An American journalist delves into the fringes of Internet activism in three countries forged from communist oppression.
New America Foundation senior fellow and former Wall Street Journal writer Parker draws on her rich education in international relations and a wide range of fellowships to examine how the Internet is changing—or not changing—cultures in China, Russia and Cuba. As most readers know, the suppression of activism in these countries has a long, shameful history, so Parker uses her contacts and experience to quiz the new types of citizens emerging due to the Web. The book’s fundamental flaw, however, is in couching itself as a perceptive analysis of how Web-based activists inspired change in recent revolutionary hotbeds like Egypt and Tunisia. However, Parker presents an interesting but scattered collection of profiles of postmodern activists, none of whom seem to be as effective as they would like. The usual suspects include Jing Zhao, the political blogger who aggravates the Chinese government as “Michael Anti”; Russian nationalist Alexei Navalny, who found out the hard way how serious Vladimir Putin is about uprisings; and Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez, the married couple from Cuba who use their international connections to speak truth to power under the Castro regime. There are nuances to the situations in each country, and Parker finds China the most changed by its experience with the world online, while Cuba remains isolated. But they all seem to share the fear, apathy and isolation that Parker identifies as the tenets of suppression. “A long tradition of citizen informers has broken down the social fabric,” Parker writes of Cuba. “This decentralized paranoia is what makes coordinated rebellion so difficult, and the government knows it. You never know whom to fear, so you fear everyone.”
A narrowly focused portrait of idealism in the face of oppression that is very nearly past its sell-by date.