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The Web Won't Topple Tyranny

michael posted about 10 years ago | from the i-told-you-so dept.

The Internet 513

An anonymous reader writes "Joshua Kurlantzick of the New Republic online writes that the internet--once heralded as a revolutionary force in politics--has turned out to be surprisingly nonthreatening to dictators and tyrannies. Reminds me of Howard Dean, and the trend to see technological change as a politically progressive force. Maybe this is not such a good idea?"

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Makes Sense... (4, Interesting)

Kid Zero (4866) | about 10 years ago | (#8689819)

After all, the people don't control it. Revolution isn't profitable to those who do control it.

Re:Makes Sense... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689964)

Even though the people do not control the infrastructure, they can still communicate with eachother and that's all they really need. Cryptography and steganography can overlay a completely different structure on top of a restrictive network. It may not be fast, but revolutionaries don't share MP3s. The amount of information which is required for coordinating political action can hide in almost every inconspicuous channel.

That's because the internet (5, Funny)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 10 years ago | (#8689832)

no longer can recognize censorship as damage and route around it. Blame the router manufacturers.

Re:That's because the internet (5, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 10 years ago | (#8690083)

Blame the router manufacturers.

If I take 4 drums of fuel oil and 2,000 lbs of ammonium nitrate I can plant 100 acres of corn with a tractor or build a car bomb. If I choose the latter it's the fault of the oil and fertilizer companies? I don't think so.

3rd post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689833)

Yay for me!

Some change has occurred (4, Insightful)

mao che minh (611166) | about 10 years ago | (#8689834)

The Internet has brought world news into the American household. Before, we only had the local media and a handful of cable news networks. It has already started influencing how the American people view politics, and elevated their level of interaction with it.

It is doing the same thing that television did in the 60's, when it brought the Vietnam "conflict" into the living room in all of its horrendous glory. Now we get to read the BBC and get a different take on why the world hates us.

Re:Some change has occurred (2, Informative)

LostCluster (625375) | about 10 years ago | (#8689885)

BBC News broadcasts are also distributed by many public television stations in the USA and also on the BBC America cable channel.

Re:Some change has occurred (4, Interesting)

pben (22734) | about 10 years ago | (#8690041)

I am of two minds on that, if people are really looking for facts and views they can find them quicker. The rise of Fox News and talk radio shows that there is another group that is just looking for a filter that reinforces their viewpoint without any disturbing debate entering without being spun.

I think most people are like me. We know that the pol are lying, if it isn't about not having sex it is about overthrowing another country's government. Go ahead and play your games just leave us out of it. The pol like it like that and most Americans like it like that. Democracy is fairly dead when only 45% of the registered voters vote and only 50% of the people register to vote.

Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community. The pols just don't seem to get that little fact.

Re:Some change has occurred (4, Insightful)

betelgeuse-4 (745816) | about 10 years ago | (#8690047)

The BBC world service was around long before the internet, and offered uncensored news in many different languages. However, it didn't ever cause any revolutions (as far as I know).

Re:Some change has occurred (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690075)

By uncensored you mean, of course, left-wing approved news.

Re:Some change has occurred (1)

Uber Banker (655221) | about 10 years ago | (#8690087)

Yes, as long as people take the trouble to view these other sources. While some may seek out alternative websites most read CNN, MSNBC or whatever is on the front page of AOL. People that seek out news and opinion are likely to do it whatever the delivery form (as another poster pointed out, the BBC is available on cable channels, long range radio, etc).

Active empowerment is necessary to make a real difference, and barring the BBC sending out spam or employing pop-up advertising that won't happen. What made the difference in the 60s was not the spread of television (in itself) as expsure to the television medium was already high, but rather the networks started to question the government line, ask questions and source directly from what indepedent (well, of view if not of employ) sources they could.

Sadly, questioning and insightful journalism seems largely forgotten, or subordinated in the name of the latest profit model.

No? well I have the solution (0)

ziggamon (736328) | about 10 years ago | (#8689835)

It seems like brute force is the only thing that works for breaking down tyrranies...

Re:No? well I have the solution (2, Interesting)

temojen (678985) | about 10 years ago | (#8689877)

It seems like brute force is the only thing that works for breaking down tyrranies...

Carefull there...

This kind of thing is best posted AC through anonymizing proxies, lest the biggest tyrants brand you a "terrorist".

Although, your posting history tends to suggest that you have been trying to disrupt communication systems, so you might technically be a terrorist.

Re:No? well I have the solution (1, Funny)

ziggamon (736328) | about 10 years ago | (#8689927)

Carefull there... This kind of thing is best posted AC through anonymizing proxies, lest the biggest tyrants brand you a "terrorist". Although, your posting history tends to suggest that you have been trying to disrupt communication systems, so you might technically be a terrorist.
/nick The Artist formerly known as Ziggamon

Re:No? well I have the solution (1)

ErikZ (55491) | about 10 years ago | (#8689960)

Ooooo. Help help! I've been branded a terrorist!

Yeah, there's no way to fight against THAT kind of menance.

I'll just wait here for those tyranical government agents to come and break down my door and haul me away. ...

Any minute now... ...

I'm sure they just have a heavy workload. So I'll leave a note on my door letting them know what times I'll be in the house.

ANYWAY. What the original poster was pointing out is that you can hold all the peace rallies you want. The only way to get rid of a tyrant is by naked force. And by naked force I don't mean soldiers out of uniform.

Re:No? well I have the solution (1)

Cyno01 (573917) | about 10 years ago | (#8690088)

This being slashdot, i'll go out on a limb and assume your from the left and was reading the grandparent with leftist views in mind, but... how do you know he wasn't talking about the use of force to overthrow another tyrant recently. Regardless of what you think of the war, force used to oust a tyrant(regardless of the current problems) does seem to work. Just playing devils advocate, i think bush fucked up the country too, but i've also got some crazy views on the war...

Re:No? well I have the solution (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689878)

So join the militia near you.

Learn some basic infantry tactics and survival. Arm yourself, not just with AKs but with AA and AT weapons and explosives you'll need for a proper guerilla war.

When GWB rigs the elections and wins another illegal term, the shit WILL hit the fan in this country.

Umm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689921)

Most of the millitias I know of agree with GWB.

Re:Umm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689931)

Who said that you have to agree with the militia?

Of course you can get your training in the military.

No obviously not.. (1, Insightful)

Pidder (736678) | about 10 years ago | (#8689839)

The internet will not topple tyranny when they the evil forces that are supposed to be toppled control it (China). A completely free internet would topple tyranny but they know that obviously and thus do everything they can to control it.

That's where the revolution begins (2, Insightful)

mao che minh (611166) | about 10 years ago | (#8689880)

The Internet spreads an idea at a rapid pace, which is what counts. The revolution begins in the hearts and minds of the people. The American Colonies defeated an empire not through tactical prowess or strength of arms, but rather through a guerilla war driven by fierce idealism and a commitment to stop tyranny.

Well, and with a little help from the French. ;)

Re:That's where the revolution begins (5, Insightful)

lquam (250506) | about 10 years ago | (#8690056)

Actually, very little of our revolution was fought in any way as a guerilla war. We fought mainly as a standing army in uniform, albeit one on the run for much of the time. We had spies. The Brits had spies, but in all, it was a quite traditional war for the period in which it was fought.

As for the internet spreading ideas at a rapid pace, I'd point out that B.S. spreads as rapidly as the "truth" and the poster's point is FAR MORE VALID than it's rating as a TROLL! Like any media, the Internet is infinitely abuseable. When totalitarian regimes know how to use the media to their favor--Hitler's use of radio and poster art comes to mind--the media becomes a method of control rather than a method of freedom. I see the PRC getting very good at making the Internet work for them, and while it may not be nearly so easy to control as print, it can be controlled.

If you want the old men in Beijing gone, I suggest you start stockpiling guns and put down the mouse.


Funny quote (5, Funny)

spellraiser (764337) | about 10 years ago | (#8689840)

From the article (on an Internet Cafe in Laos):

Yet, despite its trendiness and high-tech appearance, the Internet joint conspicuously lacked one element usually associated with cafe life: any discussion of current events. Virtually no one in the cafe spoke with anyone else.

Geez - geeks not socializing! What is this world coming to ?!

On a more serious note (4, Insightful)

spellraiser (764337) | about 10 years ago | (#8689994)

The article is actually rather detailed and well-thought. The author makes some interesting arguments about why the Internet has not been as great a vessel for democratic progress as some hoped it would be.

One argument is that yes, geeks do not socialize. More specifically, the author argues that the Internet is inherently detrimental to social debate:

Another shortcoming of the Internet is that it lends itself to individual rather than communal activities. It "is about people sitting in front of a terminal, barely interacting," says one Laotian researcher. The Web is less well-suited to fostering political discussion and debate because, unlike radio or even television, it does not generally bring people together in one house or one room.

Another argument is that many governments have simply stifled the Internet completely, reducing its utility altogether:

But the Internet's inherent flaws as a political medium are only part of the reason for its failure to spread liberty. More significant has been the ease with which authoritarian regimes have controlled and, in some cases, subverted it. The most straightforward way governments have responded to opposition websites has been simply to shut them down.

It goes on to mention a great number of examples of such activities; including government policies in Singapore, China and Saudi Arabia, among other countries. I could not fail to be outraged at reading descriptions of such vile cencorship, which is unfortunately a fact of life for a great number of the world's Internet users.

Howard Dean was a success story. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689846)

Howard Dean was a success story for the internet. He gathered a huge amount of money and marshalled a decent amount of supporters.

He lost because he stupid campaign manager blew all that money in the insignificant first two states of the primary, mostly fighting against Dick Gephardt-- who turned out to basically be a hopeless kamakaze attack steered into the Dean campaign anyway.

If it hadn't been for incompetence on the part of said campaign manager, Dean would have won or at least made enough fo an impact you would not now be chiding the internet-oriented aspects of his campaign strategy.

Hmprf (1, Insightful)

pytsun (765818) | about 10 years ago | (#8689847)

"surprisingly nonthreatening to dictators and tyrannies. " Since they generally don't have internet access is those countries, where's the surprise?

Re:Hmprf (1, Flamebait)

JuiceBySarah (708618) | about 10 years ago | (#8689906)

"surprisingly nonthreatening to dictators and tyrannies. " Since they generally don't have internet access is those countries, where's the surprise?

what are you talking about? aol is part of one of the biggest corporations in the world, and provides access to millions of americans.

(ie., that's one tyrannical country with loads of internet access).

Re:Hmprf (3, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 10 years ago | (#8689912)

Did you RTFA? The major point is that although internet usage is growing rapidly in dictatorial countries, it's not making the difference that early prophets of the internet's potential as a force for freedom had hoped. Which is really too bad. I confess that I was one of those who believed that the internet would be as revolutionary in spreading "dangerous ideas" as the printing press was.

Of course, it's early days yet. IIRC, the press was generally under the control of The Authorities until a couple of centuries after it came into existence. So things might get better. we can hope.

What the Internet is really good at... (-1, Flamebait)

toupsie (88295) | about 10 years ago | (#8689851)

Taking money from gullible fools. Howard Dean did an excellent job of this, transferring 40+ million dollars from Americans to his bank account. And what did these American's get for millions and millions of dollars, zip, zero, nada, well except his home state of Vermont...after he dropped out. This is the greatest internet swindle since Pets.com went public.

I don't think a Democrat will look at a bat the same way ever again...

Re:What the Internet is really good at... (4, Insightful)

CashCarSTAR (548853) | about 10 years ago | (#8689995)

Actually, speaking as someone who follows this stuff, you're completly wrong.

The Dean supporters don't see it as a "swindle". They see it as Dean took all the media heat for that amount of time..the first person to hit the beach, and hard. And set the tone for the entire debate in a very positive fasion.

What did they get? A very good chance of not only getting Bush out of office, but starting a conversation to make real change.

Internet? Maybe not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689855)

But a wireless mesh network? Hrm, the next few years might be interesting with wireless hard drives and heavily wirelessly connected individuals.

ASSHAT (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689913)

you're a

The Great Firewall of China (2, Interesting)

LostCluster (625375) | about 10 years ago | (#8689857)

People like to say "The Internet treats any form of censorship as damage and tries to route around it." and in most cases that's true. If a router is refusing to allow access to another address, the router before it will attempt to find another way to get the packets to where they're supposed to go.

However, if the only ways out of the house/building/campus/country on the network are all controled by the same sensoring authority, there's no way to get there from here. So, Tyranical goverments just need to maintain control of all wires leaving their country, and prevent people from owning satellite dishes and then they'll be all set at blocking sites that they don't like.

Re:The Great Firewall of China (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | about 10 years ago | (#8689968)

Perhaps all those spammers hosting/mailing from China are part of their plan? It's hard to get the word out about things happening inside China if the rest of the world has blocked them at the routers. The Great Firewalling of China?

Re:The Great Firewall of China (1)

Syncdata (596941) | about 10 years ago | (#8690046)

Tyranical goverments just need to maintain control of all wires leaving their country, and prevent people from owning satellite dishes
And that's the key, the more information that gets put on the internet, the more things/sites an oppressive government has to ban/censor. At some point, they're simply not going to be able to keep up.
Banning something is reactionary, the information has to be available at some point in order for the government to notice it needs to be banned.
No, the introduction of the internet is not going to ouster tyrannies immediatley, because reasonable people expect governments to hide information. At a certain point, it will become intolerable, and people will revolt, but that usually happens at a pretty specific point on the hunger index.

Exactly (5, Insightful)

Jim_Hawkins (649847) | about 10 years ago | (#8689858)

The main reason that the internet has not been a threat to dictators is that the dictators don't need to control the internet. They only need to control the computers that access the internet.

This is no different than controlling any other type of media. (Control of presses/television stations/etc.)

Re:Exactly (1)

ornil (33732) | about 10 years ago | (#8690025)

You know, we have all these spammers spending thousands of hours trying to evade all kinds of filters and safeguards. The US government just needs to hire them and bombard the Chinese with appropriate propaganda. Just imagine:

Subject: Supp0rt d.mcr4cy n0w!

Surprise, surprise. (5, Insightful)

James A. M. Joyce (764379) | about 10 years ago | (#8689859)

Guess what - neither did the printing press, the telephone, radio or television.

Re:Surprise, surprise. (3, Insightful)

Lord_Slepnir (585350) | about 10 years ago | (#8689953)

Don't be so quick to discredit those. Those things all had large effects, just not outright revolutions. Without the printing press, Martin Luther wouldnt' have been able to reach as wide of an audience, and the reformation would have died before it could get off the ground. As another poster pointed out, the television brought the horror of the Vietnam conflict to the homes of the American people and was the reason why it was so widely opposed after a few years.

Re:Surprise, surprise. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689961)

Martin Luther wouldnt' have been able to reach as wide of an audience, and the reformation would have died

You say that as if it would have been a bad thing...

A sincere request (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689860)

Hello folks,

You may know me from my website: goatse.cx.
Yeah that's good ol' me right there on the front page. I checked my server
logs last week and observed a lot of traffic to and from /. I think I am a
popular and much liked person around here. Thank you!

Okay now to the main reason I posted this comment. It may be slightly OT,
but I don't know what else to do. The /. editors rejected my submission to
Ask Slashdot. Ofcourse, I could've suggested a poll option, but I doubt
that would've made it past them either. So here is what I would like to
ask, in a nutshell.

I have been thinking of starting a subscription based service to my
website. You know the rising cost of living nowadays, not to mention my
ever increasing bandwidth bills (I'm getting famous!). I have also been
asked to add flash/animated versions of my popular pictures. I intend to
read up on some Web page development stuff, or if the cashflow works out,
even hire a programmer -- my small contribution to the US and world

But to achieve all this, I would need to gather some statistics. How many
of you would be interested in subscribing to my website for, say,
$10/month? It's a rough figure, but the details can be worked out later.
For now, I need to know the general response from you guys -- to see if
the idea is feasible. It would help if the votes are lined up neatly in
this thread. Thanks!

And lastly, any ideas/suggestions/feedback about my website is welcome!

Thanks again people, looking forward to hearing from you, and keep

Warm Regards,

Is this a surprise? (3, Interesting)

igotmybfg (525391) | about 10 years ago | (#8689888)

There's quite a difference between a person who puts up a blog and a person who, for example, leads an armed insurrection against a bastard dictator. I submit that the ability to type and the ability to forcefully overthrow a government have little in common...

Re:Is this a surprise? (5, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | about 10 years ago | (#8689917)

One person cannot forcefully overthrow a government alone. The first step in an insurrection is organizing people who are like-minded that the government needs to be replaced.

Re:Is this a surprise? (2, Insightful)

skwirlmaster (555307) | about 10 years ago | (#8690093)

Absolutely! I recently wrote a paper on the impact of the Internet on communication and education in Africa. Claims about the revolutions were made in nearly half of my sources, although none backed them up. The Internet will not fight revolutions on its own. However, there are problems in Africa that mean most revolutionaries won't have access either way. Illiteracy is a problem as well.

The problem, in Africa at least, is that computer penetration is low, and internet access is even lower. Not to mention that the cost of dialup in countries like Uganda is about $60, couple that with the phone line which runs about another US$40 (nearly as scarce as computers). The average person in some African nations makes less than US$1500 per year.

Internet cafes are cheaper, but are still out of reach of most people with charges averageing out to US$30 per month. Public terminals are often not fully featured, many act as kiosks. Access just isn't widely available outside of large urban centers.

There is also little African content on the Internet, and no one backbone network yet. Most ISPs use VSATs to link to the US backbone. The motivation and power of the Internet must be available or else it can't be harnessed for change.

Another eroding factor. (4, Insightful)

Roger Keith Barrett (712843) | about 10 years ago | (#8689896)

Don't you think, though, that there is not one single factor that can bring dictators down but it's a set of smaller reasons.

I think the Internet is a rather strong eroding factor. It isn't an instant fix, but it works to undermind the foundation of these regimes. Someone above said that "radio, TV, telephone" didn't do it either.. right, but the contributed. Nothing works all at once... all the communication together eventually brings it all down at once upon itself, like it did in the USSR.

Re:Another eroding factor. (2, Insightful)

ctr2sprt (574731) | about 10 years ago | (#8689984)

The theory that media can bring down dictators is based chiefly on one premise: that if people knew what was really going on, they would refuse to stand for it. Unfortunately this isn't really the case. The people of Iraq knew very well what Saddam was up to; they knew about the torturing, the disappearances, the corruption, etc. From the perspective of the rest of the world, maybe we haven't always known, but we sure know now - and now more people than ever are calling the war in Iraq a mistake.

It's sad, but no matter how horrific a dictator is, everyone will continue to look the other way because it's easier than taking risk to get rid of him. Dictators all know this and exploit it as best they can.

P2P (2, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 10 years ago | (#8690080)

The principle is that if people can communicate with each other, rather than rely on the mediation of the dictator, they are harder to tyrannize. In Iraq, Saddam stayed in the center of the "public". We'll never know whether the Iraqis would have gotten rid of Saddam once they got freer communicaion, because the US cheated them of their chance at an American style revolution, in favor of a murderous nanny "rescue" that disempowers the people yet again.

Re:Another eroding factor. (1)

Dalcius (587481) | about 10 years ago | (#8690030)

I do agree with you, but it's interesting to note the difference of the internet. Books, radio (in the strict radio-network sense), TV, you can't shout back at any of these. The internet not only lets outside influences in, it also allows dissidents to communicate with each other.

The internet certainly won't bring down a regime on its own, but it can be more of an aid than anything before its time.


This article is seriously warped (4, Insightful)

Catskul (323619) | about 10 years ago | (#8689898)

Quote from article:
"But world leaders, journalists, and political scientists who tout the Internet as a powerful force for political change are just as wrong as the dot-com enthusiasts who not so long ago believed the Web would completely transform business."
Anyone who thinks the web has not completely changed major business has to get their head out of their ass.
"It has yet to topple--or even seriously undermine--its first tyrannical regime."
How long does this guy think these countries have had the web, and what percentage of these people does he think use it there? And finally how long does he think it takes for something like this to change culture? Holy Shit Dude! Its like saying: "we started publishing an underground newspaper three years ago, and it has yet to topple Dictator so and so.." Real soulutions take time. Cultural change takes time. And it is WAY to early to be making judgements about the way the web is affecting these places

It will be interesting (1)

Cidtek (632990) | about 10 years ago | (#8689901)

at some point in the future when we can truly measure the effect the internet has had on history, to see how it comapared to the printing press.

Re:It will be interesting (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | about 10 years ago | (#8689992)

There will be a web site that tells us it is the most important thing in history. And since history will be what you read on web sites, it will be true.

Making hay out of straw-men (4, Interesting)

k98sven (324383) | about 10 years ago | (#8689908)

I don't get this guy.. He's pointing out that he visited an internet cafe in Laos, and despite its existence, their oppressive regime still stands!

How strange. Or?

Most people in Laos can't afford to go to an internet cafe and read the censored news - or possibly gain access to the uncensored ones. How could it possibly make a difference?

The internet is a medium, not a means. You need to have an organized opposition to effect change. You need support. You need a lot of things other than just the means of communication.

Instead, he should be looking at the places were these kinds of things are in place. Such as Iran. And you will also see the use of the internet. And these places are progressing*.

(*Although I'll be the first to admit to the recent setbacks in Iran. But on the other hand, the Ayatollahs wouldn't be acting if they weren't threated, would they?)

Re:Making hay out of straw-men (1)

JohnnyCannuk (19863) | about 10 years ago | (#8690066)

Here here!

The internet is a tool for disseminating information, at speeds and in ways that the preinting press, radio and television could only dream of. But that's all it is. It's morally neutral.

Just like paper books, the radio and TV it can be used to both enlighten (Radio Free Europe, CIA copies of Russian maps, Cathedral and the Bazaar, Amnesty.com etc) or oppress/spread lies (Soviet-Era Pravda, Mein Kampf, CNN during the Iraq War, etc) or just to sell stuff like porn.

It is how these tools are used as a part of a greater movement that really brings down tyrrany. The information is what is threatening. Why do you think the Great Firewall of China exists? To censor and prevent the Chinese population from accessing information they could then use against the government. Why do you think war correspondents are now "embedded"? To censor and prevent American population from accessing information they could then use against the government (like they did back in the Viet Nam days, when reporters had pretty much free access in the war zone...).

If you thought the internet was going to topple dictators, you were living in a dream world to begin with. But it can sure help people do it. They just need a little longer than 6 to 10 years to do it. 70 million out of a population of 2 billion isn't a lot. Maybe when a greater percentage of the populace has access to information (as in Iran or North America), then tyranny will be harder to maintain.

Amazing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689911)

So you mean that the awe-inspiring, mighty-and-shall-prevail, Power Of the Internet (TM) doesn't bring about the Defeat Of Evil, World Peace, and the Solution To World Hunger?

Who would've thunk it that it might require, you know, *people* to do these things -- except that people are sitting around reading email, sending IM, browsing the web, and talking about how any day now the Power of the Internet(TM) was going to magically make all the bad things go away. After all, the Power of the Internet(TM) could never be controlled by those of Nefarious Purposes because... er, because... just because! Oh, quick -- listen to these new MP3s you can download!

The plan:
1. Build der Intar-net
2. ???
3. Topple dictators! Make World Peace! Solve World Hunger!

more bad journalism (5, Insightful)

mabu (178417) | about 10 years ago | (#8689922)

But world leaders, journalists, and political scientists who tout the Internet as a powerful force for political change are just as wrong as the dot-com enthusiasts who not so long ago believed the Web would completely transform business.

This is a classic example of a writer who had an agenda first, and then sought to write a story to back it up. The whole article is bogus.

The Internet HAS completely transformed business. It has become a major source of a variety of political discussion and activism. Anyone who has been paying attention can see that.

The mainstream political/business publications are resistant to anything which upsets the existing delicate balance, so they often hold new technology (i.e. things they don't understand, or can't control, or can't profit from based on the way they've been leveraging their power and control) to ridiculous, unrealistic standards.

So if we put Internet kiosks in a communist country and the regime doesn't topple in six months, that's a failure of the Internet? Get real!

I know this is nothing new, but am I the only one who doesn't see this new mingling of promotion and editorial which seems to now be totally dominant? An entity "proclaims" something IS the way it IS. Never mind coming up with a realistic explanation. Most people have such short attention spans they don't check the facts or read between the lines.

How fast? (4, Insightful)

AndroidCat (229562) | about 10 years ago | (#8689925)

After all, tyrannies live in the real world which doesn't move at Internet time. Even if information is available at the click of a mouse, opinions and knowledge still take time to spread--and then have to also act in the real world politics, laws, and other methods of change that take time.

Did someone expect that tyrants could just be voted out with a web poll?

Just because change hasn't come overnight... (3, Insightful)

keath_milligan (521186) | about 10 years ago | (#8689926)

The kind of change the article is talking about can take years, even generations. Widespread access to the web hasn't really existed in most areas of the world but for a few years. Just as radio and television broadcasts didn't topple governments overnight, neither can we expect the web to be able to. But the web will play an important role in change. Those young people surfing pop-culture sites are really the bigger threat to totalatarianism - as they grow older, they'll start to look around and see what people in more liberal, western countries have versus what they have and realize the truth.

beside the point... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689929)

The internet, and the free flow of information it facilitates, aren't going to topple tyrannies, only make them irrelevant.

All war in the future is going to be information war. What's more important? Resources; or the information making the exploitation of those resources possible?

Depends on how you define tyranny (4, Insightful)

replicant108 (690832) | about 10 years ago | (#8689930)

It is to be expected that where power is derived form force, the existence of the internet will have little political effect. On the other hand, where power is derived from propaganda the internet will have significant effect. This thesis is borne out if you look at recent political movements in the west, e.g. the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements.

The number of people involved in the anti-war movement in particular was unprecedented, and depended largely for its success on the internet - both as an alternative news source and as a organisational tool.

I Tunes? (0, Offtopic)

layingMantis (411804) | about 10 years ago | (#8689932)

if the net were such a "liberating", "informing" Force, then milions of people with presumably normal mental capacity wouldn't have been duped into thinking that a dollar for a song off I-Tunes is an acceptable deal. Yee-haw!

freedom of speach does not topple dictators. (0, Flamebait)

bsDaemon (87307) | about 10 years ago | (#8689934)

the first amendment was first because it is those rights which are most often exercised in a free and civil society. The 2nd Amendment is 2nd because it is that right which keeps a society free and civil -- only the threat of arms keeps governments honest. If you really believe we'd still have free elections in the USA without a substantial number of armed citizens, then I hope you're very happy in Cuba, China, Nazi Germany, the USSR, et cetera.

Debunking the "Armed citizen" myth... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689963)

Iraq had the highest gun ownership anywhere in the world and yet the people there where completely terrorized by their government...

And those weren't just little pistols, everybody in Iraq has an AK-47...

Hmmm, well, then again all those AKs and RPGs are certainly helpful in fighting imperialist invaders though...

Re:Debunking the "Armed citizen" myth... (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | about 10 years ago | (#8689970)

yes, because the people refused to do anything. Why? I suspect the Iraqies actually supported Saddam. A great number of Germans supported Hitler, after all, and we are for all intents and purposes dealing with the same basic person.

Re:Debunking the "Armed citizen" myth... (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | about 10 years ago | (#8690023)

and we are for all intents and purposes dealing with the same basic person.

I'm pretty sure the dental records won't match. Or were you waxing retorical about some penultimate meaning of "all intents and purposes"?

Re:Debunking the "Armed citizen" myth... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690049)

Well, first of Hitler and Saddam aren't really the same. (Unless you are implying that Reagan and Rumsfeld would happily do business and sell weapons to Hitler?)

So what makes you think any Americans would revolt from tyrrany? Most of the gun toting NRA freaks support the Partiot Act and the various wars of the Bush administration.

Besides when the organizations Black Panthers and MOVE tried to use guns to defend themselves from racist war government what happened? Most Americans just sided with the federal government and agreed when the FBI and Police slaughtered and framed up the members. So, yes, maybe a few Americans would take up arms against the government but basically most will all support anything it does. Most NRA gun toters actually hate the ACLU, the ones who actually try to defend liberties in the US.

Re:Debunking the "Armed citizen" myth... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690061)

Well, first of Hitler and Saddam aren't really the same. (Unless you are implying that Reagan and Rumsfeld would happily do business and sell weapons to Hitler?)

Actually, it's funny you should mention that since the Bush family did have financial ties to Hitler.

Re:freedom of speach does not topple dictators. (1)

goon america (536413) | about 10 years ago | (#8690109)

One of the countries with the largest per capita private gun ownership was Saddam's Iraq.

Sorry, but this guns=democracy theory doesn't work in either direction. Gunless societies have been democracies and gun-filled societies have been brutal dictatorships and/or warlord-run anarchies.

What keeps governments honest is a well-educated populace that can see through the governments claims and is resistant to propagandizing. Thank you.

humm... maybe IS a force for democracy (2, Insightful)

Tei (520358) | about 10 years ago | (#8689947)

Internet is not only the web, and not all the web is about big webs. Its also small forums, maillist, irc, and instant messagind. If people mix with other, will know about how cool is to live at a democracy country, and be jealous... ..the article is simplistic at first. The Internet is a powerfull tool, with unknom hidden effects long range. I suspect.

Not surprising... (2, Interesting)

Sexual Ass Gerbil (728400) | about 10 years ago | (#8689954)

Freedom of speech undermines revolution. If you don't have the freedom to speak your mind, you build up anger that you can't release. Eventually enough people build up enough anger that they do speak out and with critical mass they form a revolution. After all, if free speech is outlawed, you better arm yourself if you want to speak out.

Free speech generates a culture of back seat driver, couch potato swear-at-the-images-on-your television citizens. It's better to let out anger than leave it in. I think I like it that way. It's better than revolution.

The Web could be a major force against tyranny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8689957)

We just have to figure out away to build political movements around downloading porn.

Information = liberty (4, Insightful)

heironymouscoward (683461) | about 10 years ago | (#8689958)

It's true that the internet is not the cornucopia of freedom it was hyped up to be.

But the underlying premise, that information is essential to liberty, remains true, and the internet as a technology (perhaps not as a product) is the best way of getting accurate and timely information.

The very fact that the author was unable to access websites belonging to dissident groups proves the point. If the internet was irrelevant, these sites would not be blocked.

In the past, a dictatorial regime would progressively close off the flow of free information to its populace, the better to feed them the diet of lies that sustain such regimes. These days, that is harder than it has ever been, and this is largely thanks to the internet, including humble email.

I believe the internet has brought liberty to many people, it's just that the process is incomplete.

Howard Dean (0, Troll)

amigoro (761348) | about 10 years ago | (#8689978)

Reminds me of Howard Dean, and the trend to see technological change as a politically progressive force.

And had he been nominated, he would've probably toppled ONE tyranny.

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geeks are to blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690005)

'benevolent dictatorship' control of technology doesnt seem so cute now, does it?

if the technology were developed and maintained democratically, then the medium would be democratic.

until geeks figure out the value of democracy, nothing will change.

Glass and TNR (1)

dachshund (300733) | about 10 years ago | (#8690008)

The New Republic. Isn't that the same magazine that employed Stephen Glass?

For those of you who don't know the story, Glass was busted for making up dozens of stories out of whole cloth. The story that finally broke the camel's back was one he made up about a (ficitonal) teenage hacker who held a large (fictional) technology corporation hostage. He invented hacker conventions and fictional US infosec laws to back all of this up. Nobody at TNR figured any of this out-- it took an investigation by another magazine to bring the ridiculousness of this to anyone's attention.

As Glass got more desperate, he manufactured fake web pages (in the AOL members section) for the corporation. Still, nobody at TNR realized this was bullshit, because they apparently didn't know a whole lot about how this Internet thing worked.

Unfair of me to hold this against them? Maybe. But TNR is going to have to do a lot to demonstrate that they're "with it" on technology issues before that kind of ineptitude is forgotten.

China (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690013)

Of course a bunch of American nobrains will post about how China is evil and they censor the internet and keep the people unable to overthrow the government...

Did you ever think maybe the Chinese LIKE their government? Just because YOU don't like it doesn't mean the CHINESE don't. Not everyone on the Earth has your Rush Limbaugh Cowboy values, ok.

Research has shown that the people largely support the government. The only thing they don't like is the local corrupt politicians. But then the central government cracks down and actually EXECUTES corrupt politicians! Good luck getting one of your sold out corrupt politicians to spend ONE DAY in jail!

(where did the research come from you ask? CCP researchers? No, independent researchers...just the fact that that kind of research is allowed shows China isn't nearly as evil as you think it is!. Hey, America has 2 million people in prison, the most per capita of any industrial country and possible ANY country, and yet you don't feel terrorized do you? After all you can still eat BigMacs and watch Hollywood so you're happy right?)

China's economy is booming! People support the government and most likely if elections were held tommorow the central leaders would all be elected.

Most of the Chinese who went overseas went chasing the get rich American dream. Now with China's new policies you can get perfectly rich right at home with having to go over to fat, stupid, warmongering America.

Re:China (3, Interesting)

mike collins (576863) | about 10 years ago | (#8690073)

Here Here... When will people figure out that the west is not the only way to live.. Bobdamn Ethnocentrists. You put it well.

Uhmmm...Duh? (1)

BlankTim (241617) | about 10 years ago | (#8690014)

Since those who would be harmed by allowing thier citizens to speak out in a public forum also control access to the forum.

Twist thy tongue! (1)

shfted! (600189) | about 10 years ago | (#8690015)

Toppling tyranny turns out too tough for TCP/IP, thus trifling trends towards tempering totalitarianism through technological tricks. Terrorist throughout Terra are thrilled, thinking their thorny troubles will tidily thin, though they tremble tiresomely, tipped toward technology themselves.

Howard Dean analogy (1)

The Lynxpro (657990) | about 10 years ago | (#8690024)

"Reminds me of Howard Dean, and the trend to see technological change as a politically progressive force. Maybe this is not such a good idea?"

What? You attribute the collapse of Democratic support for Howard Dean as a way of advancing the argument that the internet is not revolutionary? Dean collapsed because of his crazy man scream and other gaffes, not to mention that his "I'm against Bush's war" wasn't enough of a campaign platform to rally behind.

Its actually ironic that you brought this up regarding the lack of power the internet has in toppling dictators. *The Coalition* toppled a well-known one this past year, with military might. The Military (through DARPA) created the internet, and it is integral to military operations. Therefore, the internet IS a revolutionary force that does topple dictatorships. Perhaps after the election, we'll see another regime be toppled through the same means in 2005; a regime that does have WMD beyond the shadow of a doubt - North Korea...

Internet Cafes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690033)

Look farther than the internet cafe. These are where the McDonalds eaters hang out. Not anyone with a brain.

Technology only entrenches them further? (2, Interesting)

Random Guru 42 (687672) | about 10 years ago | (#8690035)

Orwell saw that back when he wrote 1984! Ever considered how that whole editing process worked? Or the telescreens? That's technology for you!

laos'd world (2, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 10 years ago | (#8690055)

What he got in Laos was not the Internet. It was a Potemkin [yahoo.com] internet (small "i"), where the government controls the access to controversial people. The Internet is not the threat to tyranny, people are, when using the Internet. The people of Laos are uniquely tyrannized, after their 1970s holocaust [dithpran.org] which killed millions of people, on the basis of their education and independence. And Laos is just now getting any kind of internet at all, or even foreigners. In a few years, after the inevitable noise in their tyranny signal buzzes the people with any alternatives to the official truth, confirming the crazy ideas of the bearded backpackers scrambling through their mountains, their government will have a lot more trouble monopolizing the minds of their people, leading to the dissolution of their _1984_ [wesjones.com] style dystopia. From which they will likely move to our own _Brave New World_ [somaweb.org] style dystopia.

It can't because it's just the net (4, Insightful)

ShatteredDream (636520) | about 10 years ago | (#8690058)

Let's use Iran as an example. The postings that I have read from Iranian activists who are fightin against the Mullahs say that if it were not for the support of the British, French and Russians that the Islamic Republic would be long gone by now. It comes as a shock to many that the U.S. isn't the only country in the world that props up evil governments for its own benefit.

There is evidence coming out of both the Rwandan government and the U.N. to show that the French government all but carried out the Rwandan massacre. Its officers gave the orders and set up the scenario that made it possible. With a country like France knowingly carrying out those kinds of actions, no wonder many countries are having problems.

The Internet only works as well as the ability of the citizenry to defend it against government control. Most countries are ruled by a governing elite that make America's look like statesmen. At least in America, the elite has to give a pretense of caring about the common man's rights. In countries ranging from the U.K. to Iran to China, the elite not only doesn't care, but often openly shows its contempt.

It's a cultural conflict and that's why most geeks and nerds are so poorly equipped to understand it. The average geek/nerd's understanding of politics is basically like CmdrTaco's: "democrats good because they're not religious right, republicans bad because they are." It was sickly ironic that people like CmdrTaco supported Gore, since 2/3 of the things that were wrong with tech policy at the time could be blamed on the Clinton administration. That again illustrates why most geeks just "don't get it."

Honest political analysis and insight takes a lot of time and effort. The geek mind can deal with it on an intellectual level quite well. The problem though is that society isn't ready for many of the changes. And by society I am speaking more in a liberal cosmopolitan sense.

Most of the human race is nowhere near as liberal as the average American. That is why most geeks and self-proclaimed intellectuals fail when they try to apply American standards to developing countries. It's not that our cultures are completely equal because no culture is better than another, it's that the spread of liberalism takes time.

If you want to protect the Internet, work on spreading liberalism around the world. Give money to the Reason foundation, to the Minaret Foundation if you're a Muslim. Buy copies of Reason magazine, Liberty and other liberal (ie neither conservative nor socialist) publications.

The Internet represents the liberal "end of history" for communication systems. It cannot in the long run work in a world that is largely conservative or socialist.

Disclaimer: I have for a long time been a harsh critic of the foreign policy establishment in America because of their tendency to betray our founders. Our founders would be horrified to see how illiberal America's foreign policy is today, so do not take me to be some wild-eyed zealot. I may be an American patriot, but i'm also a southern nationalist. For those from South America, remember that we Southerners too are at least semi-victims of "Yanqui Imperialism."

WTF? (3, Interesting)

CashCarSTAR (548853) | about 10 years ago | (#8690060)

"Another shortcoming of the Internet is that it lends itself to individual rather than communal activities. It "is about people sitting in front of a terminal, barely interacting," says one Laotian researcher. The Web is less well-suited to fostering political discussion and debate because, unlike radio or even television, it does not generally bring people together in one house or one room."

That's a big Whisky Tango Foxtrot. A huge one.

Where has this guy been? The reason why the internet is so useful is EXACTLY that reason. It doesn't need people in one house, or one room. People can be comparing ideas and improving them from across the street, across the state or across the world.

The world is run by ideas, and only by improving and refining those ideas can any progress be made.

It's open source politics, that's really what it is. And to think that it's not changing things, well..you might as well think that linux isn't changing things.

Check out Eschatron [blogspot.com] or Daily Kos [dailykos.com] to get some of the best examples of this principle at work.

Re:WTF? (1)

System.out.println() (755533) | about 10 years ago | (#8690108)

The world is run by ideas, and only by improving and refining those ideas can any progress be made.

Sadly...no. The world is run by corrupt politicians, mostly. The people who have ideas are called insane and nutcases and such....

A revolution is not a dinner party... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690065)

...or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Howard Dean was regressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690070)

It is funny to see Howard Dean and "progressive" in the same sentence. Howard Dean is quite regressive. He ran his campaign by having his speeches be filled with nothing but hatred and lies, and he proposed to increase the power of the government over the governed.

This religion goes back to the Macintosh (4, Interesting)

Everyman (197621) | about 10 years ago | (#8690078)

Techno-utopianism predates the Internet; it goes back to the Macintosh:

"HyperCard is uniquely suited for activist causes. It goes without saying that its great ease of use and flexibility favors the underdog. Activist groups have often relied on people power and maneuverability to counteract the brute economic and political force of various Powers-That-Be; HyperCard can enhance both of these advantages."

-- "Signal: Communication Tools for the Information Age (A Whole Earth Catalog)," Kevin Kelly, ed. Foreward by Stewart Brand. Point Foundation, 1988, p. 164.

Today the same religious zeal can be found among Google cultists.

Access to information always threatens tyranny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690082)

Sometimes the effect isn't immediately visible, but it's kind of like termites eating through a wooden support -- if only the veneer is left, any stress will make it collapse. Once people find out that people in other places are freer in some way without the catastrophe promised by their leader, they will find a way to import that freedom into their lives.

The Internet and Politics (4, Interesting)

DietVanillaPepsi (763129) | about 10 years ago | (#8690089)

The internet has helped to relieve the political stagnation that occurs when news sources are limited to the major newspapers and television networks. On the internet, you can be exposed to so many differing opinions regarding political current events that it is possible to have a more fully-informed opinion (or at least believe that you do).

The internet also provides an outlet through which the average somewhat Internet-savvy person can do their own pissing and moaning about the state of things.

Those who live under tyrannical governments do not be an outlet through which they can express their opinion without their being repercussions, therefore the internet as a political tool is largely irrelevant in said countries.

But the internet has been a tremendous tool in turning the tides against political apathy. That, or those who were already politically aware and active are just using a new tool to get their views out. Regardless, it can only be viewed as a good thing in terms of it leading to more political awareness.

just an improvement over TeeVee (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690091)

...I think for the average person, the web is nothing more than an improvement over TeeVee. At least they have to work a little (click, point) to use it.

It is a fantasic encyclopedia, for those into such a thing. As much as I love libararies, I can find more varied opinions, faster, using the web.

Porn/Human Sexuality is now available much easier. It was only 30 years ago that porno movies were (in effect) legalized in America. Now, you can download movies of pretty blond girls doing the nasty with black men...or horses...etc. This was completely unthinkable/illegal in America just a few decades ago (and people wonder what the sixties radicals were so upset about!)

The upcoming struggle between digital rights and privacy will be interesting. Ultimately, I think private, fairly secure, encrypted connections will be the norm, and people will be sharing movies, music, poitical opinions, undesirable content (terror comm and kiddie porn)...whatever...and there will be little or nothing the government or industry will be able to do about it.

Humanity is just that way. Pretty much everything has a ying/yang, two sides--freedom fighters, terrorists, republicans, democrats, capitalists, socialists, a home on an island, a homeless person on main street, cats, dogs, swamps and desert.

TeeVee and the Internet have one thing in common...it's just like handguns. It's how the thing is used that differentiates between good and evil.

Start GZIPPING files and storing them on slashdot! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#8690102)

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