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

      Unlike the pandemic, nuclear war can be stopped before it begins

      August 4, 2020

      Seventy-five years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the anti-nuclear movement is taking big steps toward abolition.

      • Q&A

      We can’t ‘fix’ policing or prison — but we can decide how to create actual safety

      August 3, 2020

      “Prison By Any Other Name” authors Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law caution against quick-fix solutions and spotlight grassroots abolitionist movement building.

      • Feature

      A century later, the women’s suffrage movement offers a timely lesson on how to win through escalation

      July 30, 2020

      As the 19th Amendment turns 100 amid a summer of mass protest, it’s important to remember the decisive role nonviolent direct action played in hastening its ratification.