Information Technology and Democracy, Two Years On


The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa were widely thought to have been influenced by the internet. It was argued that people were influenced by the free expression on the internet to demand democracy in their countries.

The internet supported and enabled political organisation and autocratic regimes were toppled. This topic was discussed on this blog two years ago. The case for the influence of the internet for democracy was presented and so too were the arguments that autocratic regimes could use the internet to strengthen their power. The impact of the internet on politics in Western countries was also discussed and a case study on Barack Obama’s first presidential election campaign was presented to illustrate how information technology is being used.

Two years on from that post is a useful time to review progress. It has been two years since the regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt were toppled. In Libya there remains a degree of instability, with militias continuing to operate:

In Tunisia democracy appears fragile and the future direction it will take is uncertain. Traditional divisions within the country appear to persist:

In Egypt, protests continue over the direction that the country will take:

and the technology being used by the protestors is changing:

Elsewhere, movement towards democracy appears to have stalled with unelected regimes resisting pressure from protestors in Syria and Bahrain:

The internet does seem to have facilitated change in the Arab World. Ahmed Shihab-Eldin provides his view on whether social media will be a democratising force:

Futurist Patrick Dixon argues that we need a balanced approach to the impact that the internet will have on democracy. While recognising that the internet can be used for oppression, he argues that the economic impact of that will deter dictatorships from its use:

Opinions of the impact that the internet will have on democracy are more divided today. While two years ago alot of people were optimistic that the internet would cause a rapid democratisation of authoritarian countries, today that has been moderated by what has happenned in practice. The following video highlights the continuing movement for change in Saudi Arabia, that many argue has been fuelled by the internet:

Theory on the possible impact of the internet on politics has not changed significantly in the last two years and the original post on this topic remains valid. However, we have had another American Presidential election and political practices have evolved with the expansion of social media tools and their use. The Pew Research Centre have produced a report which compares the use of social media by the Obama and Romney campaigns:

The video shows that Obama’s campaign used social media significantly more than Mitt Romney. The issues involved with the use of social media in political campaigning are becoming more widely understood. The following video reports on some of the concerns that have been expressed:

The use of social media in political campaigning is spreading around the world. The following video reports on the use of social media in Kenyan political campaigns:

Finally, the impact of social media on Canadian politics is also developing, with its use of social media prominent in the last federal election in 2011:

This post has updated the original post on information technology and democracy that was posted two years ago. Since then we have seen expectations of the impact of the internet on democracy in the Middle East and North Africa moderate as the new regimes there have struggled for stability and some authoritarian regimes have resisted the demands of protestors. In the west, the use of social media in politics has continued to expand as popular usage of social media has grown. The use of social media in politics is a global phenomenon now that we will continue to examine as it proliferates.

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