ostensibly for the 'protection' of the nation that can just as easily be turned against people within its borders.

    Hell, if there's one thing the internet's done, it's shown that democracy ain't a magic wand, at least not the way it's done in the US and the UK. Here are two candidates. They're both rich white guys, and apart from trivial differences over specifics, their policies are practically identical. They also both want government to have greater control over the daily lives of the citizens. Don't even bother thinking about a third alternative, because the media has already turned them into a laughing stock. Now choose!

    I've come to the sad realisation that not one single political party in the UK even vaguely represents my beliefs. So how do I get my voice heard? (Don't suggest 'start your own party' - I'm on Slashdot, I have zero charisma! ;) And if it's like that even in a stable western democracy, what chance do the 'internet dissidents' have?

  • Failure. . ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:59PM (#8691821)
    Politics are an illusion.

    Expecting voting to change anything is like expecting the jail guards to be significantly affected by popular decsions among the

    Think of the internet more as a tool of escape.

    My knowledge structure and learning has never moved along so quickly as it has in the last few years with instant access to information. Libraries and the telephone are still useful, but the net moves much closer to the speed of thought.

    As for uprisings against political tyrany. . ?

    I wouldn't rule that one out. One of the best ways to lock down a nation under military rule is to invoke an uprising which 'validates' the use of military force.


  • by Angry Pixie ( 673895 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:57AM (#8694704) Journal

    When I attempted to access the Web pages of exile groups opposed to the authoritarian Vientiane regime, I received an error message saying the pages were not accessible. My experience in the Vientiane cafe was a sobering antidote to a pervasive myth: that the Internet is a powerful force for democracy.

    Disclaimer: I'm a part of this significant subset of the democratization industry that Kurlantzick mentioned. Kurlantzick is sadden by the inability of the Internet to topple regimes. Note that by Internet he means the World Wide Web and that he seriously anticipated the Internet to empower the meek and downtrodden with the weapons and ammunition needed to stage revolutions that will remove tyrants.

    The Internet is a powerful force for democracy because the Internet is an enabler of open communication. It is just like a radio, a television, or a newspaper - all three of which have ignited flames of revolt all throughout history. The ability to voice one's opinion as well as one's oppression is a prerequisite to the democrazation of any social or political system. Now obviously a government can hinder the effectiveness of the Internet. China did this with Google. We did it with Early Bird. Cultures can also handicap the effectiveness of the Internet.

    True story. A North African Muslim couple come to the US to study Information Systems. They catch the entrepreneurial spirit and decide to open an ISP in their home country upon returning home. A couple of years later they return to the US, having not started that ISP. Their reason was that their society was very fundamentalist Islamic despite a few liberal pockets. By starting an ISP, they would expose their customers to culturally and religiously offensive material such as women's casualware listings or Saks Fifth Avenue's pantyhose and shoe catalog. The couple feared a death sentence for bringing in what was considered locally, smut and porn.

    This is one specific example of how the effectiveness of the Internet can be limited. However, the Internet has had more success in other places such as the former Yugoslavia. IIT's Project Kosovo and Project Bosnia [] have successfully used the Internet as a way of documenting war crimes and atrocities and getting the word out to the international community. Democratization efforts depend on getting information flowing. We need to get people talking. We need to start hearing more stories first-hand. The Internet hasn't been used seriously as an instrument for social change until the late 1990s, so results will take time. The ultimate goal is for the Internet to serve as conduit that permits a free exchange of ideas, and that through that exchange help can be given and lives can be improved.

    The Internet has an even more important role today than envisioned years ago. Many people are frightened of sharing their political and social opinions in public out of fear of retribution by the authorities. The Internet a vital means for learning the issues from multiple perspectives and for engaging in healthy political debate. At this very moment, tech savvy groups like eToy [] are engaging in electronic hacktivsm, making people aware of issues that they won't hear about on corporate-controlled news channels. Even now in the US, the safest place to protest is not the free speech zones [] approved by the government but private chatrooms and blogs. []

    While it's true that the Internet has proved itself able to disseminate pop culture in authoritarian nations--not only Laos, but China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere--to date, its political impact has been decidedly limited.

    This is opinion. I've spoken with many forei

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.