Weighing the Scales: The Internet's Effect on State-Society Relations

By Drezner, Daniel W. | The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Weighing the Scales: The Internet's Effect on State-Society Relations


Drezner, Daniel W., The Brown Journal of World Affairs


How does the information revolution affect the relationship between governments and global civil society?1 Does the internet lead to greater democratization and liberalization? The findings of political scientists on this question could best be described as ambiguous-that is, there are two very different narratives that can answer this question.2The more popular and prominent argument is that the internet dramatically lowers the costs of networked communication; therefore, civil society groups are better able to mobilize action to influence governments. Countless articles have been written about how the internet has facilitated social movements both to advocate for international treaties-like the Landmine Convention; and to block movement on initiatives-such as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Decentralized forms of civil society, like Facebook or Twitter, are particularly likely to thrive with the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies that facilitate user-created content.3 The networked structure of online communities closely mirrors the networked structure of global civil society. The coordination of worldwide protests that took place in the run-up to the war in Iraq is but one example of this phenomenon. The growth of the blogosphere as a force in American politics is only the latest manifestation of this trend.

The counter-argument is that states are becoming increasingly savvy in their regulation of the information revolution. The code that forms the backbone of the Internet's architecture leaves several critical nodes vulnerable to regulation by governments.4 Discriminating governments have the capacity to decide which elements of digital information they choose to let in and which elements they can screen out. Beyond information, authoritarian governments have been willing to make life uncomfortable for the citizens who use online activities to threaten the regime in power. Governments ranging from China to Iran to Belarus have demonstrated a willingness to crack down on civil society activists and bloggers who defy the state.

These contradictory trends highlight the points of contention inherent in analyzing how information and communication technology (ICT) affects the art and science of politics. Does the Internet empower the coercive control of governments at the expense of citizen activists, or vice versa? As someone who has at different times advanced both sides of this argument, I fully recognize and appreciate the complexities of this question.5 Forty years ago, economist Albert Hirschman noted that democratic revolution is "unpredictable because it took the very actors by surprise and unrepeatable because once the event has happened everybody is put on notice and precautions will be taken by various parties so that it won't happen again."6 In gauging the effects of Web 2.0 technologies, the unpredictability is even more powerful. The pace of technological change, combined with the learning effects of authoritarian regimes, poses a daunting challenge for scholars and observers.

In this article, I offer a preliminary answer-that while the internet has probably empowered non-state actors more than states, the effect of this empowerment is not consistent across all types of political environments. In open societies, there is no question that the Internet has enhanced the power of civil society vis-à-vis the state. However, in dealing with totalitarian governments or international governmental negotiations, the information revolution does not fundamentally affect the state's ability to advance its interests.

There is an internal tension contained in this answer, and it comes to the surface when considering the ability of online activism to trigger an abrupt shift in public attitudes towards authoritarian states. A quiescent public dramatically lowers the costs of repression for a government. However, information technologies have the capacity to dramatically redirect the "information cascades" that promote quiescence. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Weighing the Scales: The Internet's Effect on State-Society Relations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.