Democracy requires free speech, but the channels for free speech and communication vary across time and place. With reference to ongoing democratization processes, or to potential ruptures inside of authoritarian regimes, the role of mass communication, both by means of the conventional press and the internet, is an unavoidable topic of study.
Ramos, C.T. (2019), "From the Freedom of the Press to the Freedom of the Internet: A New Public Sphere in the Making?", Visvizi, A. and Lytras, M.D. (Ed.) Politics and Technology in the Post-Truth Era (Emerald Studies in Politics and Technology), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 9-22. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-78756-983-620191002Download as .RIS
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2019, Cláudia Toriz Ramos
In recent years, information and communication technologies (ICT) have rapidly changed the patterns of information diffusion and communication across the world. The internet, in particular, has created a global network enabling massive information transactions, through the breadth, speed, and increasingly low price of the processes involved.
At the same time, global relations have substantially incorporated the idea of “democracy” as a value to be promoted across the world, in tandem with development. Democratization processes, whether originating internally, externally or both need efficient communication for the spreading of ideas, mobilization of the people, and the creation of a democratic “public sphere” where common interest can be debated in public forums. A democratic culture in the making, from the electoral threshold to deeply rooted political participation, requires free speech and free and broad debates.
The internet apparently provides the optimum locus for such debate and it is therefore relevant to ask how it impacts upon authoritarianism and if and how it fosters processes of democratization.
The chapter thus begins with a discussion on the relations between ICT and democratization processes, seeking to characterize the main changes they have introduced. In its second part, the chapter analyzes cases. There has been substantial debate on the role of ICT and the internet in the recent “Arab Spring” attempts at democratization. In line with those discussions, and because Africa, after decolonization, is a major field for emerging democratization processes, the research draws on four African cases, two from North Africa (Tunisia and Egypt) and two from Southern Africa (Zimbabwe and Angola). It focuses on the spread of ICT in those countries, the reception conditions and the ways extant regimes deal with the freedom of the internet, notably in comparison with the freedom of the press. A new type of censorship is said to be emerging, either permanently or at critical junctures, particularly at the time of elections. Its role in political processes is therefore worthy of analysis.
The case studies mainly rely on data from international indices and associated reports. This information normally originates from international organizations (governmental and non-governmental) or advocacy groups that conduct systematic documental and empirical research. However, some caution must be adopted in considering the data, because its field collection is often done in political environments that are hostile to the idea of democracy and to free speech. Besides, internal informers are also alive to the advocacy potential of watchdog organizations and the international publication of domestic data, and are therefore not neutral in the process. As a rule, those organizations publish the methodological and technical details of the studies they undertake. Furthermore, the choice of cases was conditioned by data availability, since coverage of the African continent is discontinuous.
ICT and Democratization
Democracy requires free speech, but the channels for free speech and communication vary across time and place. The role of mass communication, both conventional and on the internet, is an unavoidable topic in studying transition from authoritarianism and democratization.
Free speech is a precondition for democracy (Dahl, 1989). The creation of a public sphere, by means of free mass communication and wide public debate, is part of the democratic culture and lays foundations for a consolidated democracy (Habermas, 1991).
Yet democracies are not always, and not always from the beginning, bottom-up processes deeply rooted in mass adhesion and participation. Elite-guided processes or the trends of international influence have often acted upon political processes of transition, leaving mass mobilization for a subsequent phase (Welzel & Inglehart, 2008). Nevertheless, a rooted democracy requires a democratic political culture. Some democratization processes rely on mass mobilization and its pressure for the implementation of democracy, what Welzel (2009) calls “responsive democratization” (p. 87). In this case, the population must have been exposed to patterns of democracy and have internalized a positive attitude toward democratic values and practices.
No wonder authoritarian governments are concerned with limiting the access of the populations over which they rule to sources of mass communication. Censorship has a long history of walking hand in hand with authoritarianism and has given rise to many typical ways of impeding access to information, among them hampering the existence of a free media. Moreover, transitional regimes are also not always on good terms with the freedom of information (Rose, 2009; Zakaria, 1997).
From this point of view, the recent “revolution” in ICT has subverted the conventional paths of democratization (Best & Wade, 2009; Salgado, 2014). A global “media-saturated” environment has emerged, substantially relying on the new ICT and allowing countries to “leapfrog” more conventional steps of mass mobilization (Ferdinand, 2000; Voltmer & Rawnsley, 2009).
ICT have introduced a major change in communication and information processes that defies conventional censorship. The capacity to “spread the word” and to mobilize citizens’ participation has been widely increased and follows patterns that escape the full control of the states, despite the many attempts to limit it. The new paradigm in mass communication has therefore changed the conditions for regime transition and even for the consolidation of democracy – a process that has already contributed to what has been termed by some democracy’s “fourth wave” (Howard & Hussain, 2013).
What then are these new ICT and what is it that might make a difference in the public sphere?
Howard and Hussain (2013) offer a definition of what they term “digital media” as encompassing three main dimensions: a new information infrastructure; a new type of content; and a new and broader type of users. The material infrastructure is neither even nor universal, but it is expanding (ITU, 2017a; UNDP, 2016b, pp. 39–41). Internet infrastructures, for instance, require material networks, providers, state authorizations, market conditions, financial resources, and knowledge. Mobile phones, however, have filled many a pocket with small, smart, and easy-to-use devices that democratize access to information and multiply users’ interaction and networking capabilities, making each individual a potential terminal nodal point in a network of regime subversion and democratization (UNDP, 2016b, p. 39–41). Contents are as diversified as the multiplicity of sources that the networks are able to connect, no longer depend upon conventional channels, and thus challenge usual censorship procedures. As for the users, the process does not equally reach all strata of a country’s population or all regions in the world. Men, but also younger, wealthier, and more educated people are more prone to be exposed to ICT, according to digital divide statistics (ITU, 2017a; UNDP, 2016a, 2016b).
This chapter is particularly focused on the specificities of the internet as potential creator of a new “public sphere,” where public debate boosts processes of regime transition and democratization (cf. Best & Wade, 2009; Papacharissi, 2009).
Firstly, it must be made clear that communication by means of the new digital media is transnational. This is not to say that previous processes of democratization were not – actually the word “wave” was often used to aggregate cognate cases of national democratization – but the transnational dimension of internet has fostered processes of political communication beyond borders, thus introducing a new meaning to the term. Nor can it be ignored that, in the dominant global order, democracy itself has become a “tool” of globalization, in that it is deliberately associated with processes of development and modernization, often promoted by international governmental and non-governmental organizations and dominant states. As Howard and Hussain (2013) put it, there is “a global conversation about the politics of freedom” (p. 55) going on. This also means that the people are now more exposed to “liberal cultural values” (Howard & Hussain, 2013, p. 63) than ever before, that is to say, to the cultural underpinnings of Western democracy.
International media and international broadcasting had already raised a relevant debate on the “CNN effect” and the “Al Jazeera effect” (McNair, 2009; Voltmer & Rawnsley, 2009). Although they should not be overrated, it is undeniable that they provide cross-border information and exempla on political changes and political patterns that at the very least enable comparison. However, the core question is on the cultural reception of such information, since democracy should not be naively deemed universal. Furthermore, “glocal” adaptations of democratic frameworks may result in rather puzzling outcomes, as happened in Egypt, with the emergence of bottom-up movements of radical political Islamism (Lynch, 2017). Therefore, the debate is not so much on bottom-up national democratization as it is on globalization’s potential for the standardization of political values and practices.
A second characteristic is the fact that mass communication does not run exclusively through the conventional channels of the mass media. On the contrary, it is highly informal, relying on private users and their equipment and thus decentralized and difficult to frame. Internet users can navigate it for information, but can also network through social networks or be users of virtual private networks (VPN) that circumvent control mechanisms. Blogging or microblogging as in twitter have become daily common practices for many people worldwide. Mobile phones are often the tools for these permanent virtual conversations and have provided the world with instant photos, sounds, videos, and texts on ongoing affairs in the many parts of the world – a phenomenon that has been termed “citizens’ journalism” (Howard & Hussain, 2013; McNair, 2009). Campaigning for causes now uses a series of new tools, from messages broadcasted by watchdog organizations to new music styles identified with social and political protest, such as digital hip-hop, for example. The number and diversity of messages thus renders censure a herculean task (Deibert, 2009; Howard & Hussain, 2013).
A third characteristic is that this communication is not a one-way process; it is bilateral and multilateral, that is, the infrastructures used foster the potential for truly interactive communication. Instant and low-cost communication enhances the possibilities for public debate. As a result, it might be argued that a “virtual public sphere” is in the making – it does not rely on physical spaces where people come together to dialogue, but the dialogue does go on in a virtual space where ideas can be shared and discussed, causes made known and advocated, initiatives set up, and even revolutions started. The potential for fostering political participation is therefore enormous, inviting the masses to step out of passivism into activism (McNair, 2009; Papacharissi, 2009; Thornton, 2001).
The networking capacity it creates is a fourth and major characteristic. Conditions for citizens’ mobilization have thus changed (Voltmer & Rawnsley, 2009). Horizontal and decentralized peer-to-peer communication enables fast and difficult to trace social movements that can materialize in street action (well-known examples are the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement). Digital activism has become an unavoidable subject, and its internal and external networking capacities are remarkable. Mass mobilization and social movements hence have to be addressed in a new manner (Earl, Hunt, Garrett, & Dal, 2015).
Finally, the potential for transnational political socialization stemming from these new means of communication is enormous and introduces a major breach in conventional authoritarian processes of domination. At the same time, because ICT foster “good governance,” transparency, accountability, and popular participation can be reinforced in recent democracies, thus paving the way for democratic consolidation (Ferdinand, 2000; Howard & Hussain, 2013).
The response from authoritarian regimes is also relevant in that it is reshaping censorship procedures (Deibert, 2009; Nam, 2017). The Freedom House (2017b) “freedom on the net index” considers three basic dimensions upon which states willing to foster internet censorship act: obstacles to access; limits to contents; and violation of user rights.
For the first, state authorities can decide on internet blackouts (for instance, disconnecting the national internet information infrastructure). However, permanent blackouts have proven to hinder not only citizens’ free communication, but also state-citizens internal communication and external communication of the commercial, financial, or even diplomatic interests of the government. They therefore tend to determine temporary national blackouts, namely at the time of elections, to hinder free communication but without turning it into permanent isolation. More selective information blocking tools, which require technical know-how on the side of the governments, may also be activated. The disabling of national mobile phones has at times been ordered (Freedom House, 2017b; Howard & Hussain, 2013). Nevertheless, the fact that conventional political territoriality does not strictly apply to the virtual space of ICT means that full success in blackout attempts cannot be guaranteed (Deibert, 2009).
The second strategy is conventional content censorship, but its efficacy is highly challenged both by the technological sophistication of present-day communication and by the huge amount of content circulating. Governments sometimes remove contents. Another possibility is blocking and filtering contents. Both imply the capacity to trace “threatening” information, a process that also relies on sophisticated and systematic technological tools (such as deep packet inspection systems). Some states have rerouted internet cables through state-security servers, as in Saudi Arabia (Howard & Hussain, 2013, p. 71), so that they can filter contents before they reach the public. Blacklisting and blocking websites is also common. In order to counter technological resources for circumventing internet filtering, bans on VPN software and anonymization providers have also been applied. At times, states have also used counterinsurgency strategies, by sending false information via the internet, or even manipulating the contents of the mass media, and thus misleading and eventually entrapping protesters (Deibert, 2009; Freedom House, 2017b; Howard & Hussain, 2013). As a whole, it very much looks like a never-ending cat-and-mouse game, albeit a very risky one, at least for the weaker party in the process.
The third is the violation of user rights. States may indeed resort to limiting free speech, by passing laws that establish limits to ICT. States can also resort to technological sophistication in order to identify, survey, and eventually prosecute users. Social mobilization on the internet can also be traced by the state authorities it is meant to oppose. Once identified, participants may be put under surveillance, and their movement undermined. Some governments have also made technical attacks, such as password phishing, or flooding and malware practices. Sheer intimidation and violence, prosecutions, and detentions complete the frame (Deibert, 2009; Freedom House, 2017b; Howard & Hussain, 2013).
The debate on the freedom of the internet is also tricky, in terms of the principles, because not only dictatorial states breach it, democratic states also resort to some of the abovementioned techniques on claims of internal and external security. Where the boundaries are to be drawn is therefore a contested issue, not least because conventional legal frameworks fall short of this new territoriality and of the new social relations of the virtual space (Deibert, 2009).
Finally, the connections between internet diffusion in developing countries and democratization processes are also relevant. It is pertinent to consider the action of states and major IGOs and NGOs in fostering development and promoting democracy or its archetype of human rights and rule of law. As stated in the Swedish International Development Cooperation framework: “ICT have the potential to contribute to economic development and democratization – including freedom of speech, the free flow of information and the promotion of human rights – and poverty reduction” (APC, 2009, p. 13).
The objective of poverty reduction attached to development projects also has close ties with democratization. In other words, it is highly unlikely that democracy will settle in countries deeply torn by poverty, or, as Welzel (2009) puts it, “In models explaining democratization, measures of income distribution are often used and have many times been found to significantly increase the chances of democracy to emerge and survive” (p. 79). Individual as well as collective wealth will thus have a major impact on widespread literacy and on internet affordability, for example, both major pre-conditions for ICT to promote democracy. In broad terms, this is about the connection between democratization and “human empowerment” as explained by Welzel and Inglehart (2008).
Also, the United Nations in its 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, gives one of its targets under goal nine as: to “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020” (United Nations, 2018a). Furthermore, it commits to promoting “peace, stability, human rights and effective governance” under goal 16 and thus pledges to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements” (United Nations, 2018b).
The Internet and Democratization in Africa: Case Studies
The cases chosen for illustrating the debate on the relations between democratization and the internet are African national cases, since Africa is a recurrent scenario of attempts to democratize, in the framework of state construction after colonialism. While some parts of the continent have already attained reasonable levels of democratic consolidation, others are still undergoing troubled processes of transition, if not living under downright authoritarianism. For the focus of this chapter, it seemed useful to choose cases representing remaining authoritarianism, or recent transition and its setbacks. A further major constraint for the choice is the lack of systematic information on internet freedom for all states of the African continent (cf. Freedom House, 2017b).
Consequently four cases were selected, from two very different sub-regions: Tunisia and Egypt in North Africa, sometimes regionally identified as “Arab countries” (ITU, 2017a); and Angola and Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa. With reference to democratization, their history is diverse and its explanation requires some contextualization.
Tunisia and Egypt are countries that underwent the “Arab Spring” in 2011, a wave of attempts at democratization that hinged on ICT technology for mass mobilization. However, the respective outcomes have been different (Lynch, 2017; Szmolka, 2015). Tunisia, independent since 1956, is at present a parliamentary republic, in accordance with its 2014 constitution, and a functioning democracy even if not a consolidated one – it is classified as a “flawed democracy” in the Democracy Index 2016 (EIU, 2017). Its main problems are of an economic nature (economic stagnation and high unemployment) leading to some social unrest, as recent demonstrations against austerity measures show ( The Guardian, 2018). Furthermore, its geopolitical position, as part of the Arab and Islamic world (over 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim), makes the country a potential hotbed for the troubled security problems religious radicalism and terrorism have brought into the region (CIA, 2018c).
Unlike Tunisia, Egypt (independent since 1952) has not encountered roots for a solid transition in the aftermath of the 2011 protests and Mubarak’s overthrow, having recurrently fallen into protests and violence. The political system of government is a presidential republic, according to the 2014 constitution, and both presidential and parliamentary elections were held in recent years. Nevertheless, international observers still register major concerns on Egypt’s transition to democracy – EIU depicts it as an “authoritarian regime” (EIU, 2017). Economic instability and high poverty levels among its large population, coupled with major security problems associated with terrorism and religious radicalism (the majority of the population is also Sunni Muslim), have made the path to democracy a rather stony one (CIA, 2018b).
The two Southern African countries chosen were part of later waves of postcolonial self-determination. Zimbabwe’s unilateral independence dates back to 1965, when it was still Rhodesia, but fully recognized independence was only achieved in 1980, the country having lived from then until 2017 under President Mugabe’s dictatorial rule. Although according to the constitution a semi-presidential republic, the regime has been tagged as “authoritarian” (EIU, 2017) and several problems in the electoral processes have been identified by international observers. Furthermore, the troubled years of political fighting and regime definition caused serious instability and many displaced people. Highly dependent on agriculture and the extractive sector, the country has undergone a financial crisis in recent years that has put increased pressure on state authorities and the population. Poverty remains a key issue. In November 2017, Mugabe’s forced resignation finally put an end to his rule and the country is now heading to elections (CIA, 2018d).
Angola became independent in 1975, but a brutal civil war followed and lasted until 2002, when pacification was made possible. Ever since 1975, MPLA (a military force and then major political party) has governed, winning the few elections that were held. In 2010, a new constitution was approved, which makes the election of the President of the Republic indirect, following parliamentary elections, although the political system of government is presented as a presidential republic. José Eduardo dos Santos was Angola’s president from 1979 to 2017. The regime has also been labeled “authoritarian” by international observers (EIU, 2017), but the 2017 elections have not raised concerns as to their free and fair character, a new president and leader of the MPLA having emerged. Angola’s society reflects the contradiction of a country where the revenue from the oil business engendered economic boom in recent decades remains concentrated in the hands of an elite akin to political power, living side by side with widespread poverty. The oil crisis, from 2014 onwards, has been a motive for social and political unrest (CIA, 2018a; Salgado, 2014).
To assess the political potential of the internet it is necessary to consider ICT infrastructures. Furthermore, human development indicators (from levels of poverty to literacy) are also a pre-condition to be considered. The ICT development index considers both, by combining three sub-indices: ICT access, ICT use, and ICT skills (ITU, 2017a, p. 27). The results for the four African countries are presented in Table 1.
|ICT accessa sub-index (40%)||5.11||5.40||5.51||3.40||2.62||3.28|
|ICT useb sub-index (40%)||4.11||3.35||3.96||2.10||1.03||1.74|
|ICT skillsc sub-index (20%)||5.67||5.66||5.26||3.58||2.41||3.16|
|IDI index (–) 0–10 (+)||4.82||4.63||4.84||2.92||1.94||2.64|
Source: ITU (2017a).
aIndicators are: Fixed telephone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants; mobile cellular telephone subscription 100 inhabitants; international internet bandwidth (bit/s) per internet user; percentage of households with a computer; percentage of households with internet access.
bIndicators are: Percentage of individuals using the internet; fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants; active mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
cIndicators are: Mean years of schooling; secondary gross enrolment ratio; tertiary gross enrolment ratio.
Some of the underlying information for the results shown is worthy of more detailed consideration. In Tunisia, the number of mobile cellular phones per 100 inhabitants in 2017 was 125.8, while internet penetration amounted to 49.6% of the total population. In Egypt, mobile penetration was 113.7% and internet penetration amounted to 39.2%. The reach of mobile phones is evident, but the digital divide between users and non-users of the internet is also considerable and reduces the number of those who can actually be part of a digital public sphere to less than half of the total population. Moreover, there are considerable urban–rural, class, gender, and age gaps (ITU, 2017b).
In Southern Africa, these dividing lines are even more visible. In Zimbabwe, mobile cellular phone penetration stood at 83.2%, whereas the internet had only reached 22.1% of the population. In Angola, mobile penetration amounted to 55.3% and internet users made up only 22.1% of the population (ITU, 2017b).
As for skills, beyond ITU indicators it is also relevant to point out basic data on adult literacy in the four countries. In Tunisia, it reached 81.8%; in Egypt, 75.2%; in Zimbabwe, 86.5%; and in Angola 71.1% (UNDP, 2016b). Underlying material and cultural conditions can also be inferred from the figures on human development indices in Table 2.
Source: UNDP (2016b).
Last, but certainly not least, it is useful to consider the levels of electrification in those countries (as a percentage of the population with access to electricity). In Tunisia it reached 100% and in Egypt 99.6%; but in Zimbabwe only 40% and in Angola 30% (CIA, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d). These figures also define boundaries to potential political participation through ICT.
Beyond indirect indicators, it is not easy to measure how the use of ICT, in particular the internet, has impacted the political life of the four countries, or even regime change. For the Arab Spring countries, there is abundant literature, as abovementioned. In Tunisia, for example, the “publinets,” cyber cafés from which anonymous web access was available, although by then forbidden, became very popular in 2011 (Freedom House, 2017b). Governments’ strategies to block or ban the use of internet can therefore work as a reverse image, a mirror of the threat posed by the internet. Freedom House provides the results shown in Table 3, for the four African cases.
|Freedom of the Internet||Partly Free||Not Free||Partly Free||Partly Free|
|Obstacle to access (+) 0–25 (–)||10||16||16||14|
|Limits to content (+) 0–35 (–)||8||18||15||7|
|Violation of user rights (+) 0–40 (–)||20||34||25||19|
|Freedom of the press||Partly free||Not free||Not free||Not free|
Source: Freedom House (2017a, 2017b).
In Tunisia, freedom of the internet has increased ever since 2011, when censorship was still entrenched. At present, not only is material access to ICT quite extensive but it is also being improved in terms of quality (broadband coverage) and price. The market is broad and reasonably competitive and there is no evidence of the state’s regulatory bodies interfering as censorial entities or introducing restrictions on connectivity (Freedom House, 2017b; ITU, 2017b).
Limits to content, such as blocking, filtering, or content removal, have also not been identified, although they remain legal, given that the old legislation has not yet been repealed. On the contrary, internet communication has become quite vibrant in the country and digital activism is a regular practice. Nevertheless, self-censorship may exist, since security reasons (such as terrorism) may be invoked to set some limits to free expression (Freedom House, 2017b).
The panorama for Egypt is not the same and actually worsened from 2016 to 2017. With regard to obstacles to access, and despite a vibrant and competitive market, the prices are still relatively high and the coverage insufficient. Egypt is, nevertheless, a broad and enlarging market for ICT. Unlike in Tunisia, the state has applied restrictions on connectivity, such as VoIP restrictions and shutdowns of cell phone service, or temporary blockages. The government also keeps centralized control of the fiber-optic infrastructure, which further enables control (Freedom House, 2017b; ITU, 2017b).
In Egypt, contents on the internet have regularly been targeted. In 2017, many websites were blocked, or contents removed, on grounds of security concerns. Neither does the legal environment foster freedom. According to Freedom House, new laws were passed that threaten free expression, and there are cases of surveillance, prosecutions, and detentions, while privacy and anonymity on the internet are under attack. Digital activism is undermined by repression (Freedom House, 2017b).
In Zimbabwe, the problems are slightly different. The country still registers low internet coverage, but its transnational connections are more complex, given the landlocked characteristic of the territory. Prices remain unstable and a major rural-urban divide is visible. The state intervention over access is patent, from restrictions on connectivity (e.g., on WhatsApp during antigovernment protests) to market distortions and attempts to centralize the control over the backbone of ICT. Regulatory bodies are said to act in a political manner (Freedom House, 2017b; ITU, 2017b). In recent years, major limits on contents were not reported, although there has been pressure leading to informal removal. Intimidation exists which, in turn, fosters self-censorship. New legislation on computer and cybercrime was passed in 2016 and a new ministry for cybersecurity, threat detection, and mitigation was announced in 2017. Together with the already existing legislation the legal framework may reinforce conditions for surveillance, prosecution, and detention. There are no reports of technical attacks (Freedom House, 2017b).
In Angola, the infrastructure is also sparse and expensive, which makes state activism to control it less necessary than if it were more widespread. Major rural–urban, but also class and age divides apply. There are no reports of deliberate restrictions on connectivity, although the government has some level of control over the market and the regulatory agencies (Freedom House, 2017b; ITU, 2017b). In 2017, limits to content, such as blocking, filtering, or content removal were not identified, even though there are reports of cases of informal governmental pressure for content withdrawal. Contents lack diversity mostly because of the small dimension of the network. Digital activism has emerged, especially among young people (blogs and music are some of the outcomes), but self-censorship applies, given recent prosecutions and detentions over freedom of expression cases. New legislation on social communication was passed in 2017 that grants the state the powers to interfere with online communication. Surveillance on the internet is difficult to trace but, according to Freedom House, the Angolan government may well already have the means. Intimidation and violence are also mentioned. In past years, Freedom House has reported technical attacks (Freedom House, 2017b).
The comparison between freedom of the internet and freedom of the press (Table 3) shows differences (except for Egypt). It appears that the press is more vulnerable to mechanisms of censorship and intimidation, and that professional journalists are easier to persecute than anonymous web users. In 2016, in Tunisia and Zimbabwe, the police interfered with or even arrested journalists reporting on protests; Angola has also prosecuted independent journalists (Freedom House, 2017a). In contrast, internet freedom, especially if its expansion is quicker than the capacity for dictatorial governments to frame its use, creates a major opportunity for political debate and mobilization.
Does the internet impact upon authoritarianism? Does it foster transition and democratization procedures in general? It is difficult to say. Authoritarianism is grounded in the opposite of free speech, which the internet, on the contrary, seems to reinforce. The text has highlighted the transnational, informal, interactive characteristics of the communication it enables, the networking capacity it creates, and the medium-term political socialization effect of the ongoing “global conversation about the politics of freedom” (Howard & Hussain, 2013, p. 55).
Nevertheless, the internet is a condition for, rather than a direct cause of democratization. If a large number of people are able to use it and if they identify with democratic values, mobilization is made easier and that may trigger regime change.
At the same time, other underlying conditions have an impact upon internet expansion, from infrastructures to the material-cultural conditions to use it. Therefore, the internet and democratization bear a close connection with human development processes and poverty reduction. This is particularly obvious in the cases presented, most notably in the two Southern African countries.
Authoritarian regimes apparently connect internet freedom with their ruin and make efforts to update censorship to the technological layer of the perceived threat. From the cases addressed, there is evidence that governments also seek out sophisticated technical tools to condition access, block contents, and trace users. Furthermore, they create new legal frameworks for censorship (often relying on the security argument), or resort to sheer intimidation and violence. Whether authoritarian governments can win the race is still an open question.
Association for Progressive Communications (APC), 2009Association for Progressive Communications (APC). (2009). ICTs for democracy. information and communication technologies for the enhancement of democracy: With a focus on empowerment. Stockholm: SIDA.
Best, & Wade, 2009Best, M. L., & Wade, K. W. (2009). The internet and democracy. Global catalyst or democratic dud? Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 29(4), 255–271.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2018aCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA). (2018a). The world factbook. Angola. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ao.html
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2018bCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA). (2018b). The world factbook. Egypt. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/eg.html
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2018cCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA). (2018c). The world factbook. Tunisia. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ts.html
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2018dCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA). (2018d). The world factbook. Zimbabwe. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/zi.html
Dahl, 1989Dahl, R. A. (1989). Democracy and its critics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Deibert, 2009Deibert, R. J. (2009). The geopolitics of internet control: Censorship, sovereignty, and cyberspace. In A. Chadwick & P. N. Howard (Eds.), Routledge handbook of internet politics (pp. 323–336). London & New York, NY: Routledge.
Earl, Hunt, Garrett, & Dal, 2015Earl, J., Hunt, J., Garrett, R. K., & Dal, A. (2015). New technologies and social movements. In D. Della Porta & M. Diani (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of social movements (pp. 355–366). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
EIU-The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2017EIU-The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2017). Democracy Index 2017. Retrieved from https://pages.eiu.com/rs/753-RIQ-438/images/Democracy_Index_2017.pdf
Ferdinand, 2000Ferdinand, P. (2000). The Internet, democracy and democratization. Democratization, 7(1), 1–17.
Freedom House, 2017aFreedom House. (2017a). Freedom of the press 2017. Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/freedom-press-2017?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI6MOIrcf52AIVlDLTCh0cbwDsEAAYASAAEgLB0vD_BwE
Freedom House, 2017bFreedom House. (2017b). Freedom on the net 2017. Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/freedom-net-2017?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI7OXqrJ352AIVkArTCh06wQC-EAAYASAAEgLMBPD_BwE
Habermas, 1991Habermas, J. (1991). The structural transformation of the public sphere. An inquiry into a category of Bourgeois society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Howard, & Hussain, 2013Howard, P. N., & Hussain, M. M. (2013). Democracy’s fourth wave? Digital media and the Arab spring. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2017aInternational Telecommunication Union (ITU). (2017a). Measuring the information society report 2017 (Vol. 1). Geneva: ITU.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2017bInternational Telecommunication Union (ITU). (2017b). Measuring the information society report 2017. Volume 2. ICT country profiles. Geneva: ITU.
Lynch, 2017Lynch, M. (2017). The new Arab wars: Uprisings and anarchy in the Middle East. New York, NY: Public Affairs.
McNair, 2009McNair, B. (2009). The internet and the changing global media environment. In A. Chadwick & P. N. Howard (Eds.), Routledge handbook of internet politics (pp. 217–229). London & New York, NY: Routledge.
Nam, 2017Nam, T. (2017). A tool for liberty or oppression? A cross-national study of the Internet’s influence on democracy. Telematics and Informatics, 34, 538–549.
Papacharissi, 2009Papacharissi, Z. (2009). The virtual sphere 2.0: The internet, the public sphere, and beyond. In A. Chadwick & P. N. Howard (Eds.), Routledge handbook of internet politics (pp. 230–245). London & New York, NY: Routledge.
Rose, 2009Rose, R. (2009). Democratic and undemocratic states. In C. W. Haerpfer, P. Bernhagen, R. F. Inglehart, & C. Welzel (Eds.), Democratization (pp. 10–23). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Salgado, 2014Salgado, S. (2014). The internet and democracy building in Lusophone African countries. London: Routledge.
Szmolka, 2015Szmolka, I. (2015). Exclusionary and non-consensual transitions versus inclusive and consensual democratizations: The cases of Egypt and Tunisia. Arab Studies Quarterly, 37(1), 73–95.
The Guardian, 2018The Guardian. (2018, January 21). Anger that drove the Arab spring is flaring again. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/21/is-a-new-arab-spring-under-way-tunisia-riots
Thornton, 2001Thornton, A. L. (2001). Does the internet create democracy? Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 22(2), 126–147.
United Nations, 2018aUnited Nations. (2018a). Sustainable development goals. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/infrastructure-industrialization/
United Nations, 2018bUnited Nations. (2018b). Sustainable development goals. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/peace-justice/
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2016aUnited Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2016a). Africa human development report 2016. Accelerating gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa. New York, NY: UNDP, Regional Bureau for Africa.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2016bUnited Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2016b). Human development report 2016. New York, NY: UNDP.
Voltmer, & Rawnsley, 2009Voltmer, K., & Rawnsley, G. (2009). The media. In C. W. Haerpfer, P. Bernhagen, R. F. Inglehart, & C. Welzel (Eds.), Democratization (pp. 234–248). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Welzel, 2009Welzel, C. (2009). Theories of democratization. In C. W. Haerpfer, P. Bernhagen, R. F. Inglehart, & C. Welzel (Eds.), Democratization (pp. 74–90). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Welzel, & Inglehart, 2008Welzel, C., & Inglehart, R. F. (2008). The role of ordinary people in democratization. Journal of Democracy, 19(1), 126–140.
Zakaria, 1997Zakaria, F. (1997). The rise of illiberal democracy. Foreign Affairs, 76(6), 22–43.
Acknowledgment is due to Gustavo Lira’s technical advice on ICT.
- Chapter 1 Politics and ICT: Issues, Challenges, Developments
- Chapter 2 From the Freedom of the Press to the Freedom of the Internet: A New Public Sphere in the Making?
- Chapter 3 Diffusion Patterns of Political Content Over Social Networks
- Chapter 4 Contemporary Politics and Society: Social Media and Public Engagement in Belarus
- Chapter 5 Modeling Public Mood and Emotion: Blog and News Sentiment and Politico-economic Phenomena
- Chapter 6 Political Campaigns, Social Media, and Analytics: The Case of the GDPR
- Chapter 7 Assessing Compliance of Open Data in Politics with European Data Protection Regulation
- Chapter 8 ICT, Politics, and Cyber Intelligence: Revisiting the Case of Snowden
- Chapter 9 Government Surveillance, National Security, and the American Rights: Using Sentiment Analysis to Extract Citizen Opinions
- Chapter 10 Information Security Risks in the Context of Russian Propaganda in the CEE
- Chapter 11 The ICT and Its Uses: Fighting Corruption and Promoting Participatory Democracy – The Case of Romania
- Chapter 12 Virtual Currencies in Modern Societies: Challenges and Opportunities
- Chapter 13 Digital Diplomacy in Practice: A Case Study of the Western Balkan Countries
- Chapter 14 Social Media and the Brazilian Politics: A Close Look at the Different Perspectives and “The Brazil I Want” Initiative
- Chapter 15 Evaluation of the National Open Government Data (OGD) Portal of Saudi Arabia
- Chapter 16 E-Government Strategy and Its Impact on Economic and Social Development in Saudi Arabia
- Chapter 17 Romancing Top Management: The Politics of Top Management Support in Large Information System Projects
- Chapter 18 Trade in ICT, International Economy, and Politics
- Chapter 19 Conclusion: Politics and ICT – Taking Stocks of the Debate