April 25, 2014

avatar

Are There Countries Whose Situations Worsened with the Arrival of the Internet?

Are there countries whose situations worsened with the arrival of the internet?  I’ve been arguing that there are lots of examples of countries where technology diffusion has helped democratic institutions deepen.  And there are several examples of countries where technology diffusion has been part of the story of rapid democratic transition.  But there are no good examples of countries where technology diffusion has been high, and the dictators got nastier as a result.

Over twitter, Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, recently opined the same thing.  Evgeny Morozov, professional naysayer, asked for a graph.

So here is a graph and a list.  I used PolityIV’s democratization scores from 2002 and 2011.  I used the World Bank/ITU data on internet users.  I merged the data and made a basic graph.  On the vertical axis is the change in percent of a country’s population online over the last decade.  The horizontal axis reflects any change in the democratization score–any slide towards authoritarianism is represented by a negative number.  For Morozov to be right, the top left corner of this graph needs to have some cases in it.

Change in Percentage Internet Users and Democracy Scores, By Country, 2002-2011

noexamples

Look at the raw data.

Are there any countries with high internet diffusion rates, where the regime got more authoritarian?  The countries that would satisfy this condition should appear in the top left of the graph.  Alas, the only candidates that might satisfy these two conditions are Iran, Fiji, and Venezuela.  Over the last decade, the regimes governing these countries have become dramatically more authoritarian.  Unfortunately for this claim, their technology diffusion rates are not particularly high.

This was a quick sketch, and much more could be done with this data.  Some researchers don’t like the PolityIV scores, and there are plenty of reasons to dislike the internet user numbers.  Missing data could be imputed, and there may be more meaningful ways to compare over time.  Some countries may have moved in one direction and then changed course, all within the last decade.  Some only moved one or two points, and really just became slightly more or less democratic.  But I’ve done that work too, without finding the cases Morozov wishes he had.

There are concerning stories of censorship and surveillance coming from many countries.  Have the stories added up to dramatic authoritarian tendencies, or do they cancel out the benefits of having more and more civic engagement over digital media? Fancier graphic design might help bring home the punchline.  There are still no good examples of countries with rapidly growing internet populations and increasingly authoritarian governments.

 

Comments

  1. David Golumbia says:

    I don’t think it’s right to characterize Morozov as “wishing” that authoritarian power would be increased by digital technology. I do not think he wants that at all. His point is that that power can be increased by technology, *even as* individual power may be increased. Since the PolityIV data make this a zero-sum game, I’m not sure that’s clear. Why would authoritarian governments allow any form of free communication to proliferate? Why wouldn’t they use their authoritarian powers to hold onto that power as fully as possible?

    In other words, I’m not at all sure that your conclusion about Iran, Fiji, and Venezuela disproves Morozov’s point–it may actually make it. What you’d have to show is that the authoritarian governments in these countries were not *themselves* using digital technology while denying it to their citizens, and I suspect this is not correct. Governments have always blocked free expression as a means of control; I take Morozov’s point to be that the “internet” does not stop them from doing that in some way different from other communications technologies.

    This is not to dismiss your findings, which are interesting, although one would want a much longer set of data that could correct for a wide range of other factors than these data can.

    Another potential issue with this reasoning seems to me to be the fact that the PolityIV data speaks solely to the form of government, but not to corporate power. I take a serious consequence of Morozov’s arguments (and my own) to be that corporations often embody authoritarian forms of power, and that digital technology concentrates and reinforces their power greatly. Given the neoliberal emphasis on “democracy” = “free markets” = “corporate freedom,” I would be very surprised not to also see a serious growth of corporate power (both economic and other forms of power), which for many count as a form of democratization, although on some theories of democracy that’s much less true.

    • Steve Schultze says:

      First of all, what Evgeny objected to was the claim that “There are no countries whose situations worsened with the arrival of the internet.” The question is, *on balance*, has the situation worsened. Of course repressive governments will use technologies to repress people. Nobody is arguing that this is the case.

      But of course, Eveny’s MO is to say something to be provocative and then to walk his comments back, either by qualifying them or claiming that they were a joke.

      • David Golumbia says:

        then we may really be hedging about the meaning of “arrival of the internet.” This chart correlates the number of internet users with the spread of democracy. It also supports the interpretation that in authoritarian countries, the internet “arrives,” is controlled by those in power, and things may well not get better. If you start from the assumption that the internet will be widespread in every country, it seems to me you are loading the premises.

        Even worse, despite Evgeny’s insistence that he was joking somewhat, which I think is probably true, Schmidt’s statement does not actually draw the correlation between the AMOUNT of internet usage and the “worsening” of the country: it simply says “since the arrival of the internet.” This should suggest that NO country “with the internet” should have a lowered score on the PolityIV rankings between 2002 and 2010, presuming that “the internet” arrived during that period. Yet 17 countries did change negatively–those countries have become “less democratic” “since the arrival of the internet.”

        The truth of Schmidt’s original statement is not proven by this demonstration.

        • Steve Schultze says:

          I don’t think that Phil was claiming that this data was an unassailable proof, just one preliminary stab at measuring the competing claims. The points you raise are quite valid, and the focus on critical interpretation of data is welcome.

    • Phil Howard says:

      I take your point that corporate power abuse is generally not captured by these democracy rankings, but the original setup of these arguments was mostly about regime type and political power.

      If you wanted to pick out countries where the regime allowed digital networking technologies in but only for use by security services, Iran and Venezuela would probably not be good examples of this either. Indeed, the Iranian blogosphere has really bloomed in recent years and Iranian youth are very active online. Over the last year the regime has cracked down on technology use in the lead up to summer elections, but not sure comparable scores are available for 2012 yet. Venezuela is another country where political conversation online is in bloom, largely because it is so hard to have such conversations in Venezuela. That regime has nationalized so much of the broadcast media that what little investigative journalism there is, is mostly online. Cuba and North Korea, but be regimes that have “hoarded” technology from their people, but the technology diffusion numbers aren’t high.

      This started out as a search for countries where the internet diffusion trend was surprisingly high and the democracy score unpleasantly low. We can imagine the causal trends that might produce such a country, but we’re still hard pressed to find an example of the outcome.

  2. Evgeny Morozov says:

    It’s really sad that I even have to make this comment but hey if people don’t have a sense of humor, that must be done, I guess.

    So here goes: A statement like “There are no countries whose situations worsened with the arrival of the internet” makes no sense – it’s empty of any meaningful content. How do you measure “situations” of “countries”? Has income inequality in the US – to take one example – not worsened in the last two decades? And then of course there’s a much more uncomfortable question: What on earth is “the Internet” and how do you time its arrival? But of course you’d rather not have this conversation and make charts. God bless you.

    • Steve Schultze says:

      It’s easy to snipe at tweets, but harder to give meaningful data-driven responses. Feel free to do the latter.

    • Phil Howard says:

      Your request for help graphing the trends seemed to be mostly about regime type and internet penetration rates. If you are now interested in economic variables I’d encourage you to play with the data–the World Bank has lots of data online. Assembling evidence takes a little time but it can really pay off. I think I’ll save the answer to your question “what on earth is the internet?” for later just to keep you in suspense!

      But you do have a good point that a nuanced way of doing this would be to look for particular periods of rise or fall in democratic practices, and then have a look at the immediately preceding technology trends. And it probably makes sense to combine several technology diffusion trends, particularly mobile phone diffusion rates. That’s what I did for a set of 75 countries, 1995-2010, in _Digital Origins_. No example of a high authoritarian, high tech country popped out there either.

  3. Evgeny Morozov says:

    It’s not a tweet – Schmidt same the same thing in an interview last week. He is interested in keeping debates at a level of generality/abstraction that I find unhelpful and I’m pointing that out. That’s not something you can do with “data-driven responses,” I’m afraid.

    • Steve Schultze says:

      So are you just critiquing at an equally high level, or are you interested in engaging on the merits? Trolling is easy.

      David’s points above may serve as an example of a starting point for meaningful discussion (ignited by Phil’s graph!).

  4. Tom Lee says:

    I’m a believer in ICT’s ability to improve democratic governance — I take deliberation to be a key component of democracy, and ICT lowers the cost of the information necessary to that deliberation. But I’m not sure this graph does a lot to prove the case. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the cliche goes.

    Besides, I understand Morozov’s arguments about network technology to focus on their non-unitary nature; they can be good or bad, and the effects have to be teased out individually. I think he goes too far by trying to deconstruct the concept of the Internet entirely, but his is a weaker claim than the one you’re attempting to disprove.

    More to the point, the biggest problem here — for this graph, at least, if not for the world — is simply that things tend to get better over time. There aren’t a lot of data points in this set where things have gotten worse. And there’s certainly no linear relationship between these two variables. A lot of national metrics tend to increase over time, from technology access to quality of governance to GDP to meat consumption. Indeed, the GDP/PolityIV relationship seems to be a lot stronger.

    This doesn’t prove or disprove the utility of ICT for improving governance, but these data don’t eliminate the possibility it could be orthogonal or swamped by larger effects, either. The latter seems most likely to me (we had democratic revolutions before information theory, after all; I’m unsure if there’s good evidence on the pace of democratization accelerating with ICT, but it seems likely to be too soon to say). But of course that’s not to say that it can’t still be valuable–the PolityIV scores are measuring fairly large discontinuities, and may not be a sufficiently fine-grained tool.

    • Phil Howard says:

      THIS is a great point. It is tough to control for “modernization” in modeling these relationships, and researchers often use time lags, weights, or other tricks to try to fit a trend line to data. And you are also right in that most sensible trend lines are not linear but curvilinear. I thought about fitting a line to this data but decided it would detract from the punch line I was after. There are lots of examples of countries where digital media use is part of the civic engagement story. And the stories differ from country to country, and involve things from heightened competition between parties at election time, the moderation of radical political groups, and interesting patterns in the production/consumption of news. Morozov’s arguments about technological solutionism would be stronger if there were a handful of important countries that were clearly high-tech, high authoritarian.

      And you are right PolityIV is a little old fashioned in that it doesn’t track internet issues well. All the more reason for http://www.digital-activism.org/!

      The “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” adage may be more meaningful in the natural sciences than in the social sciences. Its possible to imagine alternative universes where a planet earth has evidence of high-tech, high-authoritarian countries. This category of country could theoretically exist, or we might find it in our international system in the years ahead. But I think we should work with the cases we can observe.

  5. Siva Vaidhyanathan says:

    Hi Phil. This exercise is somewhat interesting. And your larger research project is on to something.

    But it has nothing to do with Evgeny’s snarky response to Eric Schmidt’s stupid Tweet. Neither Evgeny nor Schmidt used the term “democratization” or any variation of it. Schmidt’s original claim was that in no countries has “the situation worsened since the introduction of the Internet.” What constitutes a “situation”? And what constitutes “the introduction of the Internet”?

    David Golumbia has already undermined the glib assumption that “Internet adoption” is an adequate proxy here. As he argues, quite rightly, one would expect that any state that has an interest in moving away from authoritarianism, is already quite distant from authoritarianism, or even wants to appear (for the sake of, say, entering the EU or attracting foreign capital) less authoritarian, to encourage the diffusion of CERTAIN communication technologies under CERTAIN models and conditions. Evgeny and I have for years been arguing that the particulars matter. “Technological diffusion” and “The Internet” are not helpful lenses or proxies for anything meaningful. There is no single, unified, undifferentiated field called “technology” or “The Internet”.

    But going beyond what David has already established in his argument, what does Schmidt — or we — consider “the situation”?

    Would Schmidt seriously want to tell people in Greece that their “situation” is better since the introduction of “The Internet”? Are people in the Maldives comforted about the fact that they can now Tweet about the waters rising around their ankles? Is the shocking spread of lead poisoning among children in India somehow abated because they might some day be able to research the stunted condition of their brain development on Wikipedia? Are those on the south end of the income inequality graph in the United States or Mexico just wishing and hoping for Google Glass to better document their worsening condition? Even with something we might call “democratization” (assuming that is a stable set of agreed-upon set of traits) better now that six years after the massive distribution of AOL disks the United States suffered the appointment of an unelected president who promptly ignored warnings of a hostile party scheming to kill thousands, then launched two wars — one unjustified and the other so incompetently run that the United States will be paying with steep interest the price in lives, dreams, standard of living, and reputation for many decades. In other words, “the situation” is a matter of moral judgement. It’s a question of what constitutes the pursuit of happiness, “the good life”, or perhaps what Sen calls “capability.”

    You and I can agree that “democratization” is a necessary condition for the pursuit of a particular vision of “the good life” that we both share and value. I suspect Schmidt and Evgeny would agree as well (one of the reasons Evgeny has actually worked for it, unlike you, me, or Schmidt). But it is not a sufficient condition for our vision of “the good life.”

    The value of Evgeny’s two books, and perhaps the only constant theme between them, is that he insists we not distill the human condition into indexes that offer no meaningful description of how people actually live in the world, and therefor we refrain from investing faith in something as nebulous and meaningless as “technology.”

    Look, Schmidt’s claim in his Tweet and just about all the claims in his amazingly clueless new book are fundamentally religious statements. All the social science in the world can’t prop up theological propositions. All the social science in the world can’t undermine the faith of the true believer.

    • Philip N. Howard says:

      You are absolutely right that it is hard to work a tweet into an answerable research question. I translated “introduction of the internet” into “growth of internet users” and “worsening situation” as “deepening authoritarianism”. And I agree there are lots of ways to deconstruct and contextualize internet use. But trying to generalize and compare often means working with the best available data. It is probably better to evaluate and acknowledge the caveats in the data than to problemetize things to the point of surrender.

      There are ways to clean up the data and other variables to play with. We should probably also be talking about mobile phones, and there are other quality of life indicators that could be outcomes. But my original translation is very reasonable, and I’d bet a dollar that doing scatter plots with other variables would still not yield a convincing short list of countries that are high tech and highly authoritarian.

      Like you, I have a qualitative/comparative instinct on these kinds of sociological questions. And I too appreciate that there are varied cultures of internet use and many internets. But to answer a broadly phrased question (tweet!) it makes sense to use a safe, conservative definition of what the internet is. The internet is a set of technologies that are a) digital and b) networked. Unfortunately the ITU definitions http://www.rferl.mobi/a/24805097.html are wonky, there’s lots of guestimates by country representatives, etc etc. But the epistemological question “what is the internet?” is like “what is life?”. Exploring the possible answers can take us on a fabulous intellectual journey. But the question at hand still needs to be operationalized.

      I get what you were trying to do with examples of Greek debt, Maldivan coastline, and George W. Presidency, but not sure they work. I’d certainly fight for your right to hypothesize a relationship between internet use and these things, but I’m pretty sure you’ve stretched for examples that are out of the scope of Morozov’s original request for help. I too have had multiple exchanges with him but always about democratization, and that’s what he often writes about. Economic injustice, climate change and Republicanism are serious problems that I was’t tackling in my scatter plot on regime type.

      It is very hard to do popular writing without cherry picking examples, and the value of Morozov’s first book was in stringing together concerning anecdotes about how digital media can be used for social control, whether by ruling elites in democracies or authoritarian regimes. He tries to reach from examples of systemic problems in some places to claim systematic problems in many places. And there sure are a lot of inspiring examples of how digital media has been used in creative ways to improve “the situation”. He rarely has time for these and you didn’t acknowledge any of them in rundown of social problems you listed above.

      Deflating Silicon Valley’s hubris is an important project. But evaluating big picture trends involves assembling large amounts of evidence in a purposeful way. Still no good examples of high tech, highly authoritarian countries.

  6. Arjen Kamphuis says:

    You ask: “Are There Countries Whose Situations Worsened with the Arrival of the Internet?”. The US ceratinly has had a rising level of internet penetration over the last 12 years while at the same time its ‘democracy’ has very obvisously been faltering to say the least.

    The problem mat not be any correlation but the very definition of ‘democracy’. On the PolityIV graphs I see the US counts as a ‘full’ democracy and France as a ‘democracy’. Given that the US has only 2 functional political parties; one more than North-Korea and the bare minimum for any country wanting to pretend being a democracy I would question whatever metric is being applied here.

    A country is not democratic because if you have the correct photo-ID you can vote on a leaky and proprietary computersystem for on of two political parties both financed by unlimited ‘free speech’ donations from Wallstreet and other corporate interests. Having a democracy is not an excercise in the perfomace of rituals and media circusses associated with democracy. Form is not content.

    And while living under a monarch can for sure be terrible living in a country that declares itself a democracy while its government has the legal right to kill anyone anywhere for any reason without any judicial oversight including its own (underage) citizens by drone strike does not feel like ‘democracy’ to me.

    So we’re measuring internet acces againt a metric called ‘democracy’ but it is rather unclear what ‘democracy’ means in practice if the US of today is more ‘democratic’ than France.

  7. Richard M Stallman says:

    The US has become much more authoritarian in the past decade,
    and the Internet plays a big role (look at how the regime found
    a way to prosecute whistleblowers Kiriakou and Manning).

  8. Philip N. Howard says:

    Hi RMS! I agree that the US has slid. If it were all up to me, I’d turn the country into a parliamentary system, with a publicly funded, multi-party system, mandatory voting, and a responsible privacy commissioner (ie. a Canadian-Australian hybrid).

    But in the meantime we have our comparison points, including France as Kamphuis points out. The last time I was in Russia a Nashi youth told me “at least we’re not China!”. Its right to say this country has serious issues to work out with technology use by government, big business and media conglomerates. But I don’t think the US has descended into authoritarianism.

    • Arjen Kamphuis says:

      Dear Philip,
      If you say that you are not convinced at this time that the US has descended into authoritarianism can you indicate what line its government would have to cross to change your mind? Please be specific because from where I sit the US has been ticking all the relevant boxes for well over a decade now.

      - Very limited choice in political parties – both completely dominated by corporate interests
      - Blatantly nontransparent election process often based on electronic voting systems that have been proven to be open to manipulation
      - Questionable election outcomes are not investigated
      - Government officials complicit in torture, murder, war crimes etc etc are not investigated
      - Accelerated privatization of core government functions such as public utilities, police, prison, health & education system
      - An executive that reserves the right to kill you and your children if someone within its massive security apparatus feels that this is a requirement for ‘national security’ (a term that has never been defined)
      - Dominance of the military in society and as a government priority (the real US ‘defense’ budget being more than the rest of the planet combined)
      - Wealth disparities that are worse then pre-revolutionary France
      - Failing health-, education- and infrastructural systems because of the above

      So please be specific what other event or behavior your require to change your mind. And remember that by the time tanks are rolling into the city squares and over protesting students it will be too late to have any opinion.

  9. Siva Vaidhyanathan says:

    Phillip, My point was that it would be absurd to relate the “situations” i described to a single phenomenon (although the folks in the Maldives certainly have much to say about the high cost of “technology” in general).

    Please take David’s point seriously: Countries uninterested or less interested in seeming authoritarian OF COURSE introduce certain communication technologies into their business communities. That’s not surprising. Nor is it interesting — even when plotted on a graph. But Schmidt wants us to believe the magic.

    These questions are political, philosophical, ethical, moral, and technological. Flattening them into graphs has limited utility and embeds too many invisible assumptions. The practice is not without value. But it must be part of a much larger set of concerns and stories.

  10. Siva Vaidhyanathan says:

    Also, you should consider plotting over time. Look at Kenya’s political decline over the past six years. Plot that with the diffusion of infotech. There is at least ONE case in which “the situation” has become worse since the “introduction of the Internet.” The correlation is much easier to explain by examining open and integrated trade rather than a set of political operations distilled into a suspect index.

    But while you are at it, how about plotting diffusion with Sen’s Human Development index? Or his Gender Empowerment index? In other words, many graphs might fill out the picture better than what you offer above, which only seems to thrust at something Evgeny did not even really argue.

  11. Zeynep Tufekci says:

    Full disclosure—I’m working on a longer piece on this in multiple formats but let me try to present my argument in a readable length.

    First, the meta point. On the one hand, it’s clear that a technology as complex and multi-faceted as the Internet is not going to produce a single effect, or necessarily a main effect (an overriding effect that dampens others) and that the effect short-term may differ from the long-term effect. (The printing press first appeared to empower the Catholic Church, then undermined it, then the church adopted, …) Anyway, many scholars have been pointing this out for a long, long time. Nothing new there.

    On the other hand, it is useful to try to see what broad indicators (however flawed as all indicators are always flawed to some degree) correlate with what broad additions to historical complexity. For example, when we try to see if modern medicine helps with quality of life and health, we look at infant mortality, life expectation, etc. and can usually reasonably conclude that it has been helpful. Break it down, you also see much suffering and loss as well—prolonged end-of-life treatments that keep patients alive and in pain for lengthy periods of time rather than an arguably merciful, quicker end, there is massive iatrogenic harm, health-care is outsourced to competent but not personally-related care-givers (in that they are not your family), etc. So one can have a reasonable discussion about effects of medical science on humanity at many levels including broad indicators and all the ethical implications.
    In fact, broad indicators can help us contextualize the ethical discussions because if we don’t have a sense of broad impact, it is harder to discuss, understand, improve and even negotiate all the trade-offs and power relations that go into such complex situations.

    tl;dr so far; I think it is good to make charts like that as much as I think it is good to break them down as David, Siva and Tom have done. (Evgeny apparently says he’s just the jester…).

    But, here’s what I think is missing from the broad indicator analysis so far (complex technology in a complex setting (human society) in a moving timeline where everything else is also changing): a deep dive discussion of the social mechanisms that are impacted by this new technology, rather than just its impacts. I’m arguing something similar to what Henry Farrel says here (and which I respond a bit (http://crookedtimber.org/2011/04/19/against-studying-the-internet/ and also in this paper http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-polisci-030810-110815)
    Basically, what is it that the introduction of the Internet does (and under what conditions to what settings—obviously context matters but we can also have some broad groupings and distinguish traditional authoritarian and other types of regimes) that has a political impact? For example, one mechanism I propose is that unpopular regimes dependent on coercive-censorship to keep “pluralistic ignorance” going are under serious threat. (I make the argument here for Arab uprisings: http://individual.utoronto.ca/christine/sources/arabspring.pdf) There are other mechanisms that have been proposed and explored at different times (homophily and polariziation, dynamics of collective actions, visibility, properties of bits versus atoms, horizontal connectivity, increased amount of entertainment, etc. etc. etc.) so to me, the interesting question is how these mechanisms play out against each other in different settings, including the one proposed here: authoritarian regimes.
    For example, increased surveillance capacity (comes from bits versus atoms—it’s much more easy to observe and record online communication and social imprints compared with offline) interacts with increased participation online in a way that is visible to citizens. So, on the one hand, states have more surveillance capacity; on the other hand, political dissidents have more means of visibility (otherwise, if the censorship is so severe, there is nothing to surveil for the state due to the Internet). I’d argue for example, in Egypt, the massive numbers of disaffected citizens made surveillance capacity a somewhat moot question. What are you going to do even if you have a means to capture the 800,000 people who may have “liked” “We are all Khaled Saed” webpage? Surveillance may be easier, but state-capacity is never unlimited.

    And, it’s quite possible that in the long run, some of the mechanisms will have much broader and stronger impacts than others (maybe not but it is possible) so these kinds of early projects (we are just beginning) are useful to understand and debate. It’s also possible that the same mechanisms will produce both good and bad outcomes. Homophily is partly what gets dissidents stronger and united and equipped to oppose a regime; it’s also what helps anti-vaccination parents bonds and resist science and endanger health of children.

    tl:dr Is the Internet Good or Bad? Yes.  But let’s also discuss how.

    • Arjen Kamphuis says:

      Dear Zeynep,
      Some of the major events of the last few years commony associated with internet-enabled-people-power often show how unimportant the internet is (compared to other things) upon closer inspection. I’ll take the ‘Arab spring’ and Wikileaks as examples.

      - The various uprisings, mostly in North Africa, were mostly driven by sharply rising prices of commodity foodstuffs caused by bad harvests globally and massive speculation. In the west most people are not aware of uprisings in various smaller Middle Eastern countries because they were brutally suppressed (assisted by western-made weaponry and a western media blackout).

      - Wikileaks would seem to be the clear successtory but look closely. The name of the site was chosen with the idea that the global community would do the hard work of fact-checking and analysis on massive volumes of freshly disclosed raw data. This turned out to be a pipedream and in response Wikileaks turned to the mainstream media (newspapers and TV broadcasters) to get its message out. As a result their message has been manipulated out of all proportion to the point were we discuss minor imperfections of Assange’s personality while forgetting to arrest helicopter pilots that shoot at children with anti-tank munitions. Most people had never heard of Wikileaks untill they got some TV coverage and newspaper headlines – a testamet to the limits of the internet as a seperate medium. Even now most people have never gone directly to the wikileaks site to search the cables for the name of a politician they may have voted for. Most have no clue this is even possible.

      Like many in htis discussion I desperately want ot believe some of our major societal ills can be fixed with network magic but the data doe not seem to bear it out. The US itself seems to be a case in point as is my home country of the Netherlands (were the entire under-60 population is permanently glued to their laptops and smartphones). Despite all the acces to relevant information most people prefer cat video’s to Wikileaks and have no clue of the true state of their societies.

      Please have a look at Prof Eben Moglen’s speech of last year on some of the our tech challenges:
      http://gendo.nl/en/blog/arjen/why-freedom-eben-moglen-keynote-in-berlin

      • Zeynep Tufekci says:

        Dear Arjen,

        There is no mono-causal revolution. Of course the revolutions were driven by frustration at multi-decade long corruption, the aging autocrats, food prices, Al Jazeera’s influence, etc. etc. I wrote a bit about this back when when the “either/or” comparisons were made: http://technosociology.org/?p=263 and there is a thread here in Crooked Timber, too: http://crookedtimber.org/2011/04/19/against-studying-the-internet/.

        I don’t see a coherent story of the Arab uprisings that does not take into account the role played by new media technologies. I also don’t see any serious scholar claiming that was the only factor. When you study a complex situation, it is of course reasonable to look at how that particular factor played out and write about different angles. I’m sure other scholars do and should look at the relationship between food security and political upheaval. I read their work; it’s just not the particular aspect I’m studying and we are discussing here.

  12. Mark says:

    What about Hungary?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Doesn’t this chart just show that almost all countries have had increasing internet use, and that most countries have either politically stayed the same or become more democratic in the past decade? It seems like you’d be hard pressed to draw any relationship between the two variables based on the scatter plot.

    Maybe I’m reading it wrong? Kudos for posting the dataset, regardless.

    • Dejuan says:

      I’m with you. I don’t even see a positive correlation, if there is one, there’s no way it is statistically significant.

  14. Dan McGarry says:

    Interesting chart, to say the least. I’m not sure exactly how to react to it, but I do feel compelled to look further at Fiji, whose regime is at one and the same time committed to an aggressive ICT development policy (one draft policy is for broadband to ‘almost’ every school in the country) and comprehensive censorship and political suppression.

    At least some of their success, as it were, in this endeavour is due to Qorvis, a public relations firm retained by the interim government to handle messaging. I think it’s telling that governments coming late to the game are creating environments that are far more circumscribed than those who pioneered the internet. This capacity for control is only increasing as developing countries of necessity bypass the ‘desktop and cable’ stage of internet, jumping straight to handheld devices accessing the internet via mobile technology. This report on ‘leapfrogging’ highlights the susceptibility of centralised telco networks to controls that we do not normally associate with the internet. For years now, I’ve been making the case that, especially in the South Pacific, the physical networks themselves are where the greatest liability lies. Internet protocols that manifest the ‘end to end principle’ are all well and good, but they’re trivially subverted when they’re run over physical networks whose topology contain significant bottlenecks.

    Pacific islands societies are inherently more conservative than many others, and the value they put on individuals (vs the collective) and individual rights is vastly different from North American or Europeans societies. With so many single points of failure (i.e. control) in our physical networks, I’m afraid that Fiji’s example is not one we can blithely shrug off.

    There are other variables that need to be factored into your chart, not the least of which is which way the political wind is blowing globally. There is a general trend toward more market-based economies (with their attendant freedoms), but at the same time a tendency even among the most enlightened democracies and societies to bless surveillance and other limitations on freedom that subvert the fundamental principles on which the internet is based. See the WCIT fiasco and the ITU’s constant drumbeat against ‘cybercrime’ for examples.

    My fear is that the global trend is toward – not away from – Fiji’s example. The conclusion I draw from your chart, therefore, is that it’s a useful snapshot which captures events to date, but does not necessarily provide any prescriptive value. Quite the contrary, if my fears are confirmed.

  15. Josef Davies-Coates says:

    With regard to Venezuela “Over the last decade, the regimes governing these countries have become dramatically more authoritarian.” is simply not true. Hugo Chavez (RIP) massively increased partcipatory democracy in the country on a scale likely unprecedented anywhere else in recent years. The reason you’ve heard different is that his Gov’t re-directed the already nationalised (but highly corrupt and controlled by upper classes) oil revenues towards social programes, and while being one of the biggest supplies of oil to the US was also one of it’s fiecest critics of US foreign policy.

    The claim Phil Howard makes about Venezuela, i.e. “That regime has nationalized so much of the broadcast media” is also just not true. The vast majority of media in Venezuela is owned and controlled by private companies. There is one State owned TV channel. The truth of the story you’ve heard is really just the the democratically elected Gov’t (with much higher votes and % of voters than any recent US Presidents have had) did not renew the terrestial TV licence of one of the main channels that helped to orchestrate an illegal anti-democratic and US-backed coup against the Gov’t. The channel in question has not been nationalise nor closed down.

    Have a watch of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (an incredible movie that captured much of the coup live on film). And then for some background watch Venezuela Bolivariana. Then watch my friend’s film Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela. All freely available on youtube. All very educational.