The political costs of clamping down on the internet

    In a recent post at iRevolution, Patrick Meier mentions two related theories that explain why cutting of the internet or blocking popular websites backfires against repressive regimes, as it did against Mubarak, rather than effectively stifling dissent:

    The Dictator’s Dilemma suggests that repressive regimes are incurring increasing opportunity costs when they decide to cut access to the Internet and/or cell phone networks. The theory suggests that doing so incurs financial and ultimately political costs. The term was coined by Christopher Kedzie who wrote that an increase in the relevance of digital/networked technologies will force repressive regimes to face a dilemma, where they will have to choose between open communications, which encourage economic development, and closed communication, which may help control ‘dangerous’ ideas but may hinder access to the information economy.

    Ethan’s “Cute Cat Theory” relates to the notion that most web (and mobile phone) users access online content for entertainment purposes, e.g., to look at pictures of cute cats. If repressive regimes block access to socially entertaining sites like Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, etc, this may backfire by possibly politicizing a large user base that until then was largely apolitical. In his recent talk at the Share Conference, Sami Gharbia described a related dynamic. The regime’s decision to block social media sites drove a large number of new users to Facebook as this remained one of the only non-censored social networking platforms available to Tunisians. This in turn made it near impossible for the regime to shut access to Facebook without serious blowback.



    Recent Stories

      How Sudan’s protesters upped the ante and forced al-Bashir from power

      April 17, 2019

      The Sudanese people took to the streets for more than a struggling economy. They were calling for freedom, peace, justice and the downfall of the regime.

      • Analysis

      Progressive coalition boycotts ‘woke-washing’ of San Francisco event space

      April 13, 2019

      Activists are confronting a San Francisco event space with a self-proclaimed “social justice” mission over gentrification and its owner’s outspoken Zionism.

      • Column

      The world’s happiest people already have a Green New Deal, and they love it

      April 10, 2019

      Green New Deal advocates in the United States should look to the Nordic countries for inspiration on how to overcome the 1 percent and address climate change.