The Internet and Iranian Activism: Morozov v. Shirky

Why the internet is failing Iran’s activists « Prospect Magazine

Evgeny Morozov

5th January 2010  —  Issue 166

Clay Shirky is wrong to be upbeat about how technology is boosting Iran’s democracy movement. If anything, it’s helping the regime crack down

How dictators watch us on the web « Prospect Magazine

Evgeny Morozov
18th November 2009  —  Issue 165

In October, I was invited to testify to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Washington DC—a hotchpotch of US congressmen, diplomats and military officials. The group was holding a hearing titled: “Twitter Against Tyrants: New Media in Authoritarian Regimes.” I would once have happily accepted the premise, but recently my thinking has changed.

At the hearing, I was the lonely voice of dissent in a sea of optimism. In one speech, Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican known for his conservative Christian views, implored us to “tear down the new walls of the 21st century, the cyber-walls and electronic censorship technology used by tyrants.”

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical programme The Daily Show, recently poked fun at a similar suggestion from a congressman that the web was freeing the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran: “What, we could have liberated them over the internet? Why did we send an army when we could do it the same way we buy shoes?”

The Twitter Revolution: more than just a slogan « Prospect Magazine

Clay Shirky
6th January 2010  —  Issue 166

Political insurrection is never solely driven by technology. But it is profoundly changing the landscape of modern protest—in favour of those fighting for democracy…

In Why the internet is failing Iran’s activists Evegeny Morozov argues that the protests which took place in the streets of Tehran in November 2009 may not have been triggered by social media—a sentiment with which I am in complete agreement.

Just as the printing press didn’t exclusively cause the Protestant Reformation, the source of those protests in Tehran, as with all protests, was the willingness of the people to defy their government.

The crucial point to glean from the protests of 2009 is that, just as the Protestant Reformation was shaped by the printing press, the Iranian insurrection was and is being shaped by social media….

The net advantage « Prospect Magazine

Clay Shirky
11th December 2009  —  Issue 165

Media guru Clay Shirky responds to criticisms in Evgeny Morozov’s December cover story on why dictators benefit from the web. Despite pitfalls, he says, the internet remains a positive force for democracy….

In Prospect’s December cover story, “How dictators watch us on the web”, Evgeny Morozov criticises my views on the impact of social media on political unrest. Indeed, he even says I am “the man most responsible for the intellectual confusion over the political role of the internet.” In part, I would like to agree with some of his criticisms, while partially disputing some of his assertions too.

Let me start with a basic statement of belief: because civic life is not just created by the actions of individuals, but by the actions of groups, the spread of mobile phones and internet connectivity will reshape that civic life, changing the ways members of the public interact with one another.

Crucially however, Morozov’s reading is in response to a specific strain of internet utopianism—let’s call it the “just-add-internet” hypothesis. In this model, the effect of social media on the lives of citizens in authoritarian regimes will be swift, unstoppable, and positive—a kind of digitised 1989. And it will lead us to expect the prominence of social media in any society’s rapid democratisation….

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


About Maximilian C. Forte

I am a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. My areas of research and teaching interest are centered in Political Anthropology, with a focus on imperialism, neoliberalism and globalization, nationalism, democracy, and the international political economy of knowledge production.
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