Internet and Democracy

 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.

  1. #1 by Mindy McAdams on August 30, 2010 - 1:13 pm

    I liked your background check on this week’s author, Evgeny Morozov. It’s often a good idea to look and see where an author is coming from — especially if he comes on strong, like Morozov!

    I also liked your link to “DigiActive’s official introduction to digital activism,” the slideshow.

    I think perhaps you didn’t finish making your point — the point you are illustrating with the links to DigiActive and the Meta-Activism Project. Are you saying that Morozov is right (or wrong?) about digital activism?

  2. #2 by alonewithadream on August 30, 2010 - 2:44 pm

    I was unsure how much opinion we were to include and where to stick to just the information we researched. Based on your comment, I will edit my post to include a graf with my final thoughts.

  3. #3 by Mindy McAdams on August 30, 2010 - 3:04 pm

    That’s okay, no need to revise it. Unless you want to. I just thought it kind of trickled off without tying up the loose ends. (Whoa, that’s a terrible mixed metaphor!)

  4. #4 by Mary on August 30, 2010 - 3:16 pm

    This is a really nice post. My opinion on this “Internet: good or bad?” debate is that we have seen the Internet used for both positive and negative purposes and now is the time to do more research to learn about the contexts in which these difficult outcomes occur. Stating an opinion and backing it up with one or two anecdotes should no longer be accepted as sufficient evidence. This is the goal behind the Global Digital Activism Data Set mentioned in the post.

    It is also important to avoid technological determinism: it is not that the Internet is “good” or “bad” and we have no control over it. We as co-creator of the Internet (through the content we produce) can determine the role the Internet plays in our societies.

    Mary Joyce
    founder, The Meta-Activism Project
    co-founder, DigiActive

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