"Liberation technology" can help mobilize citizen protest and oust autocracies. Authoritarians can also use technology to stifle protest and target dissenters. Who will win the technological race between "netizens" demanding freedom and authoritarians determined to stay in power?
There is a growing sense today that democrats worldwide are in a race against time to prevent cyberspace from becoming an arena for surveillance, control, and manipulation.
Once hailed as a megaphone for marginalized voices and an enabler of free discourse generally, social media now appear to have problematic consequences in both authoritarian and democratic regimes.
Despite all its flaws, Iran’s May 2017 presidential balloting amounted to another small but genuine advance for the cause of democracy.
In recent years, Chinese netizens have shown boundless creativity and ingenuity in expressing themselves despite government restrictions on online speech. Will new political discourse give birth to a new political identity? Are new forms of networked communication enhancing opportunities for social change and helping to move China toward a “threshold” for political transformation?
The Internet, mobile phones, and other forms of “liberation technology” enable citizens to express opinions, mobilize protests, and expand the horizons of freedom. Autocratic governments are also learning to master these technologies, however. Ultimately, the contest between democrats and autocrats will depend not just on technology, but on political organization and strategy.