In his article Political Factors: Digital Activism in Closed and Open Societies, Glaisyer asserts that both citizen usage and government response to the internet will look different in democratic societies when compared to autocratic societies. He states ‘the disposition of the government toward digital activism will be significant in defining the impact this kind of activism has on a society’ (96). In autocratic governments, the internet provides government with a new mechanism for control of its citizens, or as seen in last week Morozov readings, an effective method of distraction. In democratic governments, however, internet opens the door for both effective communication between a government and its citizenry as well as unmitigated citizen expressions of disagreement, displeasure, and even distrust of government. It’s arguable that in democratic governments, which adhere, however loosely, to of the people, for the people, by the people, expressions of disagreement with certain aspects of government, elected officials and/or their policies are not only expected, but also a constitutional right. However, in an autocratic government, where, as mentioned by Columbus, the same expressions are labeled as ‘hate speech’, which is not only illegal, but covers such a broad spectrum of speech that ‘dissent’ becomes illegal and therefore exposes the writer to the potential for punishment. Karpf references several examples of bloggers in autocratic countries being subject to torture and imprisonment for such expressions. As such, Glaisyer argues that digital activism in countries featuring a democratic government is ‘more expansive’. Social media can go places journalists in traditional media cannot, in a democratic government.
One potential explanation for the difference in the effects of digital activism in democratic versus autocratic governments, is that, as mentioned above, in a democracy that is essentially a vessel for carrying out the public’s wishes, such expressions of dissatisfaction are aimed merely at repairing ‘busted seams’ in democracy and not actually building a democracy. In autocratic governments, however, with top-down rule, government must first be overthrown, a sufficient replacement found, and then a democracy can be formed. Democracies like the one in America are hundreds of years in the making. Especially because the mechanisms behind digital activism are ‘new’, the strategic and tactical goals described by Karpf are not quite as advanced as previous non-digital activism may have been. Similarly, as noted in other class readings, the internet may be doing more harm than good in autocratic governments, especially since it allows easier access for government to the networks behind digital movements.
Question: Do you see a possibility for citizens under autocratic governments to find ways around the government to effectively mount an offline movement, especially in light of examples like Egypt, particularly in countries like China?