Internet Freedom & Political Space

Internet Freedom & Political Space

Internet Freedom & Political Space

Internet Freedom & Political Space

Excerpt

Over the past decade, the Internet has become a battleground between repressive governments that would censor content and those who advocate free access for all. In 2011 the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) at the Department of State asked RAND to assess the effect of Internet freedom on the relationship between civil society and elected officials worldwide, and to examine such questions as: Does Internet freedom make government more accountable to the people? If, so by which mechanisms? How does expanding freedom online affect political space offline, and in which countries will these effects be most visible? How can DRL maximize the impact of its ongoing Internet freedom initiatives?

This study was conducted during 2011–12 and focuses on the role of the Internet and social media during popular protests in 2011 in Egypt, Syria, China, and Russia. We compare the ways that different political contexts and informational environments altered the opportunities for online mobilization and how, subsequently, online activisms grew into offline mobilization. We also studied Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, aimed at the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War as a way of grounding Internet freedom within the broader context of information freedom. The goal of the study is to identify the mechanisms by which the freedom to browse, post, and share information online may transform state-society relations in nondemocratic regimes.

This analysis highlights several mechanisms through which open and free Internet can trigger political transformation. In fully authori-

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