With Iran in mind I’m reading iRevolution with interest. iRevolution is run by Patrick Philippe Meier, doctoral scholar of individuals’ use of technology in times of crisis, of digital activism in oppressive regimes, and of the Internet as a form of political control. It’s a very good blog.
Evgeny Morozov spoke at the RSA a while ago (vid and mp3), and now he’s in Prospect. His view is that dictators and the bloggers and commenters in their pay benefit more from the Web than dissident activists do, and it’s a view which seems to be gaining some ground. He believes that after a slow start, the repressive regimes are finally and irreversibly appropriating the technologies, and the free world should take responsibility for assisting the dissidents.
Patrick Philippe Meier had lunch with him. They take different views strategically and tactically.
Patrick addresses a number of Evgeny’s arguments, with references to some more recent literature. He calls for fewer anecdotes, more data and scholarship, and more attention to people as opposed to tools. From near the end:
“I disagree with Evgeny’s recommendation that the West should be prepared to step in and help the dissenting voices, providing free and prompt assistance to get back online as soon as possible. I’m not a big fan of external, top down intervention models. They don’t work in the field of conflict early warning and conflict prevention. In fact, they fail abysmally.
I would rather take a people-centered approach, local-training-of-local-trainers, something I have referred to elsewhere as a bottom-bottom approach. In other words, lets help foster more resilient digital communities by helping to build internal capacity that minimizes the need for external intervention and maximizes self-learning.
This is why I’d recommend watching a little more Tom & Jerry. Jerry often finds himself trapped in his little mouse hideout because Tom has a gazillion mousetraps set up right outside. If Tom also starts censoring the Internet and blocks the use of mobile phones as well, then Jerry needs to draw on more than just technology to get out of this tight spot. External intervention is hardly possible in some circumstances but if Jerry is somewhat conversant in nonviolent civil resistance, he’ll have a few creative tactics up his sleeve to get him through to the next episode.”
(In defence of anecdotes – anecdotes, in their place, are what you use to form the hypothesis to get the funding to collect data about the new and so-far unstudied phenomenon.)