In Prospect’s December cover story, “How dictators watch us on the web”, Evgeny Morozov criticizes my views on the impact of social media on political unrest. Indeed, he even says I am “the man most responsible for the intellectual confusion over the political role of the internet.” In part, I would like to agree with some of his criticisms, while partially disputing some of his assertions too. Let me start with a basic statement of belief: because civic life is not just created by the actions of individuals, but by the actions of groups, the spread of mobile phones and internet connectivity will reshape that civic life, changing the ways members of the public interact with one another. Though germane, this argument says little to nothing about the tempo, mode, or ultimate shape such a transformation will take. There are a number of possible scenarios for changed interaction between the public and the state, some rosy, others distinctly less so. Crucially however, Morozov’s reading is in response to a specific strain of internet utopianism—let’s call it the “just-add-internet” hypothesis. In this model, the effect of social media on the lives of citizens in authoritarian regimes will be swift, unstoppable, and positive—a kind of digitised 1989. And it will lead us to expect the prominence of social media in any society’s rapid democratisation.
more from Clay Shirky at Prospect here.