Is the internet spreading democracy?

Since the birth of the “Arab Spring” began in Tunisia and Egypt, pundits from the Left and the Right haven’t been able to stop talking about how Facebook and Twitter made the revolutions (instead of mass organizing, the disciplined commitment of the protesters and so forth).

I was pointed toward an interesting response to this idea on the blog Stalin’s Moustache where the author points out that, despite all the praises of Facebook and Twitter, the activists in the Egyptian revolt specifically advised against its use in disseminating their key organizing manual because it was being watched and monitored by the authorities.

The notion that the spreading of the internet and social web media is inherently democratizing seems too similar to the arguments that are always made about the “inherit” democratizing effects of free markets. “Facebook” has just become a code word for “globalization” which has started to become more and more associated with outsourcing and shuttered factories.

I caught this great video by RSA Animate today critiquing the view that spreading Western technology and social media automatically leads to democracy, and has just as much potential for liberation as it does for oppression.  The argument and questions the video raises are very similar to debates I have all the time with friends about the internet: Does it educate, or distract?, Activate or pacify?, etc.

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