The Internet And International Relations


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The Democratic Nature of Social Media

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The Internet And International Relations

  1. 1. The Internet and International Relations The Democratic Nature of Social Media Presentation by David Quinn
  2. 2. “Information technology (IT) has become an Introduction essential tool for the global circulation of power, waging of war, and imagining of peace” Der Derian (2003)
  3. 3. Examples
  4. 4. The Philippines | 2002 • Protests by text messages to mobilize & coordinate their action • TXT MSG traffic doubled to over 70 million a day* • Intensity of the protests forced the Supreme Court to declare the presidency void *(NP Action, 2005).
  5. 5. Ukraine | (2004) • Text messages played a role in coordinating young Ukrainians in their ‘Orange Revolution’ • Internet was used to recruit volunteers, organise campaigns, raise funds, report breaking news • Protests led to a re-vote
  6. 6. Iran | (2009) • Role of social media as a communication tool in coordinating and publicizing mass protests • Twitter provided up-to-the- minute updates from the street level • Global media forced to rely on Twitter feeds • Viral videos - Death of Iranian woman caught on camera phone spread
  7. 7. CNN
  8. 8. Iran | (2009) • Government succeeded in imposing restrictions on Internet use and TXT MSG • Twitter proved virtually impervious In less than a month ‘tweets’ about the elections from approximately 480,000 users
  9. 9. State Department
  10. 10. • Impact of Twitter widely heralded as victory for democracy Questioning • Real impact on international the Hype relations is still far from understood • Longer term impact less clear
  11. 11. Did Twitter fundamentally alter the future of Iran? or Did it merely serve to function as a lot of digital hot air?
  12. 12. Assessing the Democratic Nature of the Internet & New Media
  13. 13. Democratic Nature of the Internet Deeply embedded ideological belief: – Regan (1989): “the Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip” – Barlow (1996): “act of nature…where all may enter without privilege or prejudice according by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.” – Hattotuwa (2009): “technologies that work in concert to empower communities to better engage with governance and democracy”
  14. 14. Democratization of the Media • Decentralization of the media • Media culture from passive to active participation • Increased transparency of information • Questions over accuracy of information
  15. 15. Democratization of Power • It diffuses and redistributes power and points of centralization. • Cannot direct one another by force • Challenges traditional power of governments and states. • Enables different actors to produce deep global effects.
  16. 16. Make Poverty History campaign
  17. 17. Democratization of Extremism • Concerns about destabilizing externalities. • Sunstein (2001) - Personalization of the Internet: “breeding ground for extremism”.
  18. 18. However…. • Etling et al. (2009) - infrastructure for expressing minority points of view. • Beckman Centre for Internet and Society (2009) - “Very little support for terrorism or violent jihad in the Arabic blogosphere and quite a lot of concern”.
  19. 19. Empirical Work
  20. 20. Best and Wade (2005) • Measure the global effect of the Internet on democracy over the period 1992 to 2002. • Internet penetration explains “more variation in the democratic development within a country than does literacy rates and some of the geographic regions”. • But…acknowledge the degree to which the Internet affects a nation is likely to be subject to a large number of variables.
  21. 21. Limitations of the Internet & Social Media on Democracy
  22. 22. Limitations in the Digital Divide • 1.6 billion Internet users worldwide. • 70% live in the 24 richest countries. • Developing countries account for just 13.2% • Half of all web pages in English
  23. 23. …but potential for expansion • Mobile phones are critical element in the dissemination of information globally • Mobile phone subscribers • are increasing globally • By 2011, it is estimated that there will be another billion mobile phone owners • One Laptop Per Child (
  24. 24. “For all their promise, there are sharp limits on what Twitter and other Web tools such as Limitations Facebook and blogs can do for citizens in authoritarian amount of Twittering forced Iran’s leaders to change course.” John Palfrey et al. (2009:1)
  25. 25. 1. Information hard to distil 2. Governments can limit access to the Internet when threatened 3. The demographics of online communities 4. Authoritarian regimes can also commandeer the Internet for their own means
  26. 26. However, the Twittering continues…
  27. 27. Conclusions • This points towards an efficacy of the Internet • Fear of larger economic and political consequences = prevention of further censorship • Iran, Ukraine and the Philippines highlight the ability of the Internet to be forefront of global political change,
  28. 28. Conclusions • Internet = powerful tool for fostering democracy and development. • Policy makers should not ‘organise’ or ‘control’ the Internet, but instead ensure that people have the access and training to effectively participate online.