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.
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
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.