The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World

The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World
By Evgeny Morozov
432 page, PublicAffairs, 2011

How not to liberate the world…

Since the Twitter Revolution of Iran in 2009 and the more recent social media fuelled overhaul of the Egyptian government, it would be easy to assume that the world is hurtling towards a democratised Utopia, in which peace, equality and justice are omnipresent. In The Net Delusion, Morozov produces a surgically argued and wonderfully eloquent account of why this may not be the case, insisting that such blissful naiveties could have pernicious ramifications.

Revolution toolsMorozov coins the term ‘cyber-utopian’ to describe the West’s inflated sense of self-righteousness towards the power of the internet. The idea that this phenomenon will break the shackles of populations oppressed by totalitarian regimes, helping forge a new-age world that is rife with democracy is immediately dismissed by Morozov. Instead he cites the 2009 ‘Twitter Revolution’ in Iran. “Let the people tweet and they will tweet their way to freedom.” Morozov thinks not, rather, conversely, he focuses on the empowerment the Iranian government experienced courtesy of the internet. In essence, the very tool that people were using to try and liberate themselves was now being used by the government to achieve the opposite. The deployment by the Iranian government of a twelve-man cybercrime team tasked with ridding Iran of those spreading “insults and lies” on websites was initiated. Those spreading this information were quickly hunted down and arrested. The team would trawl through social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube, seeking the faces of those involved in protests, and there was no shortage thanks to the ubiquity of social media. Iranian news service Raja News published photos of the accused and demanded public cooperation in the detaining of them. The Iran Defence Ministry sent out a charming text message to all Iranians with a phone:

“Dear citizen, according to received information, you have been influenced by the destabilizing propaganda which the media affiliated with foreign countries have been disseminating. In case of any illegal action and contact with the foreign media, you will be charged as a criminal consistent with the Islamic Punishment Act and dealt with by the Judiciary.”

So the premise is that the internet can just as easily be used to control publics as publics can use it to find freedom. And if the internet is such a powerful Trojan horse for freedom it is oppressive regimes such as that of Iran or China should fear such a force. Quite the contrary, it would appear.

The Net Delusion paints an ominous picture for the future of global democracy, one that’s perpetuated by gross naivety displayed by elite Western figures who should know better. Morozov cites Gordon Brown, at the time Prime Minister of the UK, and the “ridiculous conclusions” he drew from the events in Iran:

“You cannot have Rwanda again because information would come out far more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would grow to a point where action would need to be taken”

“On that logic”, Morozov sarcastically retorts, “the millions who poured into the streets of London, New York, Rome and other cities… to protest the impending onset of the Iraq war made one silly mistake; they didn’t blog enough about it. That would have definitely prevented the bloodbath.” Ouch!

Morozov’s polemical prose must be commended for its originality. In a sea of social media and internet literature that promises the enlightened age of democracy, it would have been easy to jump on the bandwagon. Morozov is a rare breed in this field, one of the few that believes the hype surrounding the internet and the perceived positive impact it imparts on a global scale is unwarranted, misguided and, simply put, a delusion. Whether or not one agrees, The Net Delusion takes a refreshing stance on a surprisingly ambiguous and underestimated issue, one that we’ll ignore at our peril.

The Net Delusion is a brilliant read, full of insight, controversy (he thinks us students are ‘depoliticised’) and thought-provoking ideas. Whatever your opinion, Morozov produces reams of evidence to support his conjectures (his bibliography runs to 70 pages alone) and has written a book that will see him marked as one of the most influential authorities on the subject.

The Net Delusion was reviewed by Toby Margetts, a final year PR student at the University of Gloucestershire who regularly tweets.

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  1. Well reviewed Toby.
    The concepts of Internet Transparency, Porosity and Agency come into play here. Morozov has a very significant point but does not put the use of the internet into the nature of revolution.
    Some revolutionaries might welcome the ‘knock on the door’ irrespective of the means by which a regime acquires the knowledge of involvement.
    But scale the whole idea down some and you can see how anyone who challenges the status quo might face sanction.
    It is not so long ago that people who talked about an interaction such as writing a comment on a blog post like this one as part of PR was considered an heretic.
    The counter argument is that, just as wall posters brought sanction in China in the last century, it did not prevent the revolution.
    The internet is, as Morozov suggests not some kind of magic. It is part of an evolution in communication but not to be dismissed lightly.
    The events in Egypt and Libya with the ‘closure of the internet’ prompted a huge number of people to look at ways of working round the associated problems. Today, I noted the use of Fax-to-internet as one such device from Libya.
    However,we should not be complacent. Even in the West, the significance of ‘Net Neutrality’ is a major concern and one that the PR institutions need to consider (and – to my mind, campaign for) very carefully.
    In a word, I suggest Morozov’s supporters think more of humanity than our technologies and in doing so would find that humanity is creative enough to continue its own evolution from declaiming in the streets of Athens to Tweeting our discontents.

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