Seoul (June 23, 2012) — The events of the Arab Spring and other recent social media-fueled democracy movements, as inspirational as they may be, tell only part of the picture, according to Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet. Morozov shared his less rosy view of the Internet’s impact with the East-West Center’s 2012 International Media Conference in Seoul.
Speaking via recorded video and Skype from Belarus, Morozov said that the Internet can be a tool of suppression by authoritarian governments as well as a tool of liberation by empowered citizens. “To be critical of the Internet is necessary. This does not mean dismissing its good, but we should not expect it to be everything,” Morozov said.
He also pointed out that dictators and their regimes can use “sophisticated technology such as data mining to crack down on protestors immediately after a protest” or track photo-sharing sites like Flickr to identify protesters.
He noted that last year the Assad regime in Syria imposed restrictions on using social media and the Internet for citizens, while simultaneously using those same tools to track dissidents’ private information and monitor their online movements. Other authoritarian governments have implemented Internet strategies that allow people to access only local sites, such as the hugely popular Chinese microblog portal Sina Weibo, which are easier to control than international social media like Facebook and Twitter, Morozov said.
Morozov’s skeptical view was questioned by at least one conference participant, however. “Defining the Internet as a tool of liberation or suppression is false dichotomy,” claimed Park Kyung Sin, a law professor at Korea University and a panelist at the conference. During the remote question-and-answer session that followed Morozov’s recorded video, Park said calling the Internet a tool of suppression is an overstatement.
“Police use the highway to control speeding vehicles, but nobody says the highway is made for ticketing speeders,” Park said.
Morozov emphasized that it is the role of citizens is to defend the Internet from dictators and authoritarian governments. ”The Internet will be changing, and we have to make sure that we defend it,” he said.
— Reporting by Taein Park, Missouri School of Journalism