In his debut, Foreign Policy contributing editor Morozov pulls the Internet into sharp focus, exposing the limits of its inner logic, its reckless misuse and the dangerous myopia of its champions.
The author provides a damaging assessment of domestic and foreign Internet policy that remains entertaining despite its dour warnings. As the Internet becomes more widely available in remote corners of the world, writers Morozov, it becomes harder to regulate. Even without a blueprint or common grammar, policymakers, social critics and social scientists tend to embrace online communication as an emancipatory political mechanism that promotes democracy. Everywhere, commentators focus on the amazing revolutionary potential of the Internet to broadcast political struggle, rather than the political struggle itself. In 2009, thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran to protest what they saw as the fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Armed with smartphones and Twitter accounts, protestors were able to reach the world in a matter of minutes, and images of police brutality quickly reached the Internet-surfing world via Facebook and Twitter. When the initial exuberance behind the “Twitter revolution” waned, the Iranian government used the same social-networking sites, even YouTube, to identify and arrest would-be insurrectionists. As the Internet proves ineffective in the struggle for global democratic revolution, it expertly transforms entire populations into passive consumers of commercial mass media, revealing one of the most fundamental of political problems: motivation. Assuming that the Internet can be regulated, how can it promote global democracy while the world’s connected millions are surfing YouTube for funny cat videos? It’s a hopeless battle, but despite the immeasurable barriers to Internet-driven democracy, Morozov still believes the Internet can be used to promote democracy, as long as new policies are unbiased, realistic and cognizant of the connections between the Internet, local political contexts and foreign-policy agendas. Easier said than done.
A serious consideration of the online world that sparkles with charm and wit.