The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom

Introduction: Morozov introduces the topic of delusion Western leaders suffer from when they speak about the Internet and its capacity to spread democracy by introducing two key terms: Cyber-utopianism and Internet-centrism. Cyber-utopianism is a term Morozov defines as “a naive belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication that rests on a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the downside.” Internet-centrism stems from this as it is the philosophy of action how decisions are made and crafted. In simpler terms: Cyber-utopianism is the what, and Internet-centrism is the how. Morozov continues by emphasizing that the context in which the internet is used must be remembered, since an individual’s experience in the West is not likely to be the dame experience worldwide. The premise of his book, as he puts it, is simply to attempt to salvage what remains of the Internet’s promise to aid in the fight against authoritarianism. In order for this to be accomplished though, Westerners must ditch the cyber-utopianism and internet-centrist ideas that add up into what he calls “the net-delusion.”

Many of the chapters focus on the different types of ways that censorship, surveillance, and propaganda are advancing despite the extreme optimism about the Internet’s capability to promote democracy. I will be focusing on some of the key points of the chapters I feel cover the important aspects of Morozov’s premise.

The Google Doctrine:
Morozov defines the Google Doctrine as “the enthusiatic belief  in the liberating power of technology accompanied by the irresistable urge to enlist Silicon Valley start-ups in the global fight for freedom.” In June 2009, protests in Tehran began to receive attention in the media in the West. However, the focus was not on the goals of the people, but on the Internet ushering democracy into the country. This led to far-reaching assumptions of the capabilities of technologies in Iran. Morozov criticizes those in the west that unthinkingly accept conventional wisdom that believes that simply because authoritarian governments are censoring the Internet, that they must be afraid, and that a vibrant Internet culture existing in such places increases the liklihood of the regime’s collapse.

Texting like 1989
Decision makers often make metaphors about the Internet and its relation to freedom in terms of the Cold War and communism. No matter how creative the metaphor is though, few people are likely to pay attention to other aspects of the problem not captured in the initial metaphor once it becomes widely circulated. Western policy makers should, Morozov argues, rid themselves of the illusion that communism came to an abrupt end or that simply because people were watching it was guaranteed to be a peaceful end at that.

Orwells favorite LOLcat
I think the following image sums up this chapter quite well
(click to enlarge)
 
Open networks, Narrow Minds: Cultural Contradictions of Internet Freedom
Law enforcement professionals in the West are also engaging in looking over their citizen’s shoulders. Some have begin to look through social networking sites searching for details on a particular case or simply keeping an eye out for new threats. If American lawmakers are willing to punish popular Internet websites (in the book a website was punished for instigating a snowball fight) and peruse Facebook, it is hard not to expect the Iranian government to see no harm in punishing a website for facilitating street protests. In the end, the significance of the Internet as a public space will only be uncovered in the long-run, and even then, only if governments can manage to avoid attempting to shape those public spaces according to their own agenda.

Making History: More than just a browser menu
“There has hardly appeared a technolgy that wasn’t praised for its ability to raise the level of public debate, introduce mor etransparency to politics, reduce nationalism, and transport us to the mythical global village,” writes Morozov. Unfortunately, it seems that these technologies tend to over promise and under deliver when it comes down to it.Television, radio, and even the telegram were all technologies praised for their potential to end wars. While there is no doubt that technology definitely helps, it never quite reaches the goals we set out for it. One of the biggest problems discussed is that the problems being addresses by policy makers simply think of technology how it can be used today, as opposed to in terms of what it could do tomorrow. A technology such as the Internet has multiple affordances, and thus each needs to be evaluated on their own terms. The Internet is not inherently neutral. It can be used for good and for bad, and it is only when policy makers understand and adapt to thinking in such a way that progress can be made.

The Wicked Fix

“Technological possibilities are irresistible to man. If a man can go to the moon, he will…” -Jon Von Neumann

In this final chapter, Morozov makes a call for “cyber-realists.” These are the people who see and understand things happening in the Internet as they truly are. Most importantly, cyber-realists would not search for technological solutions for political problems, now would they pretend that such a solution even exists. Cyber-realists would focus on optimizing decision making and not get swept away by the abstract discussions about the capabilities of technology to change the world.

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One thought on “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom

  1. Pingback: Mini MegaBlog | Networked Social Movements

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