against Shirky and the web utopians


In The Net Delusion, by Evgeny Morozov, we finally have a long-overdue market correction to cyber-utopianism, which Morozov defines as “a naïve belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication that rests on a stubborn refusal to acknowledge its downside.” Morozov, a Belarussian web activist who works with the New America Foundation, sizes up the social media web for what it is—a powerful tool for communication, which like most such tools in modern history is subject to grievous distortion and manipulation by antidemocratic regimes. Since the remarkable popular protests that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power in February, Shirky’s cyber-utopian vision of crowdsourced social virtue has gone viral. US media have devoted extensive coverage to Egypt’s so-called Facebook and Twitter generation, the young anti-Mubarak activists who have been praised for using social media and cellphones to organize protesters in Tahrir Square and topple a tyrant. One activist ideally suited to this story line was 30-year-old Wael Ghonim, a Google executive detained by the Egyptian police for twelve days for acting as the anonymous administrator of a Facebook page that was facilitating the protests. Sure enough, the American media promptly adopted Ghonim as the face of Egypt’s revolt shortly after his release from detention. Social networking mattered in Egypt, but the root causes of the uprising were scarcity, official corruption and social conflict, none of which fit the cyber-utopian narrative or flatter America’s technological vanity.

more from Chris Lehmann at The Nation here.