By Kris Ruijrok.
The idea of internet as a liberation technology seems to have long gone. Whereas just after the Arab Spring many commentators spoke about ‘Facebook-protests’ and ‘Twitter-revolutions’, this time around we mainly hear about how smart authoritarian states have become in their online censorship, surveillance and internet-propaganda.
In a recently published article in the journal Democratization I demonstrate that –opposed to the claims of the cyber-pessimists- the use of internet has in fact facilitated public protesting in authoritarian regimes. Moreover, I also found no signs that authoritarian rulers have over time learned how to prevent internet-enabled mobilization. The article, named “From the web to the Streets: Internet and protesting under authoritarian rule” analyzes data from 1990 till 2013 and uses extensive quantitative methods to come to these conclusions. As to find out how internet use matters for protesting under authoritarian conditions, the article zooms in on the Tunisian protest in 2010-2011 and presents four explanations that explain how internet pushes people into the streets. Although the findings lead to optimism about internet’s role in facilitating collective action, it is does not claim that increasing internet use also leads to the democratization of authoritarian regimes. As the case of Egypt shows: While internet might facilitate an uprising, this by no means is sufficient to fundamentally change a political system.