The uprising in Tunisia has been described as a ‘twitter-powered revolution’ but this is not a new theme. Proponents of the Internet since the 1980’s (as well as defenders the recent onset of user-controlled web 2.0) constantly cite it’s democratic and emancipatory potential as self evident. They seem to suggest, that if we give the Chinese, the Russians, the Arabs enough internet access then the people will collectively rise up and fulfil their democratic potential (whatever that means). However, there are implications of using the Internet to this use which may undermine it’s potential for true resistance.
Evgeny Morozov, in his recent book “The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World” provides us with a ‘user warning’ for revolution 2.0 and is therefore a must read for anyone thinking of starting an ‘uprising 2.0’. He reminds us that the Internet is still an open platform and that, especially in oppressive states, it provides the government with revolution information for free.
There are many examples. Remember that long-forgotten uprising in Iran? Well, now that the dust has settled, and the Western media has moved on; the authorities are clamping down. Using the ‘data trails’ left over from the many anti-state ‘twitters’ the authorities are able to seek out entire networks of dissidents and take them away. The method is simple: find a known dissident then track his network through Web 2.0.
“In the past, states used to torture to get this kind of data, now all they have to do is just to get on Facebook!” – Evgeny Morozov
In some states, governments are even encouraging Internet resistance in a twisted way to control people. In China, bloggers are allowed to discuss non-political issues and even criticize local government. However, this means that the dissidents are only resisting against small issues and not the bigger picture. Furthermore, it also allows the Chinese authorities to monitor the criticism: a kind of ‘sanctioned rebellion’.
Web 2.0 might have collective potential; but it is problematic too. You wouldn’t jump up on a box in Tripoli and openly criticise Colonel Gaddafi while his supporters are running round with rifles, so why do people do it online? This is an implication that is not yet fully understood in terms of its consequences for emancipatory struggle, but, as Morozov points out, it is important to bear it in mind.