I finished “Internet: A Room of Our Own?” (2009) angry because I felt Evgeny Morozov had passed judgment on groups — like those against immunizations — that don’t share his values. He just spent six pages sharing his ideas, but then wants Google to censure the vast World Wide Web based on a measure of scientific validity. He seemed afraid that if more people were allowed to share anti-immigration or authoritarian government ideas, more people might believe those ideas.
So, I dove into this very same World Wide Web to do some data mining on Morozov’s other writings. There’s a bunch. Many of them are published through the magazine “Foreign Policy,” which is owned by the Slate Group. Here, Morozov keeps a blog full of anti-Internet rhetoric (see: “I’m back but the Internet still sucks”). Mostly, though, I focused on a 2,600-word piece he did for publication in the May/June issue, “Think Again: The Internet.”
Here, he summarizes his gripes against the ability of the anti-gay rights groups in Serbia to connect online and Google’s for-profit business model.
The Internet is just a hyped up version of the real world, he concludes. He expected this new platform would lead us into a utopian society for happy, civilized people, and he has been devastated by its similarities to the real world.
I didn’t find any articles that explain how Morozov came to his cynical attitudes about the Internet or why he developed such glossy expectations of the Internet to begin with, but I did read this bio on his personal site that establishes him as a former resident of the former Soviet states. I would be interested in learning more about what has influenced his thoughts.
I also looked into the idea of digital activism that Morozov broached near the end of the first page of “Internet” and continued discussing in the context that it can be used for what he views as negative causes – like terrorism – as well as positive ones. Here’s a simple slideshow explaining that digital activism is a method low-level groups use to spread their message for social change. It cites a case in Columbia where rallies were organized through Facebook. The organization that produced that slideshow, DigiActive, is a volunteer group that uses cell phones and the Internet to change the world, according to its mission statement. Over at the “meta-activism project,” (sic) a team is collecting data on digital activism projects around the world. Its mission is to analyze the data and learn which strategies are most effective and what groups are going the best work. They project also plans to make a database available so others can expand the research base on digital activism. The group went live in March. From my reading, it seems like there are endless research opportunities in this specific field.
I think Morozov is ignoring the learning curve to using the Internet in activism. Yes, there are digital activist groups that are ineffectual. But, there are also foundations to cure the world of all disease that are ineffectual. Yes, there are groups that organize on Facebook with violent intentions. But, there are also citizen groups that meet in the town square with violent intentions. Simply introducing technology into a situation doesn’t instill a set of values in people. Instead, it will take practice and the research of groups like the meta-activism group to learn what works. And, it will take the good works of groups like the National Endowment of Democracy to balance the ideas of groups run by people who are less-than-friends of civil society.