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In The 'Net Delusion,' Internet Serves Oppressors

Jan 4, 2011 (Talk of the Nation)

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From bloggers of Myanmar's 2007 Saffron Revolution to tweeters of the protests that followed Iran's 2009 election, the Internet has proven itself to be a tool in promoting change and democracy in the world.

But Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion, argues that it doesn't always work out that way.

"The change is not always positive," Morozov tells NPR's Neal Conan. "Yes, [social media] are affecting the world. But it also looks like the other side — the authoritarian governments — are getting empowered as well."

Sure, election protesters in Iran were able to tweet, blog and record the violence they saw, which prompted some to claim the victory of a social media revolution. But think about the flip side, Morozov cautions.

Authoritarian governments can harness the Internet's power to serve their purposes as well. Some use it for surveillance, Morozov says, "tracking down what's happening on social networks, trying to identify who are all of those people tweeting."

Others use the Web to distribute propaganda.

"We are seeing a lot of these regimes going online and ... creating blog posts and tweets, and even hiring bloggers to push their messages," he explains.

Taken together with more traditional censorship efforts, Morozov says, the Internet "actually empowers the other side much more than it does the social movements and the dissidents and the human rights activists."

Morozov used to think the reverse was true, but during the April 2009 protests against the government in Moldova, he changed his mind.

"As it happened, there were still a lot of networks that were analog ... human networks — protesters talking to each other on the phone, or just talking to each other in real life, and actually encouraging each other to appear in the square," Morozov says.

But because the digital messages on Twitter and Facebook were visible to everyone, much of what happened in Moldova in 2009 was attributed to the Internet.

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The Net Delusion: The Dark Side Of Internet Freedom
By Evgeny Morozov
Hardcover, 432 pages
List price: $27.95
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