Thursday, July 9, 2015

Corrupting the Cyber-Commons by Seva Gunitsky

Seva Gunitsky at the University of Toronto recently sent me his article (which he has graciously allowed me to link here) about how autocratic governments are using social media as a tool to maintain control over their countries.
Published in the journal Perspectives on Politics this Spring, the article exhaustively examines how autocratic governments are provably currently using social media and divides these uses into four categories:
  1. Counter-mobilization: coordinating the regime's support base among the general populace
  2. Discourse framing: shaping the narrative of public discussion
  3. Preference divulgence: getting people to reveal how they feel about issues so that minor issues can be resolved if they're not against the regime's interests
  4. Elite coordination: helping central government officials bypass how local elites try to frame themselves and their locales, creating internal transparency for more effective governance
Particularly interesting is his argument that social media gives people enough of a sense of freedom that they might not demand further reforms or actual democratization. Essentially, he argues, people will be more likely to settle for non-democratic governments if those governments give the appearance of responding to the demands of online groups expressing their grievances.
Overall he makes a very firm, well-documented case against those who hold that social media is invariably a tool for democratization.
I recommend it if you're at all interested in the relationship between social media and democracy, which I would consider one of the most defining issues of international politics for this decade and probably the next.
I am strongly inclined to agree with Seva, though as I've covered both elsewhere on Social Calculations and in my recent Foreign Affairs article, I think that the current uses are merely a preamble to how autocracies will truly wield these tools to analyze and preempt dissent, perhaps ultimately molding their societies into hands-off police-states whose resilience is unprecedented.


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