Liberation vs. Control: The Future of Cyberspace

Issue Date October 2010
Volume 21
Issue 4
Page Numbers 43-57
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Among theorists of new information and communication technologies, there is a persistent tension between those who see them as technologies of liberation, and those who see them as technologies of control. We argue that the dichotomy itself is misleading, suggesting a basic opposition between forces of light and forces of darkness. In fact, the situation is much more complex and needs to be qualified. Rather than seeing technologies in oppositional terms, as either “empty” vessels to be filled by human intent, or powerful forces imbued with some kind of agency that no one can withstand, technologies are complex and continuously evolving manifestations of social forces of a particular time and place. Once created, technologies in turn shape and limit the prospects for human communication and interaction in a constantly iterative manner. This dynamic is especially evident in the case of cyberspace, a domain of intense competition, one which creates an ever-changing matrix of opportunities and constraints for social forces and ideas. Social forces and ideas, in turn, are imbued with alternative rationalities which collide with each other and affect the structure of the communications environment. Unless the characteristics of cyberspace change radically in the near future, and global human culture grows monolithic, linking technological properties to a single social outcome, like liberation or control, is highly dubious.

About the Authors

Ronald J. Deibert

Ronald J. Deibert is director of the Citizen Lab and professor of political science in the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. His books include Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society (2020).

View all work by Ronald J. Deibert

Rafal Rohozinski

Rafal Rohozinski is a principal with the SecDev Group and former director of the Advanced Network Research Group of the Cambridge Security Programme. He is cofounder, with Ronald Deibert, of the Information Warfare Monitor and the OpenNet Initiative. The following essay is adapted from their “Cyber Wars” in the Index on Censorship (Sage, 2010), available at

View all work by Rafal Rohozinski